Felicitas Kukuck

Feminale of Music

A black and white photo of the composer Felicitas Kukuck

»Hindemith was a great teacher. [...] the most interesting and stimulating thing we learned from him was the unanimous melody! It could not be a song, not a sonata theme, not a fugue theme, but the melody 'in itself'. These investigations were the most interesting and stimulating thing I have experienced in my studies.« – Felicitas Kukuck in her autobiography, 1989

Born on November 2, 1914 in Hamburg, Germany; died on June 4, 2001 in Hamburg, Germany. Actually Felicitas Kukuck wants to study school music. Because of her Jewish ancestors, she was not allowed to do so in Berlin in 1936 during the Nazi era. Instead, she studied piano and flute there, and composition with Paul Hindemith. She is strongly influenced by Hindemith. In her autobiography she describes the great impression his teaching has made on her. Hindemith's music is soon classified as »degenerate« by the Nazis and he leaves the country. Despite this, and against the explicit advice of her piano professor, she plays a composition by Hindemith at her final examination. Even after that she remains very brave, stays in Berlin with her husband during the war and hides a Jewish woman in her own apartment. She does not want to leave Germany. »The music – the German music, the land of Johann Sebastian Bach held me tight. Here I was rooted. This is where I wanted to live. I would never have left,« she says in 1980 in a conversation with Eike Funck.

In her autobiography, Felicitas Kukuck does not go into much detail about her work as a composer. Yet she has created a body of work of over 1,000 compositions in the course of her life. Most of them are vocal compositions, written for singing circles, for church and children's choirs, but there are also many instrumental pieces, often for children. When composing, she always stays within the range of an extended tonality. She composes expressly for laymen and adapts the degree of difficulty to their abilities. Thus Kukuck deliberately positions herself outside the musical avant-garde, as cultivated in Darmstadt and Donaueschingen after the Second World War. Church music is also of great importance to Kukuck. In her sacred compositions she often deals with the »dialogue between Judaism and Christianity, between Old and New Testament«, as her daughter Margret Johannsen describes.


Die Brücke, published by lilatraum and recorded by the ensemble »Columba in excelsis«, students of the Académie Supérieur de Musique de Strasbourg: Lilia Dornhof (soprano), Noémie Jussel (recorder) and Priska Weibel (theorbo), recorded on 28.02.2016 in the Friedenskirche in Kehl.

Psalm 126 (3:35), final chorus of the opera »The Man Moses«, published by Felicitas and sung by Felicitas Kukuck

Die Todesfuge (7:24) - motet for mixed choir and snare drum, published by and sung by the Lilienfelder Cantorei conducted by Klaus-Martin Bresgott, concert recording of November 4, 2012, Sophienkirche Berlin

Und es ward: Hiroshima (excerpt), published by Felicitas and performed by the TrinitatisChor Altona (with guests and instrumentalists) under the direction of Jörg Mall in the Christianskirche in Hamburg-Ottensen on May 4, 2013 at the 34th German Protestant Kirchentag


Dr. Beatrix Borchard and Dr. Margret Johannsen talk about their mother Felicitas Kukuck


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