Kleist-Ouvertüre Op. 16
(b. Gleiwitz, Upper Silesia, 26 February 1875 – d. Erfurt, 16 January 1935)
Richard Wetz is a composer who is largely unknown today, both inside and outside his native country of Germany. Even when Wetz’s compositions manage to get a hearing nowadays their technical competence is mentioned and then they are dismissed as being the products of an epigone of Anton Bruckner (1824-1896). Although Wetz was far more daring than Bruckner in his range of compositions (including even operas), there is no denying that in his symphonic music Wetz was indebted to Bruckner’s style to an extraordinary degree.
Indeed, modernism seems to have escaped Wetz’s gaze entirely, and he never deviated from the well-established compositional norms and philosophical ideals of German Romanticism. Although he received formal music instruction from an early age, Wetz was by nature an autodidact. Leipzig’s famous conservatory held no charms for Wetz, who left disillusioned after only six weeks. Most of his formal education in musical composition came from private tuition at the hand of Ludwig Thuille (1861-1907) in Munich.
For a number of years Wetz was a musical journeyman, taking temporary jobs in Stralsund and Wuppertal before securing a permanent position in 1906 as the director of the Erfurt Musikverein. He went on to teach composition and music history at the Erfurt Conservatory and the Weimar Musikhochschule. Although Wetz never achieved a great level of fame during his lifetime, his works were sufficiently noticed that he was elected to the Berlin Academy of the Arts. Wetz died of a bronchial infection in 1935, just a month short of his 60th birthday. Due to his formal conservatism and stylistic resemblance to Bruckner, Wetz’s music was much in favor during the Third Reich, so much so that Peter Raabe (1872-1945), president of the Reichsmusikkammer of the Propaganda Ministry caused a Richard Wetz Society to be founded in 1943 in the composer’s hometown of Gleiwitz. After the War there was little interest in Wetz’s music until the 1990s when tonal music once again became critically fashionable. A Wetz renaissance of sorts has been seen in the last decade, inspired in great part by new recordings of the composer’s works by the German record label CPO.
The Kleist Overture, Op. 16 is a single-movement tone poem that the composer worked on during the years 1900-1906. An earlier version was performed in 1906 in Erfurt, Bielefeld and Meiningen and in Gotha in 1907 before being reorchestrated by the conductor Arthur Nikisch. Nikisch then premiered the reorchestrated version in Berlin and Leipzig in 1908 to great acclaim, giving Wetz his first great public success.
The work is dedicated to Dr. Raoul Richter (1871-1912) who was a philosophy professor at the University of Leipzig. Although the overture is a tribute to the German dramatist Heinrich von Kleist (1777-1811), the composition contains an epigraph by Friedrich Hölderlin (1770-1843), another German writer greatly favored by Wetz and whose novel Hyperion formed the basis of the composer’s work of the same name of 1912 for baritone, mixed choir and orchestra. The epigraph is as follows:
Nicht in der Blüt’ und Purpurtraub’
Ist heilige Kraft allein, es nährt
Das Leben vom Leide sich,
Und trinkt, wie mein Held, doch auch
Am Todeskelche sich glücklich.
160 x 240 mm