Experience-inspired experience
The Composer Rudolf Mauersberger


For centuries sacred music has been of great importance in Saxony. The close connection that developed throughout history between church and school, choirmaster and choir brought forth a type of musician that used experience as an inspiration for further experience: a composer and conductor in one person. The choirmaster of the Dresden Church of the Cross (Kreuzkirche) Rudolf Mauersberger (1930-1971) is also part of this tradition because of his origins. His father was the local choirmaster, teacher and “church schoolmaster” in Mauersberg (Erzgebirge). In his childhood, Rudolf, like his brother Erhard Mauersberger, almost 15 years his junior and choirmaster of the St. Thomas Choir of Leipzig 1961-1972, came into contact with the liturgical and ethnic practices of the protestant church and its church services, the German folk songs and the Christmas traditions of the Erzgebirge – these provided lifelong inspiration for Rudolf Mauersberger’s works that span the time from 1908/09 to 1969.

The first recorded works (organ and chamber music) were written during his time studying music in Leipzig from 1912 to 1914. Before that Mauersberger did teacher training (specializing in music) at the Royal Seminar for Teachers in Annaberg, followed by military and school service (1909-1912). Driven by his love for music he studied the organ with Karl Straube, piano with Robert Teichmüller and theory of music with Stephan Krehl in Leipzig. Impressions from the St. Thomas Church and the Gewandhaus concert hall in Leipzig gained lifelong exemplary significance. After a short time working as a sacred musician in Lyck / East Prussia, Mauersberger was allowed to work as a military director of music in the nearby Bad Lausick during the First World War together with Sigfrid Karg-Ehlert, members of the Gewandhaus concert hall and native choristers. The “Tragic Symphony” in E-Minor, the Spring Oratio “Ode for Spring” (Maiwärts) and other concert pieces were performed there. After the war solo songs and a final instrumental piece, a string quartet, were written. Mauersberger continued his organ studies in Leipzig and moved on to Aachen as an organist and choirmaster (1919-1925). His own job profile as choirmaster had come into being. In Aachen vocal elements became more and more precedent, which came to be permanently reflected in the compositions. Sacred compositions and motets for mixed choirs and children’s voices were written.

After being appointed to choirmaster of Bach’s baptismal church St. George in Eisenach and first head of sacred music in the German protestant church in Thuringia, chorales became the focus of his hymnal and composition activities (1925-1930) which comprised new melodies, chorale compositions (Thuringia / German hymnal) and chorale adaptations as responsories for soloists, choir and congregation, sometimes with obligato instruments and organ. The importance of choral interpretation was consolidated further when the Bach Choir (Bachchor) for adults and the George Choir (Georgenchor) for boys were established. When it became clear that the Kreuzkirche in Dresden was looking to appoint a new choirmaster, Mauersberger applied for the job, was elected and moved to Dresden for 1 July 1930. What was seen as merely having soaked up different musical influences became an asset for the school choir, up until then steeped in tradition, that profited from Mauersberger’s musical and organisational skills and his repertoire. Schütz and Bach gave way to contemporary choir music and the number of concerts given abroad (inter alia twice in the USA) and the liturgical involvement in the vespers and services at the Kreuzkirche near the old market square (Altmarkt) increased. His own composing was initially limited to adaptations of folk songs and Christmas music used in the Christmas vespers (Christvesper) on Christmas Eve, the Christmas Matins (Christmette) on Christmas Day and later the Easter Matins (Ostermette).

In 1940 events in his private life and beyond were the stimulus for resuming work as a composer which resulted in sayings from the Bible being set to music. A particularly strong stimulus was the oppression during the National Socialist dictatorship, the war and the post-war period. The “Dresdner Te Deum” (1944/45) and the “Christmas Cycle of the Kruzianer” (Weihnachtszyklus der Kruzianer 1944-46), two lengthy pieces, show this very clearly although they do not have much in common regarding topic, style and purpose. As a result of the Second World War unleashed by the Germans the inner city of Dresden, the School of the Cross (Kreuzschule) and the Kreuzkirche were totally destroyed on 13 / 14 February 1945. This traumatic night of bombing which killed 11 Kruzianer released not only pain but heralded the most important creative period in Mauersberger’s life marked by intensified expression and spiritual message combined with a denser style of composition including unusual musical-liturgical large formats with several choirs in liturgical choir robes positioned in different parts of the church (on the organ / choir gallery, in front of the altar, sometimes further away), candle bearers and bells. Amongst these works are the a cappella “Passion of Christ according to the Gospel of Luke” (Passionsmusik nach dem Lukasevangelium) (1947), the “Dresdner Requiem” with obligato instruments (1947/48, final version: 1961) and the “Sacred Summer Music” (Geistliche Sommermusik) with organ introduction and ending (1948) and other Biblical and chorale texts. The fact that Mauersberger linked artistic music to Christian liturgy in these works was not always appreciated in church circles.

The mourning eulogy “How desolate lies the city“ (Wie liegt die Stadt so wüst) has become Mauersberger’s most famous work. It was written in the days before Easter in 1945 after Mauersberger had fled to Mauersberg after the bombing. It opens the cycle “Dresden” with a cappella choirs such as “The Thirteenth of February” (Der dreizehnte Februar) (Text Rudolf Decker) or “Schola crucis” (motto of the Kreuzschule). Many sacred and secular choirs, introits and folk song adaptations were written well into the 1960s that were mostly a cappella arrangements for the Dresdner Kreuzchor that Mauersberger had invested much love, hard work and energy in rebuilding and leading to success. Rudolf Mauersberger has erected his own memorial in the form of numerous recordings of the famous sound of the Kreuzchor.

As a composer he never sought the limelight. Instead he wanted to compose works whose musical form and whose message could be understood by his listeners. He therefore included structural elements. Mauersberger never neglected tonality. Inspiration from the Old Masters and the representatives of former contemporary protestant church music can be heard in his work as early as the mid-1920s, as can be his very own tonal style that also manifests itself in the minor works. After his death in 1971, Rudolf Mauersberger’s unpublished compositions were handed to the Saxon State Library in Dresden (Sächsische Landesbibliothek Dresden) and catalogued. An index of all his works was produced in several stages. Anthologies of sacred and secular choirs (Breitkopf & Härtel publishers) and the early organ works (Bärenreiter publishers) have been edited, as have the “Christmas Vespers” (Christvesper), the “Dresdner Requiem” (both published by Carus) and the “Passion Music” (Passionsmusik) (published by Strube).

Prof. Dr. Matthias Herrmann (Dresden)
(Engl.: Kari Gattwinkel)

Secondary Literature: s. 7 Kruzianer: Choristers of the Kreuzkirche who sing in the Kreuzchor and attend the Kreuzschule