Boris Blacher

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Boris Blacher (born January 6, jul. / 19th January  1903 greg. In Newchwang ( Chinese  牛庄 , Pinyin Niuzhuang today: Yingkou ), China ; † the 30th January 1975 in Berlin ) was a Baltic German composer , librettist and influential composition teacher.

Boris Blacher 1922 (passport photo on his Russian high school diploma)


Boris Blacher's childhood and youth were marked by the frequent changes of place of his parents; his father came from Reval (Tallinn) and, as director of a Russian-German bank, took on management positions in China , Siberia and Manchuria . Blacher spent his school days in Chefoo , Hankau , Irkutsk and Harbin . Accordingly, he grew up multilingual - German, Estonian, Russian, English, Chinese, Italian - and multicultural. In his upper-class parents' home he came into contact with music at an early age and received piano and violin lessons. Even as a schoolboy he showed an interest in music theater and got to know the opera business from the inside; initially as a volunteer lighting technician at the respective provincial theaters, later as an arranger by rewriting piano reductions - for example from Puccini's Tosca - to complete orchestral scores.

In 1922 he came to Berlin via Shanghai and Paris . The cultural diversity of the city fascinated him so much that he stayed there all his life. First he enrolled at the Technical University in architecture and mathematics , but switched to the music college in 1924. There he studied composition (with Friedrich Ernst Koch ) and musicology (with Arnold Schering , Friedrich Blume and Erich Moritz von Hornbostel ). At the same time, the first compositions were made: 1925 music for a Bismarck film, 1927 three pieces for flute, two clarinets and percussion, 1929 the Dadaist chamber opera Habemeajaja (Estonian for barber). In the following years he lived from private teaching, wrote light music and arrangements and worked as a silent film accompanist on the piano.


In 1937 he achieved his breakthrough with his composition Concertante Musik für Orchester, which was premiered by the Berlin Philharmonic under Carl Schuricht . Also in 1937 he wrote his Divertimento: Intrada - March op. 7 for wind orchestra and commented: “In my Divertimento , which I wrote on behalf of the Reich Aviation Ministry , I had a style in mind that combines the disciplined rigor of the general military with the technical character of the Air Force connects. "

After a teaching position at the Dresden Conservatory , mediated by Karl Böhm (1894–1981) , which was withdrawn from him in 1939 because he advocated the then undesirable music of Schönberg , Hindemith and Milhaud , Blacher withdrew into private life. Among the (few) modern composers who were played during National Socialism, Blacher is one of the most listed.

After the dictatorship and war he had success with several compositions, including a. with the variations on a theme by Paganini , which suddenly made him famous even with a wider audience. From 1945 he led a composition class at the International Institute for Music founded by Josef Rufer in Berlin-Zehlendorf . In 1948 he received a chair for composition at the Berlin University of Music (now a faculty of the UdK Berlin ). In 1953 he was appointed President as successor to Werner Egks . He held both positions until 1970. In addition, Blacher held a wide range of cultural and political offices and was president of the Berlin Academy of the Arts from 1968 to 1971 (of which he had been a founding member and vice-president since 1956). From 1966 he was also a corresponding member of the German Academy of the Arts in Berlin (East).

Boris Blacher left behind a multifaceted, varied work that - with the exception of liturgical music - encompasses almost all musical genres and styles. Among other things, he wrote 14 operas , 9 ballet music (in close collaboration with Tatjana Gsovsky ), solo concertos for piano (3), violin , viola, cello, trumpet and clarinet, as well as cantatas, choral works, symphonies, chamber music and songs.


From 1945 to 1975 Boris Blacher was one of the most highly regarded and most frequently performed contemporary composers in Germany. As a composition teacher in particular, he must be seen as one of the most important and influential personalities in 20th century music.

In his own, often ironically distant works, he used, among other things, a system of so-called “variable meters” that he had developed to break through musical form and rhythmic symmetry with numerous, arithmetically structured time changes. Although mainly composing atonal , his music sounds understandable to a high degree. It is characterized by the ease of dance, clear structures, witty and elegant instrumentation and pointed wit. Thanks to an almost ascetically lean spelling, it is free from any false pathos.

From 1960, Blacher (in cooperation with the electronics studio of the TU Berlin) turned intensively to electronically generated music and incorporated it into his extensive oeuvre. Always interested in jazz, he was also always open to all currents and tendencies of new music. He always represented this to his students who came to him from all parts of the world. The list of his former students reads like a who's who of the important international composer generation known in the second half of the 20th century. Among them were z. B. Gottfried von Eine , Heimo Erbse , Fritz Geißler , Günter Kochan , Rudolf Kelterborn , Giselher Klebe , Peter Ronnefeld , Heinz von Cramer , Thomas Kessler , Francis Burt , Isang Yun , Max Baumann , Claude Ballif , Hans Eugen Frischknecht , Maki Ishii , Noam Sheriff , George Crumb , Richard Trythall , Kalevi Aho , Klaus Huber and Aribert Reimann . The conductor Herbert Kegel was also a student of Blacher.

In addition to his professorship in Berlin, Blacher also taught in master classes in Bryanstone (UK), Tanglewood (USA) and at the Salzburg Mozarteum .


In 1957 Blacher was awarded the Bach Prize of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg , in 1959 the Great Federal Cross of Merit, in 1960 he received the Music Prize of the City of Cologne, in 1963 the Richard Strauss Medal , in 1965 the German Critics' Prize , in 1973 the Ernst Reuter plaque . In 1974 he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Cork . In the same year he also received the Austrian Decoration for Science and Art .

On May 2, 1990 , a Berlin memorial plaque was unveiled at his former place of residence, Berlin-Zehlendorf , Kaunstraße 6 .


Boris Blacher was married to the concert pianist Gerty Herzog . This marriage produced four children, two of whom became artists. The youngest son Kolja Blacher , an important violinist and professor at the Hamburg University of Music and Theater (from spring 2009 at the Hanns Eisler University of Music Berlin ), was the youngest first concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic under Claudio Abbado in the 1990s . The daughter Tatjana Blacher made a name for herself as an actress.

Boris Blacher lived in Zehlendorf for most of his life in Berlin. He was buried in an honorary grave of the city of Berlin at the forest cemetery in Zehlendorf .

Works (selection)


  • Habemeajaja . (Estonian for barber) Chamber Opera (1929) Premiere: 1987
  • Princess Tarakanova . Opera (1940)
  • Romeo and Juliet . Chamber Opera (1943) Premiere: 1950 Salzburg Festival
  • The tide . Opera (premiered in 1946 as radio opera, 1947 in the stage version)
  • The Night Swallow , Dramatic Nocturno (WP 1948)
  • Prussian fairy tale . Ballet Opera (1949, premiere 1952)
  • Abstract Opera No. 1 (1953/57)
  • Rosamunde Floris . Opera (1960)
  • Emergency landing incidents . Opera (1964)
  • Ariadne . Short Opera (1968)
  • Two hundred thousand thalers . Opera (1969)
  • Yvonne, Princess of Burgundy . Opera (1973)

Libretti for other composers


  • Solid in the south . Dance Drama (1935)
  • Chiarina . Ballet (1946, choreography: Jens Keith )
  • Hamlet . Ballet (1949)
  • Lysistrata . Ballet (1950)
  • Tristan . Ballet (1965)

Choral works

Orchestral works

  • Concerto for 2 trumpets and 2 string orchestras (1931)
  • Little March Music for Orchestra (1932)
  • Spa music for small orchestra (1933)
  • Divertimento for string orchestra (1935)
  • Divertimento for symphonic wind orchestra (1936)
  • Concertante music for orchestra (1937)
  • Rondo for orchestra (1938)
  • La Vie . Dance scenes for orchestra (1938)
  • Estonian dances for 10 wind instruments (1938)
  • Hamlet . Symphonic poem for large orchestra (1940)
  • Symphony No. 2 in D (1942)
  • Partita for strings and percussion (1945)
  • First piano concerto (1947)
  • Paganini Variations for Orchestra (1947)
  • Concerto for violin and orchestra (1948)
  • Second piano concerto (in variable meters) (1952)
  • Concert for viola a. Orchestra (1954)
  • Two Inventions for Orchestra (1954)
  • Homage to Mozart (1956)
  • Music for Cleveland (1957)
  • Music for Osaka (1970)
  • Concerto for clarinet and chamber orchestra (1971)
  • Poème for large orchestra (1974)

Other music

  • Jazz coloratura for soprano, alto saxophone and bassoon (1929)
  • I. String Quartet (1929)
  • Ornaments . Seven studies on variable meters for piano (1950)
  • Sonata for violin solo (1951)
  • Epitaph, IV String Quartet (1951)
  • Aprèslude . Four songs based on Gottfried Benn (1958)
  • Jewish Chronicle . (Joint composition with Paul Dessau , Karl Amadeus Hartmann , Hans Werner Henze and Rudolf Wagner-Régeny , 1961)
  • Multiple spatial perspectives for piano and three sound generators (1962)
  • Study in Black (1962)
  • Glissing Deviations (1962)
  • The astronaut. Major Cooper orbits the earth . Electronic space study (1963)
  • Scales 2: 3: 4 (1964)
  • Variations over ± 1 for string quartet and jazz combo (1966)
  • Variations on a diverging C minor triad, V. String Quartet (1967)
  • Blues, Espagnola and Rumba Philharmonica for 12 violoncellos solos (1972)
  • Variations on a scale for solo violin (theme + 5 variations + coda) (1973)
  • 24 Preludes for piano (1974)

Music for radio plays


  • Christopher Grafschmidt: Boris Blacher's variable metrics and their derivatives . In: Sources and studies on music history from antiquity to the present. Vol. 33. Edited by Michael von Albrecht. Frankfurt a. M. 1996. ISBN 978-3-631-49597-1
  • Heribert Henrich, Thomas Eickhoff: Boris Blacher . Hofheim, 2003. ISBN 3-936000-20-4
  • Heribert Henrich et al .: Boris Blacher 1903–1975. Documents on life and work . Berlin 1993, ISBN 3-89487-171-7
  • Jürgen Hunkemöller : Boris Blacher, the jazz composer . Frankfurt / M. 1998, ISBN 3-631-31925-8
  • Stephan Mösch: The used text. Studies on Boris Blacher's libretti . Stuttgart, Weimar 2002, ISBN 3-476-45305-7
  • Hannes Reinhardt (ed.): The self-portrait . Hamburg 1967; therein: Boris Blacher A self-portrait , pp. 15–31.
  • Helmut Scheunchen : Lexicon of German Baltic Music. Harro von Hirschheydt publishing house, Wedemark-Elze 2002. ISBN 3-7777-0730-9 . P. 36.
  • Hanns Heinz Stuckenschmidt: Boris Blacher . Berlin 1985, ISBN 3-7931-1391-4
  • Michael Watzka: "Basic research or more than just experiment? Boris Blacher's 'Ornaments for Piano' as the founding document of the variable metric." In: Music & Aesthetics 18/71. Edited by Ludwig Holtmeier, Richard Klein and Steffen Mahnkopf. Stuttgart / Klett-Cotta 2014, pp. 65–81.

Web links

Commons : Boris Blacher  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Boris Blacher: A self-portrait . In: Hannes Reinhardt (ed.), Hamburg 1967, p. 22.
  2. Boris Blacher: Back then in Chefoo . In: Hanns Heinz Stuckenschmidt: Boris Blacher . Berlin 1985, p. 12.
  3. Boris Blacher: A self-portrait . In: Hannes Reinhardt (ed.), Hamburg 1967, p. 23.
  4. Heribert Henrich u. a .: Boris Blacher 1903–1975. Documents on life and work . Berlin 1993, p. 67
  5. ^ Stephan Mösch: The used text. Studies on Boris Blacher's libretti . Stuttgart, Weimar 2002, p. 347
  6. Fred K. Prieberg : Handbook of German Musicians 1933–1945 , CD-ROM Lexicon, Kiel 2004, p. 472.
  7. Heribert Henrich u. a .: Boris Blacher 1903–1975. Documents on life and work . Berlin 1993, p. 79
  8. Heribert Henrich u. a .: Boris Blacher 1903–1975. Documents on life and work . Berlin 1993, p. 89
  9. ^ Stephan Mösch: The used text. Studies on Boris Blacher's libretti . Stuttgart, Weimar 2002, p. 352
  10. cf. Harald Kunz in: Hanns Heinz Stuckenschmidt: Boris Blacher . Berlin 1985, p. 58 ff.
  11. cf. Christiane Theobald, Boris Blacher and Tatjana Gsovsky in: Heribert Henrich u. a .: Boris Blacher 1903–1975. Documents on life and work . Berlin 1993, p. 38 f.
  12. cf. Christopher Grafschmidt, Variable Metric in: Heribert Henrich u. a .: Boris Blacher 1903–1975. Documents on life and work . Berlin 1993, p. 42 ff.
  13. ^ Stephan Mösch: The used text. Studies on Boris Blacher's libretti . Stuttgart, Weimar 2002, p. 352
  14. ^ Hanns Heinz Stuckenschmidt: Boris Blacher . Berlin 1985, p. 43
  15. Ehrengrabstätten Berlin ( Memento of the original from May 17, 2013 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice.  @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /