Hermann Goetz

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Born: 7 December 1840

Died: 3 December 1876


Hermann Gustav Goetz was born on December 7, 1840 in the city of Königsberg (now Kaliningrad), the son of a brewer. He received his first musical instruction from a cousin. In 1857 he undertook studies in piano, composition, and musical journalism under Louis Köhler. In 1858 he matriculated at Königsberg University as a student of mathematics, but in 1860 he entered the Stern Conservatory in Berlin, where he studied counterpoint and part-writing under Julius Stern, composition under Hugo Ulrich, and piano under Hans von Bülow. He graduated from the conservatory in 1862.

In 1863 Goetz became a church organist in the city of Winterthur, where he would live for the next several years. His acceptance of the post was based in part on the hope that the climate of Switzerland would slow the progress of his tuberculosis, which he had contracted some years earlier. During his time in Winterthur he founded and directed a choral society (which disbanded after a year and a half for lack of male singers), appeared as a concert pianist and conductor, and gave private piano lessons.

Although his earliest compositional efforts date from his pre-conservatory days, it was after 1863 that he wrote most of the works on which his reputation as a composer rests. These include the Spring Overture (Op. 15), the Piano Concerto No. 2 (Op. 18), and the Symphony in F (Op. 9). Other works published during his lifetime or posthumously include short pieces for piano (or violin and piano), a violin concerto, and short pieces for chorus or solo voice.

In 1868 he married Laura Wirth. In 1870 they moved to Hottingen (near Zurich and today a suburb of that city), although Goetz remained employed at Winterthur until 1872. He continued to appear as a pianist and to give lessons, and from 1870 to 1874 he wrote reviews for a musical journal.

Goetz devoted most of the last three years of his life to composing. The work for which he was probably best known in his lifetime was Der Widerspenstigen Zähmung, an opera based on Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. The work premiered in 1874, and in succeeding years was performed in several German cities, and also (in English translation) in London. George Bernard Shaw, writing in 1893, called this opera and the Symphony in F "two masterpieces which place Goetz securely above all other German composers of the last hundred years, save only Mozart and Beethoven, Weber and Wagner."

Goetz was a friend of Johannes Brahms, whom he met in 1865. Although the personalities of the two men were too different to allow their relationship to be close, their professional lives intersected in various ways. Brahms biographer Malcolm MacDonald thought it "almost certain[]" that it was Goetz's Nenie for chorus and orchestra (Op. 10) that brought Schiller's poem to the attention of Brahms and resulted in the latter's well-known setting of the work. It was through Goetz that Brahms met Joseph Viktor Widmann, the librettist of Der Widerspenstigen Zähmung and of Goetz's other works for the stage. Widmann and Brahms became good friends, and Widmann was one of the writers with whom Brahms discussed collaborating on an opera.

Goetz died in Zurich on December 3, 1876. Ernst Frank completed his unfinished opera Francesca da Rimini and edited a number of other works for posthumous publication as Opp. 14 through 22. Goetz's manuscripts, and other materials relating to his life and career, were donated by his daughter to the Zentralbibliothek Zürich.


  • Clive, Peter. Brahms and His World: A Biographical Dictionary. Scarecrow Press, 2006. Print.
  • MacDonald, Malcolm. Brahms. Schirmer Books, 1990. Print.
  • Sadie, Stanley, ed. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Macmillan, 2001. Print.
  • Slonimsky, Nicholas. Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, 7th ed. Schirmer Books, 1984. Print.
  • Swafford, Jan. Johannes Brahms: A Biography. Alfred A. Knopf, 1997. Print.
  • Zentralbibliothek Zürich, Nachlass- und Werkverzeichnis Hermann Goetz. Available at [1]

View the Wikipedia article on Hermann Goetz.

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