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Felix Woyrsch (1860 - 1944)

Composer, conductor, organist, Local Principal of Music in Altona (1903-1931)

Born on 8 October in Troppau/Opava (“Sudetenschlesien”) as the only son of a married couple of actors. Woyrsch is raised in Dresden and Hamburg. His musical education is mostly autodidactic, as going to a college of music is out of question for financial reasons.

1880s Woyrsch is directing various choirs in Altona

Publication of his first compositions. Study symphony (“Studiensinfonie”) in B minor.


First performance of the 1st opera The Priest of Meudon (“Der Pfarrer von Meudon”) in Altona.

1887 Leader of the “Allgemeine Liedertafel Altona”
1893 Leader of the church choir of Altona
1895 Principal of the Academy of Vocal Music, Altona.
Organist at the “Friedenskirche” (Church of Peace) in Altona.

First performance of the last opera Journey of the Vikings (“Wikingerfahrt”).


First performance of the 1st full-length oratorio Passion Oratorio (“Passions Oratorium”).


Woyrsch is appointed as the Local Principal of Music therewith director of the city’ s symphonic, folk and students’ concerts with the Philharmonic Orchestra of Hamburg. Organist at the
St. Johanniskirche until 1926.


1908 First performance of the 1st symphony in C minor, op. 52.


Woyrsch starts to compose chamber music.


Member of the Prussian Academy of Arts. Last oratorio Da Jesus auf Erden ging.


"Felix-Woyrsch-Festkonzerte” because of the 25th anniversary of the Symphony Concerts of Altona. Awarded to the silvery badge of the city of Altona. First performance of Woyrsch’s 3rd symphony.


Übertritt in den Ruhestand als Musikdirektor

1933 „Zwangspensionierung” als Leiter der Altonaer Singakademie durch die Nationalsozialisten.
Rückzug in die innere Emigration.

Verleihung des Beethovenpreises durch die Preußische Akademie der Künste


UA der letzen Sinfonie (Nr. 6): „Sinfonia sacra”


Am 20. März in Hamburg-Altona gestorben

Picture: Felix Woyrsch, ca 1928 “I desire to convey to you the admiration which I feel for you,
my joy at the success of this wonderful work (2nd symphony).
This is a very lucky strike! Most interesting from the first to the last note. What a rhythm and harmony in the 1st movement,
how delightful the 2nd movement is with its intimate, striking appeal, what a wonderful, noble flow of the cantilenes in the adagio, what a riveting power, what a structure in the finale!
I am extraordinarily pleased and thank you very much that I am allowed to call this piece of work into being.”

That is how professor Karl Panzner, director of music in Dusseldorf and around the turn of the century appreciated as a conductor, thanked Felix Woyrsch for the first performance of his 2nd symphony, which Woyrsch had left to Panzner. This piece of art experienced a triumphant first performance.

Also his oratorios caused quite a stir. On the 1st performance of
the Passion Oratorio, op. 45 on the 6 December 1900 in Altona,
the critic of the Hamburger Korrespondent reported:
"Only seldom have we taken home such a deep and lasting
impression out of the concert hall, as we did yesterday, and
still this enormous impression is echoeing in us.”

Felix Woyrsch, 1928
Foto: Rudolf Dührkoop

Felix Woyrsch’s most important bequest is his composition. With 7 symphonies, 5 further works for orchestra, which were supported by conductors like Hans von Buelow, Max Fiedler or Eugen Jochum, 1 violin concerto, chamber music with different cast (among them 5 string quartets, 1 string sixtet, 1 piano trio, 1 piano quintet), 3 operas, just as many full-length oratorios (Passion Oratorio, Totentanz, Da Jesus auf Erden ging) and numerous choir works with and without orchestra, more than 100 songs, as well as piano and organ music, his work of art gets a universal dimension.

In 1930, Woyrsch’s student Ernst Gernot Klussmann, later principal of the “Vogtsches Konservatorium” and professor of the Music Academy of Hamburg, tries to take stock of his work (Altonaer Nachrichten, 17 July 1930):

“The attitude of this complete life’s work is deep religiousness, starting with the early work Weihnachtsmusik Geburt Jesu, op. 18, going on with the Passion Oratorio op. 45, going further to monumentality filled with energy which increases at the end of the centre of this complete work, the Totentanz, finding its most inner fulfilment in the mystery "Da Jesus auf Erden ging".

Picture: Felix Woyrsch, ca 1905
Felix Woyrsch, ca. 1905
Foto: H. Collischorn

"The style and thematic invention of the Totentanz clearly influenced Woyrsch’s other works at this time. The rich colouring of the harmony, the tense rhythmics, the preference of tragic-dramatic C minor for the 1st symphony, of the ballad-like A minor in the 1st string quartet (also in Schoen Sigrid), the dark G minor of the Hamlet Overture: all of them are single moments of the Totentanz which are developed to a greater complex and to their own characteristic feature in the following works.

With the 2nd symphony a new style is evolving. This style stands out from earlier works because it comes back to a simpler harmony, prefers a more linear conduct of the parts, and finds its temporary completion in the string trio no. 3, in the piano quintet, and in the 3rd symphony.

The status of Woyrsch’s complete work in our time stands apart from daily arguments about opinions and styles. His work is typically northern in its austerity, a kind of woodcut, similar to Duerer, in its religiousness and in his ethos related to Anton Bruckner, developing strongly and constantly in a self-chosen silence and seclusion.”

Felix Woyrsch redivivus. After a whole generation passed the Northerner’ s works of art carelessly, a renaissance of his work is on its way and the world of music is taking more and more notice of Woyrsch’s work.

Ernst Gernot Klussmann once predicted: “And his actual time will come when the worth of silence will have overcome the non-value of haste.”



G. Hahne, Art. Woyrsch, in Schleswig-Holsteinisches biographisches Lexikon, III/1974, 286 f. -- Lutz Lesle, Wiederentdeckt: Felix Woyrsch, in: Die Welt/15.12.1989. -- Felix Woyrsch (1860 - 1944), Hbg. 1991 (Ausstellungskatalog des Altonaer Museums; hier auch weitere Literatur). -- Johann C. Rieke: Felix Woyrschs Mysterium <Da Jesus auf Erden ging>, Hbg. 1991, Ms. -- A. Dreibrodt, Der Nachlaß Felix Woyrsch an der Hochschule für Musik und darstellende Kunst Hamburg, Hbg. 1992, Ms. -- Mitteilungen, Pfohl-Woyrsch-Gesellschaft e.V., Hbg. 1996ff.