Boris Blacher


Born: January 19, 1903 Died: January 30, 1975
Boris Blacher was an important twentieth century cosmopolitan composer whose best works linger near the fringes of the standard repertory. The music from the first half of his career was tonal and largely approachable, though in the latter half he adopted serial techniques with less emphasis on atonality. He was quite versatile, composing operas, ballets, symphonies, various instrumental works and choral, chamber, film, and electronic music.

Blacher was born in Niu-chang, China, to parents of German-Baltic descent. His father was a banker who was often transferred to different parts of China and even to Siberia. Blacher, an only child, began taking piano lessons when the family lived in Irkutsk, Siberia, and later (1917) worked as a stagehand for the opera company there. In 1922, he traveled to Berlin and studied mathematics and architecture, but by 1924 decided his musical inclinations must be followed. He enrolled at the Hochschule für Musik there and studied composition with Friedrich E. Koch. In 1925, he began work on his first large composition, the score for Bismarck, a silent film whose music he produced in collaboration with colleague Winfried Wolf. From 1927 to 1931 he took advanced musical studies at Berlin University, supporting himself as an arranger and copyist of commercial music. Meanwhile, he continued to compose, producing such works as his 1929 symphony (which score he later destroyed) and an opera for radio, Habemajaja (1929). In 1935, Blacher's orchestral work Capriccio drew sharp criticism at its public premiere from the Nazis owing to its "un-German" qualities. The following year, he managed to offend them again with another orchestral work, Concertante Musik, which was nevertheless recorded under a pseudonym by conductor Carl Schuricht. Blacher taught composition at the Dresden Conservatory from 1937 until 1939, when he was dismissed because his methods were at odds with Nazi policy. From 1943 until the end of the war, Blacher took refuge in the home of Gottfried von Einem in Ramsau, fearing Nazi reprisal over discovery his grandfather had Jewish ancestry. In 1945, he began teaching composition at the Berlin International Institute of Music. Blacher produced probably his most popular orchestral work in 1947, the Paganini Variations. He left his teaching post in 1948, but took another the following year as professor of composition at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik. It was around this time that he began to use modified serial techniques in his works; later, he also wrote electronic music. In 1953, he became director of the Hochschule and held the post until 1970. He also became a member of the music division of the West Berlin Academy of Arts in 1955. He became its director in 1961 and president in 1968, holding the title for three years until his retirement in 1971. Blacher and his wife Gerty (née Herzog) traveled widely in the decades after the war, including many times to the United States and England, where they acquired a house and spent considerable time in the latter years of Blacher's career. The composer received many commissions in the postwar years, including one from the BBC that accounted for his 1956 Orchester-Fantasie and another from the Cleveland Orchestra, for which he produced Music for Cleveland (1957). Blacher remained busy in his last years, producing several compositions in 1974, including the choral work Vokalisen.

There are 23 Boris Blacher recordings available.

See All Recordings, or browse by Composition Type, Popular Work, or Formats & Featured