NOT ONE TO crudely ‘blow his own trumpet’, New Music composer Jürgen Braüninger was a humble, yet vital composer and teacher based in KwaZulu-Natal, set afire by anything from Stockhausen to Zappa and African tonalities. A man with an ongoing wish to forge a new postcolonial South African compositional idiom that overrode distinctions between classical/popular, urban/rural, modern/ traditional music, he succumbed to pancreatic cancer on May 6, 2019, one month after being diagnosed. He was 62.
Braüninger studied at the State University of Music and Performing Arts in Stuttgart, under contemporary jazz composer Ulrich Süsse and violinist and Anton Webern specialist Erhard Karkoschka. A Fulbright scholarship brought him to San Jose State University in California, where he studied under electronic composer Allen Strange and Dan Wyman, who enjoyed a speciality in composing for film and television.
Remembered not only for his film music – he scored the soundtracks of the 1992 film The Lawnmower Man, with Pierce Brosnan and The Dead Pit, a 1989 slash horror flick directed by Brett Leonard – and his recordings with important orchestras and ensembles including the Stuttgarter Kammerorchester and the Stockholm Sax Quartet, Braüninger was also lauded for his collaborative strengths and teaching acumen. Over the years, he collaborated with Matthew Brubeck, Feya Faku, Ari Sitas, Sazi Dlamini and the Siwela Sonke Dance Theatre in Durban, to name but a few.
Employed by the University of KwaZulu-Natal in 1985, Braüninger rose through the academic hierarchy, eventually attaining an associate professorship in composition and music technology. In 1993 he became a member of the Culture and Working Life Project, associated with the department of sociology of that university. This organisation was about forging opportunities for workers in the fields of drama, music and literature.
Critically respected works of his includes ihlathi, a piece for umakhweyana (one-stringed African bow), electronic sounds and a poem by Alfred Temba Qabula, which appears in Southern Cones: Music out of Africa, an important New Music compilation. He did not shy from composing with other untraditional western instruments, such as the didgeridoo. But his repertoire was diverse and prolific, reflecting on an engagement with politics and aesthetics, attested to by works such as his 1996 Saro-Wiwa Requiem and his 1990 piece Raskolnikoff, based on a character by Dostoevsky.
A horse enthusiast and a generous and passionate teacher, Braüninger, born in Stuttgart on September 13 1956, knew South Africa had a very special place in his heart, from the moment he set foot here, instinctively understanding the flow between indigenous words and sounds. He was an active member of the Insurrections Ensemble, a group which gave supportive energies to poets and musicians from South Africa and India, and included members such as Neo Muyanga, Dlamini and Sitas. The ensemble was deeply politicised and represented an important platform to express dismay and rage about a globally dark present.
Braüninger was also active in a great diversity of specialisations that supported New Music, from curating of festivals to judging of competitions all over the world. He leaves his wife, Brigitte Eva Keck, who he married in 1985 and daughters Hannah and Tania.