Gert Westphal

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Gert Curt Gerhard Westphal (born October 5, 1920 in Dresden ; † November 10, 2002 in Zurich ) was a German-Swiss director , actor and reciter .


1920 in Dresden born to a culturally interested factory director, graduated from Gert Westphal after graduating from the secondary school Blasewitz his acting training at Paul Hoffmann at the Dresden State Playhouse . In 1940 he made his debut in the role of the second rider in Goethe's Götz von Berlichingen , before he was drafted into military service. After being a prisoner of war and taking a few detours, he came to Bremen in 1946 . Here, in addition to an engagement at the Bremer Kammerspiele , he began at the same time as a speaker and editor at Radio Bremen . In 1948 he became director of the radio play at the station initiated and controlled by the Allies and held this position until he switched to Südwestfunk Baden-Baden in 1953. There he was employed in the same position until 1959 and was therefore responsible for all recordings made during this time. He was in regular contact with numerous authors of this time such as Alfred Andersch , Ingeborg Bachmann , Gottfried Benn , Max Frisch and Carl Zuckmayer and also commissioned works for radio plays. He worked with Max Ophüls , Will Quadflieg , Hans Paetsch , Oskar Werner , Walter Jens , Joachim Fest a . v. a. together, regularly produced or edited radio plays and radio features himself and participated as a speaker. I.a. he directed the five-part radio play On the Green Beach of the Spree , in which the author Hans Scholz also played one of the main roles.

In addition, Westphal has always been heard with readings since the beginning of his work on the radio, the texts of which he selected and edited himself, and supported new or difficult to implement formats and projects. For the then editor-in-chief of the jazz editorial team at Südwestfunk , Joachim-Ernst Berendt , Westphal was the ideal cast for the lyric and jazz programs he created (for example with the Metronome Quintet ), which continue to shape the style today, because of his understanding of the text and his musicality . He felt particularly attached to the musical form of melodrama despite recurring concerns from numerous organizers. So he brought u. a. the melodrama Die Weise von Liebe und Tod des Cornets Christoph Rilke by Rainer Maria Rilke in the version for speaker and piano by Viktor Ullmann together with the pianist Michael Allan on June 15, 1994 at the Soest Summer Music Festival . Westphal also took on the role of speaker in Ullmann's orchestrated version ( Ghetto Theresienstadt 1944), for example in the Berlin Philharmonic with the German-Scandinavian Youth Philharmonic under the direction of Andreas Peer Kähler .

In May 1963 Westphal gave a guest performance at the Theater of Nations in Paris with the Theater Ensemble Oskar Werner with a performance of Torquato Tasso . Together with Käthe Gold and Walter Richter , he appeared in Israel at the beginning of 1965 , where for the first time ever a play in German was performed in the form of August Strindberg's Dance of Death . From 1959 to 1980 he was a member of the ensemble at the Zurich Schauspielhaus and took part in numerous world premieres before he went into business for himself and concentrated on reading aloud on the stage and in the studio. In addition, he was also engaged as a director at numerous theaters and opera stages in Germany. In 1960 Westphal acquired not only German citizenship but also Swiss citizenship and was thus able to make recordings in what was then the GDR . Until September 2002 he appeared in public and recorded further readings on recordings.

The special love of the king of readers , as Petra Kipphoff of the time called him, was for recitation and literary reading in front of an audience, on the radio, for speech records or audio books. Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Theodor Fontane and Thomas Mann were considered to be " pillar saints ". With a few exceptions, he recorded all of their novels and stories - sometimes even several times - or used these works as templates for the radio plays he produced.

In the combination of reading / radio play, Westphal repeatedly performed several functions at the same time, which allows the respective work to be experienced from two perspectives: In addition to the actual readings with only one reader, he participated in numerous radio plays as a narrator and / or was also a director. In this context it is also noteworthy that he was also involved in productions of so-called trivial literature with great success . So he worked z. B. in the long-term series Der Frauenarzt von Bischofsbrück of the SDR by Alfred Marquart and Herbert Borlinghaus as well as in the film adaptations of the novels written by Hedwig Courths-Mahlers ( Die Bettelprinzes , Griseldis , Die Kriegsbraut , Der Scheingemahl and An Unloved Woman ) as narrators With. The fact that this was positively received by both the critics and the audience was justified time and again with the seriousness with which Westphal performed his roles. The protagonists are also comparable to those of “classical” literature in terms of their origins, education and their characteristics, since they are largely doctors, lawyers, members of the military, teachers or (impoverished) nobles and their servants. Westphal's voice evidently hit the tone right here. It is also noticeable that his voice became increasingly darker from around the early 1970s. This is particularly noticeable in Thomas Mann's Joseph novels , for example , in which the prelude to Hell's Journey was recorded about 30 years after Parts I – IV.

In addition to the main works by German-speaking authors, Westphal also took numerous works by European authors such as B. Gustave Flaubert , Victor Hugo , Henry James or Thornton Wilder on sound carriers. Furthermore, Russian literature with authors such as Tschingis Aitmatow , Fyodor Dostoyevsky , Nikolai Gogol , Ivan Goncharov , Maxim Gorki , Nikolai Semjonowitsch Leskow , Vladimir Nabokov , Leo Tolstoy and Anton Chekhov formed a regular focus in his readings and productions.

In addition, he wrote some radio plays under the pseudonym Gerhard Wehner . At Radio Bremen 's radio plays were outstanding invoice and yesterday was long ago taken. His radio play Great Conjunction in the Sign of the Pisces was recorded on DRS in 1971 and on ORF ( Radio Salzburg ) in 1973.

The grave of Gert Westphal in Kilchberg ZH next to the family grave of Thomas Mann

In 1954 he met the actress and reciter Gisela Zoch at Norddeutscher Rundfunk , with whom he married in December 1957, which resulted in two daughters (born in 1963 and 1966). In 2002 Westphal died of cancer . His final resting place is in the Kilchberg cemetery on Lake Zurich , near the grave of Thomas Mann .


Radio play direction (selection)

Radio play adaptations (selection)

Radio play speaker (excerpt)

Audiobooks (excerpt)

Poetry and Jazz (selection)

Films (selection)

Honors, awards

Prizes and awards for recordings

Awards and awards for radio plays

Contribution of Gert Westphal in brackets:


Because of his excellently interpreted recitations and literary readings for the radio, he was also recognized as the "King of Readers" and "The Caruso of Readers". Katia Mann called him “the poet's highest mouth” after attending a reading he held with works by Thomas Mann . Due to the numerous appearances and recordings published on sound carriers, he was also referred to as the " Fischer-Dieskau of the word". Marcel Reich-Ranicki called him probably the best reciter in German.


  • 2010: The poet supreme mouth - a memory of Gert Westphal on the occasion of his 90th birthday. Exhibition in Reinbek Castle .


  • Julia Danielczyk: Gert Westphal . In: Andreas Kotte (Ed.): Theater Lexikon der Schweiz . Volume 3, Chronos, Zurich 2005, ISBN 3-0340-0715-9 , p. 2084 f.
  • Oliver W. Grabow: Volume 27 (Vockerodt - Wettiner; page 904 f.), New German Biography, published by the Historical Commission at the Bavarian Academy of Sciences, Duncker & Humblot Verlag, Berlin 2020 [1] .
  • Oliver W. Grabow: Gert Westphal. Complete list of his work from 1940 to 2002 . Arethousa Verlag, Munich 2013, ISBN 978-3-934207-22-6 .
  • Katrin Krämer: Reading aloud is an act of love. Gert Westphal - The Voice of Literature , biographical feature, Radio Bremen 2000, 55 min., Broadcast on November 22, 2015

Web links

Commons : Gert Westphal  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Poetry and Jazz - The Groove by Heinrich Heine
  2. There were recordings of Dante's La Comedia (not published in GDR times), Vergils Georgica (published on the GDR label Litera , 2 LP 865407/408), Goethe's investigations on nature ( Litera , LP 865317) and Ovid's sung of the Lust der Tärtlichen Liebe ( Litera , LP 865348) as well as the radio plays Empedokles after Hölderlin ( radio of the GDR ) and Rameaus nephew after Diderot (radio of the GDR). He was also the reciter in Schönberg's Gurre-Lieder under the direction of Herbert Kegel ( Berlin Classics ).
  4. Jazz Zeitung: Benn poems immersed in jazz
  5. Classical Accents: Poetry and Jazz: Gottfried Benn ( Memento of the original from August 29, 2017 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link has been 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 /
  6. Heinrich Heine - Lyrik und Jazz
  7. Online Musik Magazin: Lyrik und Jazz with Gert Westphal and the Attila Zoller Quartet, Heinrich Heine Superstar
  8. Baby blue pages: Hesse Between Music
  9. as the first and so far only speaker
  10. ^ Obituaries on the death of Gert Westphal
  11. Solothurner Nachrichten of July 8, 1989, article by Kurt Steinmann
  12. Bernd M. Kraske (ed.): The poet's uppermost mouth - Gert Westphal for his 70th birthday. Böckel Verlag, 1990, ISBN 3-923793-12-X .
  13. Interview of October 27, 1998 with Brigitta Nickelsen in the program buten un binnen , Radio Bremen
  14. Peter Lückemeier: A voice that creates worlds . In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung . Frankfurt January 22, 2018, p. 10 .
  15. ↑ Record of achievements. Review in: Neue Zürcher Zeitung from July 16, 2013, accessed on August 16, 2013.
  16. ^ Passion for collecting II. ( Memento from December 27, 2013 in the Internet Archive ) Interview with the editor on WDR3 in the program Mosaik from December 23, 2013 with soundtrack.
  17. Feature on G. Westphal ( Memento from November 23, 2015 in the Internet Archive ), accessed November 23, 2015
  18. ^ The passion of reading aloud - conversation with Gert Westphal 1999 -. Retrieved November 14, 2018 .