Draeseke, Felix

Suite for two Violins in F-sharp minor, Op. 86 (score & part)


Felix Draeseke

Suite for two Violins in F-sharp minor, Op. 86 (1911)

(b. Coburg, 7 October 1835 — d. Dresden, 26 February 1913)

I Grave (p. 2)
II Menuett. Mäßig (Moderate) (p. 6) –
Trio. Nur ein wenig belebter (Just a bit more lively) (p. 7)
III Finale. Rasch und feurig (Rapid and fiery) (p. 8) –
Langsam (Slow) – Erstes Zeitmaß (Tempo I) (p. 15)

Preface (Translation: J. Bradford Robinson)
Felix Draeseke was one of the most formidable German composers of his age, yet lasting success constantly eluded him. Some regarded him simply as a man dogged by ill-fortune (he began to lose his hearing at an early age), others as a figure tragically unrecognised. He suffered as many artists do whose creativity fails to conform to the fashions of their era. In his tempestuous youth he was a radical revolutionary of the ‘New German School’ propagated by Franz Liszt. Sensing that his wings were about to be clipped, he emigrated into provincial exile in francophone Switzerland. There, from 1862 to 1876, he underwent a ‘purification’. From then on his former admirers viewed him as a ‘tamed lion’ while antiquarian conservatives declined to receive him with open arms as a reformed sinner. In 1876 he returned to Dresden, which he made his base of operations. By then he had become a peerless contrapuntalist and passed his knowledge on to young composers, of whom Eugen d’Albert (1864-1932) was the most famous and the great symphonist Paul Büttner (1870-1943) was ultimately the most significant. In the ideological squabbles between Wagner-Liszt-Bruckner on the one hand and Brahms-Reinecke-Bruch on the other, he was even more dismissive of the Brahmsians than of the ‘musical futurists’, whose shallowness and self-importance left him increasingly out of sympathy. For personal reasons he spurned the man closest to him in purely musical terms: Wagner. With the sharp deterioration of his hearing he became even more of an outsider. Then, from 1888 to 1892, lasting and widespread recognition seemed within his grasp with the overwhelming success of his Symphonia Tragica and his opera Herrat on the life of Theodoric. But his hypersensitivity toward setbacks, the associated bitterness and his stubborn uprightness were his own worst enemies. He admired the young Richard Strauss’s Don Juan and expressed his ‘opinion of a fellow expert’ in a famous letter of 1896. Strauss, a fabulously gifted conductor who revered Draeseke in any case, might, like Bülow and Nikisch, have helped his music to achieve a large-scale breakthrough. But Strauss vacillated and Draeseke grew impatient. Then came Ein Heldenleben and Draeseke’s open dismissal, which was evidently reported to Strauss. In the wake of Salome, their estrangement culminated in Draeseke’s polemical broadside of 1906, Die Konfusion in der Musik. He was cheered by the reactionaries, mocked by Max Reger and Richard Strauss and consigned once and for all to the scrap heap. Arthur Nikisch (1855-1922), who had long abandoned composition himself, did not follow suit and helped Symphonia Tragica to belated triumphs. But this was an exception rather than the rule. In 1908-09 Draeseke, by now completely deaf, composed his great a cappella sacred works (a Mass and a Requiem), perhaps his most profound creations, and in 1912 a bizarre Symphonia Comica, in which he pulled all the stops of his mastery while treading in the bygone progressive footsteps of Hector Berlioz. In the same year he was able to witness the first complete performances of his magnum opus Christus, a tetralogy of oratorios, under the baton of Bruno Kittel (1870-1948). Shortly thereafter he died, an eminent master and teacher whose treatise on harmony ‘in merry rhymes’ was frequently quoted and admired, but whose music only sporadically received a public hearing.

Born in Coburg on 7 October 1835, Felix August Bernhard Draeseke was the grandson of Bernhard Dräseke (1774-1849), the Protestant bishop of Magdeburg. His mother died eight days after his birth, and he grew up in the care of a maidservant and his three sisters before his father remarried in 1840. He began taking piano lessons at the age of five, but suffered from an imperfectly treated infection of the middle ear, probably a harbinger of his auditory sufferings to come. At the age of eight he composed a march for his father’s birthday. Beginning in 1848 he attended the Casimirianum in Coburg while taking lessons from the flute virtuoso and composer Kummer. In 1849 he wrote an overture to Körner’s Niklas Zriny for piano four-hands. His talent for composition soon became apparent; as he himself put it in 1850, ‘Music is indeed my whole life, and I could not exist without it’. Later, in his Autobiographical Sketches, we find the entry ‘Christmas 1851: Decided to pursue music’. But his father, though an estimable violinist in his own right, wanted Felix to become a theologian and consented to the boy’s decision only under one condition: ‘In four years I want you to be known by name as a musician’. By this time deafness was already a sword of Damocles suspended above Draeseke’s career, and his father gave him a warning: ‘Composers who are not at the same time virtuosos on their instrument have twice as much trouble making their music known…’…


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