University Studies of the University of Nebraska


Date of this Version



University of Nebraska Studies: New Series no. 45


Published by The University at Lincoln


The Era of the Traditional Horspiel has passed. Although they have an important and welcome place in the repertory of every German broadcaster, the radio plays of Gunter Eich, the lyrical fantasies of Ingeborg Bachmann, the suspenseful stories of Friedrich Durrenmatt, the interior monologues of Heinrich Boll, Dieter Wellershoff, and Peter Hirche no longer influence the creative energies at work in the genre as they did throughout the 1950s. They are in a sense museum pieces to which the term "classic" has already been widely applied. What has followed the mature classic period possesses the vigor of youth and the freshness of innovation. Called simply "das Neue Horspiel," the successor to the traditional German radio play has pulled the genre out of near stagnation by offering through the radio an aesthetic experience different from that available to readers of literature, viewers of film and television, or friends of the concert hall and theater. After more than a decade of active experimentation, there are now signs that a point of transition has been reached in the development of these new forms, and that consequently it may be possible to speak collectively of the first generation of experimental Horspiele without doing excessive violence to the variety of forces at work. Before still newer forces complicate the task, the opportunity should be taken for a critical look at some of the experimental works themselves, including an examination of their generic characteristics and their principal features of form and content. It is my belief that in this process a fresh perspective will be won for a reevaluation of the classic Horspiel and its important theoretical corpus.

The starting point for any attempt to understand the respective natures of the traditional and experimental Horspiel must be the postulate on which the theory of the entire genre has been based. This postulate, as formulated in the wave of generally sound theoretical and practical criticism that emerged in the years 1961 to1964, expressed the belief that there was a necessary relationship between the acoustical medium of radio and the poetic expression of the Horspiel. It became a cliche, echoed uncritically by all the major theorists, that the Horspiel was an exclusively acoustical art form. Armin P. Frank observed "Rundfunksendungen im weitesten Sinn, also auch Horspiele, sind ausschliesslich akustische Gestalten." E. Kurt Fischer spoke of the Horspiel as "eine rein akustische Darbietungsform," and Heinz Schwitzke of the "akustische Wirklichkeit des Horspiels." 1 Not surprisingly, the handbooks of literature seized upon this "basic feature" as the starting point for their discussion of the genre. Gero von Wilpert's Sachworterbuch der Literatur (4th ed., 1964 and 5th ed., 1969) begins its characterization of the H orspiel accordingly:

HORSPIEL als neue dramatische Lit.gattung seit der Erfindung des Rundfunks (erstes H. 6.10.1923 Glasgow) ist gekennzeichnet durch Wegfall alles Optischen (Szene. Mimik. Milieu. Schauplatz. Kulisse. oft durch sog. Gerauschkulisse ersetzt) zugunsten des rein Akustischen....

The present study will argue that this premise, so reasonable on its face, was in fact premature; that it better characterizes the new variety of Horspiel which, ironically, emerged only after the definition of the classic Horspiel as a "rein akustische" art form. The consequence of this premature characterization has been a corresponding neglect of the role of the visual dimension in the classic Horspiel and an almost total disregard of the phenomenon of the printed text. The perspective gained by an evaluation of the newer and increasingly acoustical form of the Horspiel will demonstrate that the typical work of the classic era operates aesthetically in visual, not acoustical, terms, and that much of the excellent theory published on the "exclusively acoustical" Horspiel applies with equal validity to the Horspiel as printed text.