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Baur was born in Düsseldorf, where he achieved early recognition as a composer at the age of 18, when his First String Quartet was premiered at the Düsseldorf Hindenburg Secondary School by the then-famous Prisca Quartet. He studied from 1937 to 1948 (interrupted by army service from 1939–45, including several months as a Russian prisoner of war) at the Hochschule für Musik Köln: composition with Philipp Jarnach, piano with Karl Hermann Pillney, and organ and sacred music with Michael Schneider (Goslich 1982, 19 & 42; Levi 2001; Wallerang 2010). Even before completing his conservatory studies, he was appointed lecturer in music theory at the Düsseldorf Conservatory in 1946 (Levi 2001). He did postgraduate studies in musicology with Karl Gustav Fellerer and Willi Kahl from 1948 to 1951 at the University of Cologne (Goslich 1982, 19 & 42). In 1952 he was appointed choirmaster and organist at the St Paulus-Kirche in Düsseldorf, a post he left in 1960 when he was awarded a scholarship from the German Academy to study for six months at the Villa Massimo in Rome. He twice returned to Rome for extended visits, in 1968 and 1980 (Levi 2001).The vivid impression made by the Italian city is reflected in the Italian-titled works he composed there, including the Concerto romano for oboe and orchestra (Goslich 1982, 19 & 42).
Baur was one of the last composers of the old school. After the war, he remained faithful to his teacher Jarnach’s conservative stance, and never became an extreme avant-gardist (Wallerang 2010). Widespread recognition as a composer came comparatively late. Béla Bartók was his strongest stylistic influence at first, but in the 1950s he began to use twelve-tone technique. Anton Webern’s music became his model in works such as the Third String Quartet (1952), the Quintetto sereno for wind quintet (1958)—which also uses aleatory techniques—the Sonata for two pianos (1957), and the Ballata romana (1960) (Levi 2001). Later, he developed a marked propensity for quotations from earlier music. Particularly striking examples include Heinrich Isaac's "Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen" in the Concerto da camera, a theme from Bach’s Musical Offering in the Ricercari for organ, as well as in the Kontrapunkte 77 for three woodwinds, and Schumann themes in Sentimento del tempo and, especially, in Musik mit Robert Schumann (Goslich 1982, 19 & 42). Other composers whose works Baur has quoted include Dvořák, Strauss, Gesualdo, Mozart and Schubert (Levi 2001).
Primarily a composer of orchestral and instrumental music, Baur also produced a number of works for less mainstream instruments such as the recorder and the accordion (Jacobs 1993; Levi 2001). He was one of the first composers to introduce the recorder to the new musical trends of the post-war era, with Incontri (1960), for recorder and piano, Mutazioni (1962) and Pezzi uccelli (1964), both for unaccompanied alto recorder, and the virtuosic Concerto da camera "Auf der Suche nach der verlorenen Zeit", for recorder and chamber orchestra of 1975 (Wallerang 2010).
In his 87th year, Baur completed his only opera, Der Roman mit dem Kontrabass, to a libretto by Michael Leinert after the story by Anton Chekhov. Commissioned on the occasion of the composer's 85th birthday in 2003 by the Deutsche Oper am Rhein, it was premiered at the Partika-Saal of the Robert Schumann Hochschule, Düsseldorf, on 25 November 2005, with Marco Vassilli and Kerstin Pohle singing the two main roles (Smychkov and the Countess Anastasia), Szymon Marciniak as the solo contrabassist, and Thomas Gabrisch conducting (Wallerang 2005).
In 1965 Bauer became director of the Robert Schumann Hochschule in Düsseldorf, where he was appointed professor in 1969. After Bernd Alois Zimmermann's death in 1971, Bauer succeeded him as teacher of composition at the Cologne Musikhochschule, where he remained until retiring in 1990 (Levi 2001).
Baur’s many distinctions include the Recklinghausen Young Generation Prize (1956), the Robert Schumann Prize of the city of Düsseldorf (1957), the Federal Cross of Merit (first class, 1970), and honorary membership of the German Music Council (1988), the North Rhine–Westphalia Service Award and the City of Duisburg Music Prize (1994) (Levi 2001).
In the summer of 2009, Baur and his wife Brunhild celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary. A few months later, however, Brunhild died and a change came over Baur, who until then had never appeared frail. He died in Düsseldorf on 31 January 2010 at the age of 91, just a few months after his wife, who was the same age (Wallerang 2010).
- Goslich, Siegfried. 1982. "Jürg Baur". Booklet in Deutscher Musikrat, Zeitgenossische Musik in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland 3: 1950–1960, edited by Carl Dahlhaus, 19–20 (German text), 42–43 (English translation by John Bell). 3-LP set, Deutsche Harmonia Mundi DMR 1007–1009. Cologne: EMI Electrola GmbH.
- Hesse, Lutz-Werner, Armin Klaes, and Arnd Richter (eds.). 1993. Jürg Baur: Aspekte seines Schaffens. Wiesbaden: Breitkopf & Härtel. ISBN 3-7651-0288-1.
- Jacobs, Helmut C. 1993. "Jürg Baur als Akkordeonkomponist". in Jürg Baur: Aspekte seines Schaffens, edited by Lutz-Werner Hesse, Armin Klaes, and Arnd Richter, 65–67. Wiesbaden: Breitkopf & Härtel. ISBN 3-7651-0288-1.
- Krellmann, Hanspeter, and Jürg Baur. 1968. Ich war nie Avantgardist: Gespräche mit dem Komponisten Jürg Baur. Wiesbaden: Breitkopf & Härtel.
- Lang, Klaus. 1983. "Komponieren Heute: Interview mit Jürg Baur". Neue Zeitschrift für Musik 144, no. 10 (October): 17–20.
- Levi, Erik. 2001. "Baur, Jürg". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers.
- Wallerang, Lars. 2005. "Uraufführung in Düsseldorf: Die Oper, die baden gehen musste". Westdeutsche Zeitung (26 November).
- Wallerang, Lars. 2010. "Jürg Baur: Ein Musiker bis zum letzten Atemzug". Westdeutsche Zeitung (2 February).
- Jürg Baur’s page at the Verlag Dohr
- Jürg Baur at the Augemus Musikverlag Ralf Kaupenjohann
- Der Roman mit dem Kontrabass. Includes a review from Opera (London) 57 No. 3 (March 2006), and photos of the Düsseldorf production.