Compositional Style

Günter Raphael was an extraordinarily versatile and prolific composer who contributed numerous symphonic works along with works for oratory (Requiem), vocal solo, chorus (sacred and secular), organ, as well as a rich chamber music legacy.


Characteristic for his work is the continuous dialogue with tradition; over the years he developed a style of unmistakable individuality, equally portraying lush sound and polyphonic structures. His music radiates a strong spiritual and intellectual concentration, not the least through his eminent contrapuntal mastery and his enjoyment in combining prominent melodic elements with a clear formal sense; yet there is as well an inventive abundance of rhythmic elements.

Despite a dreadful personal fate, Raphael’s humour – very familiar to his friends and students – plays an essential role in several of his works. Just as audible, though, are numerous depressive traces of the "silent period of his life”.

His  e a r l y  c o m p o s i t i o n  s t y l e , bound in part to tradition, made the music world listen because of his very personal thematic writing combined with a versatile developmental artistry.

Having to work under the worst of circumstances, Raphael’s unceasing creativity resulted in the development of an unmistakable and unique style. The works from the early 1940s examplify this  p e r s o n a l  s t y l e .  

His  l a t e  p e r i o d  demonstrates an approach to the 12-tone music, which Raphael significantly describes as "tonal 12-tone”.


by Straube, Furtwängler, Abendroth, Teichmüller,
Stockmeier (MGG), Gudger (New Grove Dictionary)

Karl Straube, Thomaskantor, 1924:
I know Mister Günter Raphael and admire him as one of the greatest talents among the younger generation of German musicians. The compositions which I am familiar with, all works of great scope which have started to be published by Simrock in Berlin and Breitkopf & Härtel in Leipzig, testify clearly and unmistakeably to a talent of the highest order! … he has to be seen as one of the great hopes for the future of German music.

Wilhelm Furtwängler, 1936:
Günter Raphael is one of the best talents among the young Germans of today, a musician who possesses an unusually fertile imagination and a great and real ability. We will certainly be hearing much of interest from him in the furure.

Hermann Abendroth, 1936:
Günter Raphael, one of the younger composers of our time who certainly has something to say, and who has many ideas. It is always a true pleasure for me to perform his music.

Robert Teichmüller, 1937:
The composer Günter Raphael belongs in the forefront of musical life. Not only through his sacred compositions but also as a creator of chamber music and orchestral works, he has given splendid evidence of his enormous capacity and his rich artistic creativity- this entitles us to great expectations…
During our mutual eight-year engagement at the State Conservatory of Music in Leipzig, I repeatedly had the opportunity to be impressed by his excellent pedagogical talent: a masterful teacher of counterpoint, harmony, score reading and music literature as well as all other areas of music theory.

Wolfgang Stockmeier, MGG:
Raphael was an extremely versatile and productive composer who contributed to almost every musical genre. Although he began as a composer of purely instrumental music, he himself considered his choral works as the centre of his creative output. These include not only ambitious works for double chorus with and without orchestra (Requiem), but also lieder and short motets destined for liturgical use.
Raphael reaches a summit of expressivity in the treatment of rousing apocalyptic texts. This particular gift rise to the observation about the prophetic spirit of his music (O. Riemer). Stylistically bound to Brahms and Reger at the outset of his career, he developed an undeniable original style characterised by a new diatonicism in his Meiningen years. This also helped the rhythmic element become more lively and more wilful.
An exquisite example of Raphael’s humour can be seen in his Palmstöm Sonata op.69. The fact that the precedine work, the Organ Sonata op.68, reflects a profound preoccupation with the problems of humanity, is an impressive illustration of the broad spiritual range of the composer.

William D. Gudger, New Grove Dictionary:
Opera was the only major genre to which Raphael did not turn his attention as a composer. He wrote much choral and organ music for liturgical use, while his more adventurous work is to be found in the chamber and orchestral pieces. Raphael’s output may be divided into three periods. Until 1934 he wrote in a late Romantic style reminiscent of Brahms and, particularly as a result of the large amount of chromaticism, Reger. The Requiem op.20 is the masterpiece from this period; its five movements revolve around the key of G major/minor and B major/minor and their dominants, with some of the movements exhibiting progressive tonality.
The second period – that of the exile in Meiningen and Laubach – was a time of transition. Diatocism, modality, rhythmic ostinatos and sparser textures began to appear in Raphael’s music, an he reached further into the past for his models: to Bach (Solo Sonatas op.46) and Schütz (Geistliche Chormusik, 1938).
Raphael’s last 15 years may be considered as his third period, in which the new style crystallized and expanded to include some use of 12-note technique. The series is usually found as an ostinato; for example, in the Gesang der Erzengel op.79, the 12 notes are paired in an ostinato, while in the Viola Sonata op.80 the series serves as a theme in the first and third movements.