Ulrike Wegele

A portrait of the renowned organist and textbook author

Ulrike Theresia Wegele is one of the leading female organists of her generation. She was born in Weingarten in Baden-Württemberg, teaches in Graz and Eisenstadt, and lives in Vienna, where she published her popular Orgelschule mit Hand und Fuß with the traditional publisher Doblinger. Read here how her path to becoming an organist began on "Blood Friday," how her entrance exam became unintentionally exciting, what organ literature and sheet music are dear to her heart, and how she thinks the Internet is changing the world of music & sheet music.

All sheet music editions by Ulrike Wegele

Ulrike Wegele |

Learning the organ for beginners, re-entrants and autodidacts

Learning the organ for beginners, re-entrants and autodidacts

The world-renowned organist Ulrike Theresia Wegele talks about her popular "Organ Method With Hands and Feet", which covers everything you need to work through all the organ literature in three volumes. Find out how versatile and exciting the textbooks for beginners, returners and autodidacts are structured, why it doesn't take unicorns, knights and fairies to inspire children to learn the organ and the very personal motivations that have led to her life's work.

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How did music influence your childhood and how did you get into playing the organ?

There was always a piano in my parents' house and I was allowed to take lessons at the age of five. I discovered my love for the organ at the age of six. In my hometown of Weingarten, the largest equestrian procession in Europe takes place every year on the Friday after Ascension Day. In the morning at six o'clock on this so-called 'Blood Friday' a festive mass is held in the basilica. I was not quite six years old when my grandfather took me there for the first time.

When the Mass celebration opened with an organ prelude and I heard Joseph Gabler's famous organ for the first time, I immediately fell in love with this instrument and - much to my grandfather's chagrin - spent the rest of the Mass celebration with my back to the altar and my eyes fixed on this unique prospect. I had to wait two years until my legs were long enough to just reach the pedal keys with the tips of my feet. My mother constructed a kind of harness for me that prevented me from slipping off the organ bench.

Blutritt, Joseph Bayer - 1865

The centuries-old tradition of the largest equestrian procession in Europe in Weingarten. (Joseph Bayer - 1865)

How did your career aspirations come about?

At the age of twelve, my career aspiration was already clear: I wanted to become an organist. At that age I also taught my first students on the recorder. At fifteen I had my first organ students. It quickly became clear to me that teaching was my true passion.

You knew exactly what you wanted at a young age. That made your entrance exams unintentionally exciting....

My organ teacher during high school recommended that I apply to Ludger Lohmann at the conservatory of music in Stuttgart, but didn't tell me that it was customary to audition once for the teacher of my choice before taking the entrance exam. Nor did I know that an improvisation and an aural training test were required. At that time, there were 62 applicants for only two available places. In the aural test, I had a hit rate of maybe 10%, since I had never done a two-part note dictation before. At the audition, I was presented with two songs - due to my lack of knowledge - which I sang from sight.

When it came to the organ audition, I was asked into the organ hall by a very young, tall, blond man who also served as registrant. I began with Johann Sebastian Bach's Prelude in B minor BWV 544 and registered it in organo pleno. The assistant stepped in and removed the Mixture and Pedal reed stops, saying: "The professors don't like it that loud." I objected: "But that's how it supposed to be registered", and put them back.

I had a similar experience with my second prelude piece, Cesar Franck's Choral in A minor, where the dapper young man also wanted to intervene. I had to be a little more pointed and tell him that this was my entrance examination and that I would perform the registration as intended by the composer.

After the audition, when I had said goodbye to the jury professors and was leaving the organ hall, I was met at the door by a fellow competitor at the door. She immediately asked whether Ludger Lohmann had also registered me. I replied: "No, some young student who wanted to mess with my registrations." She asked if he was tall, slim and blond with glasses? I had to admit that the description fit. "That's Ludger Lohmann!"

You still passed!

I was very angry with myself and thought that I would definitely not get in. When a fortnight later I received a letter from the Conservatoire saying that I would have to retake the aural test after one semester, but that otherwise I would be given full marks and be assigned to Professor Lohmann, I could hardly believe my luck.

How did you become a professor yourself?

Although I studied church music and concert performance - because of the broad range of education - it was clear to me early on that I did not want to work as a church musician. My desire to teach had not diminished. Out of pure interest, I applied for a teaching post at the Musikhochschule in Graz while I was still studying at the University of Music in Vienna. Against all expectations, I got the job and am still there today in a different capacity.

What do you wish someone had told you before about your profession?

My job is exactly what I thought it would be. Teaching is a lot of fun, through concertizing you get to know not only special organs and people, but of course also interesting cities. I still enjoy giving master classes, lectures, and continuing education events very much, because there are always new encounters and impressions.

If you could collaborate with any particular musician/composer, who would you choose?

If it were possible, I would love to spend some time apprenticing with Johann Sebastian Bach. I have done a lot of research on Johann Sebastian Bach's teaching methods and have written a paper on the subject. Some things can be clearly proven, some things can be guessed, but much remains pure speculation. I have many questions. and would like to experience his way of teaching.

What are your absolute favorite pieces for organ?

There is no such thing as a favorite piece for me. I like a lot of Johann Sebastian Bach, of course, but I also enjoy playing North German organ masters like Dietrich Buxtehude, Nicolaus Bruhns or Georg Böhm. I like the music of the Rococo period, the music of the sons and pupils of J. S. Bach as well as the organ works of Cesar Franck, Felix Mendelssohn, Johannes Brahms or Robert Schumann. I like Jehan Alain and much of Naji Hakim, I like a lot.

What music do you listen to when you are alone?

I don't listen to much music at home, I like to go to concerts. I very rarely listen to recordings of organ music. I do that when I am teaching all day and when I am practicing myself. While driving I like to listen to French chansons, but also to Abba or the German singer Herbert Grönemeyer.

How does the internet and technology affect the world of music, do you use digital sheet music?

The internet has changed the music world a lot. Often students come to me with bad editions that they downloaded somewhere for free. For me, good editions that stick to the autograph (keyword: Urtext edition) are very important. In general, the Internet is a blessing for research and studies; with little effort one can consult autographs in distant libraries.

I myself still play very conventionally from my music books, and I will continue to do so until I retire, but most of my students play from laptops or iPads. My generation carried bags of sheet music and reference books as a matter of course.

What is your favorite edition of sheet music that you own? Do you remember the first sheet music you were given as a child and the first sheet music book you bought for yourself?

I don't have a favorite edition of sheet music, but I always enjoy looking at the editions of Johann Sebastian Bach that are available in facsimile, such as the Orgelbüchlein, the 18 Chorals, and others, as well as facsimiles of other composers.

The first book of music I received was the Notenbüchlein für Anna Magdalena Bach. The first sheet music I bought for myself was the Preludes and Toccatas by Dietrich Buxtehude, of which I now greatly appreciate the Broude Trust edition by Belotti.

Orgelbüchlein BWV 599-644 - The Facsimile

Orgelbüchlein BWV 599-644 - The Facsimile

The 18 Great Organ Chorales (BWV 651-668) - The Facsimile

The 18 Great Organ Chorales (BWV 651-668) - The Facsimile

Little Book of Sheet Music for Anna Magdalena Bach

Notenbüchlein für Anna Magdalena Bach

Dieterich Buxtehude - The Collected Works

Dieterich Buxtehude - The Collected Works

Do you think a particular activity that has nothing to do with music is important for musicians?

I think each and every music maker has to find the balance that works for them. For me, at least, it's exercise in the fresh air. I do Nordic walking regularly, which is good for me. In general, I love being outdoors, in the countryside, by the sea or in the mountains.

What are your dreams as an artist/writer? Is there anything you still want to achieve?

I don't have an unfulfilled dream as an artist. Perhaps one day I will write larger organ works, I have enough ideas. Perhaps there will be a second pedal book, the demand would be there. At the moment I am writing a novel in my spare time, which has nothing to do with playing the organ, a different form of creativity, but also very enjoyable.

Editor: Florian Boberski

Verband deutscher MusikschulenBundesverband der Freien MusikschulenJeunesses Musicales DeutschlandFrankfurter Tonkünstler-BundBundes­verb­and deutscher Lieb­haber-OrchesterStützpunkt­händ­ler der Wiener Urtext Edition

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