Werner Baer

Werner Baer (1914-1992) (composer, arranger and conductor) was born in Berlin of Jewish middle class parents and gravitated to music. He was playing the piano at three years of age, composing at six, playing concertos at ten, and commenced organ lessons at thirteen. He studied piano at the Hochschule fur Musik in Berlin with Artur Schnable, composition with Professor Bumoke and conducting with Professor Gross. Later he studied organ with Professor Straube, Cantor of the historic St Thomas' Church Leipzig, where Johann Sebastian Bach had played in earlier years. In 1935 at the age of 21, he was appointed the youngest ever choirmaster of one of the great Liberal Synagogues in Berlin, and shortly afterwards Junior Music coach and repetiteur with the Berlin Municipal Opera. At this time he made recital tours of Germany and several European countries, as accompanist and associate artist, with Richard Tauber, Joseph Schmidt and Alexander Kipnis.

However, the Nazis caught up with him and he was interned in Sachsenhausen for a short period, managing to secure his release with the help of friends and escaping to Singapore. His musical talents were immediately recognised, and he was appointed Municipal Organist and lectured in piano, harmony, counterpoint and instrumental studies at Raffles College. At the beginning of the war in 1939 he was interned again by the British, and in 1940 sent to Australia aboard the Queen Mary with 300 other internees. On arrival, he was classified as an “enemy alien” and sent to an internment camp in Tatura, Victoria. Following Pearl Harbour, in 1942 the Jewish refugees from Nazism were classified as “friendly aliens” and, with other leading German and Austrian Jewish musicians, he was allowed to join the Eighth Australian Employment Company (army) where they formed a special musical unit to entertain the troops. After the war he became involved in Australia's musical life, becoming director of the Australian Amateur Hour for eighteen months, and then joined the Sydney Savage Club in 1947, an organisation dedicated to the encouragement and support of young performers in all branches of the Arts. In 1951, he joined the ABC as supervisor of Music, New South Wales, and served in that position for 28 years until his retirement in 1979.

Among posts he occupied were conductor of the Sydney Male choir and musical director of the Sydney Jewish Choral Society. Werner Baer's contribution to Australian music is vast, and encompasses many aspects of the musical spectrum: composer, conductor, orchestrator, arranger, accompanist, pianist, organist, adjucator, broadcaster, lecturer, music critic, journalist and coach. His compositions included numerous songs, choral and liturgical works, ballet suites, piano works and film music. Of his many songs and compositions the most frequently played are: Test of Strength, Life of the Insects, Harvester's Song and Psalm 8. He was choirmaster at the Great Synagogue and his settings for the prayers Adon Olam and Mah Tovu were the more frequently used of his liturgical compositions.

- Biography written by the late Professor Emeritus Alan Crown

Please visit the Sydney eScholarship Repository to listen to Werner Baer Remembered.