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.
Friedrich Cerha, in 2006, celebrating his 80th birthday
Born (1926-02-17) 17 February 1926 (age 96)
EducationVienna Music Academy, University of Vienna
OccupationComposer and conductor
Years active1958–present
ChildrenRuth Cerha

Friedrich Cerha (born 17 February 1926) is an Austrian composer, conductor and music educator.

Education and Career

Cerha was born in Vienna, Austria, and educated at the Viennese Music Academy (violin with Váša Příhoda, composition with Alfred Uhl, music education) and received a doctorate from the University of Vienna (musicology, German culture and language, philosophy).

In 1958 he founded the ensemble "die reihe" with Kurt Schwertsik, which was an important instrument for the spreading of 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 Alban Berg's unfinished three-act opera Lulu. Cerha orchestrated sections of the third act using Berg's notes as a reference. The opera was premiered by Pierre Boulez in Paris in 1979.

Alongside his career as a composer, Cerha taught at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna from 1959 and between 1976 and 1988 was Professor of Composition, Notation and Interpretation of New Music. Some of his notable students during this time include Georg Friedrich Haas, Karlheinz Essl, Petr Kotik, Gerald Barry and Benet Casablancas.

Cerha has produced both orchestral works and opera (among others, Baal, Der Rattenfänger, and Der Riese vom Steinfeld, the latter commissioned by the Vienna State Opera, with a libretto by Peter Turrini). Premiere performances of some of his recent works took place in January 2006 (e.g. Impulse for large orchestra, dedicated to the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra on the occasion of its 150th anniversary) as well as in March 2006 (Concerto for Soprano Saxophone and Orchestra, written in 2004).

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

Wartime activities

Cerha was conscripted, aged 17, as a Luftwaffenhelfer 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 undetected 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 Russian 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 Vienna.

Decorations and awards

Honorary doctorates

Notable works


  • Netzwerk, 1981 for singers, reciter, movement groups and orchestra
  • Baal, 1974/81 – Text: Bertolt Brecht
  • Der Rattenfänger, 1987 – Text: Carl Zuckmayer
  • Komplettierung der Oper Lulu von Alban Berg, 1962–78
  • Der Riese vom Steinfeld, 2002 – Text: Peter Turrini, 2002
  • Onkel Präsident, 2013 – Text: Peter Wolf and Friedrich Cerha
  • Completion of 3rd act of Berg's Lulu

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.
  • Momentum für Karl Prantl, 1988
  • Fünf Stücke für Klarinette in A, Violoncello und Klavier, 1999–2000
  • Konzert für Sopransaxophon und Orchester, 2003–2004
  • Konzert für Violine und Orchester, 2004
  • Quintett für Oboe und Streichquartett, 2007
  • Konzert für Schlagzeug und Orchester, 2007–2008
  • Like a Tragicomedy für Orchester, 2008–2009
  • Bruchstück, geträumt für Ensemble, 2009
  • Paraphrase über den Anfang der 9. Symphonie von Beethoven, 2010
  • Zebra-Trio, for string trio, 2011
  • Tagebuch für Orchester, 2012
  • Drei Sätze für Orchester, 2015
  • Fasce for orchestra, sometime before 1993
  • Langegger Nachtmusiken I-III, sometime before 1993
  • Relazioni fragili for chamber ensemble, sometime before 1993

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