Harald Genzmer was one of the most versatile and productive contemporary composers. Ever wary of the dogmas of the avant-garde – a quality he shared with his teacher Paul Hindemith – he has always championed music that appeals directly to players and listeners alike. Music should be vital, artful and accessible, Genzmer described his artistic philosophy. It should appeal to performers by being practicable and to listeners by being intelligible.
Genzmer was born in Bremen on 9 February 1909. His artistic development was decisively influenced by his encounter with the music of Paul Hindemith, with whom he began composition studies in Berlin in 1928.
After wide-ranging activities in many different fields of music, Genzmer was finally appointed to the staff of the newly-founded Musikhochschule in Freiburg as a composition teacher. In 1957 he became professor of composition in Munich, where he has lived ever since.
Genzmer has always been a passionate and committed teacher. In this capacity he can draw on a remarkably varied compositional oeuvre, on an all-encompassing knowledge of music history sustained by deep admiration and respect, on his masterly creative abilities and compositional craftsmanship, and a connoisseur’s grasp of other disciplines, ranging from literature and the visual arts to the natural sciences. His work reflects the influence of composers as wide-ranging as Debussy, Hindemith, Bartók and Stravinsky, but he has always cultivated an individual style and spoken with his own voice in an astonishingly variegated body of music.
Genzmer’s uncommonly rich catalogue of works encompasses orchestral music, vocal compositions and chamber music for all imaginable instruments. Particularly striking is his emphasis on the instrumental concerto and the concertante style. It is here, Genzmer feels, that the individuality of the musician and the qualities of the instruments are most thoroughly explored and revealed. Harald Genzmer is distinguished for his admirable knowledge of these capabilities and a respectful empathy with the tasks of the performing musician. Equally noteworthy are his virtually inexhaustible imagination and his vitality in discovering and probing new avenues of creativity that lend his music a distinctive élan and timbral sensuality.
The basic principle of composition is to serve humankind: thus the aesthetic of a composer who once claimed that his greatest wish is to instill a spirit of joy and contemplation.
Harald Genzmer died on 16 December 2007 in Munich.