Author Topic: Werner Egk (1901 - 1983)  (Read 3214 times)

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Offline Mirror Image

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Werner Egk (1901 - 1983)
« on: October 14, 2013, 03:05:59 PM »


Anybody familiar with this composer? I didn't see a composer thread for Egk, so, inevitably, I decided to start one.

Some background info:

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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I bought a recording of his ballet Abraxas on the Oehms label which I sampled via Spotify and sounded quite promising. So anyone else like this composer?
« Last Edit: October 14, 2013, 03:07:43 PM by Mirror Image »
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Offline Mirror Image

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Re: Werner Egk (1901 - 1983)
« Reply #1 on: October 14, 2013, 03:14:51 PM »
Looks like this is another thread doomed to the GMG abyss! :'(
"When a man is in despair, it means that he still believes in something." - Dmitri Shostakovich

kyjo

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Re: Werner Egk (1901 - 1983)
« Reply #2 on: October 14, 2013, 06:01:30 PM »
Looks like this is another thread doomed to the GMG abyss! :'(

Not when I'm around! ;D The only work of Egk I've heard is his Temptation of St. Anthony for mezzo-soprano, string quartet, and string orchestra, available on DG/Brilliant Classics (coupled with works by Frank Martin). It's an interesting, unique work with a rather tart feel to it. A nice work, but not stunning IMO. I'm now eager to hear his ballets, especially Abraxas. Thanks for starting this thread, John!

Offline Mirror Image

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Re: Werner Egk (1901 - 1983)
« Reply #3 on: October 14, 2013, 06:04:34 PM »
Not when I'm around! ;D The only work of Egk I've heard is his Temptation of St. Anthony for mezzo-soprano, string quartet, and string orchestra, available on DG/Brilliant Classics (coupled with works by Frank Martin). It's an interesting, unique work with a rather tart feel to it. A nice work, but not stunning IMO. I'm now eager to hear his ballets, especially Abraxas. Thanks for starting this thread, John!

Yeah, I might check out that work at some point. Thanks for telling me about it. Apparently, from what I have read, Abraxas was quite a controversial ballet and it was banned I believe for obscenities. What little I sampled of Abraxas sounded awesome. Can't wait to hear the whole work. Definitely check out that Oehms recording at some point. I think it's the only recording of the complete ballet available (I may be wrong of course).
"When a man is in despair, it means that he still believes in something." - Dmitri Shostakovich

kyjo

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Re: Werner Egk (1901 - 1983)
« Reply #4 on: October 14, 2013, 06:08:56 PM »
Yeah, I might check out that work at some point. Thanks for telling me about it. Apparently, from what I have read, Abraxas was quite a controversial ballet and it was banned I believe for obscenities. What little I sampled of Abraxas sounded awesome. Can't wait to hear the whole work. Definitely check out that Oehms recording at some point. I think it's the only recording of the complete ballet available (I may be wrong of course).

Browsing Amazon, there's also this Orfeo disc of Egk's "Dramatic Cantata" Furchtlosigkeit und Wohlwillen (Fearlessness and Goodwill):



My favorite Amazon reviewer, G.D., gave this disc a five-star review and called it "something of a find". Here's his knowledgeable (as always) review:

This is something of a find. Werner Egk composed the dramatic cantata Furchtlosigkeit und Wohlwillen (Fearlessness and Goodwill) in 1930, and it is as such a relatively early work. The language is neo-romantic and less sardonically spicy than in much of his music; to get an idea, you may try to imagine a combination of Wagner and Puccini on the one hand, and Stravinsky (the mature symphonies) on the other. The music is melodic, even memorably so, colorful and variegated, inventive and the vocal part is very well written for the voice; despite its solid rooting in tradition, the music is far from conservative; nor is it harmonically entirely unadventurous even though it retains the melodic sweep of neo-romanticism. The drama is well-paced and effective, with individual movements going through a wide range of clever and adventurous twists and turns, and nothing ever outstays its welcome. Perhaps the momentum of the individual movements doesn't quite carry over to the work as a whole, but I am not going to complain when each part is so fascinating in itself.

It is also given in wholly sympathetic performances. Fritz Wunderlich is on top form; his voice is beautiful as expected, and his characterization of the main character - the naïve and simple but in the end not so stupid "village idiot" going through various adventures and overcoming a series of obstacles, always with an unerring optimism about humanity and endless kindness and helpfulness, to finally obtaining his justly deserved rewards - is excellent. Egk's scoring is superb, and The Bavarian Radio Symphony and Chorus under Kertész have obviously taken care to present everything in the best possible light. The sound quality is generally good and clear but somewhat constricted mono (I had no problems with it) but the libretto is unfortunately given in German only. Still, this is something of a find; enthusiastically recommended.


Sounds intriguing, no? :)

Offline Mirror Image

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Re: Werner Egk (1901 - 1983)
« Reply #5 on: October 14, 2013, 06:14:28 PM »
It does sound like an interesting work, but I'll definitely have to put it on the 'investigate later' list. By the way, I think G.D. is a pretty knowledgeable reviewer but I think he too often takes on more than he can chew which is evident in the vast amount of reviews he's written. I have to question whether he's really 'absorbed' the music he's heard before writing a review on it or does he just write reviews based on one listening? He's claimed he has listened to some recordings more than once, but, again, I still question his reliability in this regard. I've written some reviews most of them are poorly written and some of them aren't even worth reading. I have to question my own motives sometimes as well. :)

Anyway, there's not much to choose from in regards to Egk's music. His opera Peer Gynt is supposedly his masterpiece, but who really knows?
"When a man is in despair, it means that he still believes in something." - Dmitri Shostakovich

snyprrr

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Re: Werner Egk (1901 - 1983)
« Reply #6 on: October 18, 2013, 12:23:42 PM »
Yea, he's only known to us plebes through the DG recording, which, I for one, never heard. Put him in the Apostel pile! :o

Online The new erato

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Re: Werner Egk (1901 - 1983)
« Reply #7 on: October 18, 2013, 10:37:36 PM »
Yea, he's only known to us plebes through the DG recording, which, I for one, never heard. Put him in the Apostel pile! :o
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