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Heinz Tiessen

Heinz Tiessen was born on 10 April 1887 in Königsberg (Prussia, today called Kaliningrad, Russia), but grew up in Bartoszyce. After school he studied law at the wish of his father and parallely music at the Stern Conservatory in Berlin. After only one semester Heinz Tiessen quit studying law and switched to philosophy. He nevertheless continued his music studies as well under Philipp Rüfer (composition), Wilhelm Klatte (music theory) and Arno Kleffel (conducting).
After his studies Heinz Tiessen stayed in Berlin and focussed on composing. His first two symphonies were immediately premiered in 1913 and 1914. From the very beginning Heinz Tiessen was an admirer of Richard Strauss and the renowned composer a patron of Heinz Tiessen. It was Richard Strauss who placed Heinz Tiessen in the position of a repetiteur at the Royal Court Opera in 1917 and he assisted Richard Strauss on his Mozart tour through Switzerland. Tiessen also worked as a critic in those days. From 1918 to 1921 he was kapellmeister at the Volksbühne, parallely also conductor of the Akademische Orchestervereinigung. Tiessen also got involved into the activities of the November Group and was founding member of the Gesellschaft für Neue Musik in 1922.
During the time of the late 1910s and 1920s Heinz Tiessen was one of the leading and most unique musical personalities in German-speaking world. His compositions were performed by renowned artist like conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler, pianist Eduard Erdmann or violinist Georg Kulenkampff. His vanguard compositions finally earned him the position of composition teacher at the Staatliche Akademische Hochschule für Musik in 1925. His two most notable students of that time were Eduard Erdmann and Sergiu Celibidache.
The emergence of the Nazism forced a break in the career of Heinz Tiessen. Both his activities with leftist intellectuals and socialists and his modern, challenging compositions led to professional difficulties. Tiessen could work throughout the complete time of the Third Reich, but only as a censor for the state music inspection authority and the performance of his compositions was unwanted. In the last days of the war most of the performing material of his compositions was destroyed by bombs. Heinz Tiessen survived the war but as a broken man.
After World War II Heinz Tiessen first directed the former Stern Conservatory until 1949 and later the faculty for composition and music theory at the Berliner Musikhochschule until his retirement in 1955. But he did not regain his musical productivity and after nearly 20 years of unperformed Tiessen compositions, the post-war performers did not remember his works. For these reasons the composer Heinz Tiessen fell into oblivion and still is a common name only for experts.
Heinz Tiessen died on 29 November 1971 in West-Berlin.


Among the compositions by Heinz Tiessen are several incidental musics, 2 symphonies, several compositions for orchestra, the "Totentanz-Suite" for violin and orchestra, Concertante variations for piano and orchestra, a string quintet, a duo-sonata for violin and piano, the "Amsel-Septett", many pieces for piano, an oratorio, a cantata and a rhapsody for soprano and orchestra "Die Amsel".

Heinz Tiessen was - several years before Olivier Messiaen - interested in the song of birds, especially in those of the blackbird (German: Amsel). He wrote a book about birdsongs and composed several compositions with reference to the blackbird. The "Amsel-Septet op.20" (blackbird-septet) is one of his principal compositions. Others are his second symphony "Stirb und Werde!" op.12 and his "Natur-Triologie" for piano op.18.


In my possession is the autograph manuscript of the composition "Fünf Klavierstücke op.21" (Five piano pieces) by Heinz Tiessen. This composition has a special history. The work was composed around 1915 and premiered by Eduard Erdmann on 11 May 1916. But shortly afterwards Heinz Tiessen much have withdrawn the work, because the "Fünf Klavierstücke" are not part of the official work catalogue and the opus 21 was re-used for the Rondo for orchestra.

Here are some information about the "Fünf Klavierstücke":

  1. (Vorspiel) Langsam und wuchtig, mit Energie
  2. (Elegie) Sehr langsam
  3. Mäßig
  4. (Amsel) Lustig und frisch
  5. Leidenschaftlich bewegt

The composition is dedicated to Dr. Bruno Haake. This could be the neurologist Bruno Haake (1874-1942), who is now best known for being forensic expert in the trial against Soghomon Tehlirian for his assasination of Talat Pasha in 1921. This Bruno Haake died 1942 in the Theresienstadt Ghetto.

It is also interesting to know that Heinz Tiessen took the 4th piece of the withdrawn "Five piano pieces op.21" - the "Amsel" - some years later and revised it. This revised version of the piece became the second part of the "3 Klavierstücke op.31" in 1923. Both pieces - the "Amsel" from the withdrawn op.21 and the other "Amsel" from op.31 - share the same themes and ideas, but the differences are obviously and striking that the two versions should be seen as independant.

PDF-Dokument [487.6 KB]

Beside the autograph manuscript I also own several published songs by Heinz Tiessen which were part of the estate of Maria Schultz-Birch. Maria Schultz-Birch (1881-1959) was a singer (alto) and later teacher at the Hochschule für Musik in Weimar. She championed contemporary art songs in the late 1910s and performed works by Walter Courvoisier, Eduard Erdmann, Max von Schillings, Konrad Ansorge or Heinz Tiessen.

In my possession is a privately bound collection of published songs by Heinz Tiessen. It seems that Heinz Tiessen himself prepared this collection: The book cover shows the personal collection "Heinz Tiessen / Lieder / Maria Schultz-Birch" in coined letters and the flyleaf bears the handwritten dedication "Meiner verehrten lieben Freundin Maria Schultz-Birch aus vielen schönen Erinnerungen!", signed by Heinz Tiessen and dated "Sommer 1941".

The collection contains the following songs:

  • Fünf Lieder für Gesang und Klavier
    published by O. Jonasson-Eckermann in Berlin, plate numbers "H. 1 T." to "H. 5 T." Contains the songs "Wiegenlied", "Requiescat", "Und durch den Wald kam leis die Nacht", "Willst du mit mir" and "Der Frühlingskasper".
  • Lieder für Gesang und Klavier op.22
    published by Adolph Fürstner in Berlin, plate numbers "A. 7285 F." to "A. 7289 F.". Contains the songs "Liebesode", "Die Amsel hat gesungen", "Deutsches Lied", "Aus dem 'Stundenbuch' " and "Die Amsel".
  • Lieder für Gesang und Klavier op.23
    published by Adolph Fürstner in Berlin, plate numbers "A. 7290 F." to "A. 7297 F.". Contains the songs "Der Sklave", "Spruch", "Vöglein Schwermut", "Im Baum du liebes Vöglein", "Erwachen der Braut", "Glück" and "Klein Ursel".
  • Galgenlieder op.24
    published by Otto Schlingloff in Essen, plate number R.M.V. 168. Contains the songs "Das Mondschaf", "Die Fingur" and "Der Rock".
  • Drei Lieder für eine Singstimme mit Klavierbegleitung
    published by Kistner & Siegel in Leipzig, plate number 29668. Contains the songs "Im Volkston", "Es ist Nacht" and "Liebe".
  • Ich bin nicht traurig, Duett für Sopran und Tenor mit Klavierbegleitung
    published by Kistner & Siegel in Leipzig, plate number 29669.

The estate also contained loose scores of "Drei Lieder op.53" (Dresdner Verlagsgesellschaft, plate 3015) and a copy of "Reinigung" (published by Neuendorff & Moll as part of the July issue of the music journal "Melos" in 1920).

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