Wolfgang Fortner


Born: October 12, 1907; Leipzig, Germany   Died: 1987  
A leading German composer and teacher, Wolfgang Fortner wrote in a unique serialist style that preserved elements of continuity derived from Baroque and folk melody practices. He began his musical education in the traditional Leipzig manner (established by the Protestant church) by studying organ, composition, and musicology at the conservatory. His first compositions -- a Toccata and Fugue for organ (1927), an orchestral Suite after Sweelinck Read more (1930), Fragment Mariae, a chamber cantata for soprano and eight instruments (1930), and the String Quartet No. 1 (1930) -- show the influence of Baroque formality and religious elements. In works of the '30s, the influence of composers Hindemith and Stravinsky would also come to the fore.

Fortner taught at the Heidelberg Institute of Church Music beginning in 1931 and founded the Heidelberg Chamber Orchestra in 1935. During this period, Fortner penned several religious works, including Drei Geistliche Gesänge (Three Holy Songs on texts from Claudius, Verlaine, and the Bible) for a cappella choir (1932), Eine Deutsche Liedmesse (A German Song Mass) (1934), and Psalm XLVI (1934). There were also chamber orchestra pieces, such as the Concertino for Viola and Orchestra (1934) and a Concerto for Strings (1933). Smaller works included the Preambel und Fuge for organ (1932), a Suite for violoncello (1932), and a Piano Sonatina (1932).

After the war, Fortner founded the Musica Viva concerts in 1947, which introduced many contemporary works. Fortner began teaching twelve-tone composition at the famous Darmstadt summer courses in 1946; his students included Hans Werner Henze and B.A. Zimmermann. Fortner's own music veered toward embracing the formalism of serialist procedures; he replaced melody with unifying patterns or isorhythms and organized the parameters of pitch and amplitude dynamics according to logical means.

Fortner's postwar stage works include the ballet, Die Weisse Rose (The White Rose), after Wilde's The Birthday of the Infanta (1950), and the pantomime Die Witwe von Ephesus (The Widow of Ephesus) (1953). One of his most powerful works is the opera Die Bluthochzeit (The Blood Wedding) (1957), based on Federico Garcia Lorca's text. Fortner set another text by Lorca in the chamber opera in four scenes In Seinem Garten Liebt Don Perlimplin Belisa. This work is notable for its wide range of beautifully orchestrated timbres and subtle dramatic development. Fortner found new expressiveness in serial techniques by applying them to religious music in the oratorio scene Isaaks Opferung, for alto, tenor, bass solos, and 40 instruments (1952), The Creation on a text by J.W. Johnson for mezzo soprano, baritone, and orchestra (1955), and Die Pfingsgeschichte (The Story of the Pentecost) after passages in St. Luke for voices, small orchestra, and organ (1963).

From 1957 until 1972, Fortner was a professor at the Freiburg Musikhochschule. He was also president of the German section of the ICSM (1957), head of the music section of the Berlin Academy of Arts, and a member of the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts. His many awards include the Schreker Prize of Berlin (1948) and the Bach Prize of Hamburg (1960). Read less

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