Friedrich Wührer studied piano from the age of six with Marius Szudolski. At fifteen he enrolled at the Vienna Music Academy where he studied piano with composer Franz Schmidt, theory and composition with Joseph Marx, and conducting with Ferdinand Löwe. Concurrently, he studied law and musicology at the University of Vienna.
From 1923 Wührer was active as a concert pianist throughout Europe, and on his first international tour in that year he visited the United States and Japan. He also had a career as an acclaimed teacher holding posts at the Vienna Music Academy, the Mannheim Music Academy and the Salzburg Mozarteum, as well as teaching in Munich and Kiel. An idea of Wührer’s repertoire preferences and liking for serious programming can be gained from the programme of a Wigmore Hall recital of 1930 which consisted of Schubert’s Piano Sonata in B flat D. 960, Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in F minor Op. 57 ‘Appassionata’, and Schumann’s Piano Sonata in F sharp minor Op. 11.
Wührer earned a high reputation as a performer of Schubert, Schumann and Beethoven and was often advertised as giving a concert of ‘Viennese Classics’. He did not play the music of Mozart so frequently, but wrote a number of cadenzas for the piano concertos. In 1928 Wührer was in London to accompany violinist Adila Fachiri in works of Beethoven at the Wigmore Hall. One critic wrote, ‘Herr Wührer is certainly a pianist of distinction, but he is not an ideal chamber music player.’ He played Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in D minor Op. 40 with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Thomas Beecham in 1932, and concertos by Haydn and Mozart a few years later. Another composer whom Wührer championed was Brahms, and in 1935 advertised three recitals of his piano music, but was only able to give two due to illness. As in the Classics, so too Wührer was highly commended in Brahms, and although one reviewer thought that he demanded too much from his audiences he conceded that ‘…Mr Wührer is an excellent pianist and a straightforward interpreter. He does not impose his own views upon the music…’ and later, ‘His playing of Brahms is clear, intelligent, and accomplished.’ A description of a 1937 recital of sonatas with cellist Gaspar Cassadó commented on the known individual talents of the artists, but went on to comment that through playing together they were found to be ‘…generating a new power in each’.
Although Wührer rarely played Romantic music, he did perform on the soundtrack to the German film biography of Liszt entitled Wenn die Musik Nicht Wär (1935, also known as If it Were Not for Music and Liszt Rhapsody).
Wührer was a founder-member of the Austrian section of the International Society for Contemporary Music and performed at the ISCM festivals between 1923 and 1928. At this stage in his career his repertoire included works by Bartók, Stravinsky, Berg, Schoenberg, Hindemith and Webern. At the first festival in 1923 he accompanied Mme Winternitz-Dorda in Schoenberg’s Das Buch der hängenden Gärten. After temporarily living in Berlin, Wührer succeded Max von Pauer at the Mannheim Music Academy in 1934. He became a close friend of composers Hans Pfitzner, who dedicated his Six Études Op. 51 to Wührer, and Max Reger, who also dedicated compositions to him. After World War II Wührer toured German-speaking countries, also occasionally playing in Paris and London, meanwhile continuing to teach. A composer himself, he produced songs, string quartets and works for solo piano. His own teacher, Franz Schmidt, had been commissioned to write a number of works for piano, left hand by the pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who had lost an arm during World War I, and Wührer transcribed many of these works for piano, two hands. He also wrote Meisterwerke der Klaviermusik (Wilhelmshaven 1965).
Wührer recorded in the 78rpm era for HMV, Columbia and Deutsche Grammophon. There are a few solo discs of works by Scriabin, Beethoven and Reger made for German HMV, including excellent performances of Scriabin’s Nocturnes Op. 5 and the Étude in D sharp minor Op. 8 No. 12.
For Columbia he recorded Brahms’s Liebeslieder waltzes with Hermann von Nordberg and Irmgard Seefried in Vienna in 1947, and violin sonatas with Wolfgang Schneiderhan including Beethoven’s Sonata in C minor Op. 30 No. 2. For Deutsche Grammophon they also recorded the three Brahms violin sonatas, often employing leisurely tempos, and these were also issued on LP in the mid-1950s. The majority of Wührer’s recordings were made in the LP era for the American company Vox in Vienna and Stuttgart. For this company he was the first pianist to record the complete piano sonatas by Schubert, and his recording of the Sonata in B flat D.960 is particularly good for its Classical grace and elegance. He also recorded the complete music for cello and piano by Beethoven, and works by Brahms and Strauss with cellist Joseph Schuster.
One of his better solo discs is of the last three piano sonatas by Beethoven, and on a disc of studies based on works by Paganini he gives a sober account of both books of the Variations on a theme of Paganini Op. 35 by Brahms, Schumann’s Op. 3 and the last of Liszt’s six ‘Paganini’ Études. Wührer recorded Beethoven’s Triple Concerto Op. 56 with violinist Bronisław Gimpel and cellist Joseph Schuster.
Many of Wührer’s Vox recordings are of piano concertos. He recorded those by Weber, the complete concertos by Beethoven (with various orchestras and conductors), Dvořák’s Piano Concerto Op. 33 and various Romantic concertos including Anton Rubinstein’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in D minor Op. 70 with the Vienna State Opera Orchestra and Rudolf Moralt. One of Wührer’s best concerto recordings is of Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor Op.15 with the Philharmonia Orchestra of Vienna and Hans Swarowsky. He brings a weighty seriousness to the work which is wholly successful, but in concertos such as Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in G major Op. 44 or Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor Op. 16 he sounds as though he is being careful and playing slowly.
Tahra have produced a recording of Eugen Jochum conducting the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in a broadcast from the Beethovensaal in Berlin in October 1944. Wührer plays Variations on a Theme by Beethoven by his teacher Franz Schmidt. Although written for one hand, Wührer obviously plays his own version for two hands. On a compact disc from Dante are solo performances of Haydn, Beethoven and Chopin broadcast from Berlin in 1944. Whereas some of Wührer’s post-war recordings seem somewhat staid and measured, the early German HMV recordings and live broadcast of Chopin’s Études Op. 25 prove that he was a consummate virtuoso earlier in his career, only later earning the reputation as an elegant interpreter of the Viennese Classics.
Role: Classical Artist