Te Deum op. 32
(b. Frankfurt, 19 December 1882 – d. Cologne, 19 March 1954)
Te Deum, op. 32
Walter Braunfels may be best known today for his perseverance through Nazi suppression of his work. However, Braunfels enjoyed a distinguished career in Germany before and between the world wars, and the premiere of his Te Deum in 1922 occurred near the peak of his popularity.
Braunfels’ personal and professional connections provide context for his compositional style. Born in Frankfurt, Braunfels’ musical talent flourished amid familial connections to major figures in late-century German art music: He was a great-nephew of conductor and composer Louis Spohr (1784-1859); his mother had performed piano duets with Franz Liszt, and his sister studied the piano with Clara Schumann at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt. At age 12, he began studying the piano with the renowned teacher James Kwast at the Hoch Conservatory, and admired the compositions of Kwast’s son-in-law, Hans Pfitzner.
In 1902, while studying economics and law, Braunfels became an admirer of the distinguished conductor Felix Mottl, known for his interpretations of Richard Wagner’s works, and gained exposure to the work of Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler. During this time, he decided to study music full-time. By the end of 1902, he was studying piano with Theodor Leschetizky, and in 1903, he began studying music composition with Ludwig Thuille, a friend of Richard Strauss whose students included Ernest Bloch and Hermann Abendroth. His studies with Thuille and ensuing connections with other Thuille students and associates placed him in the “Munich School” of late-romantic composers. In addition, Braunfels studied music theory with Karl Nawratil, who also taught Anton Webern.
After the First World War, during which Braunfels served in the military, he continued his professional activities among a network of distinguished composers and conductors, including Wilhelm Furtwängler, Hermann Abendroth, and Bruno Walter. Having converted to Catholicism in 1917, due in part to the influence of Anton Bruckner, Braunfels composed his Te Deum in 1920 and 1921, a musical setting of a centuries-old Latin hymn text which numerous composers before him had also used, including Handel, Mozart, Berlioz, and Bruckner.
Braunfels’ Te Deum is of interest as a work unto itself, in the context of the numerous other musical settings of that text, and as a product of its time and place in Germany between the wars. While Braunfels began his career in the late-romantic milieu of Thuille, his style evolved and assimilated other influences. The Grove encyclopedia aptly notes that “Braunfels moved away from the late Romantic language of the early operas to a more austere neo-Baroque style, the massive sonorities of which almost recall those of Bruckner.”
The work was premiered on 28 February 1922, conducted by Hermann Abendroth, and went on to have almost one hundred performances. In its premiere, it was the third item in a program which also included Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor with Braunfels himself on piano, and Sommer-Idylle for small orchestra by August Reuss, another member of the Munich School of composers. The composer’s performance of the Mozart concerto at the premiere of his own work was perhaps a nod to the fact that Mozart himself premiered that concerto, in another case of the composer performing at his work’s premiere.
Different composers have divided the text of the Te Deum in different ways; Braunfels’ setting uses three sections of contrasting content. The first section, with the largest block of text, is a litany of praise. The second section begins at Judex crederis (We believe that Thou will come to be our Judge), setting apart a very short, but dramatic and emotionally powerful plea for divine mercy. Lastly, the third section, beginning at Aeterna fac (Let them be numbered with Thy Saints in everlasting glory), commences a concluding section of petitions which recapitulate the supplication, praise, thanksgiving, and hope expressed earlier in the hymn.
Inga Mai Groote notes that Braunfels specifically intended his Te Deum to be confessional in nature — suitable for the concert hall, not expressly liturgical, but also not simply a piece of music. In his own words, “It was born out of conviction and what there is to see here will only be properly seen by those with conviction” (Translation: Robert Anderson).
Maristella Feustle, 2017
– Inga Mai Groote. “Zeitgenossenschaft und Bekenntnis : Braunfels‘ Offenbarung Johannis und ihr Kontext,” in Walter Braunfels, Musik-Konzepte. München: Edition Text + Kritik, 2014.
– Ute Jung. Walter Braunfels (1882-1954). Studien zur Musikgeschichte des 19. Jahrhunderts; Bd. 58. Regensburg: Bosse, 1980.
Edward F. Kravitt and Andrew D. McCredie. „Thuille, Ludwig.“ Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed December 26, 2016, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/27906.
– Erik Levi. „Braunfels, Walter.“ Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed December 26, 2016, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/03881.
– Robert W. Wason, Valerie Errante, eds. Selected Songs of the Munich School 1870 – 1920: Lieder for Soprano Voice and Piano. Madison: A-R Editions, 2010.
– Alexander Waterman. “Walter Braunfels.” The OREL Foundation. http://orelfoundation.org/index.php/composers/article/walter_braunfels/
For performance material please contact the publisher Universal Edition, Vienna (www.universaledition.com)