Heinz Moehn: A Musical Life

Heinz Moehn

Heinz Moehn isn’t the type of musical figure that typically attracts attention. As a composer, he is virtually unknown today, though his large-scale works were performed and admired by his contemporaries. And his many other musical pursuits – editing and arranging music, performing locally, and directing regional choirs and orchestral groups – are often underappreciated or fade into obscurity once they pass from the memories of those involved. However, as music scholars look beyond major composers to examine performers, conductors, editors, patrons, and minor composers, Moehn stands out due to his success in many of these roles and his significant connections to more well-known musical and literary figures of the early and mid-twentieth century. He was interwoven into German musical culture at a time when stylistic tendencies and allegiances to particular composers had tremendous cultural and political implications. As such, his successes, setbacks, and changes of direction can help us to understand not only the artistic journey of an individual, but also German musical culture in the twentieth century.

Early Years

Heinz Jakob Moehn (written as Möhn in his early years) was born on 23 November 1902 in Limburg an der Lahn, a town in the western German state of Hesse. His parents were Jacob and Margarethe Möhn (née Günthert). In his youth, he had four years of instruction on the violin from the local conductor, Karl Reifert, but he was primarily a musical autodidact, teaching himself piano and music theory in his teenage years.

After completing his high school studies in 1921 (where his singing, the only musical subject offered, was deemed “sufficient”!), he began taking lessons in piano, harmony, counterpoint, and orchestration from Eduard Gelbart (Frankfurt am Main) and in conducting and choral directing from Carl Schuricht (General music director, Wiesbaden). It wasn’t long before he began applying these newly-developed skills. He found employment as a choral director beginning in the 1920s for groups including the Limburg Männergesangverein (Men’s Singing Club) and Frauenlob (Women’s Praise) and he mounted a series of instrumental music concerts which were praised for their artistic ambitiousness.

His first extant compositions, mostly sacred, also date from this period. His earliest, from 1922, are a four-part choral setting of Tantum ergo with organ accompaniment and a solo a capella setting of “Ave Maria.” In 1924 he created an ambitious musical Christmas play, Das Gotteskind: Ein Weihnachtspiel (The Son of God: A Christmas Play), which featured soprano soloists, spoken voice roles, and an orchestral accompaniment. Towards the end of the twenties, he began writing Lieder, or German art songs, choosing texts by both canonic poets such as Goethe (one of his earliest Lieder sets Goethe’s “Wandrers Nachtlied II (Über allen Gipfeln),” (“Wanderer’s Nightsong II: Over all the Peaks”) which is also the text of one of Schubert’s most iconic songs), as well as more contemporary poets such as Stefan George and Henriette Brey.

The Thirties: A Rising Compositional Career Cut Short

The early thirties saw major changes in Moehn’s personal life. On 8 November 1931 he married Franziska Rudersdorf. This was followed by the births of his sons Rudi Stephan Moehn (named after the German composer Rudi Stephan) on 15 February 1933 and Heinrich Eduard Moehn on 22 May 1934. In his compositional work, he turned his attention to larger-scale pieces, composing the cantata Von den Männern, die ihre Pflicht getan: Eine Arbeiter-Kantate (Of the Men Who Did their Duty: A Worker Cantata) to a text by Max Barthel and some larger choral works, including a setting of Hölderlin’s Hymne an die Menschheit (Hymn to Mankind). He also served as the music critic for the Limburger Anzeiger, a local newspaper, and continued his work directing choirs. In 1936, he took a position as organist at the famed cathedral in Limburg. Although Moehn excelled at teaching himself musical skills, it is not known at present how he acquired sufficient facility on the organ to take on this position!

Later in 1936, he developed severe pleurisy and had to give up all employment, likely until May 1938. In some ways, though, his poor health was a blessing for his musical career: 1937 was his most productive year as a composer and saw the creation of his major works, as well as a handful of smaller compositions. Three of his orchestral works were performed in 1938 and were acclaimed in local and national publications. However, shortly after this point he all but ceased creating independent works as a composer. It is not certain whether this was due to personal and professional circumstances or whether it was related to the pressure placed on composers to conform to the artistic ideals promoted by the Nazi Party, a pressure that was especially strong in the aftermath of the Entartete Musik (Degenerate Music) exhibitions of later 1938. By the summer of 1938, he was well enough to return to work, and became the music director of the Scala-Varieté Theatre in the town of Wiesbaden for one season.

The War Years

Moehn’s earlier bout of pleurisy, as well as a letter of support from the conductor August Vogt, may have contributed to his avoidance of military service during the Second World War, especially later in the war when older men were increasingly recruited. In 1939 he was hired as a music coach at the Staatstheatre Mainz (Mainz State Theatre) by the general music director Karl Maria Zwissler, and from 1941 he became the director for choirs and operetta there. The war years were not favourable for his aspirations as a composer: during this time, his only compositions (aside from a set of two Lieder composed in 1944) were stage music works for several theatre productions, all of which are now lost.

Towards the end of the war, however, he embarked on one of the most rewarding and enduring facets of his musical career. In July of 1944 he began working as an editor at Schott Verlag, one of the oldest and largest music publishers in Europe.

The Conductor and the Editor: Shaping Local and National Musical Cultures

As an editor for Schott Verlag, Moehn edited scores, corrected copies, and created piano arrangements of orchestral works. His name only appears on published works for which he created piano arrangements, but his editorial work was much broader, including Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron, K. A. Hartmann’s Sixth Symphony, and works by Paul Hindemith, Carl Orff, B. A. Zimmerman, Wolfgang Fortner, and Hans Werner Henze. Many (though not all) of these composers had been explicitly denounced by the Nazi Party for their musical style, choice of subject matter, or Jewish identity. As such, by helping to prepare these works for publication, Moehn contributed to the rebuilding of a twentieth-century German musical culture. Of these composers, he had an especially close working relationship with Henze, who expressed great alarm in personal letters when Moehn shared the news that he would be leaving Schott in 1959.

Alongside his editorial work, Moehn helped to revive local musical life in Wiesbaden, the town in which he had settled. From 1952 to 1959 he assumed the directorship of the Wiesbaden Orchesterverein (Wiesbaden Orchestral Club). Under his leadership, this local orchestra of professional and amateur musicians grew from a group of sixteen to a thriving ensemble of almost seventy. Moehn again stepped up on the conductor’s podium in 1972, when the then-director of the Wiesbaden Orchesterverein (Rolf Wilberg) became unexpectedly ill right before a concert.

After leaving Schott in 1959, he became the head of production for orchestral and stage works at Bärenreiter Verlag. In this role, he had the opportunity to create more piano reductions of orchestral parts, as well as figured bass realizations. He is credited on published scores by both contemporary composers such as Günter Bialas, Giselher Klebe, and Winfried Zillig, and canonic composers including Donizetti, Gluck, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, and Telemann. In particular, he found it immensely rewarding to work on Bärenreiter’s Neue Mozart Ausgabe, the new authoritative edition of Mozart’s complete works. Moehn officially retired from his position at Bärenreiter in 1966, but continued to do freelance editorial work for the publishing house until 1988.

A Musical Life

From the end of the Second World War to the last days of his life, Moehn composed only a handful of works. In the immediate aftermath of the war, he created a few simple songs with celebratory or humorous texts, and he composed a setting of the Missa Brevis for choir and organ in 1948, which he revised in 1982. His last extant composition, dated 10 July 1991, was a return to Goethe’s “Wandrers Nachtlied II (Über allen Gipfeln),” one of the first texts he had set. One of the most celebrated texts of German literature, the poem concludes with the lines “Warte nur, balde / Ruhest du auch” (“Just wait, soon / You, too, will rest”). Heinz Moehn died on 27 April 1992.

Photograph of Heinz Moehn from “Kapellmeister Moehn wird 85.” Wiesbadener Leben 36 (November 1987): 11. Photographer not credited in original source.


Anonymous, “Kapellmeister Heinz Moehn wird 85.” Wiebadener Tageblatt (21-22 November 1987): 10.

B. Schotts Söhne. B. Schotts Söhne, 15 June 1959. Letter of Reference for Heinz Moehn.

Bärenreiter Verlag. Bärenreiter Verlag, 30 September 1966. Letter of Reference for Heinz Moehn.

Bärenreiter Verlag. Bärenreiter Verlag to Heinz Moehn, 12 July 1988. Letter.

Ga. “Anerkennenswertes Musizieren.” Wiesbadener Tageblatt (21 March 1972): n.p.

Gymnasium und Realprogramgymnasium zu Limburg a.d. Lahn, “Abgangs-Zeugnis: Heinz Möhn.” 18 December 1921.

H. P. “Stephanauskirche: Solisten und Orchester in zuverlässigem Einvernehmen.” Wiesbadener Kurier (21 March 1972): n.p.

Henze, Hans Werner. Hans Werner Henze to Heinz Moehn, 2 March 1959. Letter.

Krenek, Ernst. Ernst Krenek to Heinz Moehn, 26 April 1971. Letter.

Moehn, Heinz. C.V., 5 April 1983.

Moehn, Heinz. “Lebenslauf.”

von Poser, Michael. “Kapellmeister Moehn wird 85.” Wiesbadener Leben 36 (November 1987): 11

Scala. Scala, 30 April 1939. Letter of Reference for Heinz Moehn.

Schuricht, Carl. Carl Schuricht, 2 December 1924. Letter of Reference for Heinz Moehn.

Vogt, August. August Vogt to Herrn Verwaltungsrat Schäfer, 28 March 1939. Letter.