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Famous Like Me > Composer > U > Viktor Ullmann

Profile of Viktor Ullmann on Famous Like Me

Name: Viktor Ullmann  
Also Know As:
Date of Birth: 1st January 1898
Place of Birth: Teschen, Silesia, Austria-Hungary [now Cieszyn, Poland]
Profession: Composer
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Viktor Ullmann (January 1, 1898 - October 18, 1944) was a Czech composer.

He was born on January 1st 1898 in Teschen (now Cieszyn), where he also began his studies. From 1914 onwards Ullmann lived in Vienna. He probably finished his secondary school studies there also and between 1918 and 1919 he worked for several months in Schoenberg's composition classes. From 1920 until 1927 Ullmann was one of Alexander von Zemlinsky's assistants in the New German Theatre in Prague (now the Prague State Opera). Artistic collaboration and longtime personal friendship with Zemlinsky, the esteemed head of the Prague German Opera Company, provided Ullmann with a wealth of personal and artistic experiences to draw on in the future. He took advantage of this in the following season, 1927-28, when he was appointed head of the opera company in Ustí nad Labem. Together with local and some invited artists, Ullmann managed to stage there a truly impressive repertoire (including operas by Richard Strauss, Krenek and others). At the turn of the 1920s and 30s he became involved in the anthroposophic movement, his new-found interests taking him to Zurich and later to Stuttgart.

But he was forced to leave Germany in 1933 and returned to Prague, embarking on the uneasy road of a freelance musician. He worked with the department of music in Czechoslovak Radio, wrote book and music reviews for various magazines, was employed as a critic for the Prague-based Bohemia newspaper, lectured to educational groups, gave private lessons and was actively involved in the programme of the Czechoslovak Society for Music Education. At about that time Ullmann made friends with the composer Alois Hába, whom he had known for some time. Ullmann enrolled in Hába's department of quarter-tone music at the Prague Conservatoire of Music and studied there for two years (1935-1937).

Up to the first years of the Second World War, Viktor Ullmann was the leading figure in a circle of his Czech and German friends for whom he gave private music performances, chamber concerts or parties where the host played various gramophone records. On September 8th 1942 Viktor Ullmann was deported to the concentration camp Theresienstadt. Even in the extremely difficult conditions of a Nazi concentration camp he succeeded in maintaining his artistic activity and together with Karel Ančerl, Rafael Schachter, Gideon Klein, Hans Krása and others, he wrote a glorious chapter in the camp's cultural life. Ullmann was then deported to the Auschwitz death camp, where he died in a gas chamber, probably on October 18th 1944.

Only a part of Viktor Ullmann's work has been found so far. Before the outbreak of the Second World War Ullmann wrote some forty works, mostly orchestral, chamber and piano compositions and two operas. His literary works and approximately twenty fragments of his almost finished or complete compositions written in Theresienstadt have also been preserved. Since the late 1970s Ullmann's music has been enjoying revived interest.

His opera from Theresienstadt, written on a libretto by Peter Kien and called Der Kaiser von Atlantis (The Emperor of Atlantis) op. 49, has been staged several times since then, as so have Ullmann's piano sonatas, Theresienstadt string quartet and songs. In stylistic terms, Ullmann's early compositions bear traces of Schoenberg's influences; his works from the 1930s are polytonal in the classical formal framework, while Mahlerian inspiration is discernible in Ullmann's remarkable songs.

Selected compositions

Piano works

  • Piano Variations and Double Fugue on a Theme of Arnold Schönberg, op. 3a (1925-29), UK
  • Piano Sonata No.1, op. 10 (1936), UK
  • Piano Sonata No. 2, op.19 (1938-39) UK
  • Piano Sonata No. 3, op. 26 (194U) UK
  • Piano Sonata No. 4, op. 38 (1941) UKPiano Sonata No. 5
  • Piano Sonata No. 6, r CD Romantic Robot, r Panton

String quartets

  • String Quartet No.1
  • String Quartet No. 2
  • String Quartet No. 3, r CD Romantic Robot,r CD Chanell Classic Records B.V


  • Six Songs to Poems by Albert Steffen for soprano and piano, op.17 (1937) UK
  • Five Love Songs to Poems by Ricarda Huch for soprano and piano, op.18 (1938-39) UK
  • Religious Songs for a high voice and piano, texts: A. Steffen, Ch. Morl;enstern, Novalis, Percy Mc Kay and folk text, op. 20, (1940) UK
  • Three Sonnets from the Portuguese Sonnets. Love songs of famous women. Second series, poems by Elisabeth Barret-Browning translated into German R. M. Rilke, op. 29 (1939-40) UK
  • Hafis Songbook for bass and piano. First suite. Persian texts from the l4th century adapted by Hans Bethge, op. 30 (1940) UK
  • Six Sonnets de Louize Labe pour chant et piano op. 34 (1941) range of voice e - b , UK
  • Evening Phantasy, text Friedrich Holderlin, r CD Romantic Robot
  • Eternal in the Middle, text Hans Guido Adler, r CD Romantic Robot
  • Three Yiddish Songs, r CD Romantic Robot
  • Little Cakewalk, o CD Romantic Robot

Orchestral compositions

  • Variations and double fugue on a theme of Arnold Schönberg op. 5, orchestral version, op. 3a (1929-34) 2 fl, ob, cor.i., cl, cl basso, 2 fg, 3 cor, 2 tr, tbn, timp, arpa, orch. d archi / Hertzkes Prize for the year 1934/ the parts without the score in the music archive of the Cs. radio
  • Slawische Rhapsodie / the score without the parts/, UK sax alto solo, 3 fl, 2 ob, cor.i, 2 cl, cl basso, 2 fl;, cotra fl;, 4 cor, 3 tr, 3 tbn, tuba, timp, perc, arpa, orch. d archi
  • Piano concerto, op. 25 (1939), the score without the parts, UK pf solo, 3 fl, 2 ob, cor.i, 3 cl, cl. basso, 2 fl;, contra ft;, 4 cor, 3 tr, 3 tbn, tuba basso, banjo tenore, soneria di rampane, timp, perc, arpa, orch. d archi


  • The Fall of the Antichrist. Opera in three acts, text: Albert Steffen, op. 9 (1935) autograph score, UK 3 fl, 2 ob, cor.i, 2 cl, cl. basso, cor di basseto, 2 fg, 4 cor, 3 tr, 3 tbn, tuba basso, 3 timp, piatti, tam-tam, xil, trianBolo, cassa picc, org, armonio, arpa, orch. d archi Hertzke s Prize for the year 1936
  • The Broken jug. One-act opera with an ouverture, text: H. Kleist, op. 3fi (1941) score, UK 2 fl, fl.picc, 2 ob, cór.i, 2 B, 2 Es, cl.basso, tenor sax, 2 fg, contra fg, 3 cor, 2 tr, tbn, timp, f;ran cassa, cassa picc, triangolo, piatti, soneria di campane, castagnette, xil, sonaglii, cemb, banjo di tenore, orch.d archi
  • The Emperor of Atlantis, or Death Has Suspended Discharging Its Role in Protest Against the Policy of the Emperor of Atlantis. A Legend in four sce- nes, op. 49 (1943) score Edition Eulenburg GmBH CH 8734 Adliswil, edited by Kerry Woodward fl, ob, cl, sax alto, tr, quintetto d'archi, banjo di tenore ossia chit., perc., cemb. ossia pf..


  • Ingo Schultz: Viktor Ullmann, in: Flensburger Hefte, Sonderheft Nr.8, Sommer 1991, str./page 5-25
  • Joza Karas: Music in Terezin 1941-1945, Beaufort Books Publishers, New York
  • Jitka Ludvova: Viktor Ullmann, in: Hudebni veda 1979. No. 2. page 99-122

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