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Jean Berger

Jean BergerJEAN BERGER (1909 – 2002), composer and conductor, was born in Hamm, Germany. The son of Orthodox Jews, he grew up in Alsace-Lorraine and attended the universities of Heidelberg and Vienna. He studied musicology with Egon Wellesz and Heinrich Bessler, and he received his doctorate in musicology in 1931 from Heidelberg.

After serving briefly as assistant conductor at the Darmstadt Opera (1932 – 1933), Mr. Berger was forced to flee Nazi Germany in 1933. He moved to Paris and studied composition and orchestration with Louis Aubert and Pierre Capdevielle. He also conducted Les Compagnons de la Marjolaine, a mixed choir, while in Paris. In 1937, Mr. Berger’s choral work Le Sang des Autres won first prize at an international competition in Zurich.

For several years Mr. Berger toured Europe and the Near East as a pianist and concert accompanist. In Brazil, he was assistant conductor and coach at the Teatro Municipal and also taught for two years at the Conservatorio Brasileiro de Musica in Rio de Janeiro. In 1941, he moved to the United States and became a citizen in 1943. During World War II, he served with the U.S. Army and produced foreign language broadcasts for the Office of War Information. In addition, he toured with the USO Camp Shows in all theaters of war. Subsequently, he spent two years as arranger, accompanist, and coach with the CBS and NBC networks.

Mr. Berger served on the faculty of Middlebury College in Vermont beginning in 1948 and then moved to the University of Illinois as assistant professor of music from 1959 through 1961. From 1961 until 1968, he severed on the music faculty at the University of Colorado. In 1964 he founded the John Sheppard Music Press in Boulder, Colo., and later Denver. As a musicologist, Mr. Berger edited several 17th century works and wrote about the Italian composer Giacomo Perti.

Mr. Berger’s compositions have been performed extensively by leading choral and orchestral organizations in Europe and the United States. His choral works constitute the bulk of his compositions, where he avoids an academic style and prefers a pragmatic blend of Franco-German folk music, South American melody and rhythm, and polyphonic modality. Brazilian Psalm (1941) has entered the standard American choral repertory, and it remains one of Berger’s most popular compositions.

Mr. Berger died May 28, 2002, in Denver.

(Source: “Guide to the Jean Berger Collection,” Compiled by JoAn Segal, Volunteer, and Cassandra M. Volpe, Archivist, University of Colorado at Boulder, Music Library)

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