Triumvirat was a West German progressive rock band from Cologne in then-West Germany. They became, during the 1970s, a key figure in Eurock, the progressive rock of continental Europe whose German variant is called krautrock. The name Triumvirat comes from the Latin word triumvirate, which refers to a group of three powerful individuals.
Members of the original band were Hans-Jürgen Fritz (aka Jürgen Fritz) on keyboards, Werner Frangenberg on bass and vocals, and drummer-percussionist-lyricist Hans Bathelt. However, that line-up would be in a constant state of flux over the band’s career, with each album featuring at least one different member. The band was often criticized for the similarity of their sound to British band Emerson, Lake and Palmer, something that band members may have had in mind when they wrote the song “Lucky Girl” for their Illusions on a Double Dimple album, perhaps in response to one of ELP’s greatest hits “Lucky Man”.
The group was formed in 1969 in Cologne, Germany. They became known by playing chart hits in local clubs around town. Heavily influenced by the musical style of The Nice and Emerson, Lake and Palmer, they incorporated some of these bands’ songs into their repertoire, like Rondo and Hoedown. They eventually abandoned cover versions and started composing their own music, still with a strong Keith Emerson influence for keyboard sounds that is most evident in the prominent use of the Hammond organ. At the height of their glory, the band was often called a clone of ELP by the specialized press, not only because of the similarity of their music and the sound of their keyboards, but also because of keyboardist Fritz’s virtuosity and classical training.
In 1972, the trio sent a demo to the local record company EMI Group, with which they signed their first recording contract. The group then produced their first album, Mediterranean Tales in 1972, consisting of two full-side suites. Just before entering the studio, bassist Frangenberg had left the band, to be replaced by Hans-Georg Pape to handle bass duties as well as vocals, with notable exceptions on the song Eleven Kids, sung by Fritz, who also delivers two verses in the song Broken Mirror.
They undertook a European and American tour, during which they played in the United States, opening for Fleetwood Mac. Back in Germany , they returned to the studio in 1974 to produce their second album, Illusions on a Double Dimple with the Cologne Opera House Orchestra, Kurt Edelhagen’s brass section and Karl Drewo’s saxophone for the Mister Ten Percent suite, as well as a chorus composed of Ulla Wiesmer, Brigitte Thomas, and Hanna Dölitzsch. But that same year, bassist-singer Pape left the band to get married and was replaced by Helmut Köllen, a young guitarist-bassist-singer who was already working with the band as a sound technician and also happened to be Fritz’s cousin. The resulting album showcased the work of both bassists, with Pape playing bass on most of side one’s Illusions on a Double Dimple suite, and Köllen playing bass and guitar on side two’s Mister Ten Percent suite. Köllen also handled vocals for the entire album.
Arguably their most accomplished release musically, the album was listed at position 45 in Rolling Stone’ 2015 list of 50 Greatest Prog Rock Albums of All Time.
In 1975, the trio began recording their third album, Spartacus, a retelling of the story of the famed Roman slave and Thracian gladiator in the year 73 BC. The lyrics were written by drummer Hans Bathelt, with the help of keyboardist Fritz and the album was released on EMI / Electrola, distributed in America by Capitol Records. The album debuted at number 27 on the Billboard album chart.
The US tour of Spartacus included many dates opening for Supertramp. Triumvirat was very well-rehearsed, and often out-shone Supertramp on the tour. They also had an element of fun in their live shows that was rare for a prog band.
After the album release, Helmut Köllen left to pursue a solo career. He began recording his first solo album with the help of Fritz on keyboards and Hans Bathelt for lyrics on one of the songs, The Story of Life. He did return to the band, who had already composed new songs, but this return was cut short, among other reasons because the new songs no longer suited his tone of voice. He then dedicated himself to his new solo career, which was also cut short when he unfortunately died on May 3, 1977 at only 27 years old. He was listening to a demo tape of his future solo album on his car radio in his garage while the engine was running and died from carbon monoxide poisoning. His completed album would be released posthumously two years later after his death under the title You Won’t See Me on the Harvest Records label and dedicated to his parents.
The Köllen album included a Beatles song (the title-track), which he was fond of, and another whose lyrics were written by Triumviurat’s drummer, The Story of Life. Musicians present on the album include, among others, Hans-Jürgen Fritz on keyboards, Brigitte Witt on choirs who would later take part in the New Triumvirate band, as well as Helmut’s sister, Elke Köllen also on chorus. Matthias Holtmann played drums while Köllen handled guitar, bass and vocals. Köllen also featured as a guest on songs by the group Jail, including a single called Julie in 1976. Shortly after his death, the German group Birth Control recorded and published a song in tribute to the bassist, entitled We All Thought We Knew You, on their album Increase produced in 1977.
As for Triumvirat, the group decided to move on after Köllen’s departure, hiring British singer Barry Palmer and calling on their original bassist Werner Frangenberg to record their next album Old Loves Die Hard, released in 1976. The album’s cover would be the last to feature the iconic white rat that had become the group’s mascot since their second album.
In 1977, bassist Frangenberg and drummer-lyricist Hans Bathelt left the band, which called on Curt Cress on drums (from the German band Passport) and bassist Dieter Petereit for the album Pompeii. After temporary legal quarrels between the keyboardist Hans-Jürgen Fritz and the drummer Hans Bathelt concerning the name of the group, the album was released under the new name of New Triumvirat. It would be the last album to contain prog-rock; the rest of their discography would not be the same style. This was the main reason for the departure of drummer and lyricist Hans Bathelt, dissatisfied with the direction taken by Hans-Jürgen Fritz and pressure from the record company, which pushed the group towards a more commercial pop music sound.
The next album released in 1978, À la Carte, had little or nothing to do with the band of previous years, due to the pressures of the record company that wanted more sales from the group. As the last original member, the other musicians on the album being merely contract players, Fritz did not feel able to protest, and the result was this album that sold less than the previous ones. Changes of personnel for this album comprised Barry Palmer’s replacement on vocals by David Hanselmann, Werner Kopal taking bassist Dieter Petereit’s place, and Curt Cress giving way to drummer Matthias Holtmann.
The band’s last album Russian Roulette was released in 1980, with Toto members Steve Lukather on guitar and bass and drummer Jeff Porcaro (who had also played with Steely Dan) plus other studio musicians. But the album dissatisfied keyboardist Fritz who subsequently disbanded the group.
In 1987, Barry Palmer produced a maxi-single titled Shimmering Gold (Max Version) / Shimmering Gold (Single Version) / Cold Nights, co-produced by Hans-Jurgen Fritz and Andreas Martin Krause; Fritz also wrotes the lyrics of Shimmering Gold, which the music was composed by Eugen Römer. It was published on Titan Records.
In 1989 Hans-Jürgen Fritz released an album that consists of a soundtrack for a movie titled Es ist nicht leicht, ein Gott zu sein, in english it was called It’s Hard to Be a God, on the CBS Records label. The last song, “Hard to Be a God”, was sung by Grant Stevens, the rest of the album being instrumental. The film was by Peter Fleischmann, based on a screenplay by Peter Fleischmann and Jean-Claude Carrière, with Edward Zentara and Werner Herzog. Then in 1990, he released his only solo album, again on Columbia Records in Europe, and Sony in America, in the Millennium collection, entitled Dreams of Amadeus with Ralf Hildenbeutel, in which the music is based on Mozart themes.
Since 2002, according to the band’s official website, Triumvirat had to be back with a project called The Website Story, which they recorded in 1999, with songs written in partnership with Fritz and John Miles; the project remains unpublished for lack of interest from record companies.
In 2012, EMI released the Essential compilation with songs from their seven albums. Note that all their albums, including their latest Russian Roulette have been reissued in 2002 with additional titles, previously only available in singles, special mention for Illusions on a Double Dimple which is adorned with a different cover. (wikipedia)
And here´s their debut album.
In 1972 this German trio had the courage to start their careers releasing a semi conceptual album in a foreign language, and they did a great job. Often dismissed by critics as a “B” class ELP clones, Triumvirat is far from being that simple, specially because Mediterranean Tales is a Symphonic album and ELP is a Classic Prog’ band something absolutely different, we know of course “The Rat” and specially Fritz have some Emerson influence (they are declared fans of “The Nice”) but their arrangements and lyrics are absolutely unique that deserve much more recognition than they got.
Must add that I believe Triumvirat at their peak is not less than ELP and most of the “big 5” prog’ bands.
The founding members were Jürgen Fritz , Hans Bathelt and Werner Frangenberg but the third one decided to continue his career in a pop band, so he was replaced by Hans Pape, a talented bassist and very decent vocalist, this is the lineup that recorded Mediterranean Tales.
Incredibly the album starts with a 16 minutes multi part epic “Across the Waters” in which the band combines various classical influences that go from Baroque to Romantic, Jurgen Fritz is impeccable with his keyboards even when his German accent is hard to swallow by purists. A very good song and impressive starting point for a career.
“Eleven Kids” is a simpler song, which starts with a classical keyboard instrumental strongly supported by powerful bass and drums, but soon changes into a simpler tune where the band shows their pop side even when you can find some psychedelic fugues and classical chords, weaker than the previous but still pretty good track.
“E Minor 5/9” is a more eclectic song with strange timing where bass and drums carry the weight of the music except in the middle srction where a psychedelic keys semi solo breaks the repetitive rhythm and gives extra brightness, probably the track that reminds me more of The Nice or early ELP.
The original album ends with “Broken Mirror” which IMO is the best track because the band shows what their classical sound will be, incredible piano and complex structure that prepares the listener for Triumvirat’s next two releases adding a jazz fusion section.
The Digital Remaster edition contains four more tracks “Be Home by Tea” (edition of part of the opening Track), an also edited version of “Broken Mirror” and two more songs (“Ride in the Night” and “Sing Me a Song”) that probably didn’t reached the original album due to the limitations of the vinyl format, but much weaker than the all the previous.
A very good album even when the band is not in the peak of their creativity that will be reached with Illusions on a Double Dimple and Spartacus. An excellent addition for any prog’ collection and a must have for Triumvirat fans. (Ivan_Melgar_M)
Hans Bathelt (drums, percussion)
Hans Jürgen Fritz (keyboards, synthesizer, percussion, vocals)
Hans Pape (bass, vocals)
01. Across The Waters 16.33
01.1. Overture (Mozart)
01.2. Taxident (Fritz/Bathelt)
01.3. Mind Tripper (Fritz)
01.4. 5 O’clock Tea (Fritz/Bathelt)
01.5. Satan’s Breakfast (Fritz)
01.6. Undertur (Mozart)
02. Eleven Kids (Fritz/Bathelt) 6.06
03. E Minor 5/9 Minor /5 (Fritz) 8.01
04. Broken Mirror (Fritz) 7.16
05. Be Home For Tea (Edit Of 5 O’clock Tea) (Single A-side 1972) (Fritz/Bathelt) 3.35
06. Broken Mirror (Edit) (Single B-side 1972) (Fritz) 3.21
07. Ride In The Night (Single A-side 1973) (Fritz/Batheld) 4.26
08. Sing Me A Song (Single B-side 1973) (Fritz/Batheld) 4.38
The official website: