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Willy Burkhard

Updated on December 23, 2010


Willy Burkhard was a Swiss composer, born near Bienne on April 17, 1900. He studied at the conservatories of Bern, Leipzig, and Munich, and in Paris with Max d'Ollone. From 1928 to 1933 he taught at the Bern Conservatory and from 1942 at the Zurich Conservatory.

For reasons of health he spent several years in Swiss and American mountain resorts. He died in Zurich on June 18, 1955. Burkhard developed a personal style in his compositions that combined old and new elements: harmony influenced by the church modes with an advanced chromaticism; and polyphonic procedures with contemporary textures. His music on the whole may be characterized as neo-baroque in its preference for such forms as oratorio, cantata, and orchestral concerto.

Burkhard is best known for his choral works, including the oratorio Das Gesicht Jesajas (1935), his "nature oratorio" Das Jahr (1942), and the remarkable Mass (1951) that is the masterpiece of his late, symbolist style. He also wrote an opera, Die schivarze Spinne (1943; revised 1954), two violin concertos, chamber music, and two song cycles on poems by Rilke.


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