Composer, conductor, organist, municipal music director in Altona (1903-1931)

1860 Felix Woyrsch, the son of two actors, was born on October 8 in Troppau / Opava (Silesia, Sudeten Silesia) and raised in Dresden and Hamburg. He was largely self-taught in music, as his parents could not afford the expense of academic study at the conservatory.

1880s Conductor of different choirs in Altona (Schleswig-Holstein, Northern Germany).

1884 Publication of his first compositions, first draft of his Symphony in B Minor

1886 Performance of his first opera Der Pfarrer von Meudon (titled the Priest of Meudon), in Altona

1887 Director of the men’s choir “Altona Liedertafel”

1893 Director of the Altona church choir

1895 Director of the Altonaer Singakademie. Organist at the Friedenskirche in Altona

1896 Premiere of his last opera Wikingerfahrt

1899 Premiere of his 1st full-length oratorio Passions-Oratorium

1903 Appointed municipal Music Director, thus becoming the conductor not only of the municipal symphony orchestra, but also of ‚volk‘  and school concerts in cooperation with the Philharmonic State Orchestra Hamburg (Hamburg Philharmonic). Organist at the Johanniskirche Altona (until 1926).

1908 First performance of his 1st Symphony in C Minor op. 52

1910 Beginning to compose chamber music

1917 Member of the Prussian Academy of Arts. Composition of his last oratorio Da Jesus auf Erden ging (Since Jesus Walked on Earth) 

1928 Felix Woyrsch Festival Concerts on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Altona Sinfonie-concerts. Awarded the silver badge of the city of Altona. Premiere of his 3rd Symphony

1931 Retired as music director

1933  Retired as director of the Altona Singakademie, as exacted by the National Socialists, secluded himself from public life

1938 Awarded the Beethoven prize by the Prussian Academy of Arts.

1941 Premiere of his last symphony (no. 6): Sinfonia Sacra

1944 Died on 20th of March in Hamburg-Altona

„I would like to convey, with these words, both my admiration and delight at the success of this marvellous composition [Woyrsch’s 2nd  Symphony]. It is, indeed, well conceived, compelling from the first note to the very last. What a harmonic rhythm in its first movement, how enchanting the second with its intrinsic, delicate charm, what a beautiful and fine flow of the cantilenas in the adagio. How gripping the force of the finale and what a masterful structure of the latter. I am overjoyed and grateful to have helped bring this work to the stage.” 

These words of praise were chosen by Prof. Karl Panzer, director of music in Düsseldorf and highly esteemed conductor at the turn of the century, as he expressed his gratitude to Felix Woyrsch—for Woyrsch had invited him to conduct the premiere performance of the 2nd Symphony. And what a tremendous success it was!

Woyrsch’s oratorios, equally so, produced a sensation. In an article about the first performance of Woyrsch’s Passions Oratorio, op. 45, on December, 6, 1900 (sung by the Altonaer Singakademie), the reviewer for the Hamburg Correspondent wrote: “Rarely have we exited the concert hall with such a profound and lasting impression as that of yesterday; still today, the powerful impression makes us quiver.“ 

Felix Woyrsch's most significant legacy was his compositional accomplishment, which, also known to be highly appreciated by Johannes Brahms, was deeply influenced by the Romantic and late Romantic period. The diversity of Woyrsch’s compositions is astounding with seven symphonies and an additional five orchestral works, and with such renowned conductors as Hans von Bülow, Max Fiedler and Eugen Jochum advocating for performances of these works. Woyrsch also wrote a violin concerto, as well as chamber music for various configurations, including five string quartets, one string sextet, one piano trio, piano quintet. His compositions included three operas, three full-length oratorios (Passions Oratorium, Totentanz [Dance of Death], Da Jesus auf Erden ging [Since Jesus Walked on Earth]), numerous choral works - either to be sung a capella or accompanied by an orchestra, more than 100 lieder as well as music for both the piano and the organ. One of his students, by name of Ernst Gernot Klußmann (in later times the rector of the Vogt Conservatory and later as professor at the Hamburg Academy of Music), was the first to begin a compilation of Woyrsch’s works in 1930 (Altonaer Nachrichten, 17 July 1930).

„Woyrsch’s life’s works are characterized by deep religiosity, evident in his early compositions: the Christmas music of Geburt Jesu (Birth of Jesus), op. 18, the Passions-Oratorium op. 45, then ever more strongly expressed in Totentanz, the centerpiece of his complete works, and finally finding innermost expression in the mysteriousness of Da Jesus auf Erden ging.

The style and theme of Totentanz clearly influenced his next compositions. The colourfulness of the harmony, the tense rhythm and preference for dramatic C minor in his first symphony, as well as the balladic A minor in his 1st string quartet (a key he also chose for Schön-Sigrid) and the mysterious darkness of G minor in the Hamlet Overture -- these are unique motifs that in subsequent compositions are developed to greater complexity, thereby forming an integrated whole. […]

A new compositional style emerges in the 2nd Symphony. It differs from earlier works with a return to simpler harmonies and preference for the linear lead of individual voices, a style that is seen to be more fully realized in the String Quartet No. 3, the Piano Quintet and the 3rd Symphony. […]

The placement of Woyrsch’s complete works for our time transcends the mundane disputes of opinions and trends. It is Nordic in its unpretentious and unadorned style that is reminiscent of Dürer’s wood engravings and Bruckneresque in both religious ardor and ethos.

Felix Woyrsch redivivus - renewed appreciation for this Nordic composer. Although an entire generation has been indifferent to his music, there are strong indications of new found interest in Woyrsch‘s compositions, now that these are receiving more and more attention in the music world.

Ernst Gernot Klussmann made the following prediction: “Once greater value is attributed to a zeitgeist of calm rather than to a zeitgeist of restlessness, the time will have come for his music.“


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