An Impressive Personality

Wolfgang Jacobi was passionate about music all his life. As a child and adolescent he had lived in a cultured musical environment. When he was a prisoner of war in France in 1917, he sustained himself with the hope of one day obtaining recognition as a composer. And his dream came true. Although he did not achieve a major artistic breakthrough. One reason for preventing him to taking his place beside his better known colleagues may lie in the fact that he was black listed by the Nazis. As a consequence, his career as a promising young artist came to a temporary end for over a decade.

from 1919 … Berlin

Until 1922 Jacobi studies composition under Friedrich E. Koch at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik. He is open to innovation and enjoys the vibrant life of this great centre of culture. He composes a great deal and is beginning to make a name for himself with his works. Working as a freelancer for the Berliner Funkstunde, he is given a large number of commissions for compositions and arrangements. He is soon being celebrated by the press as »a composer of great talent« and a musician to be watched. 

»I shall never forget the 1920s in Berlin … Bartok and Stravinski performed their works; Klemperer conducted Stravinski’s ballets and Hindemith’s operas. The most renowned chamber music ensembles and the great international soloists gave regular concerts.« Wolfgang Jacobi in 1952

1933 – 1945 … Banned under the Nazis

In April 1933 the work composed for the Workers’ Choir Movement »Der Menschenmaulwurf« [The Human Mole] is to have its premier. But the National Socialists, who have just come to power, prevent the planned performance. Jacobi has come to their attention; they forbid him to work as a musician because they considered him to be »half Jewish« (cf. Stengel/Gerigk: Lexikon der Juden in der Musik, 1941) and his compositions do not correspond to the requirements of the regime. He is expelled from the imperial cultural organisation the Reichskulturkammer and from the performing rights society, STAGMA. He is not permitted to teach any longer and is removed from his post at the Klindworth-Scharwenka-Konservatorium. Jacobi is excluded from the musical life of Germany until 1945, being for 12 years a banned composer – all performances of his works in German territories are forbidden during this period.

From: »The Human Mole« for mixed choir, speaker, baritone solo and wind ensemble

1934 … Refuge in Italy

A colleague made it possible for the family to leave for Italy and to take refuge in Malcesine on Lake Garda. Jacobi took great interest in the language and culture of the country and he studied Italian music intensively in the library of the Conservatorio Cherubini in Florence. He was also fascinated by the colours and the light of his new home and began to paint. Italy was to become a major source of inspiration for him.

»Fishermen’s cottages on Lake Garda« water colour by Wolfgang Jacobi, 1934

from 1935 … New home in Munich

Currency restrictions force the family to return to Germany in the winter of 1935, but their attachment to Italy remains. The Jacobi family takes up residence in Munich. Here they patiently await the end of Nazi terrorism. But the Nazi ban forbidding him to earn his living as a musician causes Jacobi much distress and he finds it hard to cope with the restrictions imposed by the period of inner emigration. 

Wolfgang Jacobi with his wife Eveline and daughter Ursula

1945 … A fresh start

After the end of the war, Jacobi can at last return to the public domain of music and he manages to establish himself. He begins to teach at the Händel-Konservatorium in Munich and later, teaches composition and music theory at the Munich Hochschule für Musik. He composes numerous new works. He remains true to his style and does not attempt to adapt to contemporary trends.

Wolfgang Jacobi with Li Stadelmann and Fritz Lehmann after a concert in 1952 Foto: Bayerische Staatsbibliothek München / Timpe

1955 … Late recognition

Jacobi begins to compose, first for accordion orchestra, then for solo accordion and is highly successful. Publishers accept his challenging works; accordion players perform them and greatly esteem the now elderly composer. Jacobi’s other works are performed quite frequently, but not given the recognition they deserve.

Wolfgang Jacobi and Gisela Walther
»I have found a niche with music for the accordion. I have just returned covered with sweat and fame from the Trossinger Musiktage.« Wolfgang Jacobi, 1968