I’ve added another poster for a second centenary concert for Walter Wurzburger – the first concert poster can be seen below.
A fascinating forgotten voice celebrates a centenary: Walter Wurzburger – or, as he must have been known before coming to the English speaking world: Walter Würzburger – possibly even Würzbürger. I heard a chamber work some years ago …and was much taken with its expressive beauty and technical polish. Would circumstances have curtailed a more successful career? Difficult to say, but I keep coming back to the concept that just as there was stolen art, there was stolen music – and of course, those things that can never be restored: stolen careers, opportunities and lives. A fascinating minor master who nonetheless should be remembered for who he was, what he achieved and above all, for having got out alive. His modest output is testimony to the miracle of the latter, and in this hundredth birthday, needs to be acknowledged and celebrated.
This is the poster for the first celebration concert:
Of course, it is tempting to believe that ‘Entartete Kunst’ was something only the Nazis pursued. This kind of ‘mindless denial’ by those with power to chose what music can be/will be heard and what music will languished in obscurity is still being, and perhaps always has, been pursued. The difference is the Nazis were a little more ‘open’ about it!!! Anyone who did not fit their ‘racial profiling’ was not even considered a composer, a singer, an instrumentalist, a conductor etc. Now, the process is mostly ‘secret’ and dependent on whether you are ‘one of us’ or not. Like Walter, whom I knew as a teacher and as a friend, I am certainly not ‘one of them’. Like him, anything I write is ignored although, unlike Walter, I do not give a fig. It is of no importance and what ‘they’ love more than anything is if you give a fig, or a pear or an apple for that matter.
Walter did have a prodigious talent. He was a thorough craftsman. He had an abundance of knowledge of a whole gamut of classical music styles, forms, theory of harmony and counterpoint as well as a good understanding of 12-tone writing – either free or strictly using Schönberg’s Method. His teaching style often invovled showing what great composers did, especially if there was a thorny problem to solve. I have never forgotten the fruits of his lessons and I am still using his solutions to problems to this day, albeit now supplemented by my own discoveries/solutions as far as compositional problems are concerned. Very often, these solutions are based on an compositional approach and musical style, or musical styles, which are very different to Walter’s but so much of music transcends such considerations and so almost all of the things Walter taught remain valid, remain true.
Walter’s music could often be beguiling, abrasive, lyrical or rather gauche, either in turn (one might say ‘serially’) or simultaneously! For me, Walter’s biggest handicap was his downright refusal to believe that anything ‘extramusical’ could affect or change the compositional process or indeed that music could contain emotional content. Perhaps I am exaggerating the negativity of his view of what music is but that, to a large extent, is what he believed. I hold the opposite view, and it may be one of the reasons why we drifted apart as my powers as a composer ‘took wing’ to ‘feel the air of other planets’. I mention this because I think this lack of ‘passion’ is sometimes present in Walter’s music. There is an abundance of ‘life’ and ‘vitality’ present which is, more often than not, buoyed up by the formidable craftsmanship but still… in the background there is a ‘dullness’, a ‘deadness’ that most listeners would find hard to discern. I discern it and I interpret it as a deep, deep unexpressed grief at all that he had lost because of a bunch of thugs who usurped power and politics (as well as virtually everything else) in Germany from 1933 to 1945. That loss is hardly difficult to understand: his mother and father and one brother were murdered by the Nazis. I don’t know if Walter realized that his grief went into his music: I would like to think that he did for it helps a composer to understand a lot of things when he is subject to emotional forces very much beyond his ken or his control. He never admitted to me, though, that his music contained a ‘catalogue of grief’ but at the time of my studies with him, I was hardly able to understand such a process myself. Now it is as natural an understanding to me as breathing and I think music that is empty of emotion is more or less worthless although we are surrounded by such music daily!
I understand that there have been a few performances of his string music in the last few years, some of his 6 string quartets, for instance. It is a pity that his wind music is not played for, as a woodwind player (he played clarinet, bassoon and alto saxophone), it is in wind music that his heart really lay. There are what he boringly called ‘Ensemble Studies’ for 2, 3, 4 and more instruments plus some bigger wind music pieces including, if memory serves, a wind quintet, a septet, a nonet and a double wind quintet. They are all worth performing and worth hearing! Every single one of them! It would be a pity if they were to languish in obscurity, and therefore silence, for ever. I have a recording (conductors: Guy Woolfenden and Derek Smith) which was made at the BBC in 1970 which features these larger wind pieces and until our record deck was packed away about 5 years ago, I used to listen to them every now and again. They never failed to sound fresh and exiciting even if sometimes you feel a passage ‘doesn’t quite come off’ or is ‘clumsy’ in its construction. Those bleamishes don’t detract very much from Walter’s unfailing sense of texture and harmonic flow, as well as melodic panache, subtlety and consummate inventive freshness. His music deserves to be heard more often.
Thanks for this wonderful reflection, recollection and expression of the frustration all creative people not willing to participate in ‘the mainstream’ inevitably sense. Of course you’re right that music establishments all over the world exercise their own forms of suppression, including the ones from the left condemning anything that they perceive as victimisation, and ones on the right whose sole criterium is commercial. The Nazis, however, brought a murderous brutality to their suppression of music that has perhaps only been matched by revolutionary parties everywhere – including those which purport to be religious revolutionaries. If anything, censorship is becoming more insidious.
I hope woodwind players reading this blog – and your comment – will investigate Wurzburger’s works. Thanks for highlighting this.
Dear Michael, thanks for your kind comments. I hope I didn’t sound as though I was making a comparison between the Nazis’ brutal suppression of creative artists who were excluded from German society on completely spurious (but dangerous) racial grounds and the kind of ‘exclusion on the grounds of misunderstood artistic excellence which is always threatening to ‘mainstream art’, ‘mainstream music’. There is no comparison, really, and that is why i refer to the Nazis as thugs. That is what they were.
There is a list of Walter’s compositions here: http://wurzburger.org/ww_compositions.php
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