Born: April 17, 1900; Évilard sur Bienne, Switzerland
Died: June 18, 1955; Zurich, Switzerland
Swiss composer Willy Burkhard was born in Leubringen, a town near Berne, Switzerland. After completing a certificate at a teacher's college in Berne, Burkhard entered Berne Conservatory. Traveling to Leipzig to further his study, he took composition with Sigfrid Karg-Elert. Afterward, Burkhard finished his studies with Walter Courvoisier, first in Munich and later in Paris. Burkhard decided to ply his trade at home in Berne; he began teachingRead more there in 1924, and in 1928 he was named theory professor at Berne Conservatory. He also led the Teacher's Singing Union in Lyss, the Singingstudenten children's chorus in Berne, and also an orchestra in Langelthal.
In 1932, Burkhard suffered an attack of tuberculosis and this forced him to resign from his various posts. Throughout the remainder of the 1930s, Burkhard was confined to sanatoriums and lived through the help of friends; his pursuit of composition began to increase at this time as a means to help pay the bills while he recuperated. By 1942, Burkhard was sufficiently recovered to accept a position teaching at the conservatory in Zurich, and he kept it until he died at age 55 in 1955.
Burkhard was quite prolific for a composer who seldom enjoyed the bloom of health; his worklist runs to 98 published opus numbers and nearly twice that amount in unpublished compositions exist in manuscript at the Paul-Sacher-Stiftung. Whereas his early compositions are post-Romantic in style, by 1930 Burkhard entered his mature style, reminiscent of Hindemith and his countryman Frank Martin, but a tad more bitter harmonically. At the very end of his life, Burkhard adopted some aspects of twelve-tone composition, but always composed within a basical tonal framework His most important works are found among his sacred choral music, such as his oratorios Das Gesicht Jesajus (1935) and Das Jahr (1940) and the cantata Die Sintflut (1955). His opera Die Schwarze Spinne (The Black Spider, 1947-1948) is also highly regarded, as are his many song settings and choruses. He also composed orchestral music, particularly for Paul Sacher's Sinfonietta, a violin concerto, at least two symphonies, and a body of chamber and piano solo music. Read less