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Friedrich Wührer

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Friedrich Wührer

Friedrich Wührer (born June 29, 1900, in Vienna; died December 27, 1975, in Mannheim) was an Austrian-German pianist and piano pedagogue. He was a close associate and advocate of composer Franz Schmidt, whose music he edited and, in the case of the works for left hand alone, revised for performance with two hands; he was also a champion of the Second Viennese School and other composers of the early 20th century. His recorded legacy, however, centers around German romantic literature, particularly the music of Franz Schubert.

Biography

Wührer began piano study at age six with an Austrian teacher named Marius Szudelsky; after entering the Vienna Academy in 1915, Wührer continued studying piano with Franz Schmidt, along with taking courses in conducting under Ferdinand Löwe and music theory under Joseph Marx.[1] His performing career began in the early 1920s, and he toured Europe and the United States in 1923.[2]

Wührer was a founder of the International Society for Contemporary Music in Vienna.[3] He formed friendships with composers Hans Pfitzner and Max Reger, and became associated with Arnold Schönberg and his circle, participating in performances of Schönberg's setting of 15 poems from Das Buch der hängenden Gärten, op. 15; his Pierrot Lunaire as part of a touring company presenting the work in Spain;[4] and Webern's Pieces for Cello and Piano, op. 11. Wührer also performed music by Béla Bartók, Igor Stravinsky, Sergei Prokofiev, and Paul Hindemith.[2] On July 3, 1930, he performed Schönberg student Paul Pisk's Suite for Piano in the first broadcast of that composer's music by the British Broadcasting Corporation.[5] Wührer made his Salzburg Festival debut in 1938.[2] In 1939, as Paul Wittgenstein, who commissioned the work, had fled Austria, Wührer performed in the premiere of Schmidt's Quintet for piano, violin, clarinet, viola, and cello in A major, albeit in his own arrangement for two hands rather than, as originally written for piano, left hand alone.[6] Thereafter, Wührer performed all the Schmidt left hand compositions in his own two-hand arrangements. He and Wittgenstein viewed each other with animosity; Wittgenstein accused Wührer of being an enthusiastic Nazi who later tried to cover it up, and Wührer disparaged Wittgenstein's personality and pianism. Whether for this or some other reason, the recital programmes did not, as Wührer had promised Wittgenstein, make any note of the latter's exclusive rights to the works, and as a descendent of Jews, Wittgenstein had no recourse in Nazi-governed countries.[7]

Wührer continued his advocacy for modern works at least into middle age. For instance, he gave the premiere of Pfitzner's Sechs Studien für das Pianoforte, op. 51, of which he was the dedicatee,[8] shortly after its composition in 1943[9] and in the 1950s, he performed the Piano Concerto, op. 21, which was written in 1939 by Kurt Hessenberg.[10] Nonetheless, notwithstanding his pioneering work for music of the Second Viennese School and other moderns of his day, Wührer's principal focus as a performer, his posthumous reputation, and his recorded legacy came to rest on performances of music from the romantic era, particularly works in the German and Austrian traditions.

Later in life, Wührer was a juror at the Second Van Cliburn International Piano Competition from September 26 to October 9, 1966, which awarded first prize to Radu Lupu.[11] Wührer was also a member of the piano jury at the 1968 Queen Elisabeth International Music Competition.[12] Wührer's son, also named Friedrich, was a violinist and conductor who made classical records.[13]

Pedagogy

Outside the concert hall, Wührer was a teacher in Vienna, the Hochschule für Musik und darstellende Kunst in Mannheim[14] in 1934, Kiel in 1936,[1] the Salzburg Mozarteum in 1948,[2] and finally at the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik in Munich.[15] He also regularly taught master classes at the Salzburg Mozarteum. He was denied an academy teaching position in East Germany in 1952, however, on grounds that he had been a leading Nazi in Austria during World War II.[16]

Wührer's students included composers Sorrel Hays,[17] Helmut Bieler,[18] and Richard Wilson;[19] pianists Geoffrey Parsons,[20] Frieda Valenzi,[21] and Felicitas Karrer (who described him as having an unusually well-balanced left hand);[22] and harpsichordist Hedwig Bilgram.[23]

Publications

Among Wührer's editorial activities, he wrote Masterpieces of Piano Music (Wilhelmshaven, 1966); compiled a collection of works by old masters; and prepared editions of the Chopin Etudes, polonaises by Wilhelm Friedemann Bach,[24] and the piano music of Franz Schmidt. Claiming to be respecting the composer's own wishes, he created two-hand redistributions of the left-hand works that Schmidt had written for Paul Wittgenstein, although Wittgenstein evidently voiced strong objections.[25] Besides editing the Etudes, Wührer wrote 18 Studies on Chopin Etudes in Contrary Motion (1958) as a pedagogical work for equalising the facility of both hands. Wührer also composed and published cadenzas for Mozart's piano concerti in C Major, K. 467; C Minor, K. 491; and D Major, K. 537.[26]

Discography

In 1935, Wührer performed piano solos for the Carmine Gallone film Wenn die Musik nicht wär, which is also known in Germany as Liszt Rhapsody and in English-speaking countries as If It Were Not for Music.[27]

Wührer made numerous commercial phonograph records. While his discography includes 78 rpm released, such releases are outnumbered by his output during the early LP era, which was mostly for the American Vox label. Among his LP recordings was the first nominally complete cycle of Schubert's piano sonatas.[28] It omitted a few fragmentary works, but it offered Ernst Krenek's completion[29] of the C Major sonata D. 840 (Reliquie), possibly otherwise represented on records only by Ray Lev's Concert Hall Society account of similar vintage.[30] Very few[quantify] of Wührer's released have emerged on compact disc, and Vox bypassed his Schubert sonata cycle in favor of one recorded a few years later in stereo by Walter Klien, as Wührer's commercial recordings were predominantly in mono. A third party entity, Neal's Historical Records, however, appears to have issued compact disc editions of the set copied from LPs.[31]

The following lists contain the bulk of Wührer's recordings. Unless specified otherwise, all 78 RPM discs were 10" discs, and all LPs were monaural 12" discs. The Vox Boxes were all three-record sets. CD issues mostly derive from radio broadcasts; CD releases of material originally appearing on analogue discs are noted in the sections for their original formats, with the CD section listing only recordings not released in other formats.

78 rpm

LP

CD

  • Beethoven: Concerti #'s 1-5 and Double Cto. Tahra TAH 704-707
  • Beethoven: Choral Fantasy. With Vienna Symphony under Clemens Krauss. Preiser 90553
  • Brahms: Intermezzi, op. 117. Vogue 672001
  • Brahms: Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, op. 24. Vogue 672001
  • Chopin: Etudes Op. 25. Dante HPC 094
  • Haydn: Varns. Hob. XVII #6. Dante HPC 094
  • Schmidt: Variations on a Theme of Beethoven for Piano, Left Hand and Orchestra. With Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra under Eugen Jochum. Tahra 382-385
  • Schubert: Piano Sonata D. 784 in A Minor (op. 143). Vogue 672001 (from a French radio broadcast, not part of the complete cycle, supra)
  • Schumann: Piano Concerto in A Minor, op. 54. With Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra under Hermann Abendroth. Arlecchino 164; also Berlin Classics 0120.052

References

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