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Boris Blacher

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Boris Blacher (born 19 January 1903, Newchwang, China; died 30 January 1975, Berlin) was a German composer. His style took something from Stravinsky’s instrumental pungency and the anti-Romantic clarity of Milhaud; Berg and Bartók were other early influences. He also experimented with rhythm, devising what he called ‘variable metres’, inspired by Schoenberg’s note-rows, expanding and contracting to bring metrical variety to the works where he used them, such as the Second Piano Concerto of 1952 and the Orchester-Ornament, written a year later.

Moving to Berlin in 1922 to study architecture and music, Blacher supported himself as an arranger of popular and film music. A first academic post – the beginning of an outstanding career as a teacher – came in 1938, when Karl Böhm obtained a place for him as director of a composition class at the Dresden Conservatory, an appointment he was forced to resign the following year as his teaching did not accord with National Socialist policy. Blacher’s progress in German musical life faltered during the Second World War, since he refused to have any truck with the Nazis’ cultural doctrines. But with the premiere, in November 1947, of his Orchestral Variations on a Theme by Paganini, it was clear that a major new voice had arrived and a succession of tightly argued, contrapuntally ingenious, rhythmically charged works began to flow from Blacher’s pen.

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