Born: March 18, 1896; Wenden, Latvia
Died: June 21, 1958; Hamburg, Germany
Eduard Erdmann was a Latvian-born German pianist and composer whose greatest successes occurred in the era of the Weimar Republic. Essentially a modernist, Erdmann's music is reminiscent of Alban Berg and the more progressive post-Romantic approach found in Gustav Mahler's late symphonies. However, Erdmann did not make use of twelve-tone derived techniques, and his music remained essentially tonal within a rather broad harmonic context.Read more
Erdmann undertook piano studies in Riga from the age of 11 and eventually graduated to master classes with Conrad Ansorge, a former student of Franz Liszt. Erdmann's interest in composition evolved directly alongside the development of his pianism, aided by the patient tutelage of his composition teacher Heinz Tiessen. After the Armistice of November 1918, Erdmann began to make strides in both areas. A Berlin recital held in 1919 was a success and his Rondo for Orchestra, Op. 9, was positively received in German music circles. By the early '20s, Erdmann was on friendly terms with such well-known figures as conductor Hermann Scherchen and composers Philipp Jarnach, Alban Berg, Arnold Schoenberg, and in particular Ernst Krenek, who would remain Erdmann's closet confidante. By 1925, Erdmann's two symphonies were played to critical acclaim throughout Germany, and in 1929 he was named head of the piano department of the Cologne Musikhocschule.
With the rise of the Nazi party in 1933, Erdmann found his compositions condemned as "cultural Bolshevism" and banned from performance. Many of his colleagues fled Germany, and in 1935 Erdmann resigned from his position at the Cologne Musickhocschule. Nonetheless, Erdmann remained in Germany and continued to concertize, joining the Nazi Party in 1937. While Erdmann was no Nazi sympathizer and took his party card primarily to protect himself from persecution, this decision would prove fatal to his postwar reputation as a composer. Writing to Krenek in 1948, Erdmann stated "Now that the Nazi era is over, my compositions are completely forgotten and unwanted."
In his last years, Erdmann was largely leading a reclusive life. However, starting in 1950 he did teach piano a few weeks a year at the Hamburg Musikhocschule, thanks to the kindly intervention of Philipp Jarnach. Among the pianists that studied with Erdmann in Hamburg were the brothers Alfons and Aloys Kontarksy. Erdmann's compositions represent a singular achievement within one of the most interesting periods of German art music. Nonetheless, only 50 years after Erdmann died of heart disease was his work being revived for new audiences to enjoy. Read less
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