He is one of Germany’s best-known politicians, and the figurehead of Die Linken. But what kind of music does Gregor Gysi like? In the run-up to his appearance at the Elbphilharmonie at the »Harbour Front Sounds« festival 2021, he took the time to speak to us about music via Zoom – and revealed an unexpectedly wide range of interests in the process. Which is not to say that politics didn’t come up at all…
Gregor Gysi in interview
Mr Gysi, what music would you choose as a soundtrack for the current election campaign?
Is there a song that creates great confusion, both linguistic and melodic? That would be best suited to this election campaign.
So you don’t think that a song that just burbles along would be apt?
No, I wouldn’t say that. One thing seems pretty certain: for the first time in West German history, there won’t be a coalition consisting of two parties, but of three. No-one knows exactly who can or can’t join forces with whom, and that makes things more exciting than usual!
»I was truly impressed by Janis Joplin. You noticed how much passion she had inside her.«
Leaving politics aside for a moment, what is your relationship to music, either as an active musician or a passive listener?
I’m afraid I can’t play an instrument, and I can’t sing in tune either, so that obviously makes me someone who enjoys music passively. One thing I do find interesting is the fact that music played a role at the very beginning of human history. Every primitive people had and still has music: they all make instruments and sing and dance. So there must be something inside us that makes us want music.
So what are the occasions that make you want to listen to music?
Well, certainly not first thing in the morning! My favourite times for listening to music are the afternoon or the evening. And what I choose to listen to depends on my mood. Sometimes I really enjoy classical music, Beethoven or Mozart, and especially Ravel or Bach. But on other occasions I really like a good dose of rock ‘n’ roll. I’m not a fan of operetta or musicals. Basically, I fluctuate between disco and classical music.
Has your musical taste changed over the years?
A little bit, yes. When I was young, I couldn’t really get into jazz. That has changed. And in the meantime I enjoy opera as well. But some things have retreated into the background. For example, I always liked the Beatles a lot, and I still do, but I’m not as keen on them as I used to be. Elvis Presley on the other hand – I still enjoy listening to him when I’m in the right mood. Though I have to say that he got a bit schmaltzy towards the end…
»Louis Armstrong was the greatest« :Gregor Gysi’s favourite songs
What other artists come to mind?
As far as jazz goes, Satchmo was nothing short of a miracle: not just the way he played the trumpet, but his deep voice as well. Ella Fitzgerald has fallen into oblivion a bit – I loved her too. In East Germany I was particularly fond of City with their famous song »Am Fenster«. I was also truly impressed by Janis Joplin: she was a singer who portrayed life in its entirety. And you noticed how much passion she had inside her. To be honest, I wasn’t surprised that she died so young of a drug overdose.
And how did you first come into contact with classical music?
Through school. We went to the Deutsches Theater, to the Volksbühne, the Berliner Ensemble and many other theatres, as well as to the Comic Opera and the State Opera, where I saw ballet and opera. And then we also had an excellent music teacher who introduced us to all kinds of music. That makes a major difference – a good teacher shows you what’s going on in the world of music, and then you listen more carefully.
On 9 September 2021 you are appearing as a guest at the »Harbour Front Sounds« festival together with Sebastian Krumbiegel of »Die Prinzen«. Have you been to the Elbphilharmonie before?
Yes, I attended a concert once, but I’d had a really hard day and it was all a bit hectic. So I’m looking forward to taking in the Elbphilharmonie with more time on my hands. It has its own special history as far as the construction costs and time are concerned, but as a native of Berlin I’d better shut up now…
That’s a good prompt: how you do see buildings like the Elbphilharmonie as a left-wing politician?
I only speak for myself when I say that we need the alternative scene in art and culture, of course. But we also need highbrow culture. A society that only has one or the other is culturally impoverished. And these two kinds of culture are mutually enriching. That in turn means that you need a concert hall, and that costs money to build. That doesn’t mean I’ll be abandoning my calls for social equality. But I can think of quite different areas where we could save money. Right now, I’m looking forward to enjoying the atmosphere in the Elbphilharmonie.
The interview was conducted by Simon Chlosta on 2 September 2021.