The Kennedy Center

Humorous Variations on "'S kommt ein Vogel gegflogen," in the Style of Old and More Recent Masters

About the Work

Siegfried Ochs Composer: Siegfried Ochs
© Richard Freed

Siegfried Ochs originally set out to become a chemist, but began a serious study of music in his twentieth year. He eventually founded the Philharmonic Choir in Berlin, where Hans von Bülow, among others, came to be among his admirers, and he served as director of the oratorio department of that city's famous Hochschule für Musik. He lived into the era of electrical recordings and made several significant ones of sacred choral music. He published his own edition of Bach's St. Matthew Passion and a detailed history of choral singing in Germany as well as an autobiography. He composed an opera, two operettas, several choral works and songs that were performed with some frequency in Germany during his lifetime, but the present work, dating from the late 1880s, is his only composition at all likely to be heard today, and it definitely qualifies as a rarity.

The title of the folk song on which this work is based may be translated as "There's a bird flying this way,"or "Here comes a bird in flight." Ochs actually composed his variations for piano solo, but the work has survived only in the more colorful orchestral version, prepared by an arranger named Franz Rosenkranz. Like the familiar overture to Offenbach's comic operas, though, which are for the most part the work of various Viennese and French arrangers, this piece has circulated in concerts under the composer's name alone.

Following the statement of the folk-song theme itself, each variation but the last is labeled with the name of a famous composer—Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Johann Strauss, Verdi, Gounod, Chopin, Wagner, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Brahms, Meyerbeer—and these are sufficient guide to the character of the respective variations. In terms of the work's humorous impact, the most amusing episode may be the self-consciously dramatic drawing-out of the Verdi variation (No. 5). In some performances in the middle of the last century, the final variation, headed simply "Military March,"has been tweaked to fit the familiar contours of Sousa's Stars and Stripes Forever, but Ochs's original finale, which antedated the composition of that piece by nearly ten years, is of a more generic nature.