Kurt Schwaen

1909 - 2007



"Was du nicht mit drei Tönen sagst, das sagst du auch nicht mit hundert."
("If you don't say it with three notes, you won't say it with a hundred.")

Kurt Schwaen comes from a region with a rich musical heritage, a region in which during Schwaen's childhood and adolescence German and Slavic musical cultures were closely interwoven and mutually fruitful. He was born in 1909 in the city then known as Kattowitz, but which has had the Polish name Katowice since 1921, a town which even then was a leading center for mining and metallurgy in the province of Upper Silesia. It was here that Schwaen found his influential teacher and mentor, Fritz Lubrich, a student of Max Reger, who not only taught him command of the piano but also introduced him to playing the organ and to the fundamentals of composition.

From 1929 to 1933, Schwaen studied musicology, art history, philosophy and German at the universities in Breslau and Berlin. He was otherwise self-taught in terms of his further development in composition. This development was painfully interrupted by a three-year imprisonment, to which he was sentenced in 1935 as a result of his activities in opposition to the Nazi Regime.

After his release, Schwaen received lasting creative impulses through his work as a pianist in a studio for expressive dance in Berlin and with reknowned dance soloists such as Oda Schottmüller and Mary Wigman.

After the end of World War II, which Schwaen surived in the Penal Division 999, he found ample work in the rebuilding of the public music schools and as musical advisor to the German »Volksbühne« Theatre. He thus also felt himself as a composer confronted with the challenge of setting new musical accents through new and exemplary works, in particular for the young generation.

He has been active as a free-lance musician since 1953 and chamber music forms a significant part of his overall output as a composer, and this chamber musical stance can also be traced in Schwaen's orchestral and operatic works.
Of great importance in Schwaen's artistic maturation process was his with Bertolt Brecht and with Brecht's aesthetic ideas concerning the theatre. The composition for the instructional work, Die Horatier und die Kuriatier, which was written at Brecht's request, opened Schwaen up to a new and important area of work, the children's opera, and led to a remarkable work for music theatre.

Schwaen has held numerous honorary positions, e.g. in the Association of Composers and Musicologists and in the Academy of Arts, to which he was named official member in 1961. His compositional output, which spans seven and a half decades, contains more than 600 works in every genre, from song and chanson to choral music, piano works, chamber music and orchestral works, and includes opera and works for the ballet.

Wolfgang Hanke
English by Sidney Corbett