Home page
Back to this CD
CD index


Exotic Impressions
Flute Works by Sigfrid Karg-Elert

Sigfrid Karg-Elert (1877-1933) When Siegfried Theodor Karg, the youngest of 12 children, was born in Oberndorf am Neckar (Germany) in 1877, his father was already in poor health and having difficulty supporting the family. When his father died in 1889, the family was destitute, and Siegfried's sister Anna, who was ten years older, took over the family's financial responsibilities. An old square piano was given to Karg's family by a wealthy patron, and Professor Bruno Röthig, cantor of the Johanniskirche, gave Siegfried piano lessons. Siegfried began to compose his first works without any theoretical training. He wrote sacred works for choir, motets, and a Christmas cantata, and so impressed Professor Röthig that the professor programmed a part of Siegfried's choral work.

Although Siegfried visited the Leipzig Conservatory, the church director decided to send him to Grimma to study to be a school teacher. The boy, only fourteen at the time, was distraught and restless. He threw himself into practicing and composing, and learned to play flute, oboe, and clarinet, but because of his poor work at school, he was not allowed to study piano (1893). Leaving Grimma, he abruptly broke contact with his benefactors and set out on his own at the age of sixteen. After two days' walk he found some meager employment in Markranstädt, where he resided for three years. He began to read a wider variety of books, including philosophy, natural science, and music theory.

Becoming disenchanted with his surroundings, he headed on foot to Magdeburg. He soon found work playing oboe, clarinet, and horn, but that did not last long, since he was arrested in Magdeburg and sent back to Markranstädt for trying to change his name to Siegfried von Markranstädt. He was then told to return to Leipzig. In Leipzig, Siegfried earned a living as an orchestral musician and bar pianist. He dressed up with a fake beard and wig in order to remain incognito, since he was studying at the Leipzig Conservatory, and performing dance music was not approved. He studied organ with Homeyer, the Gewandhaus organist; piano with Wendling; and music theory with Salomon Jadassohn and Carl Reinecke.

In 1900, Siegfried's piano concerto was premiered under the auspices of the Leipzig Conservatory. For the next year and a half, Siegfried took part in the composition classes of Robert Teichmüller. In 1902, at the recommendation of the Leipzig Conservatory, he took the position of piano masterclass instructor at the conservatory at Magdeburg, contingent on the director's stipulation that Karg alter his last name to "Karg-Elert" (adding his mother's maiden name). At the age of 25, Karg-Elert became engaged to Maria Oelze, a fine keyboard player. Her father persuaded her to break off the engagement, however, leaving them both miserable. An illegitimate son was born in 1904. Out of spiritual confusion and personal disappointment, Karg-Elert experienced an emotional collapse and lived as a recluse, composing constantly. He also began an intensive study of the Kunstharmonium. During this period he decided to return to Leipzig, leaving his post in Magdeburg.

Karg-Elert made the acquaintance of Edvard Grieg, who encouraged him as a composer, awakened his affinity for classicism, and suggested publishers and performance opportunities. Karg-Elert's compositions took on contrapuntal forms and showed a mastery of polyphonic phrase construction. At Grieg's recommendation, Karg-Elert again changed his name, this time to "Sigfrid." In 1910, Karg-Elert married Minna Louise Kretschmar, but the marriage was not a happy one. In 1912 a son was stillborn, and in 1914 they had a daughter. Karg-Elert was known as a composer in England, America, and Australia prior to the outbreak of the first world war. At war's onset, Karg-Elert enlisted in the 107th infantry regiment. He was placed in the regimental band, playing oboe, horn, saxophone, and even the lyre. In the many concerts presented by the regiment, he was a favorite accompanist and pianist as well. During this time, he wrote many important works for winds, including most of his solo flute repertoire.

At this point, his works were stylistically akin to the music of Webern and Schoenberg, but influenced by Brahms, Franck, Scriabin, and Debussy as well. After what Karg-Elert described as an artistic crisis, his writing took a new direction. He distanced himself more and more from the radical left camp of musical composition in favor of the Impressionists, late Romanticists, and Neo-Classicists, and began putting a "b" after his later opus numbers to distinguish them from his earlier period. Describing his new style, he wrote, "I began again in C major and prayed to the muse of melody." All this time, his life's wish was to become organist at the church at Vorstadt or Heiland, but his some five attempts to secure these positions came to nothing. His association with the Avant-Garde, his improvisatory virtuosity, and his repugnance to authority may have been contributing factors.

In 1930, Karg-Elert took part in a Karg-Elert Festival in London, and a year later he was asked to perform in the USA, where he presented more than twenty organ concerts. He was offered the position of organ teacher at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh, but due to his failing health, he declined. Diabetes and neuralgia plagued him more and more. He died on September 4, 1933, and was buried in the Leipzig Südfriedhof.




Links to alphabetical list of composers
Bios and links to their recordings at this site

 A   B  C-E F-G H-I J-K  L   M  N-Q  R   S  T-V W-Z