Harald Genzmer

1909 2007

Harald Genzmer

Composer

Biography

Genzmer was born near Bremen, Germany in 1909. His family moved around frequently during his youth, to Posen, Lankwitz, Rostock and Marburg. While in Rostock, Genzmer was able to hearRichard Strauss’ Alpine Symphony and Rudi Stephan’s Music for Orchestra, both in 1923. These performances made a lasting impression on the young composer. Also influential for Genzmer was the presence ofPaul Hindemith’s Amar Quintet in 1924.

Genzmer received theory, organ, piano and composition lessons from the Marburg University Music Director Herman Stephani from 1925-1928 in Marburg.

In 1928, Genzmer passed the entrance exam at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik. For composition, Genzmer received lessons from the brilliant theorist and composer Paul Hindemith. He also followed courses in piano with Rudolph Schmidt, clarinet with Alfred Richter and musicology with Curt Sachs and Georg Schünemann.

After graduation, Genzmer found work as a chorus répétiteur and vocal coach, combining his performance and teaching abilities, at the Breslau Opera from 1934 to 1937. After leaving the opera, Genzmer was hired at the Volkmusikschule Berlin- Neukölln, where he taught music theory and interaction from 1938 to 1940.

With the impending war, Genzmer was drafted in 1940 into the military. He fulfilled his duties as a clarinettist and was later exempt from the Wehrmacht and hospital concerts. During this period, he began to work together with Oskar Sala, one of the founders of the trautonium, a monophonic electronic instrument consisting of a resistor wire over a metal plate instead of a keyboard. The instrument was first developed in 1929 by Friedrich Trautwein at the Berlin Musikhochschule. Sala continued to develop the instrument until his death in 2002.

Genzmer’s interest in the trautonium was probably sparked by Hindemith, who composed a Concerto for Trautonium with String Quartet. Sala premiered Hindemith’s work, along with Genzmer’s Concert for Trautonium and Orchestra. Both composers went on to write more works for the instrument. Though many have never heard of this instrument, it is the instrument which created the bird noises in Alfred Hitchcock’s filmThe Birds. It was also used in Richard Strauss’ Japanese Festival Music(1942) premiere in Dresden and in Wagner’s Parsifal  in Bayreuth. In both cases it emulated gongs and bells. It is likely that many more works employed this revolutionary instrument, but were lost during the war.

In the mid-40s Genzmer was appointed professor of composition and acting director of the conservatory in Freiburg, the Freiburg Musikhochschule. He remained in Freiburg until 1957, after more than a decade at the school. During this period, he composed his Suite in C for piano, which was premiered by Carl Seemann. In 1957, Genzmer left for Munich to serve as the chair of composition at the Munich Hochschule für Musik, which he did until 1974. He was also a member of the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts and the Academy of Fine Arts in Berlin.

Genzmer passed his compositional skills and musical legacy, which he had fine-tuned under the tutelage of Hindemith, down to his students, including Bertold Hummel, Heinz Winbeck and Friedrich Zehm.

As a composer, Genzmer was known as a ‘humanist among musicians’, which had previously described Paul Hoffhaimer. This title came about because of Genzmer’s lack of interest in composing abstract music. He preferred, instead, to place people (the performer or the listener) at the centre of his compositions. He continued to compose, even after his retirement, until his death on 16 December 2007. Genzmer’s output, which includes more than 300 works, contains many works for young and amateur musicians. Nearly every genre is represented in his oeuvre, with the exception of opera. In addition to orchestral, chamber and choral works, Genzmer also composed many works for piano and organ. His only incidental music was for the balletThe Magic Mirror (1965).

Evidence of Hindemith’s teachings are present in Genzmer’s composition, especially regarding the precision of the craftsmanship, which very much balances the importance of expression, harmony, melody and rhythm. The dramatic and emotional character of Genzmer’s music more closely resembles that of Richard Strauss. In addition, motivic development is very important in his music. While Genzmer’s music is technically demanding, it is very accessible to audiences and performers alike.

Genzmer’s music is published by Peters Edition, Schott Music and Musikverlag Ries & Erler. His orchestral works include concertos for the majority of the orchestral instruments, including cello, flute, violin, harp, viola, percussion and double bass. There also two piano concertos and two organ concerts and a number of concertos for multiple instruments—cello and bass, three trumpets, two pianos, two guitars, flute and harp. All the concertos are with an orchestra. There is also a Concerto for cello and winds (1969) and a Concerto for trumpet, winds, harp and percussion (after 1974). Genzmer also composed a number of concertinos and sinfoniettas in addition to five symphonies.

Genzmer composed six cantatas, beginning with the Jiménez-Kantate (1962) for soprano, mixed chorus and orchestra. His final cantata wasKantate 1981 nach engl. Barokgedichten (1981) for soprano, mixed chorus and orchestra. He also composed one mass, theDeutsche Messe (1973) for mixed chorus and organ.

Genzmer only composed one collection of songs, the Fünf Lieder (‘5 Songs’, 1961-3) for baritone and piano on texts by Luís de Camões. For choir, Genzmer composed five works, four for a cappella chorus and one for men’s chorus with organ—Zwei geistliche Festsprüche (date unknown). He composed at least five piano sonatas and a number of other solo piano works. For the organ, Genzmer also composed a number of sonatas and concertos for special occasions, such as theAdventskonzert (1966), Weihnachtskonzert (1974) and the Osterkonzert (1982). Further, Genzmer composed several dozen chamber music works between 1939 and 2002.

Of particular interest is the work, Der Läufer (‘The Runner’, 1936), which won a bronze medal in the Summer Olympic Games in 1936 in the category “solo and choral singing”. Other awards include the Music Prize for the city of München in 1962, The Maximilian Order for Science and Art in 1991 and the Cultural Prize of the Bavarian State Foundation in 1996. In 1992 the Harald Genzmer Foundation was founded to advance new music by awarding composers, performers and musicologists prizes/subsidies for productions and publications. During his lifetime, Genzmer led the organization by himself.

World premiere recordings of Genzmer’s works are available on the November 2016 album from Solo Musica entitledGenzmer: Wie ein Traum am Rande der Unendlichkeit, with Emmanuel Pahud and Margarita Höhenrieder.

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