Helmut Walcha

Biography

Born: October 27, 1907; Leipzig, Germany   Died: August 11, 1991; Frankfurt, Germany  
Organist Helmut Walcha was a native of Leipzig who was blinded at age 16 due to a botched vaccination against smallpox. Nevertheless, Walcha did not allow this infirmity to discourage him from pursuing his life's ambition as a church musician, and he entered the Leipzig Conservatory at the age of 19. Walcha's potential was noticed by Günther Ramin, professor of organ at the Conservatory and kapellmeister at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, the very Read more church that employed Johann Sebastian Bach from 1724 until his death in 1750. Walcha became Ramin's assistant at the Thomaskirche and made his public performance debut there in 1924. In 1929, Walcha accepted a position at the Friedenskirche at Frankfurt, where he was based the rest of his long life; in 1938, Walcha began teaching at the Musikhochschule in Frankfurt, and in 1946 he moved from the Friedenskirche to the Dreikönigskirche. While he retired from teaching in 1972, Walcha continued to work as organist of the Dreikönigskirche until his public retirement in 1981.

Being blind, Helmut Walcha memorized all of the music he played, first with the help of his mother and later with his wife's assistance: he heard each individual line of music played in either hand, or from the foot pedals -- once he'd heard each part played four times through, he could re-assemble them in his head. Through this method, Walcha was able to memorize all of the organ works of Bach known in his time, which he recorded twice, for the first time toward the end of the 78 era in mono, and the second in stereo beginning in 1956. Walcha's blindness was actually an aid to his interpretations of these works as he could "see" Bach's music as consisting of individual lines of counterpoint, and Walcha focused his interpretation on making all such details clear as separate entities within Bach's general musical texture. Walcha toured extensively in Europe as an organist and frequently broadcast, but his fame spread most readily through his long association with recording firm Deutsche Grammophon, lasting from 1947 until his retirement from recording at the end of the second Bach cycle in 1971. His recording of Bach's Die Kunst die Füge from 1956, which many critics feel is definitive, was the first stereo recording made by Deutsche Grammophon.

Walcha disdained the big Romantic organs common in Europe in his time, mainly due to what he felt were their overabundant mechanisms, and he went in search of the best surviving Baroque instruments, surveying them throughout Europe. In doing so, Walcha helped set a standard for others in the appreciation and preservation of older organs, and he personally contributed to the restoration of several important instruments through playing fundraisers. Among organs he preferred were a Silbermann instrument at St. Pierre-le-Jeune in Strasbourg and the Schnitger organ at Laurenskerk in Altmaar in The Netherlands, the ones with which he made the lion's share of his recordings. Walcha also played the harpsichord and prepared an edition of George Frideric Handel's 16 organ concerti and made a realization of the unfinished fugue in Bach's Die Kunst der Füge, although he did not record it. Read less
Browse 1-21 of 21 Available Recordings
  • 1.
    Bach Masterworks - The Original Jackets Collection
    Label: Deutsche Grammophon   Catalog: 001929902 Release Date: 12/10/2013   Number of Discs: 50
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
    Performer:  Hertha Töpper,  Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau,  Maria Stader,  Ernst Haefliger  ... 
    Conductor:  Karl Richter,  John Eliot Gardiner,  Rainer Kussmaul,  Reinhard Goebel  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Munich Bach Orchestra,  Munich Bach Choir,  English Baroque Soloists  ... 
    CD: $175.49
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  • 2.
    Archiv Produktion 1947-2013
    Label: Archiv Produktion (Dg)   Catalog: 001833572 Release Date: 06/18/2013   Number of Discs: 55
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach,  Anonymous,  Adam de la Halle,  Raimbaut de Vaqeiras  ... 
    Performer:  Helmut Walcha,  Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau,  Hermann Töttcher,  Maria Jung  ... 
    Conductor:  Karl Ristenpart,  Fritz Lehmann,  Maurus Pfaff,  Safford Cape  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Karl Ristenpart Chamber Orchestra,  Bach Festival Orchestra,  Frankfurt Music School Chorus  ... 
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  • 3.
    Bach: The Six Partitas
    Label: Doremi Records   Catalog: 79856 Release Date: 04/10/2012   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
    Performer:  Helmut Walcha
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  • 4.
    Bach: Organ Works / Helmut Walcha
    Label: Deutsche Grammophon   Catalog: 463017 Release Date: 04/05/2011   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
    Performer:  Helmut Walcha
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  • 5.
    Early Solo & Chamber Recordings (1927-1947)
    Label: Deutsche Grammophon   Catalog: 459003 Release Date: 07/30/2010   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Paul Hindemith,  Richard Wagner,  Claude Debussy,  Johann Sebastian Bach  ... 
    Performer:  Georg Kulenkampff,  Franz Rupp,  Wilhelm Kempff,  Otto A. Graef  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Hindemith Trio
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  • 6.
    Essential Bach
    Label: Emi Classics   Catalog: 95424 Release Date: 02/23/2010   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
    Performer:  Philip Pickett,  Catherine Latham,  Iona Brown,  William Bennett  ... 
    Conductor:  Eugen Jochum,  Sir Neville Marriner,  Yehudi Menuhin,  Wolfgang Gönnenwein  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Academy of St. Martin in the Fields
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  • 7.
    Bach: Das Orgelwerk 10 - Orgelbuchlein / Helmut Walcha
    Label: Archiv Produktion (Dg)   Catalog: 2079 Release Date: 02/11/2010   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
    Performer:  Helmut Walcha
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  • 8.
    State Of The Art - The Story Of Deutsche Grammophon
    Label: Deutsche Grammophon   Catalog: 001341102 Release Date: 12/15/2009   Number of Discs: 6
    Composer:  Johannes Brahms,  Frédéric Chopin,  Gabriel Fauré,  Claude Debussy  ... 
    Performer:  Martha Argerich,  Rafal Blechacz,  Kathleen Battle,  Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli  ... 
    Conductor:  Claudio Abbado,  Carlo Maria Giulini,  Leonard Bernstein,  Pierre Boulez  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Gabrieli Consort,  Andalucian Dogs
    CD: $107.49
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  • 9.
    111 Years Of Deutsche Grammophon [55-CD Set]
    Label: Deutsche Grammophon   Catalog: 001341002 Release Date: 10/20/2009   Number of Discs: 55
    Composer:  Franz Liszt,  Franz Schubert,  Ludwig van Beethoven,  Robert Schumann  ... 
    Performer:  Krystian Zimerman,  Fritz Wunderlich,  Hubert Giesen,  Helmut Walcha  ... 
    Conductor:  Seiji Ozawa,  Daniele Callegari,  Herbert von Karajan,  Karl Richter  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Boston Symphony Orchestra,  Verdi Grand Symphonic Orchestra Milan,  Verdi Chorus Milan  ... 
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  • 10.
    Lübeck, Bruhns, Scheidt: Organ Works / Helmut Walcha
    Label: Archiv Produktion (Dg)   Catalog: 431551 Release Date: 06/11/2007   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Vincent Lübeck,  Samuel Scheidt,  Nicolaus Bruhns
    Performer:  Helmut Walcha
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  • 11.
    Bach: The Art Of Fugue / Helmut Walcha
    Label: Archiv Produktion (Dg)   Catalog: 000861002 Release Date: 04/10/2007   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
    Performer:  Helmut Walcha
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  • 12.
    Label: Octave, Les Productions   Catalog: 23326 Release Date: 03/22/2007   Number of Discs: 6
    Composer:  François Couperin,  Antonio Vivaldi,  Jean-Philippe Rameau,  George Frideric Handel  ... 
    Performer:  Wolfgang Schneiderhan,  Marcelle Meyer,  Andrés Segovia,  Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau  ... 
    Conductor:  Rudolf Baumgartner,  Eduard Van Beinum,  Sir Adrian Boult,  Wilhelm Furtwängler  ... 
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  • 13.
    Original Masters - Merry Christmas (Frohe Weihnachten)
    Label: Deutsche Grammophon   Catalog: 000506802 Release Date: 10/11/2005   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Engelbert Humperdinck,  Michael Praetorius,  Johann Sebastian Bach,  Traditional  ... 
    Performer:  Jörg Demus,  Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau,  Hans Georg Renner,  Fritz Wunderlich  ... 
    Conductor:  Fritz Neumeyer,  Fritz Lehmann,  Maurus Pfaff,  Hellmut Wormsbächer  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Choir,  Orchestra,  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra  ... 
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  • 14.
    Glorious Pipes - Organ Music / Dupré, Cochereau, Et Al
    Label: Deutsche Grammophon   Catalog: 000310102 Release Date: 08/10/2004   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach,  Charles-Marie Widor,  Olivier Messiaen,  Johannes Brahms  ... 
    Performer:  Ton Koopman,  Simon Preston,  Pierre Cochereau,  Thomas Trotter  ... 
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  • 15.
    Original Masters - Helmut Walcha - Bach: Organ Works
    Label: Deutsche Grammophon   Catalog: 000185602 Release Date: 02/10/2004   Number of Discs: 10
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
    Performer:  Helmut Walcha
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  • 16.
    The #1 Bach Album
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 472758 Release Date: 01/14/2003   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach,  Gottfried H. Stölzel
    Performer:  Trevor Pinnock,  Wolfgang Rübsam,  Dame Kiri Te Kanawa,  János Starker  ... 
    Conductor:  Trevor Pinnock,  Karl Richter,  Barry Rose,  John Eliot Gardiner  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Concert,  Munich Bach Orchestra,  Munich Bach Choir  ... 
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  • 17.
    Bach: Organ Works / Helmut Walcha
    Label: Archiv Produktion (Dg)   Catalog: 463712 Release Date: 10/09/2001   Number of Discs: 12
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
    Performer:  Helmut Walcha
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  • 18.
    Bach J.s: Best Of
    Label: Eloquence   Catalog: 4611592 Release Date: 07/31/2000   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
    Performer:  David Oistrakh,  Igor Oistrakh,  Zino Francescatti,  Helmut Walcha
    Conductor:  Karl Richter,  Sir Eugene Goossens,  Rudolf Baumgartner
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Munich Bach Orchestra,  Royal Philharmonic Orchestra,  Lucerne Festival Strings  ... 
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  • 19.
    Bach: Organ Works / Helmut Walcha
    Label: Archiv Produktion (Dg)   Catalog: 457704 Release Date: 04/14/1998   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
    Performer:  Helmut Walcha
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  • 20.
    Bach: Great Organ Works / Helmut Walcha
    Label: Dg Double   Catalog: 453064 Release Date: 07/15/1997   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
    Performer:  Helmut Walcha
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  • 21.
    Bach: Toccata And Fugue In D Minor, Etc / Helmut Walcha
    Label: Dg Galleria   Catalog: 419047 Release Date: 08/03/1987   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
    Performer:  Helmut Walcha
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