Julius Weismann 1879-1950

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My teacher Julius Weismann captivated me with his impressionistic musical fantasy as well as his rich harmonic resources and formal unity.

Bertold Hummel 12th July, 1981


His Life

Julius Weismann was born in Freiburg, Germany, on December 26, 1879. His father, the famous zoologist and geneticist August Weismann, was a professor at the University of Freiburg and the founder of neo-Darwinism. Since Julius was in poor health for quite some time during his youth, he received his education from private tutors and from his father. For a long time he did not have the opportunity to play from printed music; this encouraged the development of his improvisational talent on the piano and his later compositional method: he never composed on an instrument but usually in the open air.
Julius Weismann received instruction in composition and counterpoint at the age of eleven during 1891-92 from Joseph Rheinberger in Munich. Rheinberger, a native of Liechtenstein, was regarded as a conservative. During 1893-95 Weismann received piano instruction from the Liszt pupil Hermann Dimmler in Freiburg. Language studies followed in Lausanne during 1896-98, and he also studied for one semester in Berlin in 1898-99. Here, however, he was put off by what he termed an atmosphere that was "musically arrogant" and "academically verbrähmt and verbrahmst" under Friedrich Stumpf and Leopold von Herzogenberg. The next three years under Ludwig Thuille, Rheinberger's successor in Munich, furthered Weismann's development but also revealed his strong tendency to pursue the loner's path: "Strange, that I so often got on closer terms with those people with whom I made contact through our love for the mountains, while music usually had the effect of something that set apart, and I avoided that circle more often than I sought it. If I had not been received so kindly in the family of my later wife, I would certainly have been very lonely. In Thuille's circle there was only one god on high, Richard Wagner, and two living gods, Max von Schillings and Ludwig Thuille! How was I, as a 'classicist,' supposed to make any headway here? Despite my honest enthusiasm for Thuille's opera 'Lobetanz' and his Wind Sextet, I soon felt a gap that would open up and separate me from the 'Munich School.' Nevertheless, I worked eagerly under Thuille. For many later judges of my music, I seemed to belong to the Munich School. A great error! To be sure, my music bore traces of this school after some time, but much more from the high god Richard Wagner than from the lower gods!"
Weismann married the concert singer Anna Hecker in 1902 and took up residence in Munich as a freelance composer. He returned to his native Freiburg in 1906 and was also active as a pianist and conductor. The 1920s formed the most productive phase in his career. He composed five of his six operas within ten years and made his breakthrough. He was elected to the Prussian Academy of the Arts in 1929 and received its Beethoven Prize during the following year. In 1930 he founded the Freiburg Music Seminar together with Erich Doflein, which was the basis for the Freiburg Music Academy after World War II. He led the piano master class and became a professor at this institute in 1936. In 1939 he was honored as a distinguished citizen of Freiburg and received the Leipzig Bach Prize. During the same year, however, he withdrew to Nussdorf (near šberlingen on Lake Constance). Two years later he resigned from his teaching post. Weismann, always somewhat of a shy lone wolf, even if he showed warm kindness to his friends, gradually retreated from public life. The last years of his life were marked by stoically borne illness and skepticism as well as diligent composition and numerous private concerts for his immediate circle of friends right up until the last year of his life. Weismann died in Singen am Hohentwiel on December 22, 1950, shortly before his seventy-first birthday.














Photo: Wieland Wagner - Bayreuth, May,21,1950

His Stylistic Position

Julius Weismann's compositional oeuvre is just as extensive as it is multifaceted. It goes up to opus number 157a (with numerous works bearing no opus number) and includes (apart from sacred music) practically all the musical genres: operas, stage pieces, and choral works; songs, symphonies, concertos, and piano pieces of all kinds; as well as chamber music, which occupies a central place in his oeuvre and is a good starting point for becoming acquainted with his work as a whole. A catalogue of his works may be obtained from the Julius Weismann Archive in Duisburg.
Weismann's considerable and continuous productivity has two explanations behind it. First, until 1930 and from 1941 on he was able to concentrate on his work with hardly any interference from official duties inasmuch as he was a freelance composer, pianist, conductor, and song accompanist. Second, the sketchbooks that he always took along with him on hikes show that he was able to write down the ideas that came to him in the outdoors with great facility. He composed without a piano, had what was evidently an outstanding inner sense of sound, and thought in finished ideas.
The great number of Weismann's works and their great diversity pose a challenge in matters of stylistic classification. The pianist Franzpeter Goebels once undertook an attempt at an outline of Weismann's piano music. Up until op. 68 (1917) he sees a "romantic" or "naive" phase influenced by Schumann. From op. 76 (1918-20) until op. 87 (1923) "Debussy's influence" makes itself evident in the nuanced differentiation and concentration of harmony and means. According to Goebels "constructive elements" tighten the form from op. 93 (1926) to op. 109 (1931); here "a kind of new music is dawning," and the "polyphony becomes harder." He has Weismann's late style, which is marked in special measure by contrapuntal thinking and a turn to Bach, begin with op. 114 (1933-34). Here he adds, "One feels resistance, however, about periodizing such a multilayered oeuvre in this way. The transitions are blurred, and each individual work has to be heard and understood from its own center."
Attempts to classify Weismann's music have not been lacking over the years. Thomas San-Galli pronounced the following judgment already in 1907 (about the Symphony in B minor op. 19): "If we were to name historical resemblances, then we would find reminiscences of Schumann here and there. From time to time Brahms goes strolling by in vague contours. But Weismann's actual affinity is to Franz Schubert." Alexander Berrsche, the classicist among Munich's music critics, emphasized "the gift of a rich, unburdened fantasy" and "the lightness with which he always had this fantasy at his command" in Weismann's work. Adolf Weiámann, one of the most important Berlin music writers of his times, mentioned Julius Weismann in his book Musik in der Weltkrise (1922): "Now those composers who sought different ways, some off the broken line of modern art, could be named in a long list. ... Julius Weismann, who is looking for a style between Brahms's and the modern style but at any rate seeks unity, is diligently at work. ... He is not a revolutionary but rather an 'offsider' who acknowledges a reserved nature in chamber compositions."
Wieland Wagner, Richard Wagner's grandson, devoted a great deal of attention to Weismann toward the end of our composer's life. He saw Weismann's music "situated in the realms of the metaphysical; he feels that he is only a mediator of a gift that he received in a graced hour. Harmony of the most modern kind, roaming in the border regions of tonality, is combined organically with unrelenting strictness and pious humility of musical conception."
After World War II interest in the newest musical developments was so intense in Germany that composers who had not continued the Hindemith, Stravinsky, Sch"nberg, and Webern lines were dismissed as "conservatives." There was little room for individualists like Julius Weismann. In addition, by the time that the first catalogue of his works was published in 1955, his oeuvre had been split up between twenty different publishers. A good many of his compositions were available only in manuscript form. Today the time is long since ripe for a reencounter with Weismann's music.
The Julius Weismann Archive was founded in Duisburg in 1954 on the initiative of Wieland Wagner. Weismann's manuscripts, sketchbooks, and other materials housed in the archive were given to the Duisburg City Library on permanent loan in 1981. The archive's business office continues to support the dissemination of Weismann's music from its Duisburg base.

Gerd Rataj

(with friendly permission of the Label MDG www.mdg.de)



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