Helmut Walcha

Helmut Walcha was born on 27 December 1907 in Leipzig, Germany. His father was the head of a post office, and his mother was Anna Ficken. He began to lose his vision at age one, due to the aftereffects of a smallpox vaccination, but he nevertheless entered elementary school at age six. His parents instilled in him the love of music, and his older sister taught him to read music. He took an interest in the organ at an early age and practiced regularly in the church near home. When Helmut was twelve, the bassist of the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig introduced him to the legendary Hungarian conductor Arthur Nikisch(1855~1922), who was impressed by Helmut's improvisation on a German folk tune. Nikisch recommended formal musical training. But Helmut's vision continued to deteriorate. Chronic keratitis threatened his weak sight, and an operation totally failed. Complete blindness set in in 1923, when he was sixteen.  

In 1922, Walcha entered the Leipzig Conservatory and studied under Günther Ramin(1898~1956), a famous authority on the works of of Johann Sebastian Bach.  Walcha set out at this point to learn all of the organ works and many of the harpsichord works of Bach as well as works of Sweelinck, Buxtehude, Pachelbel, and Händel. Two women helped him by dictating the scores to him, one voice at a time: his mother and, after his marriage in 1933, his wife, Ursula Koch. It took him fifteen years to memorize all the works of Bach. He was named assistant organist at the famous Thomaskirche in Leipzig (where Bach had been the organist in the mid-eighteenth century) in 1926,  and passed the Leipzig Conservatory's qualifying exam for organists summa cum laude the next year.

 

In 1929 he was appointed  organist of the Peace Church in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, beginning a career of service to that city that lasted more than fifty years. He was elected to the organ faculty of the Frankfurt Hochschule fur Musik in 1933. He became a hero of the populace when he continued his weekly organ recitals in the Three Kings' Church in spite of the hardships of World War II. After the war, the first new organ in the city was constructed in his honor in the auditorium of Frankfurt University. He continued weekly organ vespers at the Three Kings' Church and gave lecture/recitals on Bach's organ works at Frankfurt University.