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Gurlitt, Manfredlocked

  • Peter Petersen

(b Berlin, Sept 6, 1890; d Tokyo, April 29, 1973). German composer and conductor, cousin of Wilibald Gurlitt. His maternal grandfather was the Swiss sculptor Max Heinrich Imhof and his paternal grandfather the landscape painter Louis Gurlitt. He had his first music lessons at the age of six. From 1907 he studied composition with Humperdinck and conducting with Muck in Berlin. He held the post of Kapellmeister at the Bremen Stadttheater (1914–27) and was promoted to Generalmusikdirektor in 1924. The successful première of his opera Wozzeck took place at the Stadttheater in 1926. In 1927 Gurlitt moved back to Berlin. As a freelance conductor he appeared at the Kroll Oper and Max Reinhardt’s theatre, and was involved in radio broadcasts. He joined the National Socialist Party in 1933, but was expelled in 1937 due to his possible Jewish heritage. He emigrated to Japan in 1939 where he gained recognition as a conductor in Tokyo. He founded the Gurlitt Opera Company in 1952, working to increase the prominence of European opera in Japan.

Primarily a composer of vocal music, Gurlitt’s style in the 1920s exhibits modernist characteristics common to the Neue Sachlichkeit. His opera Wozzeck (1925), in particular, demonstrates new techniques of tonal expansion, although not to the same extent as Berg’s work of the same name. Social criticism, his preferred subject matter, is the topic of works such as Soldaten (1930), Nana (1932), Goya-Sinfonie (1939) and Danton-Kantate (1946). His honours include several Japanese awards and the Bundesverdienstkreuz (1957).


(selective list)


Die Heilige (dramatische Legende, 3, after C. Hauptmann), 1918, Bremen, 1920

Wozzeck (musikalische Tragödie, 18 scenes, epilogue, after G. Büchner), 1925, Bremen, Stadt, 1926

Soldaten (3, M. Gurlitt, after J.M.R. Lenz), 1930, Düsseldorf, 1930

Nana (4, M. Brod, after E. Zola), 1932, Dortmund, 1933

Nächtlicher Spuk (P. Knudsen), 1936

Warum? (Gurlitt), 1936–45

Nordische Ballade (after S. Lagerlöff), 1944

Wir schreiten aus (Gurlitt), 1958


Symphonische Musik, 1922

Orchester-Gesänge, 1925

Chbr Conc. no.1, pf, chbr orch, 1927

Chbr Conc. no.2, vn, chbr orch, 1929

Vn Conc., 1937

Vc Conc., 1938

Goya-Sinfonie, 1939

chbr music; pf works


5 Lieder (C. Morgenstern), S, chbr orch, 1923

3 politische Reden (Büchner), Bar, male vv, orch, 1944

Danton-Kantate, 1946

Shakespeare Sym., 5 solo vv, orch, 1954


MSS in D-Hs


  • G. Ruppelt: ‘Manfred Gurlitt, deutscher Komponist und “Vater der Oper” in Japan: Erstdrucke, Manuskripte und Briefe in der Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Hamburg – Carl von Ossietsky’, Auskunft: Mitteilungsblatt Hamburger Bibliotheken, 3 (1985), 176–88
  • M. Moroi, ed.: Alban Berg, 4 (1991) [special Gurlitt edition]
  • H. Götz: Manfred Gurlitt (Frankfurt, 1996)
  • K. Winkler: ‘Der “andere” Wozzeck: über Manfred Gurlitts Büchner-Oper (1920–25)’, HJbMw, 14 (1997), 189–201
Hamburger Jahrbuch für Musikwissenschaft
Hamburg, Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Carl von Ossietzky, Musiksammlung