Sigfrid Karg-Elert

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Sigfrid Karg-Elert

Sigfrid Karg-Elert (actually Siegfried Theodor Karg ; born November 21, 1877 in Oberndorf am Neckar ; † April 9, 1933 in Leipzig ; pseudonyms: Teo von Oberndorff , Dr. Ottmar Bergk and others) was a German composer , music theorist , music teacher , pianist , Organist and harmonium player .


Siegfried Karg was the youngest of twelve children of the bookseller Johann Jacob Karg (1823–1889) and his wife Marie Auguste nee. Ehlert (1840-1908). In 1882 the family moved to Leipzig, where the musically gifted boy joined the choir of the Johanniskirche, received piano lessons and soon began composing his first pieces of music. After presenting his own works to the composer Emil Nikolaus von Reznicek in 1896 , he arranged for him a three-year scholarship at the Leipzig Conservatory , where Karg studied with Salomon Jadassohn , Carl Reinecke , Alfred Reisenauer , Robert Teichmüller and others.

In 1901 he went to the Sannemann Conservatory of Music in Magdeburg as a piano teacher , where he changed his name to Sigfrid Karg-Elert . A year later he also took on the same functions at the Magdeburg New Conservatory for Music, but soon returned to Leipzig. There he began, on the advice of the composer Edvard Grieg , to devote himself increasingly to composition, initially mainly from piano music. In 1904 he met the music publisher Carl Simon , who pointed out the possibilities of the art harmonium to him. Karg-Elert taught himself to play the instrument and until the end of his life created the most extensive and important catalog of harmonium music ever. He was finally encouraged by the Gewandhaus organist Paul Homeyer to work on some harmonium pieces for the organ before he wrote his first original contributions to organ literature in 1909 with the 66 chorale improvisations op. 65.

Gravestone at the Leipzig South Cemetery (with relief portrait)

In 1910 Karg-Elert married Minna Luise Kretzschmar (1890–1971), four years later their daughter Katharina (1914–1984) was born. During the First World War , the composer completed his military service as a regimental musician in 1915. From 1919 he was a lecturer in music theory and composition at the Leipzig Conservatory, and in 1932 he was appointed professor there.

While his works were particularly popular in Great Britain and the USA, Karg-Elert saw himself as an organ composer in Germany behind Max Reger , whom he viewed critically and whose apologists Karl Straube and Hermann Grabner in Leipzig often attacked him. The cultural climate that increasingly came under the influence of the burgeoning National Socialism in the 1920s and 1930s also seriously damaged the more internationally oriented Karg-Elert. Although already suffering from severe diabetes, the composer therefore accepted the invitation in 1932 to give organ concerts in the USA. However, the concert tour quickly turned out to be a failure because of Karg-Elert's limited organ playing skills. After returning to Leipzig, his health finally deteriorated so much that he died in April 1933 - at the age of only 55. His grave is in the Leipzig south cemetery .

After his death, the name of the non-Jew Karg-Elert was included by the National Socialists in the first edition of the notorious “ Lexicon of Jews in Music ”. Although his daughter was able to have him removed from the dictionary in 1936, the composer's works were rarely played in Germany. After the Second World War , the organ movement, which was based on baroque sound ideals, stood in the way of a revival of his work . It was not until the 1970s that the importance of Karg-Elert's music was gradually recognized again.


Numerous letters and music from Karg-Elert are preserved in the archives of Carl Simon Verlag, which are part of the holdings 21081 Breitkopf & Härtel in the Saxon State Archives, Leipzig State Archives .

Audio language

Sigfrid Karg-Elert saw himself as an eccentric loner. His work combines very different influences in an individual way, e. B. by Johann Sebastian Bach (whom he paid homage to in many compositions with the BACH motif), Edvard Grieg , Claude Debussy , Alexander Scriabin and the early Arnold Schönberg . On the whole, his style can be characterized as late romantic with impressionistic and expressionistic influences . His excellent knowledge of music theory enabled him to push harmonics to their limits without losing the tonal context. Karg-Elert composed mainly for smaller ensembles, preferably for organ, harmonium and piano, also chamber music, songs and choral works. Although he left hardly any orchestral music, the other compositions, especially the organ works, show that he harbored pronounced symphonic sound ideas.

Music theoretical work

Karg-Elert is considered to be one of the main representatives of the polar major-minor conception established by Hugo Riemann , according to which the undertone series is the mirror-symmetrical counterpart to the overtone series . Major is developed from the overtone series, minor from the undertone series. Thus, according to Karg-Elert, the minor chord is the reflection of the major chord and builds up downwards over the lower terez and sub-fifth (with the root note c '' is a 'sub-tertiary, f' sub-fifth), which results in reversed functional designations for the minor. Based on this, Karg-Elert developed a music-theoretical system according to which every sound can be explained functionally within a tonal order. Karg-Elert's theories were mainly carried on by his students Fritz Reuter and Paul Schenk .

Karg-Elert advocates the thesis that this seven-step scale, which allows the harmoniously pure intonation of the main functions T, S and D, has a melodically impure effect, since the respective thirds, e /, a and, h in melodic context are too low can be felt.

“In the didymic understanding, cis is lower than 'des; , g sharp lower than 'as; , dis deeper than, it; etc. An evaluation that contradicts the instinctive musician's melodic step perception! And in fact, the naturally intended primary third is not a melodic but a harmonic interval. [...] Greek, mathematically oriented music theory assigned the Pythagorean third to the dissonances. She was right in the sense that the concept of consonance and dissonance is definitely a harmonic valuation. [...] The linearity of the melody has nothing to do with large and small whole tones, with decimal point differences and the like. "

Works (selection)

Organ works

  • 66 Choral Improvisations, Op. 65
  • Trois Impressions op.72
  • Chaconne and fugue trilogy with chorale op.73
  • Sonatina in A minor, Op. 74. Möseler, Wolfenbüttel 1977
  • 20 Preludes and Postludies Op. 78
  • 3 Symphonic canons for organ op.85
  • 10 characteristic clay pieces op.86
  • Symphonic chorale "Oh stay with your grace" op. 87, 1
  • Symphonic chorale "Jesus my joy" op. 87, 2
  • Symphonic chorale “Now all forests are resting” op. 87, 3
  • 3 pastels op.92
  • Seven Pastels from the Lake of Constance op.96
  • Cathedral Windows op.106
  • Three impressions op.108
  • Triptych op.141
  • Three new impressions op.142
  • Symphony in F sharp minor op.143
  • Kaleidoscope op.144
  • Music for organ op.145
  • Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue on BACH op.150 (original version lost). New version by Wolfgang Stockmeier . Möseler, Wolfenbüttel 2000
  • Eight short pieces, op.154
  • Rondo alla campanella op.156.Möseler, Wolfenbüttel 1986

Harmonium works

  • Passacaglia, es, op. 25, 1903-5, rev. as op. 25b, org, 1905–7
  • 6 sketches, op.10, 1904
  • Improvisation (Ostinato and Fughetta), E, ​​op. 34, 1905,
  • 5 monologues, op. 33, 1905, no.4 arr. Org
  • Partita, D, op. 37, 1905, movts 1, 3, 4, arr. Org, 1906-11
  • Phantasie and Fugue, D, op. 39, 1905, arr. Org
  • 5 watercolors, op. 27, 1905, arr. Org Kunstharmonium
  • 8 concert pieces, op. 26, 1905–6, nos.1, 4, 6, 7 arr. Hmn, pf Kunstharmonium
  • Sonata no.1, b, op. 36, 1905, 2nd movt arr. Org Kunstharmonium
  • 3 Sonatinas, G, e, a, op. 14, 1906 Kunstharmonium
  • Scènes Pittoresques, op. 31, 1906, nos.1 and 6 arr. Hmn / pf Kunstharmonium
  • Silhouettes, op. 29, hmn / pf, 1906; Easy duos (T. v. Obendorff), c, woo 7, hmn / pf, 1906 art harmonium
  • Poetry, op.35, hmn / pf, 1907 Kunstharmonium
  • Renaissance, op. 57, 1907 Kunstharmonium
  • 5 miniatures, op. 9, 1908 Kunstharmonium
  • Sonata no.2, b, op. 46, 1909-12, 2 movt arr. Org, 1911 Kunstharmonium
  • 2 tone poems op. 70, 1910 artificial harmonium
  • Inlays, op. 76, 1911 Art harmonium
  • School for Harmonium, op.99
  • Portraits from “Palestrina to Schönberg”, op. 101, 1913–23
  • The high school of the league game, op.94, hmn / pf, 1912
  • First basic studies, op. 93, 1913
  • Gradus ad Parnassum, op. 95, 1913-14
  • 12 impressions, op.102, 1914
  • Romantic Pieces (Impressions from the Giant Mountains), op. 103, 1914;
  • 7 Idyllen, op.104, 1914
  • Consolations (8 religious mood pictures), op.47, 1918
  • Inner Voices, op. 58, 1918–19

Piano works

  • Travel pictures. A suite of eight piano pieces op.7
  • Three waltz caprices. For piano four hands op.16
  • From the north. Six lyrical pieces op.18
  • Scandinavian ways. Seven performance pieces op.28
  • Waltz scenes op.45
  • Sonata No. 1 in F sharp minor op.50
  • Patina. Ten miniatures in the style of the XVIII. Century op. 64 [I]
  • Three sonatinas op.67
  • Decameron. A suite (A minor) of ten easy, instructive character sketches, Op. 69
  • Poetic Bagatelles op.77
  • Sonata No. 2 Op. 80 (today considered lost)
  • Sonata (Patetica) No. 3 in C sharp minor op 105
  • Partita (G minor) op.113
  • Exotic Rhapsody (Jungle Impressions) op.118
  • Heather pictures. Ten small impressions op.128
  • Mosaic. 29 short, instructive pieces op.146

Chamber music

  • 2 pieces for violin and organ op.48b
  • Trio for oboe, clarinet and cor anglais op. 49/1
  • Sonata for violoncello and piano in A major op.71
  • Ten Character Studies for Two Violins, Op. 90
  • Sonata for Flute and Piano in B flat major op.121
  • Sonata for clarinet solo op.110
  • Suite pointilistique op.135 for flute and piano
  • Sonata for clarinet (viola) and piano in B major op.139b
  • 25 Caprices and Sonata for saxophone solo op.153
  • Symphonic canzone for flute and piano op.11

Vocal music

  • The Entombment of Christ op.84
  • 2 chants with organ op.98
  • Requiem op.109

Other works

  • Etude School for Oboe or English Horn op.41


Sound document

  • Solemn procession to the minster from “ Lohengrin ” ( Richard Wagner ). Art harmonium, played by Sigfried Karg-Ehlert. Polyphon No. 15 452 (Matr. 26 087), recorded around 1914, to be heard on YouTube


  • Hermann F. Bergmann: Harmony and function in the piano works of Sigfrid Karg-Elert (1877–1933). Munster 1991
  • Sonja Gerlach: Sigfrid Karg-Elert: Directory of all works. Zimmermann, Frankfurt / Main 1984, ISBN 3-921729-23-8
  • Günter Hartmann: Sigfrid Karg-Elert and his music for organ. 2 volumes. Bonn 2002
  • Thomas Lipski (ed.): Sigfrid Karg-Elert - The theoretical works . Verlag Peter Ewers , Paderborn 2005, ISBN 978-3-928243-16-2 .
  • Stanley Sadie: The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians . Macmillan Publishers, London.
  • Elke Völker: Sigfrid Karg-Elert - Music for Organ - The Art Nouveau composer in the field of tension of his time . Peter Ewers Verlag, Paderborn 2007, ISBN 3-928243-15-2 .
  • Anton WürzKarg-Elert, Sigfrid Theodor. In: New German Biography (NDB). Volume 11, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1977, ISBN 3-428-00192-3 , pp. 154-156 ( digitized version ).

Web links

Commons : Sigfrid Karg-Elert  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ With Sigfrid Karg-Elert: Polaristic theory of sound and tonality . Leipzig, 1930, p. 6f
  2. For the designation, cis ("low point cis) and 'des (apostrophe des) see Euler's Tonnetz