Chronik des Leipziger Rundfunkchores Die Jahre 1943-1945
The composer and conductor Johannes Rietz came from a family that had produced several generations of musicians, including the conductor Julius Rietz (music director of the Gewandhaus during the years 1848 – 1860) and his older brother, the well-known violinist Eduard Rietz (1802 – 1832).
The musical talent of Johannes Rietz, who was born in Breslau (now the Polish city of Wrocław) on February 24, 1905, was already evident in his early childhood. Rietz received his first musical tuition from his father and was later taught by Adolf Ehrenberg, choir director of the Johanniskirche in Breslau.
To finance his studies, Rietz initially worked at various places as a composer of popular music. In Breslau he subsequently started to study the piano under the tuition of Bronisław von Poźniak and was taught church music and Gregorian chant by the cathedral kapellmeister Dr Paul Wilhelm Blaschke. Rietz’s love of choral music was nurtured by the Breslau organist and choir director Heinrich Haberstrohm, who taught him the basic principles of choral conducting.
By his mid-twenties Rietz had already composed a considerable body of work. After compositions by him were heard for the first time on Silesian radio in August 1929, he received numerous commissions from this broadcaster to compose music for radio plays.
His major works include three symphonies written in the early 1930s, the first and second of which were very successfully premiered in Breslau: the first on Breslau’s local radio station under the baton of Edmund Nick and the second in the Breslau Concert Hall under the direction of Ernst Prade.
In the early 1930s Paul Graener admitted him into the Master School for Musical Composition, part of the Prussian Academy of the Arts in Berlin.
His assumption of the post of director of Breslau’s radio choir in 1935 marked the start of his conducting career. In 1942 he started to work with Stuttgart’s radio choir in the same capacity but in 1943 – after the radio choirs had been disbanded – he moved to Leipzig to assume the role of second director of the Bruckner Choir, alongside Günther Ramin. He enabled the Bruckner Choir to continue its work at times when Ramin was absent due to his duties as Thomaskantor, compounded by the turmoil of war. He was relocated, together with the choir, to Linz in April 1944. In Linz he continued to work as second choir director, alongside Michael Schneider, the new choirmaster of the Bruckner Choir. Since Schneider, who also worked as the organist of the Bruckner Organ in St Florian, was employed only on a freelance basis, Johannes Rietz, who was permanently appointed, sometimes directed the Bruckner Choir single-handedly.
Correspondence from Ramin – Purfürst – Director-General Glasmeier to Rietz
Letters from Ramin and choir chairman Purfürst to Rietz and the documents evaluated by Hanns Kreczi in the archive of St Florian Monastery prove that the second choir director was very highly regarded among the members of the Bruckner Choir and by the choirmasters Ramin and Schneider. Rietz, for his part, felt strongly attached to the Bruckner Choir. After the broadcasting corporation decided in early September 1944 to decommission the choir, that is to say, call the men up for military service and consign the women to the munitions factories, Johannes Rietz tried to prevent this from happening by every possible means. He had talks on his own initiative with the gauleiter and took the same matter further in Berlin. Director-General Glasmeier saw this as a lack of discipline and had Rietz dismissed.
After spending one year in captivity as a prisoner of war, Johannes Rietz returned to Germany in autumn 1945 and was warmly welcomed in Korntal near Stuttgart, as was the rest of the Bruckner Choir. He may have hoped to carry on working with the Bruckner Choir there, but some members of the choir no longer wanted to have him as their director.
Rietz nonetheless remained in Stuttgart, directed the Stuttgart Choral Society and started a second, very productive compositional phase. Besides chamber music he wrote a cappella compositions, songs and choral symphonic works, including some for South German Radio, performed by the South German Radio Choir. His most successful music from this period is to be found in Chorische Tänze (choral dances) for mezzo soprano, choir and orchestra (1957), based on old Slovene folk songs.
Johannes Rietz also worked as a musical advisor at South German Radio and managed the broadcaster’s “East German bell archive” and “east-European archive”.
Rietz, who in 1971 was awarded the Johann Wenzel Stamitz Prize for his compositional oeuvre, died on January 21, 1976.
The composer and choir director was married to the Breslau-born singer Elisabeth Rietz, who after the Second World War was a long-standing member of the South German Radio Choir.
Sadly, the works he wrote during his time in Breslau – most notably his symphonies and the incomplete opera Die versunkene Glocke (the sunken bell, based on Gerhart Hauptmann’s poetic play) – were lost in the war.
The legacy of Johannes Rietz with Elisabeth Rietz-Alexander
Elisabeth Rietz, Johannes Rietz, in: Zeitgenössische Schlesische Komponisten (contemporary Silesian composers), Dülmen 1982
Hanns Kreczi, Das Bruckner-Stift St. Florian und das Linzer Reichs-Bruckner-Orchester (1942 – 1945)
the Bruckner Monastery of St Florian and the Linz Bruckner Orchestra (between 1942 and 1945), Graz 1986