Wellesz, Egon Joseph

views updated


WELLESZ, EGON JOSEPH (1885–1974), musicologist and composer of Jewish origin. Wellesz, who was born in Vienna, was a pupil of Arnold *Schoenberg and one of the first to follow his twelve-tone system. He was also his first biographer (1921). He studied musicology with Guido *Adler and in 1913 became a lecturer at the University of Vienna. In 1929 he was appointed professor of the history of music and specialized in research on Baroque opera.

Wellesz's greatest significance, however, lies in his study of Byzantine church music, and the music of the Oriental churches in general, on which he came to be considered the greatest authority of his time. As early as 1915 he discovered the Oriental maqāma *principle in the Serbian liturgy. Soon afterward he found the lost key for deciphering the musical notation of the medieval Byzantine chant. This caused a general reorientation in the study of the early history of music.

Wellesz was forced to leave Austria in 1938. He went to Oxford, where from 1940 he lectured on the history of music. In 1948 he was appointed university reader in Byzantine music. His History of Byzantine Music and Hymnography (1949, 19633) has become an undisputed standard work on this subject, on which he also wrote a great number of special studies.

In 1931 Wellesz became general editor of Monumenta Musicae Byzantinae, in 1957 coeditor of the monumental New Oxford History of Music (of which he himself edited Vol. 1), and in 1966 coeditor of the periodical Studies in Eastern Chant.

Wellesz was also very productive as a composer, his compositions including some ten operas and ballets, eight symphonies, and a great number of orchestral and chamber music.


R. Schollum, Egon Wellesz: eine Studie (1963); Redlich, in: Musical Quarterly, 26 (1940), 65–75; Reti, ibid., 42 (1956), 1–13, incl. bibl.; Tillyard, in: E. Wellesz and M. Velimirović (eds.), Studies in Eastern Chant, 1 (1966), xiii–xv; mgg s.v.; Grove, Dict, and supplement.

[Edith Gerson-Kiwi]