Rudi Stephan


The composer Rudi Stephan, who died in a Galician trench near Tarnopol in present-day Ukraine in 1915 at the age of just 28, was described by the writer Kasimir Edschmid as the “greatest musical force of young Germany”. Two years earlier, the Berliner Philharmoniker had presented the world premiere of his Music for Violin and Orchestra with violinist Alexander Schmuller – a multi-coloured, dazzling piece of orchestral opulence. Rudi Stephan wrote only a small number of works – but these are definitely worth discovering.

Rudi Stephan, born in Worms in 1887, began his musical training at Dr. Hoch’s Konservatorium in Frankfurt am Main. He studied piano and harmony under Bernhard Sekles, whose students also included Paul Hindemith, Ottmar Gerster, Hans Rosbaud, and Theodor W. Adorno. In 1906, Stephan switched to studying composition under Rudolf Louis, who was a central figure in what was known as the Munich School, headed by composers such as Richard Strauss, Max von Schillings and Ludwig Thuille. After a thorough education, Stephan soon found his own style, which was characterised by the influences of French Impressionism and vividly developed themes. The success of his 1912 Music for Orchestra elevated him to the rank of the leading composers of his generation, and resulted in him being signed by the prestigious Schott publishing house. After works such as his Music for Violin and Orchestra and [Liebeszauber] for baritone and orchestra, after Hebbel, Stephan composed his greatest work: the ecstatic and passionate “mystery opera” [Die ersten Menschen]. The stage work based on the drama of the same name by Otto Borngräber had its premiere at Oper Frankfurt on 1 July 1920 – almost five years after Rudi Stephan’s untimely death.


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