Werner Egk



Born: May 17, 1901 Died: July 10, 1983
Werner Egk produced an extensive catalog of music, including a large number of operas and ballets dealing with important historical and legendary figures, usually based on his own librettos and scenarios. Although his reputation was somewhat sullied by his favor with the Nazi party, Egk's melodic, colorful music continues to be performed.

Born Werner Mayer, he spent his childhood in the small town of Auchsesheim, then went with his parents to Augsburg where he got his first musical instruction. In 1920, he moved to Erbach and continued his studies while making a meager living as a music tutor. Around this time, he wrote his first songs, to texts by Hofmannsthal, Rilke, and others. In 1921, he moved to Munich, becoming a student of Carl Orff and working at the Schaubühne as a stage manager, scene painter, and director of incidental music, thus beginning his long association with theatrical music. After briefly studying philosophy at Munich University, he married in 1923 (the name Egk by which he was known may represent a partial acronym of the name of his wife, Elisabeth Karl) and spent the next few years in Italy. In the late '20s and early '30s, Egk made the acquaintance of luminaries like Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht while creating early works like the radio opera Columbus (1932) and Georgica (1934), a set of four orchestral portraits evoking his Bavarian heritage. His first major success was the opera Die Zaubergeige (1935). With its wealth of folk song-inspired melody, the opera was frequently performed and brought him to the attention of the Nazis, who asked him to write music for the 1936 Berlin Olympics. However, his opera Peer Gynt, premiered in Berlin in November 1938 with Hitler himself in attendance, was criticized by the party. Egk was never a member of the Nazi party, but he received the support of the Reich Music Chamber (R.M.K.) and conducted the Berlin State Opera from 1936 - 1940. He faced a denazification hearing in 1945 and was ultimately exonerated.

After the war, the pace of Egk's career increased. Along with frequent conducting appearances around the world, from 1950 - 1953 he served as the director of the Berlin Hochschule für Musik, and in 1954 signed a 20-year conducting and composing contract with the Bayerische Staatsopernchor. Noteworthy compositions of the time included the operas Irische Legende (1955), Der Revisor (1957, another of Egk's great successes), and the controversial ballet Abraxas (1948), based on the Faust story, which was banned for alleged obscenity. His last opera, Die Verlobung in San Domingo (1963), deals with racism and rebellion and employs traditional Caribbean instruments. Thereafter, he concentrated on instrumental compositions like the Orchestral Sonata No. 2 (1969) while also taking a larger role in music administration, serving as president of the Deutscher Musikrat (1968 - 1971) and the International Confederation of Performance Rights (1976 - 1978).
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