Rudolf T Werther (1896-1986) was born in Berlin and alongside intensive musical education he obtained his Doctorate in political science. He and his family left Berlin in 1929 or 1930 for France, already fearful of what might befall Jews if Hitler came to power, and in 1939 were helped to emigrate to Australia.
Living firstly in Launceston, Tasmania, he taught music and organised performances of fully-staged operas, which he conducted. Moving later to Cairns, Queensland, and finally to Perth, Western Australia, he continued to mount productions. His passionate advocacy for the genre led to the publication of “Opera in Australia: the history leading to the Australian Elizabethan Opera” in 1957.
Werther was always an advocate of great art, and of learning languages; but, as Graeme Skinner writes, though composer Peter Sculthorpe was excited by the opera performances “he did not warm to Werther personally, who he considered a difficult and precious figure ‘highly regarded… by himself’, too quick to cast himself as an agent of high culture in his provincial environment.” I suspect that, as an educated, cosmopolitan German Jew, he simply had high expectations, passionate commitment, and perhaps an understandable lack of relaxed, idiomatic Australian English in his first years here.
Rudolf Werther died in 1986.
The University of Western Australia holds all of his song manuscripts, numbering some 600. Eclectic in his choice of poets, he set a large number of great German Romantics such as Richard Daumer, Hugo von Hoffmannstahl, Rainer Maria Rilke, Theodor Storm, and Stefan George. This alone would pique the interest of a song enthusiast, but inspection of the catalogue reveals an enormous variety of poetry in English, French, Italian, Spanish and Russian.
The quality of musical inspiration in the English songs is a little variable, but his best settings of Blake, Francis Thompson, Walter de la Mare and others are well worth performing. He became a disciple of the Hindu teachings of Swami Omkarananda, and wrote a number of songs on his texts.
The manuscripts appear mostly to have been made for his own use, rather than as careful autographs for publication or for others to perform, and editorial decisions often had to be made on ambiguities in notation. Obvious errors and inconsistencies were corrected without comment. Reference to reliable editions of the poems allowed corrections in the notation of the texts.
Curious readers are directed to the Catalogue of musical compositions by Rudolf T. Werther, in the University of Western Australia Wigmore Music Library (780.92 W4993 1970).
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