Wilhelm Kempff

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Wilhelm Kempff (1965)
Emil Stumpp Wilhelm Kempff (1926)

Wilhelm Kempff (born November 25, 1895 in Jüterbog ; † May 23, 1991 in Positano , Italy) was a German pianist , organist and composer . He was one of the most prominent pianists of the 20th century.


Wilhelm Kempff was the son of a Protestant cantor. When he was four years old, the family moved to Potsdam , where his father had received an appointment to the Nikolaikirche as Royal Music Director. After his first violin and piano lessons from his father, Kempff continued his training with Karl Heinrich Barth (piano) and Robert Kahn (composition) from 1904 through Georg Schumann . Kempff studied from 1914 to 1917 at the Berlin Conservatory , although he was waived the final examination because of his outstanding ability. He made his debut in the Berlin Philharmonic in 1918 with Beethoven's 4th Piano Concerto under Arthur Nikisch and the Berlin Philharmonic .

In 1924 Kempff (as successor to Max von Pauer ) took over the management of the Württemberg University of Music in Stuttgart . There he led a master class for piano until 1929. In 1926 he married his piano student Helene Freiin Hiller von Gaertringen in the Berlin Cathedral . On his first trip to Turkey in 1927, he advised President Ataturk on which musicians should be appointed to the newly founded music academy in Ankara. In 1929 he gave up his post in Stuttgart and moved with his family to the orangery in Sanssouci Park in Potsdam. In 1931 Kempff co-founded the summer courses in the Potsdam Marble Palace together with Max von Schillings , Eugen d'Albert , Edwin Fischer , Eduard Erdmann , Elly Ney and Georg Kulenkampff . His collaboration with Herbert von Karajan began in 1940 when he played Mozart's Piano Concerto in D minor, KV 466, in Aachen. In 1943 he took part in a Beethoven festival in Paris, with colleagues Elly Ney, Alfred Cortot and Ginette Neveu, as well as the conductor Hermann Abendroth . In August 1944, Adolf Hitler included him in the Gottbegnadeten list (Führer list), which was to save him from being deployed in the war. Nevertheless, in 1945 Kempff was drafted into the Volkssturm ; on February 4, the evacuation to Thurnau Castle in Upper Franconia took place.

In 1955, Kempff and his family moved to Ammerland on Lake Starnberg . In 1957 he founded the "Fondazione Orfeo" (today Wilhelm-Kempff-Kulturstiftung ) in Positano, southern Italy, and founded the Beethoven interpretation courses in the Casa Orfeo , which he set up especially for the courses. They took place under his direction every year until 1982. After his death in 1991, Gerhard Oppitz led the courses from 1992 to 1995, until 2011 John O'Conor , both outstanding participants in the courses under Wilhelm Kempff and personally connected to him. Bernd Goetzke has been running the courses since 2013 , also once a participant in Wilhelm Kempff.

Kempff's grave near Wernstein Castle

In 1991 Wilhelm Kempff died in Positano. His grave is in the forest cemetery of the Barons von Künßberg near Schloss Wernstein in Upper Franconia.

The music and art school and a hall in the cultural quarter in his native Jüterbog got his name.

Kempff made numerous recordings for Deutsche Grammophon between 1920 and 1980. He was celebrated on concert tours around the world. He had particular success in Japan, where he appeared ten times from 1936 to 1979. A small Japanese island was named Kempu-san in his honor . Wilhelm Kempff's recordings of the piano sonatas by Beethoven and Schubert are legendary ; He also set standards as an interpreter of the piano works of Schumann and Brahms . As a chamber musician , he worked with the violinists Henryk Szeryng and Yehudi Menuhin (from 1955) and with the cellists Pablo Casals , Pierre Fournier , Ludwig Hoelscher and Mstistav Rostropowitsch .

In addition to numerous radio productions, there are a number of television recordings that document the personality and work of Wilhelm Kempff, such as the film portrait of Wilhelm Kempff by the author Wolf-Eberhard von Lewinski for Saarland Radio from 1975.

As a composer, Kempff wrote not only operas and symphonies but also piano music, songs and chamber music. Although Kempff did not compose any propagandistic music during the years of the National Socialist dictatorship , he dedicated his opera Familie Gozzi, set in 18th century Italy, to the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini in 1934 . Many of his compositions were premiered by Wilhelm Furtwängler . Kempff's best-known work is probably his Piano Sonata in G minor, Op. 47, which can also be found in several CD recordings. Due to the different relationships between Kempff and National Socialism, his compositions were avoided in the post-war period; after the war he mainly worked as a pianist.

The rediscovery of Kempff as a composer was initiated by the Augsburg concert pianist and lecturer Rüdiger Steinfatt , who published the first new recordings of Kempff's works in the 2000s.

In 2017, the opening concert of the Wilhelm Kempff Festival took place at Thurnau Castle, which will be officially opened in October 2018 by the concert pianist Gerhard Oppitz and the concert pianist and artistic director of the festival, Ingo Dannhorn .

Awards, memberships

Memorial plaque on the house, Mönchenkirchplatz, in Jüterbog



Stage works

  • Mystery of the Birth of the Lord (op. 22; 1925). Staged oratorio. Libretto:?
  • The Flute by Sanssouci (op.35; 1928). Opera. Libretto: Herman Hefele. WP of the overture: 1929 Stuttgart (conductor: Wilhelm Kempff)
  • King Midas (op.33). Opera in one act. Libretto: Wilhelm Kempff (based on Christoph Martin Wieland ). Premiere 1931 Königsberg
  • Gozzi family (op. 39). Opera in 3 acts. Libretto: Wilhelm Kempff (after Erich Noetker). Premiere 1934 Stettin, dedicated to Benito Mussolini
  • German fate (op. 40). Dramatic cantata. Libretto: based on texts by Ernst Wiechert . UA 1937 Remscheid; Banned in 1938
  • The carnival of Rottweil (op. 41). Opera in 3 acts. Libretto: Wilhelm Kempff. Premiere 1937 Hanover (conductor: Rudolf Krasselt)
  • The mirror of Hamlet (op.66; 1947). Ballet. Premiere 1947 Hamburg
  • The coronation of the dead . Opera (fragment, 1947)

Vocal compositions

Title page of Kempff's Opus 1
1. Out - 2. Sunday morning - 3. Morning song
1.  Evening song (cellar) - 2.  Lily of the valley and the little flower (Hoffmann) - 3.  The blackbird (Seidel) - 4.  Spring greeting (Eichendorff)
1st  night (Eichendorff) - 2nd  blossom snow (Tsurayuki; German by Hans Bethge ) - 3rd  yes (Meyer)
1.  The Fichtenbaum (Heine) - 2.  Now have thanks (Bjørnson; German from:?) - 3.  Song of the prisoner (Heine) - 4.  Harvest song (Dehmel)
  • Te Deum (op. 26; 1925) for choir, brass, timpani and organ. WP Staats- und Domchor Berlin
  • Evening Fantasy (op. 27; 1926) for voice, viola and organ. Text: Joseph von Eichendorff
  • Greek chants (op.49a; 1946). Texts: Euripides , German by Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff . Premiere 1947 Hamburg (music hall; Diana Eustrati [vocals], Wilhelm Kempff [piano])
  • Seven songs (op.50; 1946). Texts: Conrad Ferdinand Meyer
1.  Let your horses' hooves scratch - 2.  The Roman fountain - 3.  Lethe - 4.  The end of the feast - 5.  Yes - 6.  Morning song - 7.  Restless night
  • Five songs (op. 52; 1946). Texts: Conrad Ferdinand Meyer
1.  Vanitas - 2.  Liebesflämmchen - 3.  Now you're talking - 4.  At the Heavenly Gate - 5.  Everyone
  • Six songs (op. 53; 1946). Texts: Conrad Ferdinand Meyer
1.  Under the stars - 2.  Sultry - 3.  Pickled oars - 4.  New Year's bells - 5.  Sower - 6.  The song of the sea
  • Six songs (op.54; 1946). Texts: Conrad Ferdinand Meyer
1.  The little bell - 2.  The little soul - 3.  The white tip - 4.  Firnelicht - 5.  Gods meal - 6.  Heaven
  • Four songs (op. 55; 1946). Texts: Conrad Ferdinand Meyer
1.  In a stormy night - 2.  One dead person - 3.  The dead child - 4.  Shepherd fire
  • Four songs (op.56a; 1946). Texts: Conrad Ferdinand Meyer
1.  Song souls - 2.  Night noises - 3.  Wedding song - 4.  The lute tuners
  • Seven songs (op.56b; 1946). Texts: Conrad Ferdinand Meyer
1.  The Rose of Italia - 2.  Christmas in Ajaccio - 3.  The Chapel of the Innocent Children - 4.  The Scourged Psyche - 5.  The Virgin - 6.  On the Grand Canal - 7.  Venice's first day
1.  So much is not alive and I live - 2.  Saying about the rain - 3.  Towards May - 4.  The Soldanelle - 5.  A stammering prayer
  • Three sonnets by Michelangelo (op. 59; 1947). Texts: Michelangelo
1.  Love - 2.  The night - 3.  Beauty
1.  Let me shine like that - 2.  Don't tell me to talk - 3.  Only those who know longing - 4.  Do you know the country
  • Seven songs (op.61; 1947). Texts: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
1.  Lost - 2.  To the distant one - 3.  First loss - 4.  Wanderer's night song: That you are from heaven - 5.  Wanderer's night song: Above all peaks there is peace - 6.  Night thoughts - 7.  Found
  • Seven songs (op. 62; 1947). Texts: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
1.  Nearness of the beloved - 2.  The joy - 3.  At the river - 4.  Suleika: What does the movement mean - 5.  Shepherd's lamentation - 6.  Night song - 7th  November song
  • Seven songs (op. 63; 1947). Texts: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
1.  Mailied - 2.  Present - 3.  The Brittle - 4.  The Converted - 5.  Early Spring - 6.  The Cicada - 7.  Philine

Orchestral works

  • Symphony No. 1 in E flat major (“Tannenberg Symphony”: dedicated to Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg) (1915) for large orchestra and several pianos
  • Piano Concerto in B flat minor (1915)
  • Overture to Kleist's “ Hermannsschlacht . Premiere 1917 Berlin (Beethovensaal; Berliner Philharmoniker , conductor: Hermann Henze)
  • Paradise Lost (1921). Symphonic poetry
  • Divertimento (1923?)
  • Symphony No. 2 in D minor (op.19). Premiere 1924 Leipzig ( Gewandhaus ; Gewandhausorchester , conductor: Wilhelm Furtwängler )
  • A dance of death (op. 37; 1931). Concert in suite form for piano, string orchestra, percussion and mixed choir. Text:?. Premiere 1932 Berlin ( Ufa-Palast ; conductor: Max von Schillings )
  • Violin Concerto in G minor (op.38). Premiere 1932 Darmstadt ( Georg Kulenkampff [violin]; conductor: Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt )
  • Arcadian Suite (op. 42) for orchestra. Premiere in Dresden in 1939
  • Legende (op. 65; 1947) for piano and orchestra. Premiere 1947 Hanover (conductor: Franz Konwitschny )
  • Epitaph (op. 72,1). Suite for string orchestra. Premiere 1959 Mainz (City Theater; Conductor: Wilhelm Kempff)
  • Positano Suite (op.73,1; 1958) for string orchestra

Piano music

  • Piano Sonata in F sharp major (1912?)
  • Sea psalm (op. 9). Fantasy in D minor
  • Two piano fantasies (op.12; 1921)
  • Lyric Suite (op.17,1)
  • Rhapsodic Prelude (op.44)
  • Piano Sonata in G minor (op. 47; 1944–1947)
  • Franconian picture book (op.48). 6 piano pieces. Premiere 1947 Hamburg (music hall)
  • Italian Suite (op.68)
  • Chorale
  • Argentine serenade
  • Swedish wedding music
  • Russian Easter morning
  • House music book
  • La Notte . Fantasy (based on the Gozzi family )

Chamber music

  • Violin Sonata in A major . Premiere 1911
  • Piano Trio in G minor (1911)
  • String Quartet in D minor (1914). Premiere 1917 Berlin
  • Quartet in G major (op.15; 1919/20) for flute, violin, violoncello and piano
  • Music in Spring (op.29)
  • String Quartet in D minor (op.45,1; 1942)
  • String quartet in E flat major (op.45,2)


  • 1920 First recordings with Beethoven's Ecossaisen and Bagatelle in C major op. 33 at the Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft in Berlin
  • 1950 Beginning of the recording of all of Beethoven's piano sonatas for the Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft Hannover
  • 1953 recording of Beethoven's piano concertos for the Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft in Berlin (conductor: Paul van Kempen )
  • 1954 recording of Liszt's piano concertos for Decca in London (conductor: Anatoli Fistulari )
  • 1961 recording of Beethoven's piano concertos for the Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft in Berlin ( Berliner Philharmoniker , conductor: Ferdinand Leitner )
  • 1964 recording of his own songs for the Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft in Berlin (with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau )
  • 1965 Beginning of the recording of all of Schubert's piano sonatas for the Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft in Hanover
  • 1980 Last record recording with preludes and fugues from Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier I and II

Writings from Kempff

  • My first front concert. In: Die Musik, Volume 32, 1939-40, 1st half year, issue 1, pp. 10-11
  • Under the Zimbelstern: becoming a musician . Stuttgart: Engelhornverl., 1951
    • New edition as a paperback with the subtitle “ Memories of the Youth of a Pianist” . Munich: Piper, 1985. ISBN 3-492-00746-5
    • French edition: Cette note grave: les années d'apprentissage d'un musicien . Paris: Plon, 1955.
  • What I heard, what I saw: travel pictures of a pianist . Munich: Piper, 1981

Literature about Kempff

  • Roger Hauert (photos) and Bernard Gavoty (text): Wilhelm Kempff . Geneva: Kister, 1954. (The great interpreters)
  • Klaus Linsenmeyer: Wilhelm Kempff: life sketches of a great pianist . Wilhelmshaven: Noetzel, 2006. ISBN 3-7959-0849-3
  • Fred K. Prieberg : Handbook of German Musicians 1933-1945 . Kiel 2004, CD-ROM Lexicon, pp. 3619–3622.
  • Ernst Klee : Kempff, Wilhelm. In: The culture lexicon for the Third Reich. Who was what before and after 1945. S. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 2007, ISBN 978-3-10-039326-5 , p. 301.
  • “I'm not a romantic”: the pianist Wilhelm Kempff 1895–1991; Documents on life and work . [An exhibition by the Akademie der Künste, Berlin, in cooperation with the House of Brandenburg-Prussian History, Potsdam, Potsdam, November 22, 2008 to February 1, 2009] / On behalf of the Akademie der Künste ed. by Werner Grünzweig … [Authors: Werner Grünzweig…]. Hofheim: Wolke, 2008. ISBN 978-3-936000-49-8
  • Jan Brachmann: Beethoven's air spirit doesn't take the pedal politically . Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, December 16, 2008
  • Anita Eichholz: On the 25th anniversary of the death of the pianist Wilhelm Kempff, in: Schaudichum - Bildschrift für Inweltperspektiven und Lebensbilder, Mainleus 2016, ISSN 2199-1243, pp. 6-9


  1. ^ Ernst Klee: The culture lexicon for the Third Reich. Who was what before and after 1945. S. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 2007, p. 301.
  2. ^ Website of the Wilhelm Kempff Festival
  3. "Prime Minister Mussolini received the well-known German pianist Wilhelm Kempf, who presented the Duce with his new comic opera Die Familie Gozzi , which was dedicated to the Italian head of government" ( Völkischer Beobachter , Vienna, 20 / XII / 38).
  4. In his review of the world premiere, Friedrich W. Herzog criticized : “ 'Das Spiel vom Deutschen Bettelmann' by Ernst Wiechert is one of those soft, ideologically indeterminate pieces that are embellished in individual parts and with and in which everything and nothing is proven. [...] It is a piece of confession to powerlessness and weakness, to compassion and to be assured of a fate that is simply inevitable. […] The basic attitude of the cantata essentially corresponds to Wiechert's words, whose dreary monotony and melancholy expression could hardly give a composer a bridge to a more sophisticated joy of sound, to an optimism in tones and an affirmation of existence. Finally, even in Wiechert's poetic camouflage, the biblical Job is by no means the right man to embody a 'German destiny' ”( Die Musik 30.1 [1937/38], p. 250 ).

Web links

Commons : Wilhelm Kempff  - Collection of images, videos and audio files