Walter Gerwig – Lute Suites Nr. 3 G-Minor BMV 995 (Bach) (1954)

UKFrontCover1A pioneer of the early music revival One of the pioneers of the early music revival, the guitarist and lutenist Walter Gerwig was born in Frankfurt an der Oder on 26 November He left school at the age of twelve and was conscripted into the German army as soon as war broke out in Not until 1919 did he return from the Baltic, when he began an apprenticeship with a violin-maker in Hamburg, later studying singing and various aspects of music theory. He was initially self-taught as a guitarist. It was the musicologist and lutenist Hans Dagobert Bruger who, as the recent recipient of a doctorate, introduced Gerwig to the Renaissance lute at an exhibition of musical instruments in Berlin in around Bruger, who was a few years older than Gerwig, was particularly interested in rediscovering lute music. In 1921 he had published the first complete edition of Johann Sebastian Bach s works for the instrument, which he had transcribed for the modern lute. (The modern lute was not the Baroque lute familiar to Bach, its strings arranged in courses of two strings each, but the single-course guitar with an additional set of bass strings.) Gerwig later used Bruger s edition for his Bach recording (CD 3). Gerwig was inspired by Bruger to take up the Renaissance lute and to develop a performing technique whose starting point was melody rather than the instrument s ability to play chords, an ability familiar from its traditional use in accompanying songs, especially among members of the German Youth Movement for whom the guitar was the privileged instrument.


In 1952, in an Open Letter to Lute Players, Gerwig wrote: When we oldies began to play, there was no one to tell us not to start with four-part chords but as with any other instrument to start by cultivating monophonic playing. No one explained to us the fixed technical and musical rules that must be applied as a matter of course if we were to make the playing sound like singing. Gerwig moved to Berlin in 1924 and found himself at the centre of the lute renaissance. Two years earlier Helmuth Osthoff had completed his doctorate under the title of The Lutenist Santino Garsi da Parma: A Contribution to the History of Upper Italian Lute Music at the End of the Late Renaissance. And in 1926 Georg Sparmann published his inaugural dissertation, Esaias Reusner and the Lute Suite. The following year in Berlin, Hans Neemann published a contemporary anonymous abridged arrangement of a Haydn string quartet for lute, violin and viola da gamba. It was presumably Sparmann who in 1928 encouraged Gerwig to publish five suites from Reusner s Neue Lauten-Früchte. In 1950 Gerwig used Neemann s edition of the Haydn trio to record this particular work , and in 1952 he used his own edition of a suite by Reusner , following this up in 1953 with a recording of works by Garsi da Parma based on Osthoff s transcriptions of these pieces .

The Lauten Collegium (Walter Gerwig, Eva-Juliane Gerstein und Johannes Koch), 1953:

Throughout this period instrument-makers, too, made an important contribution to the rediscovery of the lute, for it was in the 1920s that the first doublecourse lutes were built based on historical models. One instrument-builder active in this field was Hans Jordan, a number of whose replicas of Renaissance lutes Gerwig later used in his recordings of 18th-century music as well as of the earlier period. In 1925 Fritz Jöde appointed Gerwig lute teacher and chorus master at his newly founded Music School in Berlin. By 1935 Gerwig was running the school. Here Gerwig was able to impart to his pupils an idea of the vast richness of this music one music teacher reported enthusiastically on a course that Gerwig held on the East Frisian island of Juist in the North Sea: In July 1926 Walter Gerwig (of the Music School in Charlottenburg) introduced us to some wonderful old lute music by Neusidler, Judenkünig, Schlick and also Bach, of whom we were even able to hear a fugue for the lute. After 1928 Gerwig also taught the instrument at the State Academy for Church Music and School Music in Berlin. In 1939 he was again called up but within a year was exempted from all further active service in order for him to focus on teaching and entertaining the troops. In 1943 the Reich Radio sent him to St. Florian in Linz, a priory closely associated with Bruckner. Together with the viola d amore player Emil Seiler, the recorder player Thea von Sparr and a number of other musicians, he was to establish an ensemble for Baroque music that made chamber music recordings for a variety of broadcasters and also gave concerts in honour of young artists who have fallen in battle and at services in the priory. After the Second World War Gerwig settled in Hamburg, giving solo recitals in Germany, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, England and Switzerland, and performing in concert with Eva-Juliane Gerstein (soprano) and Johannes Koch (viola da gamba and recorder), the two musicians who also appeared in his Lauten-Collegium.


Between 1946 and 1949 the Lauten-Collegium alone gave more than 300 concerts. The performers travelled in a jeep that they had jointly acquired. Their preferred fee in these times of rationing and austerity was petrol. Among Gerwig s fellow chamber recitalists were a number of leading proponents of the early music movement, including the gambist August Wenzinger (CD 1), but he also made numerous gramophone recordings, as well as taking part in countless radio and television broadcasts at this time. It was not least as a result of these recordings that Gerwig became known and admired as an influential lutenist and as a leading artistic authority on the lute, his reputation extending far beyond the borders of his native Germany. In 1952 Walter Gerwig was invited to teach the lute at the Cologne Academy of Music, where he was also responsible for a course on the performing practice of early music. As such, he was the only German lutenist active at any of the country s music academies during the 1950s. His most famous pupils include Eike Funck, Jürgen Hübscher, Dieter Kirsch, Michael Schäffer, who took over Gerwig s lute class after his death in 1966, and, above all, Eugen Dombois, who in 1962 established a lute class at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, where he continued to teach until Among the alumni of Dombois s class are Paul O Dette, Toyohiko Satoh and Hopkinson Smith, all three of whom are still active and widely considered to be among the most important lutenists currently appearing on the world s stages. Gerwig was held in high esteem by his pupils. Dieter Kirsch, who for many years was the principal of the Würzburg Academy of Music, recalls: His language, which grew correspondingly rich in imagery whenever he needed to clarify musical processes; his wealth of ideas whenever he had to find succinct examples to illustrate technical problems; and his ever-present superiority whenever he picked up his instrument in order to demonstrate his ideas on music left such a lively impression that all who think of him as a person are also bound to think not only of the picture of a creative individual and sensitive artist but also of an exemplary teacher. Eike Funck reports something very similar. She set up the first course in the performing practice of early music as a lecturer in early music at the Hamburg Academy of Music:


An essential hallmark of his teaching was a language that was rich in imagery and that he used to explain musical processes. For example, he would demonstrate how a musical phrase should end by reference to a bird coming in to land, breaking its landing by stretching out its wings and coming to rest softly on the ground an admirable image for the purposeful shaping of a melodic line with an unaccented final note. Improvisation was a recurrent theme in all his lessons, not just in continuo playing. In this regard he proved to be unusually witty: the exercises that he devised on the train from Bonn to Cologne and that became harder with each passing week turned out to be highly Romantic harmonizations of simple nursery songs, producing a guessing game that brought cheer to the hearts and minds of the students who were struggling to master difficult chords. The period of Gerwig s teaching activities in Cologne in the 1950s also coincided with the reconstruction and dissemination of early music, especially through the medium of gramophone recordings. Deutsche Grammophon had launched its Archiv- Produktion label in 1947 in order to promote early music. Two years later Gerwig recorded Bach s Lute Suite BWV 995 for the label, a pioneering feat in every way. In order to appreciate the achievement that this recording represents, we need only to recall that it was not until 1946 that the first complete recording of one of Bach s five multi-movement works for the lute had been released, when Wanda Landowska s harpsichord recording of the Prelude, Fugue and Allegro BWV 998 had appeared. Previously, it was above all guitarists who had availed themselves of Bach s works for solo violin and cello and recorded arrangements of individual movements from them. Gerwig remained without any imitators for many years, for no other lutenist during the 1950s was prepared to risk making a recording of a complete Bach suite. Not until 1964 did an LP devoted exclusively to lute works by Bach first appear on the international market: it was by Gerwig. The following year he received the German Record Critics Award for another recording of Baroque music for the lute. Gerwig s standing among professional circles is clear not least from the fact that his entry in the encyclopaedic Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart the Bible of musicologists at that time had nothing but praise for him: In Germany, Walter Gerwig has raised the lute from its relatively theoretical and amateur beginnings and thanks to his artistic mastery granted it a place among concert instruments. He must take considerable credit for the rediscovery and dissemination of the lute and of its music, especially through his numerous gramophone recordings. Devoted to Walter Gerwig, the present anthology offers a small insight into the great legacy of this pioneer of e arly music. (Jörg Jewanski)


Walter Gerwig (lute)

The German edition:

01. Präludium 6.53
02. Allemande 5.34
03. Courante 2.36
04. Sarabande 3.18
05. Gavotte 5.40
06. Gigue 1.46



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