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Erwin Bodky (Arranger)

Born: March 7, 1896 - Ragnit - East Prussia
Died: December 6, 1958 - Lucerne, Switzerland

The German-American music scholar, Erwin Bodky, was known as a child prodigy on the piano by the age of 12. His his later music education included degrees from the Preussiche Hochschule für Musik and the Scharwenka Conservatory in Berlin. Among his teachers in piano and theory were Richard Strauss, Ernst von Dohnányi and Juon. Later he attended classes of Richard Strauss and Ferruccio Busoni at the Meisterschule für Komposition (1920-1922). He performed under Wilhelm Furtwängler and Bruno Walter, and was twice awarded the prestigious Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy Prize.

Erwin Bodky subsequently taught at the Scharwenka Conservatory in Berlin. While still in Berlin, he grew interested in the interpretation of early music, and more particularly in the music of J.S. Bach. He and F. Busoni parted ways when the latter discovered that Bodky was performing from urtexts and not F. Busoni's arrangements. Bodky was able to borrow early keyboard instruments from the Berlin Collection and eventually obtained a harpsichord from a local builder. In the 1920's Bodky made some of the first authentic instrument recordings of early music for L'Anthologie Sonore using an original Ruckers harpsichord. In 1932, he published his first book, Der Vortrag alter Klavier Musik (Performance Practice of Early Keyboard Music.

With the advent of the Nazi regime in 1933, Erwin Bodky went to Amsterdam, where he remained until 1938. He then emigrated to the USA, where his talents, optimism, and determination were soon appreciated. His first position was on the faculty of the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, Massachusetts (1938-1948), teaching thoroughbass and music history. In 1950 (or 1949) he became the first professor of music at Brandeis University, and shortly thereafter began work on this last book Interpretation of Bach's Keyboard Music, which was published in 1960 by Harvard University Press.

Upon his arrival at the Longy School of Music, Erwin Bodky began conducting the school's orchestra in early music concerts at Harvard's Germanic Museum. In 1942 he and a group of supporters formed a committee to continue the series in the Houghton Library at Harvard. The next year, the Cambridge Collegium Musicum was formed with Wolfe Wolfinsohn, Iwan D'Archambeau, and Bodky as its nucleus, performing with guest artists for larger works. These concerts were groundbreaking, communicating the findings of scholarly research through persuasive performances. By the 1949-1950 season the audiences had grown so large that it was necessary to hold the events in Sanders Theatre, and in 1952, the Collegium was reorganized as the Cambridge Society for Early Music. Erwin Bodky died in 1958, leaving behind him the memory of a man of great purpose and a Society which has continued to this day in the pursuit of his high ideals.


Der Vortag alter Klaviermusik (Berlin, 1932)
Das Charakterstück (
Berlin, 1933)
The Interpretation of ].S. Bach's Keyboard Works (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1960; also in German, Tutzing, 1970)


Source: History of the Cambridge Society for Early Music Website; Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of 20th Century Classical Musicians (1997)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (June 2007)

Erwin Bodky: Short Biography | Piano Transcriptions: Works | Recordings

Links to other Sites

History of the Cambridge Society for Early Music

Erwin Bodky Papers (Albany)


H. Slosbert et aI., editors: Erwin Bodky: A Memorial Tribute (Waltham, Massachusetts, 1965).

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