On Air
0:00
0:00
Open In Popup
MPR News

Gene Gutche: He did it his way

Share story

Gene Gutche
Gene Gutche
The Schubert Club

Minnesota Gene Gutche (b. 7/3/1907 - d. 11/15/2000) was the iconoclast's iconoclast.  Though born in Germany, we can consider him a true "American Original", since he came to the USA from his homeland at age 18, determined to create a new life for himself as a musician in defiance of his father's wishes.  

Gutche eventually found friendly support within the Saint Paul cultural community, and after years of study (and degrees from the Universities of Minnesota and Iowa) settled with his wife, Marion, in a modest cottage near the south shore of White Bear Lake.  There, in quiet solitude, he composed more than fifty impressive orchestral works, plus other pieces for piano, choir, and various chamber ensembles.  

Gutche followed his own vision, writing vital, challenging and engaging music 'for a living audience'.  He had no pupils, was associated with no 'school', and single-mindedly promoted his works to orchestras and conductors worldwide, with considerable success.  He was commissioned by major orchestras here in the United States (including both the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Minnesota Orchestra), and won national and international honors for his work.  

The Schubert Club of St. Paul and the University of Minnesota's Performing Arts Archives are collaborating in a special celebratory event at the University on Monday, September 17, and a collection of his manuscripts and memorabilia will be on display at the Archives through the end of December.

A typical Gutche orchestral score would be the four movement programmatic suite "Icarus" Op. 48 (Cristobal Colon; The Sea; Insurrection; Isthmus), as performed by the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra with David Zinman, conductor (CRI CD-825). Access audio in sidebar.

The composer provided these program notes:  

    "In this suite, the Icarus myth is treated freely and should only be regarded as symbolic.  In essence, Columbus, a seafaring adventurer, measures his wits against the sea and comes to grips with his rebellious men. Countering these obstacles is the promise of a vast new continent.

    "The music is austere and assumes a raw physical power. Power can mean many things.  Wealth is power. Position can direct our lives.  Ideologies have destroyed civilizations. Today we need the strength which Columbus implanted into our new world. It is the strength Washington/Lincoln/Kennedy possessed...a deliberate aim to set all men free. By this means we become powerful.

    "Tolerate everything. Dismiss the doubt.  Accept. Overlook. Break many cups. In compassion is joy.

    "One of these days our earth shall be likened to the moon. When that happens, another Icarus will rise and take us to a new star."