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Walter Kraft (Organ)

Born: June 9, 1905 - Cologne, Germany
Died: May 9, 1977 - Amsterdam, Holland

The German organist, pedagogue, and composer, WaIter Kraft, studied piano with Rebbert and organ with Hannemann in Hamburg, and composition with Paul Hindemith in Berlin.

From 1924 to 1927 WaIter Kraft was organist of the Markuskirche in Hamburg, and from 1927 to 1929 of the Lutherkirche in Altona-Bahrenfeld. In 1929 he was unanimously chosen from 45 applicants as organist of Marienkirche in Lübeck and was appointed for life on a full time basis. The church was destroyed in 1942, but he resumed his post there after it was restored. He was also a professor of organ at the Freiburg music college (from 1947). In addition, he served as director of the Schleswig-Holstein Academy of Music from 1950 to 1955.

During this tenure at Marienkirche in Lübeck, Walter Kraft revived the practice of evening concerts of sacred works. Such concerts, collectively called Abendmusik, had been regularly given by his predecessors at the church, notably Dietrich Buxtehude and Franz Tunder; but they had ceased in 1810, mainly due to the dislocation caused to northern Germany by the Napoleonic wars. Kraft was animated by a strong feeling for history. He referred to Lübeck as "a town in which the New has to adapt to the naturally developed and ripened Old". Thus he worked on the music of his predecessors just as intensively as on his own. A concert with works by Petrus Hasse, Franz Tunder, and Dietrich Buxtehude to Walter Kraft formed the finale of the Franz Tunder memorial festival in 1967, just as ten years beforehand he had crowned the 250-year celebrations of the death of Dietrich Buxtehude with his large-scale oratorio Die Gemeinschaft der Heiligen. After 43 years he ended his career as Marienkirche organist in 1972. As an organist, Kraft had a brilliant technique. This ability belonged to the most admired features of this master of the organ right up until the last days of his career as a concert player. He gained wide distinction as an interpreter of Baroque music and as an improviser.

Walter Kraft made numerous records, usually for American labels, during the LP era - some of these have now re-emerged on CD - and as well as recording Händel's 12 organ concertos, he was the first person to commit to disc the entire solo organ output (or what was thought to be at the time the entire solo organ output) of J.S. Bach and Dietrich Buxtehude. His discography also included pieces by more obscure German Baroque musicians such as Nicolaus Bruhns.

Walter Kraft had quite unique style of composition. Like his younger contemporary Anton Heiller, Kraft also composed a fair amount (mostly organ music but also an oratorio called Christus), though as with Heiller, his fame as a performer completely upstaged his hopes of lasting renown as a creator. He composed the oratorios Christus (1942-1943), Die Bürger von Calais (1953-1954), Lübecker Totentanz (1954), and Die Gemeinschaft der Heiligen (1956-1957); Mass (1966); Laudatio 71 for Speaker, Chorus, 5 Wind Groups, Bells, Percussion, and Organ (1971); organ music. Once he retired in 1972 from the Marienkirche post, he apparently planned to write an opera, but never finished any such work. He died along with 32 others when Amsterdam's Hotel Poland caught fire.


1. Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of 20th Century Classical Musicians (1997)
2. Christophorus Records Website; Wikipedia Website
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (October 2007); Angelika Voss (April 2009)

Walter Kraft: Short Biography | Recordings of Instrumental Works

Links to other Sites

Walter Kraft (Wikipedia) [English]
Walter Kraft (Wikipedia) [German]

Walter Kraft: Orgelwerke (Christophorus Records)

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