Born: October 7, 1835; Coburg, Germany
Died: February 26, 1913; Dresden, Germany
In his youth, Felix Draeseke was an enthusiastic follower of the New German School, whose music drew the attention of Liszt. In his old age, however, deaf and perhaps disillusioned by too many years spent teaching and too few years gaining accolades as a composer, Draeseke had become conservative, attacking the excesses of the Strauss generation even while maintaining an idiosyncratic style of his own.
Draeseke entered theRead more Leipzig Conservatory at age seventeen, studying with Julius Rietz. He abandoned the conservatory three years later, after hearing Wagner's Lohengrin. Besotted with this new, heightened, German-nationalist form of musical expression, he began an opera in a similar vein: König Sigurd, which attracted the support of Franz Liszt. In 1861, Liszt's performance in Weimar of Draeseke's Germania-Marsch met with angry protests. Germany seemed to have a new musical firebrand on its hands.
Draeseke met Wagner in Lucerne in 1859, and the young composer, too, would move to Switzerland in 1861. He would be based there for fifteen years, toiling as a piano teacher in towns around Lake Geneva and never gaining the attention for his own music that his early notoriety suggested would come easily. Liszt hailed Draeseke's Sonata quasi Fantasia, composed during this time, as the best piano sonata since Schumann, but few other cognoscenti seemed to share this opinion.
He returned to Germany in 1876, settling in Dresden and gaining a job at the conservatory there in 1884. This position gave him a stable enough base that he could now compose more prolifically, though no longer as a member of the Romantic avant-garde. The 1880s saw the completion of his first staged opera, Gudrun, and several large orchestral works, most notably his Third Symphony, "Symphonia Tragica," as well as chamber works, including a sonata for the short-lived viola alta.
From the 1890s Draeseke turned increasingly to dramatic stage works and large-scale sacred music, including his once highly regarded Mysterium: Christus (completed in 1899). His use of harmony and methods of voice-leading remained distinctive, but Draeseke was now firmly entrenched in the musical establishment, and he was appalled by the flamboyance of Richard Strauss, which he parodied in his 1912 "Symphonia Comica."
Draeseke's music fell into obscurity; only a murky recording of his "Tragic" Symphony kept his name alive in the second half of the twentieth century, although since 1986 the International Draeseke Society has revived his work in print and recording. Read less
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