Werner Egk

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Werner Egk, 2001 stamp Werner Egk (timbre allemand).jpg
Werner Egk, 2001 stamp

Werner Egk (17 May 1901 10 July 1983), born Werner Joseph Mayer, was a German composer.

Composer person who creates music, either by musical notation or oral tradition

A composer is a musician who is an author of music in any form, including vocal music, instrumental music, electronic music, and music which combines multiple forms. A composer may create music in any music genre, including, for example, classical music, musical theatre, blues, folk music, jazz, and popular music. Composers often express their works in a written musical score using musical notation.


Early career

He was born in the Swabian town of Auchsesheim, today part of Donauwörth, Germany. His family, of Catholic peasant stock, moved to Augsburg when Egk was six. He studied at a Benedictine Gymnasium (academic high school) and entered the municipal conservatory. Egk demonstrated talents as a composer, graphic artist, and writer, and he moved first to Frankfurt to improve his piano talents and then, in 1921, to Munich. There, working as a theater composer and playing in the pit, he married Elizabeth Karl, a violinist. He derived his pen name "Egk" from his wife's initials: Elisabeth, geborne Karl (Elisabeth, née Karl). [1] His only son, Titus, was born in 1924. [2]

Swabia historical and cultural region of Germany

Swabia is a cultural, historic and linguistic region in southwestern Germany. The name is ultimately derived from the medieval Duchy of Swabia, one of the German stem duchies, representing the territory of Alemannia, whose inhabitants interchangeably were called Alemanni or Suebi.

Donauwörth Place in Bavaria, Germany

DonauwörthGerman: [ˌdoːnaʊˈvøːɐ̯t]) is a town and the capital of the Donau-Ries district in Swabia, Bavaria, Germany. It is said to have been founded by two fishermen where the rivers Danube (Donau) and Wörnitz meet. The city is part of the scenic route called "Romantische Straße"

Augsburg Place in Bavaria, Germany

Augsburg is a city in Swabia, Bavaria, Germany. It is a university town and regional seat of the Regierungsbezirk Schwaben. Augsburg is an urban district and home to the institutions of the Landkreis Augsburg. It is the third-largest city in Bavaria with a population of 300,000 inhabitants, with 885,000 in its metropolitan area.

Egk moved to Berlin in 1928, meeting composers Arnold Schoenberg and Hanns Eisler. He intended to become a cinema composer and accompanied silent films. When radio broadcasting became available to the public, Egk immediately realised its importance as a mass medium and developed operas and radio plays. He was introduced to Hans Fleisch, an important radio executive (also Paul Hindemith's brother-in-law and a Jew), by composer Kurt Weill. He received his first commission for broadcasting from Fleisch's company.

Arnold Schoenberg Austrian-American composer

Arnold Schoenberg or Schönberg was an Austrian, and later American, composer, music theorist, teacher, writer, and painter. He was associated with the expressionist movement in German poetry and art, and leader of the Second Viennese School. With the rise of the Nazi Party, Schoenberg's works were labeled degenerate music, because they were modernist and atonal. He immigrated to the United States in 1934.

Hanns Eisler Austrian composer

Hanns Eisler was an Austrian composer. He is best known for composing the national anthem of East Germany, for his long artistic association with Bertolt Brecht, and for the scores he wrote for films. The Hochschule für Musik "Hanns Eisler" is named after him.

Opera artform combining sung text and musical score in a theatrical setting

Opera is a form of theatre in which music has a leading role and the parts are taken by singers, but is distinct from musical theater. Such a "work" is typically a collaboration between a composer and a librettist and incorporates a number of the performing arts, such as acting, scenery, costume, and sometimes dance or ballet. The performance is typically given in an opera house, accompanied by an orchestra or smaller musical ensemble, which since the early 19th century has been led by a conductor.

He returned to Munich in 1929 to work for the local radio station and settled in Lochham, a suburb. He became associated with musicians Fritz Büchtger  [ de ], Karl Marx, and especially, Carl Orff, whom he had met in 1921. His music of the period shows a debt to the compositional style of Igor Stravinsky. He also became friends with new-music conductor Hermann Scherchen and the owners of the music publisher, Schott Music in Mainz. His career as a composer took off with the premiere of his radio opera, Columbus, in July 1933 (staged in April 1934).

Karl Julius Marx was a German composer and music teacher.

Carl Orff German composer

Carl Heinrich Maria Orff was a German composer and music educator, best known for his cantata Carmina Burana (1937). The concepts of his Schulwerk were influential for children's music education.

Igor Stravinsky Russian-born composer

Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky was a Russian-born composer, pianist, and conductor. He is widely considered one of the most important and influential composers of the 20th century.

Nazi era

Any composer working in Germany at the time had to deal with the Nazi regime coming to power in 1933. Michael H. Kater, Professor of German studies at York University labels Egk "The Enigmatic Opportunist" in his portrait of Eight German Composers of the Nazi Era, and by far the most extensive evaluation of the composer's wartime connections in English (Kater, 30). As a German of Catholic heritage, Egk was in no danger of falling into disfavor with the regime's racial policies; rather, the professional hardships for Jewish composers and others created opportunities for him. Egk's contact with Scherchen soon lapsed, and the composer developed a complicated relationship as well as a professional rivalry with Orff, whose works ultimately found more lasting success.

Michael Hans Kater is a German historian of Nazism. He is a Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus of history at York University, Toronto, and a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

York University university in Toronto, Ontario, Canada

York University is a public research university in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. It is Canada's third-largest university, and it has approximately 52,300 students, 7,000 faculty and staff, and 295,000 alumni worldwide. It has eleven faculties, including the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, Faculty of Science, Lassonde School of Engineering, Schulich School of Business, Osgoode Hall Law School, Glendon College, Faculty of Education, Faculty of Health, Faculty of Environmental Studies, Faculty of Graduate Studies, the School of the Arts, Media, Performance and Design, and 28 research centres. The Keele campus is also home to a satellite location of Seneca College.

Initially, Munich's cultural administrators had doubts about the compatibility of Egk's Stravinskian style with a Nazi audience, and he encountered difficulty with Munich's representative for Alfred Rosenberg's Kampfbund für deutsche Kultur (Militant League for German Culture), Paul Ehlers.

Alfred Rosenberg German architect and politician

Alfred Ernst Rosenberg was a Baltic German-born theorist and an influential ideologue of the Nazi Party. Rosenberg was first introduced to Adolf Hitler by Dietrich Eckart and later held several important posts in the Nazi government.

The Militant League for German Culture, was a nationalistic anti-Semitic political society during the Weimar Republic and the Nazi era. It was founded in 1928 as the Nationalsozialistische Gesellschaft für deutsche Kultur by Nazi ideologue Alfred Rosenberg and remained under his leadership until it was reorganized and renamed to the National Socialist Culture Community in 1934. Its aim was to make a significant imprint on cultural life in Germany that was based on the aims and objectives of the inner circles of the Nazi Party. Upon its reorganization, it was merged with the Deutsche Bühne, connected with the establishment of the official body for cultural surveillance, the "Dienstelle Rosenberg" (DRbg) and was later known as the Amt Rosenberg.

In 1935, he premiered his first opera Die Zaubergeige (The Magic Violin) in Frankfurt am Main. The work channeled Bavarian folksong and a diatonic idiom far less modernist than his earlier, more angular Columbus. This opera therefore matched Nazi artistic guidelines prescribing folk elements as being close to the people. Swiss composer Heinrich Sutermeister saw the stylistic change as "opportunistic." The success of the work led to a commission for ballet music related to the 1936 Summer Olympics (for which he received a gold medal in the Art Competition) [3] and his appointment as conductor of the Berlin State Opera – a position he held until 1941. Egk's protector in Berlin was Heinz Tietjen, director of the Prussian state theaters and artistic director of the Bayreuth Festival.

November 1938 saw the première of his opera Peer Gynt based on Henrik Ibsen's play. Propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels wrote in his diary on 1 February 1939: "I am very enthusiastic and so is the Führer. A new discovery for the both of us". Oddly enough, Egk had returned to his more Stravinskian style in the work. More conservative critics found elements in the plot threatening to Nazi ideals of martial grandeur, and they also had difficulties with the reworking of the Nordic plot. One possible interpretation of the event lies in an argument Hitler had with his lieutenant Göring, who had warned Hitler not to go to the opera, "because none of your favorite singers were in it." It has been credibly suggested that Hitler and Goebbels decided to "like" the opera as a "taunt" to Göring for having the audacity to tell Hitler what he could and could not see (Kater 10 and accompanying footnotes, also an oral history from Viennese composer Gottfried von Einem, Vienna, Nov. 30, 1994).

As the thirties wore on, Egk was asked, or perhaps commanded, to make official pronouncements about German music, and he received a large commission (never fulfilled) for a large scale opera on Nazi themes. His next major work was the ballet Joan von Zarissa in 1940. In the following decade, it was common to pair the work with Orff's Carmina Burana . In general, Egk's music found much more success in Berlin, and Orff lost to Egk in the prize surrounding the Olympic games composition. Unlike Egk, who enjoyed regular income from his artistic directorship, Orff was also self-employed and much impoverished. This exposed Egk to attack from Orff's partisans, though Egk and his wife continued to see Orff socially. These rivalries impinged on the credibility of witnesses in Egk's trial after the war. From 1941 to 1945 Egk was the leader of the Composer division ("Leiter der Fachschaft Komponisten") in the State-Approved Society for the Exploitation of Musical Performing Rights (German: Staatlich genehmigte Gesellschaft zur Verwertung musikalischer Aufführungsrechte; STAGMA) which was then under the control of the Nazi Reichsmusikkammer (Reich Music Chamber).

Egk never joined the Nazi party and was exonerated in denazification tribunals held in 1947, but the trials were fraught with inaccuracies, including accounts of involvement with the Austrian resistance movement that were highly dubious. Among Egk's defenders were Gottfried von Einem and composer Boris Blacher. Initially his Nazi affiliations were held against him, though only briefly. There are various interpretations regarding the extent of his collaboration:

The truth is probably somewhere in the middle (Kater, 22).


His major career began after the war. In Germany, Egk has been dubbed "Komponist des Wiederaufbaus" ("composer of the reconstruction", which followed World War II). Besides being a conductor and composer, he was head of the Berlin Musikhochschule (1950–1952) and important figure of the GEMA since 1950; he was also the first German president of the Confédération Internationale des Sociétés d'Auteurs et Compositeurs (CISAC). In 1954 he became conductor of the Bavarian State Opera with a 20-year contract.

His later years saw a constant string of premieres at major European festivals, beginning with Irische Legende in 1955, conducted by George Szell and featuring Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. His opera Die Verlobung in San Domingo opened the National Theatre Munich in 1963 and features a libretto by Heinrich von Kleist, pleading for racial tolerance. His late works, however, were almost exclusively instrumental. Exceptional among them are works for winds, including the Divertissement for Ten Wind Instruments (1974) and the Five Pieces for Wind Quintet (1975).

Egk died on 10 July 1983 in Inning am Ammersee.

Selected works



Orchestral works

Vocal works

Singspiels (musical plays)

Film music


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<i>Die Zaubergeige</i> opera

Die Zaubergeige is a 1935 opera by Werner Egk to a libretto by Ludwig Strecker after Count Franz Pocci. Egk revised the opera in 1954.

Die Verlobung in San Domingo is a 1960 opera by Werner Egk after Heinrich von Kleist, premiered on 22 November 1963 at the Bavarian State Opera.

Irische Legende is a 1955 opera by Werner Egk after the 1892/1899 verse drama The Countess Cathleen by W. B. Yeats. Egk revised the opera in 1975.

Columbus is a 1933 opera by Werner Egk. Originally a radio opera, Egk revised it in 1942 for the stage. The Munich premiere was acclaimed in the press and joined the year's repertoire at the Freiburg Theatre, though some dissented. The lack of melody in the opera brought negative comment from Richard Strauss in comparison to Meyerbeer's grand opera on the life of the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama L'Africaine.

<i>Peer Gynt</i> (opera) Opera by Werner Egk

Peer Gynt is a 1938 opera by Werner Egk to a libretto after the play Peer Gynt by Henrik Ibsen. The premiere took place on 24 November 1938 at the Berliner Staatsoper where Egk was the conductor at the time.

<i>Circe</i> (Egk) opera

Circe is a 1945 opera by Werner Egk after Pedro Calderón de la Barca, premiered 1948. Egk reworked it as an opera semibuffa as 17 Tage und 4 Minuten, 1966.

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  1. Werner Egk, Music and the Holocaust
  2. Werner Egk Chronology Archived 2012-09-09 at Archive.today , Schott Music
  3. Werner Egk Archived 2007-03-10 at the Wayback Machine , Olympics database