Friedrich Cerha

Friedrich Cerha
Side profile of a smiling, silver haired, older, white man, wearing glasses and a brown velvet suit jacket, white shirt and a brown tie.
Cerha in 2006
Born(1926-02-17)17 February 1926
Vienna, Austria
Died14 February 2023(2023-02-14) (aged 96)
Vienna, Austria
  • Composer
  • conductor
  • academic teacher

Friedrich Cerha (German: [ˈfʁiːdʁɪç ˈt͜sɛʁha]; 17 February 1926 – 14 February 2023) was an Austrian composer, conductor, and academic teacher. His ensemble Die Reihe [de] in Vienna was instrumental in spreading contemporary music in Austria. He composed several operas, beginning with Baal, based on Brecht's play. He is best known for completing Alban Berg's opera Lulu by orchestrating its unfinished third act, which premiered in Paris in 1979.

Life and career

Cerha was born in Vienna on 17 February 1926, the son of an electrical engineer. He played the violin at age six, instructed by Anton Pejhovsky, and began composing two years later.

At 17, Cerha was drafted as a Luftwaffenhelfer in 1943, and initially served in Achau, near Vienna. During this time, he participated in a number of acts of resistance against the fascist regime. After a semester at the University of Vienna, he was sent to an officer's school in occupied Denmark. While there, he obtained a number of blank, but signed, marching order papers and deserted. These papers allowed him to remain within German territory for some time as he could use them as proof that he was supposed to be there. However, after a period, he was forced to rejoin a military unit during an advance by the Soviet forces near Pomerania. He deserted a second time and made his way to the west of Austria, where he lived in the mountains for several months to avoid capture by the Allied forces, until he was eventually able to return to Vienna in November 1945.

At the Vienna Music Academy, Cerha studied violin with Váša Příhoda, composition with Alfred Uhl, and music pedagogy. Simultaneously, he studied musicology, German culture and language, and philosophy at the University of Vienna His dissertation there, on the Turandot topic in music, was completed in 1954.

In 1958 Cerha founded the ensemble Die Reihe [de] together with Kurt Schwertsik, which was instrumental in spreading contemporary music in Austria. In addition to composing, Cerha earned a reputation as an interpreter of the works of Alban Berg, Arnold Schoenberg, and Anton Webern. This work included the completion of Berg's unfinished three-act opera Lulu. Cerha orchestrated sections of the third act using Berg's notes as a reference, beginning studies of the subject in 1962. The complete three-act opera was premiered by Pierre Boulez in Paris Opéra on 24 February 1979, and directed by Patrice Chéreau.

Alongside his career as a composer and conductor, Cerha taught at the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna from 1959, where he was professor of composition, notation, and interpretation of new music from 1976 to 1988.

Cerha composed both orchestral works and operas. His first opera was Baal, based on Brecht's play of the same name, and influenced by Berg's Wozzeck. It was premiered at the Salzburg Festival in 1981, with performances at the Vienna State Opera and a production at the Staatsoper Berlin in 1982. It was followed by Der Rattenfänger and Der Riese vom Steinfeld, the latter commissioned by the Vienna State Opera, with a libretto by Peter Turrini, and premiered in 2002.

Cerha and his wife Gertraud, a music historian, were founding members of the Joseph Marx Society in April 2006.

Cerha died in Vienna on 14 February 2023, at age 96.


Honorary doctorates


Cerha's compositions were published by Universal Edition, including:


  • Netzwerk, 1981 for singers, reciter, movement groups and orchestra
  • Baal, 1974/81 – text: Bertolt Brecht
  • Der Rattenfänger, 1987 – text: Carl Zuckmayer
  • Completion of the opera Lulu by Alban Berg, 1962–78
  • Der Riese vom Steinfeld, 2002 – text: Peter Turrini, 2002
  • Onkel Präsident [de], 2013 – text: Peter Wolf and Cerha

Other works

  • Spiegel I, 1960 for movement groups, light objects, orchestra, and tape
  • Spiegel II–VII, 1960–72
  • Sinfonie, 1975
  • Requiem für Hollensteiner, Text: Thomas Bernhard 1982/83, dedicated to Kurt Ohnsorg, commissioned by Austrian Musical Youth for the 25th anniversary of the Vienna Youth Choir.
  • Baal-Gesänge, 1983
  • Keintate I, II, 1983 ff.
  • Monumentum für Karl Prantl, 1988
  • Introitus and Kyrie of Requiem of Reconciliation, 1995
  • Fünf Stücke for clarinet in A, cello and piano, 1999–2000
  • Concerto for Soprano Saxophone and Orchestra, 2003–2004
  • Violin Concerto, 2004
  • Oboe Quintet, 2007
  • Percussion Concerto, 2007–2008
  • Like a Tragicomedy for orchestra, 2008–2009
  • Bruchstück, geträumt for ensemble, 2009
  • Paraphrase of the beginning of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9, 2010
  • Zebra-Trio for string trio, 2011
  • Tagebuch for orchestra, 2012
  • Drei Sätze für Orchester, 2015
  • Fasce for orchestra, before 1993
  • Langegger Nachtmusiken I-III, before 1993
  • Relazioni fragili for chamber ensemble, before 1993

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