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Felix Draeseke on AK/Coburg™ Recordings

Felix Draeseke was born in 1835 in the Franconian ducal town of Coburg, Germany. He was early attracted to music and encountered no opposition from his family when, in his mid-teens, he declared his intention of becoming a professional musician. A few years at the Leipzig conservatory did not seem to benefit his development, but Felix Draeseke (1835-1913)after one of the early performances of Wagner's "Lohengrin" he was won to the camp of the New German School centered around Liszt at Weimar, where he stayed from 1856 (arriving just after Joachim Raff's departure) to 1861. Following the debacle concerning Peter Cornelius' opera "The Barber of Baghdad" and its resultant consequences for Liszt and his circle, Draeseke made his way to Switzerland where he remained until 1876, teaching in the Suisse Romande in the area around Lausanne. Upon his return to Germany Draeseke chose Dresden as his place of residence: though he continued having success with his compositions, it was only in 1884 that he received an official appointment to the Dresden conservatory and with it, some financial security. In 1894, two years after his promotion to a professorship at the Royal Saxon Conservatory, Draeseke at the age of 58 married his one-time pupil Frida Neuhaus; the marriage was by all accounts, harmonious and most successful, a blessing for him till his death in 1913.

During his career Draeseke divided his efforts almost equally among compositional realms. Already with his early (and only) Piano Sonata in C# minor (Sonata quasi Fantasia) of 1862-1867 he aroused major interest, winning Liszt's unreserved admiration of it as one of the most important piano sonatas after Beethoven. His operas "Herrat" (1879, originally "Dietrich von Bern") and "Gudrun" (1884, after the medieval epic of the same name) met with some success, but their subsequent neglect has kept posterity from understanding Draeseke as one of the few true successors to Wagner and one of the very few who could conceive dramatically convincing and musically compelling examples of "Gesamtkunstwerk". A master contrapuntist, Draeseke reveled in writing choral music, achieving major success with his B minor Requiem of 1877-1880, but nowhere proving more convincingly his powers in this direction than in the staggering Mysterium "Christus" which is comprised of a prolog and three separate oratorios and requires three days for a complete performance, a work which occupied him between the years 1894-1899 but whose conception reaches back to the 1860s. Of all the symphonies from the second half of the 19th century which are today neglected, Draeseke's "Symphonia Tragica" (Symphony No. 3 in C major, Op.40) is one of the very few which deserves repertory status alongside the symphonies of Brahms and Bruckner, a masterful fusion of intellect and emotion, of form and content. Orchestral works like the Serenade in F major, Op. 49 (1888) or its companion of the same year, the symphonic prelude after Kleist, "Penthesilea", have in them all that is declared necessary for audience success: rich melodic invention, rhythmic vivacity and extraordinary harmonic conception. Draeseke's production was equally rich in chamber music and there in recent years the composer has perhaps attracted the most immediate attention, if primarily because of the performance forces required. Reissues of the scores and parts to the B flat major Clarinet Sonata (1887), the E minor String Quartet (No.2, 1887 as well) and the F major String Quintet (Op. 77 of 1900, featuring two 'celli ) have been performed worldwide. An ever widening audience seems to be developing for Draeseke at last and the phenomenon is based on perception of individuality, inventiveness and stylistic integrity, music which truly rewards attention.

The following works of Felix Draeseke are available on AK/Coburg (click on any work to see details about that recording):

More information on Felix Draeseke is available at the Draeseke Societies Home Page: www.draeseke.org