Woyrsch, Felix


Woyrsch, Felix

The Dance of Death, a mystery for soloists, choir, orchestra and organ (ad. lib.) op. 51, including a booklet with explanations of the theme and content of the work (German text) by Paul Hilscher

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Woyrsch, Felix – The Dance of Death, a mystery for soloists, choir, orchestra and organ (ad. lib.) op. 51,

including a booklet with explanations of the theme and content of the work by Paul Hilscher (German text) without picture

Opening Chorus: The Procession of Death (p. 3)
I. The King (Sardanapal) (p. 26)
II. The Soldier (p. 118)
III. The Child (p. 237)
IV. The Minstrel (p. 269)
V. The Old Man (The Sage) (p. 350) – Glorification (p. 368)

For about four decades, Felix Woyrsch, as organist, choirmaster and orchestra conductor, was the dominant musical personality of the then still independent city of Altona. His Passions-Oratorium (Passion Oratorio) as well as the „Mysteries“ Totentanz (The Dance of Death) and Da Jesus auf Erden ging (When Jesus Walked on Earth) made him one of the most successful German oratorio composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As such, he was an important representative of the heyday of the great choral societies. During his lifetime, his works were sung by choirs throughout Germany and also reached concert halls outside the German-speaking area, as it is shown by performances in Great Britain, the United States and the Netherlands. Karl Eduard Felix (von) Woyrsch was born on 8 October 1860 to a couple of unmarried actors in Troppau (Austrian Silesia, now Opava, Czech Republic), where his parents were at that time engaged in guest engagements. His father, Balduin von Woyrsch (1810–1866), the son of a landowner from the Breslau area, had resigned from the Prussian army as a Second Lieutenant in 1833 and since then had been a travelling actor, occasionally leading his own touring company. His mother, Cornelia Kern, née von Leuchert (1825–1903), came from a family of actors and had been a member of the ensemble led by her brother-in-law Josef Ferdinand Nesmüller (1818–1895) at the Second Theatre in Dresden since 1854. Despite his descent from a Bohemian-Silesian noble family – as an illegitimate descendant he had to give up the “von” in 1893 after judicial challenges from his father’s relatives – Felix Woyrsch grew up in modest circumstances, becoming half-orphaned at an early age. As a child, he received only irregular piano and violin lessons. He gained musical experience mainly as a singer in church choirs. In the early 1870s he moved with his mother from Dresden to Hamburg, where the choirmaster Heinrich Chevallier (1848–1908) discovered his talent and taught him the basics of music theory free of charge. For the rest, Woyrsch continued his education as a composer on his own. Later, however, he commented ironically on his characterisation as “mainly self-taught” by Hugo Riemann’s Musik-Lexikon (4th edition, 1894) in a letter to Brahms’ friend Bernhard Scholz: “And yet I have not had bad teachers, names of good reputation: I studied counterpoint with Palestrina, Gabrieli, Lotti, Lassus, Sweelinck, Schütz, Hassler and Eccard and often sat quietly at the feet of the great Sebastian [Bach]; Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn taught me composition; I also have much to thank Schubert and Schumann, as well as the masters of more recent times, Brahms and Wagner; I learned instrumentation from Berlioz and also listened here and there where there was something righteous to learn, and yet I still have not named my greatest teacher, although I want to remain grateful and faithful to him until the end of my life: the dear old German folk song. […] And now I ask: am I to be called an autodidact – have I not had many capable teachers?”

Woyrsch had been a professional musician since the age of 16. In 1883 he took over the direction of the Gesang-Verein in Altona, which marked the beginning of his five decades of uninterrupted activity as a choral and orchestral conductor in what was then the largest city in the Prussian province of Schleswig-Holstein. Among the various choirs he conducted in the course of time, the Altonaer Kirchenchor (Altona Church Choir) became particularly significant for Woyrsch. It had emerged from the Verein für geistlichen und weltlichen Chorgesang (Association for Sacred and Secular Choral Singing), which he had conducted since 1885 and which he presided over for almost 45 years. In 1895, he was entrusted with the Altona Singakademie, the largest choir in the city, thus establishing the focus of his musical activities for the next four decades. In addition, he was organist at the Friedenskirche from 1895 to 1903 and at the Johanniskirche from 1903

to 1925. As an orchestra conductor, he profited from his friendly contact with Hans von Bülow (1830–1894), who had conducted the Neue Abonnementskonzerte (New Subscription Concerts) in neighbouring Hamburg since 1886 and repeatedly invited Woyrsch to his rehearsals. Since the 1890s, Woyrsch had given concerts with Hamburg orchestras that made guest appearances in Altona. In 1903, for the first time in the city’s history, he institutionalised performances of orchestral music by establishing the Städtische Volks- und Symphonie- Konzerte (Municipal People’s and Symphony Concerts). In the absence of an own municipal orchestra, the orchestras of the Verein Hamburger Musikfreunde (Association of Friends of Music in Hamburg) and the Philharmonische Gesellschaft Hamburg (Philharmonic Society) were regularly invited to Altona. As a conductor, Woyrsch was intensively committed to contemporary music and performed works by, among others, Wilhelm Berger (1861–1911), Ludwig Thuille (1861–1907), Richard Strauss (1864–1949), Pierre Maurice (1868–1936), Richard Wetz (1875–1935), Béla Bartók (1881–1945), Alfredo Casella (1883–1947), Hans Gál (1890–1987) and Ernst Gernot Klussmann (1901–1975) for the first time in Altona and Hamburg. In 1914, Woyrsch was appointed Städtischer Musikdirektor (Municipal Music Director) of Altona and thus officially confirmed in a position that he had in fact already held for years due to his numerous activities. As far as it is known, he was the only Altona musician ever to hold this title. He held the post until his retirement in 1931. After that, he was still in charge of the Singakademie, which he had to resign from in 1933 in the course of the restructuring of the city’s musical life initiated by the National Socialists. …

Read full preface / Das ganze Vorwort lesen> HERE

Score Data


Repertoire Explorer


Choir/Voice & Orchestra


210 x 297 mm





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