Bruno Walter writes of Wilhelm Petersen’s works (in a letter dated February 11, 1958),
“… genuine musical invention, mastery of construction and a wealth of deepest feelings… I am convinced that the originality and substance of Wilhelm Petersen’s musical language will finally secure a place in the public for his masterful works.”
In this sense, this world-premiere recording of song cycles by Wilhelm Petersen (1890-1957) evokes new interest in the composer. The interpreters Hans Christoph Begemann and Matthias Gräff-Schestag discovered and selected hitherto unpublished songs of Wilhelm Petersen and trace the development of his musical language in a retrospect.
As a composer of the 20th century, Wilhelm Petersen charted his own path apart from the various historically predominant directions. After an experimental phase at the edge of tonality, he arrived at a tonally centered and formally clear musical language at around 1925. He was interested in the possibilities yet dormant in traditional materials, exploring the fundamental essence of musical language through an awareness of what he called the “primal qualities of music”.
Petersen’s song cycles are further remarkable in his poem selection and grouping, as well as his seamless connection of text and music, attributable no doubt to the composer’s gifts as a poet. (In his youth he seriously contemplated a career as a poet, before he decided to devote his life to composing.) Begemann understands how to convey the significance of the songs and texts through supreme vocal command and perfect articulation. The Lieder pianist and chamber musician Gräff-Schestag supports the organic total impression through differentiated touch and large phrasing.
The 20th century produced not only those musical works that comprise the well-known stylistic currents. With respect to present biases in contemporary music with its turn once again to tonality, Wilhelm Petersen’s music may well be accorded a new importance.