Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Gretl Götz, a forgotten printmaker, and meeting her father.

Margarete (Gretl) Götz
(Winterthur  30-11-1869 - Zürich 28-09-1952)

Swiss portrait painter, illustrator and printmaker.
(although I could not find any portraits by her hand)

Like often before I just happened to stumble over this hardly known printmaker rummaging Ebay. Gretl is mostly remembered (or forgotten) because of her illustrations in two once popular nature books by Hugo Sieker (1903-1979), a Hamburg editor and writer known for this friendship with sculptor Ernst Barlach (1870-1938). And occasionally a signed hand-pulled print surfaces in German Ebay, very nice and delicate woodcut printmaking.

But the most interesting thing however was meeting with Gretl's father Hermann mentioned somewhere in a footnote. About the life of Gretl nothing much is to be found, other then that she's donated her fathers musical legacy to the Swiss State in the beginning of the twentieth century. 

Hermann Götz (Goetz) was born in 1840 in Königsberg Prussia as son of a salesman. He didn't receive his first serious piano lessons when he was 17 in 1857 but at the same also starting studying for a degree in mathematics which he gave up to go to Berlin studying in the prestigious Julius Stern Konservatorium. He followed piano lessons with piano virtuoso Hans von Bülow graduating two years later in 1862. 
Postcard woodcut by unknown printmaker
Winterthur Stadtkirche.
A year later, in 1863, Hermann Götz 23 years of age probably also because of his lung problems moved to Switserland where he was appointed city organist in Winterthur Stadtkirche a few years later marrying a local girl Laura Wirth in 1866, Gretl's mother. Laura had something to do with the arts because she is mentioned as teacher to Sophie Schäppi (1852-1921) a Winterthur artist who later studied and made a career in Paris. 

Hans von Bülow (1830-1894) was married to Cosima Liszt (1837-1930) the  daughter of his piano tutor Franz Liszt's (1811-1886). She had been left in the care of von Bülow's mother in Berlin by father Fransz who had a very troublesome relation with the mother of his three children Marie d'Agoult (1805-1876). 

Cosima, who was the mother of two children with von Bülow, later divorced him to marry her lover, composer Richard Wagner (1813-1883) who was 24 years older. They had another three children. She was the Godmother of both the Bülow and the Wagner dynasty. Not bad for a girl that wasn't famous for her good looks.    

Götz suffered from tuberculosis since he was 14, the desease eventually killing him. Like it did Chopin. In 1876 only 35 years old leaving behind his wife Laura and little Gretl. It was his tragedy to be born with so much talent, in the same year as Tsjaikowski, being sickly and overshadowed by contemporary colleagues that eventually were more popular and rose to greatest fame: Strauss, Wagner, Liszt, Brahms. And dying so young of course (*)

I'd read about Hermann's tragic and short life and extraordinary qualities as a composer in a book by Dutch writer, behavioral psychologist, organist, novellist and musical scholar Maarten 't Hart (b.1944) who confesses to have indulged in buying Goetzes extremely expensive biography. After reading he succeeded in finding and collecting all of the composers music and available scores. It's always nice meeting some one who's as nuts.......... 

But seriously: this hardly ever heard music is a revelation. Götz wrote some incredibly beautiful stuff, some say rivaling with Schubert and Brahms: piano 4 handed, a moving piano quintet, a symphony, a violin concerto and two piano concertos that I cannot believe aren't known world wide. If you like classic music as you do woodblock printmaking: there are several CD's, quality and enthousiast interpretations at very affordable prices available. Also check Youtube and here's(*) a link with some sampled fragments. Enjoy !

(*) Some other but more famous composers who didn't reach the age of 40: Mozart (35), Mendelsohn (38), Schubert (31), Chopin (39).

Read here(*) more about Hermann Goetz' biography and Musical legacy.   

All pictures borrowed freely from the Internet for friendly, educational and non commercial use only. 


  1. Gretl Goetz still lived in Hambourg in germany at the end of the 1980th. She was a friend of my family and we still have a few paintings, books and letters from her – all signed. Something must be wrong with the dates you've published ... she may left Suisse in 1952, but after that date she lived in Germany very well.

    1. Thank you for leaving a comment. Interesting. Just Google Gretl + Gotz + Winterthur and see the links to her death in Zurich 1952. But they can all be wrong of course. In the end of the 1980's she would have been almost 120 years of age. It seems possible you are referring to another Gretl Götz. But please send me correct information.