Kurt Schwertsik


Kurt Schwertsik Collection:


  • Music manuscripts
  • Writings


  • More than 4,000 letters to and from Kurt Schwertsik

Life documents


  • several hundred black-and-white photographs from all stages of life of the composer


  • Posters
  • Programme booklets
  • Press documentation
  • Publishing material
  • Secondary literature


Kurt Schwertsik was born in 1935 in Vienna and studied composition with Joseph Marx and Karl Schiske and also studied the horn with Gottfried von Freiberg at the Vienna Academy of Music. From 1955 to 1959 as well as from 1962 to 1989, he was a horn player in the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.

Schwertsik formed the contemporary classical music ensemble “die reihe” (the row) with fellow composer Friedrich Cerha in 1958. Around 1960, Schwertsik repeatedly participated in the international summer courses for contemporary classical music in Darmstadt, where he met Mauricio Kagel, John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen whom he subsequently went on to study with in Cologne. Under the influence of John Cage and other American composers as well as his friendship with Cornelius Cardew, alternative ways of creating presented themselves to him, which ultimately lead him to reject serialism and to turn towards tonality again. Schwertsik used the time during a scholarship in Rome and a stay in London (1960/1961) to evaluate his impressions from Cologne and to reflect on his own goals.

In 1965, he and the composer and pianist Otto M. Zykan founded the Viennese Salon Concerts and published a manifesto criticising a few aspects of the post-war avant-garde. In 1968, he founded the ensemble MOB art & tone ART together with Otto M. Zykan and HK Gruber. It was for this ensemble that he wrote the Symphony in MOB-Style op. 19, among others.

After a visiting professorship for composition and analysis at the University of California, Riverside in 1966, Schwertsik came back to Vienna. He taught composition at the Vienna Conservatory from 1979 to 1988 and was a full professor for composition at the University of Music and Performing Arts, Vienna from 1989 until his emeritus status in 2003.

The fantastic 1983 opera Fanferlieschen Schönefüßchen, a work commissioned by the Stuttgart Opera House, the five part orchestra cycle Irdische Klänge, which premiered at the “Wien Modern” Festival in 1992, concerts for violin, timpani, guitar, double bass as well as Instant Music for flute and wind orchestra are considered some of Schwertsik's most significant works.

His four ballets, Macbeth, Frida Kahlo, Nietzsche and Gastmahl der Liebe (Love Meetings) were created in collaboration with choreographer Johann Kresnik and he was aided in the making of Kafka Amerika by Jochen Ulrich. Among his song compositions, the cycle Starckdeutsche Lieder und Tänze for baritone and orchestra, based on writings by Matthias Koeppel, are of greater significance.

Some of the most important orchestral works by Schwertsik are the Sinfonia-Sinfonietta, which premiered in the Vienna Musikverein, Roald Dahl's Goldilocks for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, the Schrumpf-Symphonie, launched on the eve of the millennium in the Mozarteum in Salzburg by Roger Norrington, the Violin Concert No. 2 for Christian Altenburger, the concert for trombone Mixed Feelings, which was performed by the Minnesota Orchestra at its 2002 premiere, Adieu Satie! for string quartet and bandoneon (first performed by the Alban Berg Quartet in 2003), Divertimento Macchiato (2007), which was performed multiple times by trumpet player Håkan Hardenberger, the composition Nachtmusiken, which was commissioned by the BBC Philharmonic, as well as Musik: Leicht Flüchtig op. 110 (2012/13).

In June 2003, the Wuppertal Opera House first performed the opera Katzelmacher, which is based on Rainer Werner Fassbinder's film and theatre play of the same title. The youth opera Eisberg nach Sizilien had its premiere in the Mannheim Theatre in April 2011.

Commissions for compositions, presentations of works and performances at the holiday courses in Darmstadt, the Montreal EXPO, the Steirischer Herbst Festival, the Wiener Festwochen, the Salzburg Festival, the SWF Baden-Baden,  the ORF (Austrian Broadcast Corporation), the Cologne Opera House, the Baden-Württemberg State Opera, the Bath Festival, the Berlin Festival, the Musica Nova Festival in Brisbane, the Almeida Festival London and at the Festival “Alternative Vienna” in London. In 1992, Schwertsik was one of the four main composers at “Wien Modern”.

Kurt Schwertsik is member of the Austrian Artistic Senate, member of honour and member of the senate of the Austrian Composers Association and president of the Joseph Marx Society, which was founded in 2006.

Awards and Prizes:

2017 Gold Medal of Honour of the City of Vienna

2015 Silver Commander's Cross of the Medal of Honour for service to the federal province of Lower Austria

2006 Silver Medal of Honour for services to the City of Vienna

1997 Austrian Badge of Honour for Science and Art

1992 Grand Austrian State Prize of Music

1980 City of Vienna Music Award

1977 Prize of Appreciation of the Republic of Austria


Kurt Schwertsik's œuvre so far includes more than a hundred works such as stage and film music, orchestral works, solo concerts for violin, alphorn, guitar, double bass, timpani and flute, chamber music and song cycles.

Among his most significant compositions are the fantastic opera “Das Märchen von Fanferlieschen Schönefüßchen” op. 42 (1981) (after Clemens Brentano), the “Irdische Klänge” orchestral cycle op. 37 (1980), the “Sinfonia-Sinfonietta” op. 73 (1995/96), the song cycle “Starckdeutsche Lieder und Tänze für Bariton und Orchester” op. 44 (1980-82) and “Adieu Satie” op. 86 (2002) for string quartet and bandoneon.


Boosey & Hawkes


Ensemble “die reihe”