Hugo Distler (1908-1942): Recontextualizing Distler's Music for Performance in the Twenty-First Century
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Hugo Distler has been recognized as a forerunner of the New German Church Music, an important musical movement which developed in the 1930s. Beyond his role in developing music for the worship service, Distler wrote many secular choral compositions which represent some of the most innovative and important contributions to German choral music of the twentieth century. While he achieved great popularity during his lifetime and is widely regarded as a high-quality and important composer, his music has gone in and out of popularity in the United States. While there have been various scholarly contributions, primarily initiated by Larry Palmer's book of 1967, focusing on his life and works, a need for new research on Distler remains. The aforementioned text by Larry Palmer and an earlier document by Charles R. Anders provide extensive biographical information about Distler. However, details of his family history and early childhood are largely disregarded. A new German-language biography which provides much greater detail in this area was written by Distler's daughter, Barbara Distler-Harth, in 2008. The details of his family and early childhood help to provide great insight into Distler's developing psyche and are thus provided in the current document for the first time to an English-speaking audience. Beyond biographical information, editions of previously unreleased Distler works have been prepared in the last twenty years, and these works have not been previously addressed in any academic research. It is the intention of this document to advocate for the study and performance of Hugo Distler's music by providing context for his music in both musical and ideological frameworks. The identification of specific stylistic characteristics is intended to breakdown the challenges of Distler's music, which will make it more accessible to choral conductors and singers. Whereas previous research has primarily focused on larger works such as the <italic>Choralpassion</italic> and <italic>Eine deutsche Choralmesse</italic> or the challenging motets of his <italic>Geistliche Chormusik</italic>, this document will provide information on several smaller works, including pieces from <italic>Der Jahrkreis</italic>, <italic>Mörike-Chorliederbuch</italic>, and others. It is my belief that in order for Distler's work to gain in popularity, church and school choirs must give it increased performance, rather than professional choirs giving increased performance of his most challenging works.
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