Wilhelm Berger

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Wilhelm Berger.

Wilhelm Reinhard Berger (9 August 1861 - 16 January 1911) was a German composer, pianist and conductor.


Berger's father, originally a merchant from Bremen, worked in Boston (where Berger was born) as a music shopkeeper and made a name for himself as an author after the family had returned to Bremen in 1862. Early on, his son showed signs of musical interest and aptitude. By the time of his first concert, age fourteen, Wilhelm had already composed a large number of songs and works for the piano. Between 1878 and 1884, Berger studied at the Royal Conservatory in Berlin, under Ernst Rudorff (piano) and Friedrich Kiel (counterpoint). From 1888 to 1903, he was a teacher at the Klindworth-Scharwenka Conservatory, a function which he combined, from 1899, with the chief conductorship of the Berlin Musical Society. In addition, he was very active as a concert pianist. In 1903, Berger was made a member of the German Royal Academy of Arts, and in the same year he was appointed 'Hofkapellmeister' in Meiningen as successor of Fritz Steinbach. In 1911 he died at Jena, aged 49, due to complications after a stomach operation.

Musical style[edit]

Like most of the composers from the circle of the 'Berlin Academics', Berger developed a great mastery of music theory. Stylistically, his music is very close to that of Johannes Brahms, even though it almost hints at the later works of Max Reger (who was to become Berger's successor as Meiningen Kapellmeister) through its preference for dissonant harmony and counterpoint techniques.

Berger was a prolific composer - his oeuvre numbers well over a hundred works. The Piano Quintet, Op. 95, the Second Symphony and the late compositions for choir are generally considered to be his masterpieces. Long after his death, his work was rated very highly, particularly among musical conservatives. Wilhelm Altmann wrote very positively about Berger in the third volume of his influential Manual for String Quartet Players (Handbuch für Streichquartettspieler).

Selected works[edit]

Choral Music[edit]

  • Sechs Gesänge für gem. Chor op. 25
    • Es schleicht um Busch und Halde
    • Im Fliederbusch
    • Leise rauscht des Lebens Welle
    • Ständchen
    • Trost der Nacht
    • Wie nun alles stirbt und endet
  • Drei Gesänge for mixed Chorus op. 44
    • Ach in diesen blauen Tagen
    • Lenzfahrt
    • Niss Puk
  • Vier geistliche Lieder und Gesänge op. 54
    • Mitten wir im Leben sind
    • Müde, das Lebensboot weiter zu steuern
    • Groß ist der Herr
    • Gebet
  • Drei Gesänge für 6- und 8-stimmigen Chor op. 103
    • Karfreitag
    • Sturmesmythe
    • Von ferne klingen Glocken

(all recorded 2006, Berlin)


  • Symphony No. 1 in B flat major op. 71
  • Symphony No. 2 in B minor (H-moll) op. 80
  • Variations and Fugue on an original Theme, op. 97
  • Serenade for Twelve Wind Players, op. 102

Chamber music[edit]

  • Violin Sonata No. 1, op. 7
  • Piano Quartet in A major, op. 21
  • Cello Sonata in D minor, op. 28
  • Violin Sonata No. 2, op. 29
  • String Trio in G minor, op.69 (1898)
  • Violin Sonata No. 3 in G minor, op. 70
  • String Quintet in E minor, op. 75 (1899)
  • Clarinet Trio in G minor, op. 94 (1903)
  • Piano Quintet in F minor, op. 95

Piano Music[edit]

  • Sonata in B major, op. 76
  • Four Fugues, op. 89
  • Variations & Fugue on an original theme, op. 91

RISM online lists 157 (as of August 2016) manuscript/early print entries of works by Wilhelm Reinhard Berger, including an autograph of a different (fragmentary?) piano trio in G minor, a fragmentary cello sonata, a concertpiece for piano and orchestra in E minor, 71 kinderlieder, and other works, many of these in the library of the Max-Reger-Archiv, Meiningen.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]