• 1877 — 1933
Latest albums featuring Karg-Elert as composer
German composer and organist Sigfrid Karg-Elert, though not widely known, had a prodigious output, having composed his greatest bulk of work for the organ and harmonium. A reappraisal of his work began with a series of ambitious recording projects in the 1990s, cataloguing his most important contributions.
The composer's father, Johann Karg, a book dealer, rarely saw his family. Constantly on the move, the family lived in many areas throughout German-speaking Europe. Karg-Elert was the youngest of 12 children. Nonetheless, in spite of these hardships, his great musical aptitude was recognized early on. Traveling through Leipzig, the boy tried out for a position with the choir of Saint John's Church, which began his musical training. At 12, he composed a cantata, and soon thereafter began private piano lessons. In 1896, composer Emil von Reznicek obtained three years of tuition free study at the Leipzig Conservatory for the budding musician. There, he studied with Carl Reinecke, Salomon Jadassohn, and others. He supported himself during this time playing in cafes and playing now and then with regional orchestras.
Karg-Elert's Piano Concerto, performed by himself as soloist, won him additional free training at the Leipzig Conservatory, enabling him to graduate fully from the institution. This was arranged by piano virtuoso Reisenauer, who also convinced Karg-Elert to embark on a recital tour of Germany. However, it was composition that interested him, and on his return to Leipzig, he took up advanced composition study with Teichmuller at the conservatory. He was later appointed head of the master class at the Magdeburg Conservatory in 1902.
Not happy at Magdeburg, he left teaching altogether and concentrated full-time on composition. Around 1904, he met Edvard Grieg, who recommended his work to several publishers, notably Novello and Carl Simon, the Berlin publisher and harmonium specialist. The publication of his work resulted in gaining the backing of influential performers and composers of the day. Busoni, Kreutzer, and Reger performed his work, and encouraged the creation of new ones.
In 1915, Karg-Elert enlisted in the army, and played various instruments in the regimental bands. At this time, he composed his solo works for flute and clarinet. He returned to Leipzig in 1919 to teach at the Leipzig Conservatory once more. A rather dark time in the composers' life intervened between 1920 to about 1926. He was being criticized by some of his peers for not being nationalistic enough, and too cosmopolitan. The era of heightened national pride caused Karg-Elert to feel like a stranger in his own country, and he was even branded as a Jew, although he was not.
Karg-Elert composed over 250 pieces for organ, 100 pieces for the harmonium d'art (developed by French instrument-maker Mustel), numerous chamber works, and he completed several theoretical works. His theory of Harmonologie developed original approaches to practical theoretical considerations.