The German-born composer and music critic for The Age dies at the age of 90.
Composer Felix Werder has died in Melbourne at the age of 90.
Born in Berlin in 1922, Werder grew up surrounded by modern music – from the age of eight he acted as copyist for his composer father, a cantor at a prominent Berlin synagogue, and the family counted itself part of Schoenberg’s musical circle.
Werder fled Nazi Germany in 1935, and in 1940, accompanied by his father, made the voyage to Australia on the notorious refugee ship Dunera. On arrival he was interned at Tartura as a political prisoner for four years, during which time he wrote several of his early compositions. His German and Jewish heritage had a profound impact on his music.
Following military service, he worked as a music arranger, school teacher and lecturer for the council of adult education in Melbourne. The first Australian premiere of one of Werder’s compositions took place in 1955, when his tone poem Belletomania was performed by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Sir Eugene Goossens.
In 1958 he co-founded the Camerata Society to champion the works of Australian composers, and began to write for The Age, where he was appointed principal music critic in 1963.
By the 1970s, Werder was at the forefront of the avant-garde in Australian music, maturing from twelve-tone experiments into a more improvisatory, virtuosic idiom across more than 300 works ranging from chamber music to orchestral and music theatre compositions.
Werder continued to compose well into his eighties, and in February this year his contribution to Australian music were celebrated in a 90th birthday concert presented by ABC Classic FM at the Iwaki Auditorium in Melbourne, where the composer was based.
He was awarded the Order of Australia for services to music in 1977, and in 2002 received an honorary degree of Doctor of Music from the University of Melbourne.
Werder once said, “A thing of beauty is a bore forever,” and that “music is not as soporific for calming neurosis of a decadent bourgeois society.” Wise words from the composer, who died on May 3, 2012.