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SIEGFRIED OCHS - CONDUCTOR

Phone: 212-860-5541  *  Fax: 917-677-8247

 

Autographed photograph of the founder of the Berlin Philharmonic Choir, the most fabled choral group in Germany, Berlin, 1907.

 

Ochs (1858—1929) was born to a Jewish family in Frankfurt.  As a child he studied violin, timpani and sung in a choir.  Ochs studied to be a chemist at the Darmstadt Polytech and then taught briefly at that school and then at Heidelberg University.  Not satisfied with that life, he enrolled at the Berlin Hoschschule für Musik.  He studied there with a successive group of Professors: choral singing with Adolf Schultze, piano with Ernst Rudorff and ensemble under Joseph Joachim.  He also studied privately with composers Freidrich Kiel and Heinrich Urban. 

 

His membership in a “musical circle” led to his founding the Siegfried Ochs’scher Gesangverein early in 1882, which long term would become his life’s work.  The choir was renamed the “Philharmonische Chor Berlin” on December 5, 1882.  By the 1886/1887 season the choir consisted of 185 members.  Hans von Bülow who was also a Bach revivalist heard them over the years and was impressed with Ochs and his ensemble that they began to work together in 1887.  When Brahms consulted Bülow about writing his 4th symphony, Ochs was in the room as he intended to work Bach’s chaconne theme from his cantata, “Nach dir, Herr, Verlanget mich” BVM 150 into the work and Ochs was one of the true experts on Bach’s choral works in the German speaking world of the time.  Mahler consulted Ochs when writing his 8th symphony, the “Symphony of a Thousand”.  Ochs was known for his pristine preparation of the choir.  He also led the orchestra and chorus in performances of oratorio works.  There was a particularly well documented performance of Berlioz’s “La Fuité en Egypte” which Ochs led the Berlin Philharmonic and Choir on April 4, 1892.  He would also lead the Berlin premiere of the Bruckner Te Deum.  In 1920, out of funds after World War I, the Choir was disbanded for a time, though Ochs would come back later on to lead them a few years later in performances and recordings. 

 

In 1889, Ochs was name a Professor at the Berlin Hochschule.  In 1900 Ochs and Joachim formed the “Neue Bach Gesellschaft”, important at the time as Bach’s works were being revisited.  He also led the school choir. 

 

Ochs was a choral conducting pioneer in the new recording technology. He also had other interests than Bach in early music and delved into other early composer’s including the baroque composer Heinrich Schütz.  He made the first Schütz recording.  The conductor also led the first recording of “any passage” from Bach’s “St. Matthew’s Passion”, one of the choruses.  There is also a wonderful recording of Mozart’s “Ave Verum Corpus” with Ochs leading the Berlin Philharmonic and Choir in 1928, as well as a sublime recording of Mozart’s “Laudate Dominum” with soprano Ursula van Diemen the same year.  Ochs made numerous recordings with the choir both a cappella and with orchestra in varied works from folk songs to oratorios right up until the time of his death.

 

The conductor was also a composer, best remembered for his songs, piano works and arrangements.  That said he did write a few orchestral works.  Amusingly the aria “Dank sei Dir, Herr” long attributed to George Frederick Handel was written by Ochs.  Ochs was further illustrated his chameleon like abilities by taking the German folksong, “s’Kommt ein Vogel Geflogen” and turning it into a “theme and variation” work for piano and orchestra mimicking the style of 13 composer’s including Bach, Mozart, Verdi, Gunod, Chopin, Wagner and even Meyerbeer and then concluded with a rousing Fucik like military march!  He also wrote several operas, none fared very well.