Karl Vötterle (1903–1975)

Karl Vötterle at his desk

Karl Vötterle was born in Augsburg and completed his apprenticeship as a bookseller in his native city. He founded Bärenreiter in his parents’ flat in Augsburg in September 1923. At this point he had not yet come of age. Only on his 21st birthday, 12 April 1924, was he able to register the publishing house in the register of companies. The publishing house moved to Kassel in 1927, following the marriage to his first wife Maria Zeiß. His wife died in 1944 and Vötterle married Hildegard Preime, née Schaub the following year. Their daughter Barbara Vötterle now runs the company with her husband Leonard Scheuch.

In his youth, Karl Vötterle joined the singing movement. He published his first song sheets which became known as the Finkensteiner Blätter for this movement. Vötterle also had very close links to the Protestant church. Together with Richard Baum, he founded the Kasseler Musiktage in 1933. Numerous other musical institutions resulted from Vötterle’s initiatives. The year 1949 saw the publication of the first volume of Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart (MGG). Furthermore Vötterle dedicated himself to the publication of complete editions of composers. In order to be able to edit works with colleagues in the GDR, in particular Bach and Handel, Vötterle proposed the foundation of the Deutsche Verlag für Musik (DVfM) in Leipzig.

Karl Vötterle at the ruins of the Frauenkirche in Dresden in 1956 on the occasion of the commemoration of Heinrich Schütz

He received numerous awards and honours for his work. In 1953 he was awarded honorary doctorates from the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Kiel and the Faculty of Protestant Theology at the University of Leipzig. The University of Marburg appointed him an honorary member of the university senate. He was decorated by the Federal Republic of Germany, the Republic of Austria, Czechoslovakia, the States of Hesse and Bavaria and the City of Kassel. In 1970 Karl Vötterle was given the Silver Medal of Honour by the University of Ljubljana.

Karl Vötterle died on 29 October 1975 and his obituary in the journal Musica contained the following:

“Karl Vötterle was always full of ideas. Even those who got to know him personally relatively late in life (...) were fascinated by this man’s ceaseless passion to inspire, by his sheer irresistible urge to enrich and deepen human existence through music, to build bridges with music – even across boundaries and through the so-called Iron Curtain.”