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Wolfgang Fortner

Wolfgang Fortner

Country of origin: Germany
Birthday: October 12, 1907
Date of death: September 5, 1987

About Wolfgang Fortner

Wolfgang Fortner was born in Leipzig on 12 October 1907. He learnt piano and organ at school and attended many concerts at the Leipzig Konzertverein which exclusively performed contemporary music. In 1927, Fortner began to study composition with Hermann Grabner and organ with Karl Straube at the Leipzig Conservatoire. At the same time, he studied musicology with Theodor Kroyer as well as philosophy and German philology at the University of Leipzig; in 1931, he qualified as a teacher and took a position at lecturing in composition and music theory at the Evangelisches Kirchenmusikalisches Institut in Heidelberg where he taught intermittently until 1954. He then served as a professor of composition at the Detmold Nordwestdeutsche Musikakademie until 1957 and at the Freiburg Staatliche Hochschule für Musik from 1957 until 1973, setting up the Institute for New Music there in 1964. Another important station of his extensive teaching activities was the Darmstadt International Summer Course for New Music, founded in 1946, over which Fortner had considerable influence until the late fifties.

As one of the most important composition teachers in post-war Germany and as a result of his numerous international guest lectures, Fortner had a strong influence on a younger generation of composers. Among his pupils were Hans Werner Henze, Milko Kelemen, Rudolf Kelterborn, Arghyris Kounadis, Nam June Paik, Robert HP Platz, Rolf Riehm, Wolfgang Rihm, Manfred Stahnke, Wilfried Steinbrenner, Hans Zender, and Bernd Alois Zimmermann.

In 1935 Fortner founded the Heidelberg Chamber Orchestra and in conjunction with South German Radio set up the concert series musica viva in 1947. He succeeded Karl Amadeus Hartmann in becoming director of the musica viva concerts of the Bavarian Radio in Munich, and together with Ernst Thomas ran the series until 1978.

In 1950 Wolfgang Fortner was appointed a member of GEMA’s advisory board. In 1955 he became a member of the Berlin Academy of the Arts, and a year later a member of the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. In addition, he served for 14 years (1957-71) as president of the German section of the International Society for New Music. In 1975, the German Dramatists' Union, Germany's oldest writers' federation, elected him president.

As early as 1929, whilst still a student, Fortner concluded a contract for Die vier marianischen Antiphonen which marked the beginning of his professional relationship with Schott. His opera Bluthochzeit after Federico García Lorca (world premiere in Cologne in 1957) became one of the most successful operas after 1945. Fortner's development as a composer ranges from the beginnings of neoclassicism via the application of serial techniques, the incorporation of structures of the medieval isorhythmical motet (Machaut-Balladen, 1973), jazz elements (e.g. in Mouvements, 1953) or orchestral improvisations (In seinem Garten liebt Don Perlimplín Belisa, Elisabeth Tudor) to his last opera That Time after Samuel Beckett (world premiere in Baden-Baden in 1977) in which he used live electronics.

The ballet Carmen-Bizet-Collagen was written by Fortner (in collaboration with Wilfried Steinbrenner) in 1970, based on an idea by the director of the Stuttgart Ballet, John Cranco, who had been inspired to write the libretto by the conciseness of rhythm of Fortner's music.

For his artistic œuvre and his commitment to political and cultural issues, Fortner received numerous honours and awards, including the Schreker Prize of Berlin in 1948, the Spohr Prize of Braunschweig in 1953, the Great Arts Award of North Rhine-Westphalia in 1955, as well as the Bach Prize of Hamburg in 1960, and the Reinhold Schneider Prize of Freiburg in 1977. On the occasion of his 70th anniversary in 1977, he was awarded the Grand Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany and honorary doctorates by the universities of Heidelberg and Freiburg. Furthermore, he was given the Golden Needle of the Dramatists' Union and the Richard Benz Medal of Heidelberg.

Wolfgang Fortner died in Heidelberg on 5 September 1987.



Wolfgang Fortner was born on 12 October in Leipzig; he was nine when he first started composing, and had both piano and organ lessons whilst at school.
Fortner studied at the Konservatorium in Leipzig (composition with Hermann Grabner, a pupil of Max Reger and organ with Karl Straube), and went on to the University of Leipzig where he studied Musicology with Theodor Kroyer, Philosophy with Hans Driesch and German studies with Hermann August Korff.
5 April: The contract for "Vier Marianische Antiphonen" for choir and orchestra (1928) inaugurated Fortner’s professional relationship with Schott.
Fortner finished his studies as a qualified teacher and became lecturer in composition and music theory at the Evangelische Kirchenmusikalische Institut of the Badische Landeskirche in Heidelberg (today called the Hochschule für Kirchenmusik Heidelberg), a post he holds until 1954 – only interrupted during the war.
Fortner founded the Heidelberg Chamber Orchestra
Fortner and Wolfgang Steinecke (the former culture consultant and director for culture in Darmstadt) participated at the inauguration of the "Kranichsteiner Ferienkurse für Neue Musik" (today the International Holiday Course for New Music Darmstadt); Fortner lectured at the course until the late 50s.
Wolfgang Fortner worked in collaboration with the Süddeutscher Rundfunk in Heidelberg to set up the concert series "Musica Viva"
Schreker Prize, City of Berlin
GEMA invites Fortner to become a member on its advisory council.
Spohr Prize, City of Braunschweig
Fortner took a teaching post as Professor for Composition at the Nordwestdeutsche Musikakademie Detmold.
The Academy of Arts Berlin (west) invited Fortner to become a member – he later became chairman for music.
Major Art Prize from Nordrhein-Westfalen
Fortner was invited to become a member of the Bavarian Academy of Fine Art.
Fortner took a position as Professor of Composition at the State High School for Music in Freiburg im Breisgau; 1964, the school set up the Institute for New Music at Fortner’s suggestion.
Fortner was president of the ISCM (International Society for Contemporary Music).
Bach Prize of the Freie und Hansestadt Hamburg (following Paul Hindemith 1951, Philipp Jarnach 1954, and Boris Blacher 1957)
Fortner succeeded Karl Amadeus Hartmann as the director of "musica viva" in Munich; together with Ernst Thomas, he ran the concert series until 1978.
The Dramatiker-Union, Germany's oldest foundation for writers (founded in 1871 in Leipzig), named Fortner as president.
Having dedicated so much of his life to teaching, Fortner helped and guided many younger generations of composers. His pupils (amongst others) include: Hans Werner Henze, Rudolf Kelterborn, Gottfried Schnabel, Peter Westergaard, Friedhelm Döhl, Arghyris Kounadis, Nam June Paik, Robert HP Platz, Manfred Stahnke, Wilfried Steinbrenner and Hans Zender.
Guest lectures led him to Austria, Térésopolis (Brasil) and to Tanglewood, Massachusetts where he directed courses with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Reinhold-Schneider-Preis, Freiburg im Breisgau
Honours given on his 70th Birthday 1977: Großes Verdienstkreuz mit Stern des Verdienstordens der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, the highest decoration awarded for service in Germany; An honoury doctorate from the Ruprecht-Karls-University Heidelberg and the Albert-Ludwigs-University Freiburg; Freeman of the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik Heidelberg–Mannheim; Richard-Benz medal for Art and Science, Heidelberg; Badge of honour from the Dramatiker-Union
Wolfgang Fortner died on September 5 in Heidelberg. The Wolfgang Fortner collection can be found in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich.