Joseph Lauber (1864 – 1952)
Anton Joseph Lauber was born on 27 December 1864 in the Ruswil municipality of Lucerne Canton, Switzerland. The Lauber family originally came from Roggliswil in Lucerne Canton, where they were mentioned as Swiss citizens even before 1800. Lauber’s father, a tailor by trade, led his own orchestra as an avid violinist. From an early age, Anton Joseph Lauber performed as a pianist in his father’s orchestra.
Beginning in 1889, the younger Lauber began using the name Joseph Lauber, with which he signed his manuscripts from that point on. For his entire life, Lauber held the sounds of these sur-roundings, the Swiss folk style (Schweizer Volkston), close to his heart. Likewise, they would become a part of his identity, like his love of the Alps. Joseph Lauber remained an ardent mountaineer well into his old age, even having a chalet specially built at the foot of the Diblerets in Romandy so that he could have his beloved mountains nearby as often as possible.
A devastating fire destroyed his father’s house in 1869, and the family of the musician-to-be was forced to leave Ruswil in order to live in Lucerne for a short time.
By 1871, the family had moved to Fleurier, Neuchâtel Canton, where Joseph Lauber’s father led the MusiqueMilitaire du Val-de-Travers as a conductor. These were two years of misfortune for the family, shaped by insecurity and a desperate struggle to survive.
In 1874, the family established itself in Neuchâtel, where the elder Lauber led an orchestra once more. It was during this period that the 10-year-old boy came out with his first composition, a piano piece entitled Vive la Suisse. Thanks to the patron Carl Russ-Suchard, son-in-law of the founder of the Suchard chocolate factory, Joseph Laubner managed to escape the narrow, conservative background for the first time in his life, and to begin music studies from 1881-1883 in Zürich. His mentor and sponsor was Friedrich Hegar (1841-1927), who founded the Zürich Conservatory in 1876 and was a friend of Johannes Brahms. Joseph Lauber studied choir direction with him, and his great talent made him the Master’s favoured protégé. Hegar often allowed him to take the conductor’s stand at the concert hall of the Zürich Orchestra.
In addition, Lauber studied composition, harmony, voice and music history, and took piano and organ lessons from Gustav Weber and Fritz Blumer. On the occasion of a visit by Johannes Brahms in Zürich on 6 December 1881, Hegar introduced Joseph Lauber to his friend. From that point on, there was no stopping the young musician: he wanted to discover the wide world of music and take it on. Organ and composition studies in Munich with the famous late Romantic Joseph Gabriel Rheinberger left deep and abiding impressions. Returning to Switzerland, Lauber became an organ player in Serrières and at the Temple Français in Le Locle, both in Neuchâtel Canton.
Yet the longer he stayed here as a provincial musician, his longing to breathe the metropolitan air again grew ever greater. Once again, it was the patronage of the Suchard family that granted him his wish, permitting him a year of studies in Paris. The young composer took part in composition courses with Jules Massenet and received fine-tuning in piano classes given by Louis Diémer, who was a former student of Ambroise Thomas.
On 18 June 1894, Joseph Lauber married the singer Julia Zéline Adam; they went on to have a son and a daughter. In Zürich, where the young family then took up residence, the virtuoso pianist Lauber was offered the opportunity to set up a training course at the Conservatory.
At the end of 1899, Lauber participated in the founding of the Swiss Association of Musicians (SchweizerischerTonkünstlerverein) with other composers from Romandy, such as Gustave Doret and Otto Barblan. Thanks to innovative musical form courses that Lauber taught in Geneva, he was appointed in 1901 to be the Director of Music at the Grand Théâtre de Genève.
In 1907, Joseph Lauber received a professorship for piano and instrumentation in the Geneva Conservatory, and delivered a composition class at the same institute starting in 1917. His students included Henri Gagnebin, Frank Martin, Richard Flury, Emil Frey, André François Marescotti, Rudolf Moser and Bernard Reichel.
Frank Martin dedicated his 1st violin sonata to his esteemed teacher, which Lauber premiered at the Swiss Musicians’ Festival in Thun on 10 July 1915 along with the violinist Maggy Breitmeyer. In 1941, Joseph Lauber was awarded an honorary doctorate at the University of Neuchâtel for his achievements as a composer. On the 50th anniversary of its school in 1951, the Geneva Conservatory paid tribute to the master with great festivities during which his various choir and orchestral works were performed.
After a fulfilling and rich life as a composer, performer, conductor and as one of the most influential personalities of musical life in Romandy, Joseph Lauber died at the age of 88 in Geneva.