Bruno Alois Peyer

13 April 1926 - 14 January 1994

The first conductor of the Pretoria Bach Choir




Bruno Peyer, born and bred in Zürich, Switzerland, emigrated to South Africa in 1957. For the next forty years he was to contribute meaningfully to the music scene in Pretoria - mainly in the area of choral singing, but also through his work and other musical activities. 

The music scene in Pretoria in the late fifties was very much alive, with the Pretoriase Operagroep producing operas featuring both overseas singers and upcoming local talent. Bruno Peyer immediately became involved, serving on the committee of the Group (which was later to become the PACT Opera Department) and being appointed Musical Director of the Pretoriase Werksopera, thereafter of the Collegium Musicum Orchestra, and from 1963 to 1968 of the Music Theatre. After a few years in the music trade, he became Music Librarian at PACT, the post from where he retired in 1991.

Yet, it was Bruno Peyer who soon detected a void in this scene, and, who diligently set to work towards filling it, viz that of establishing a classical choral culture in Pretoria. This was to become a life task, to which he was completely committed, with endless dedication and enthusiasm, up to the last day of his active life. 

A major step towards achieving this aim would be the establishment of a choir. In 1957, already, soon after his arrival in Pretoria, he was requested to become the leader of the choir of the church - in which he had such success that in 1959 the choir gave a public performance at the Baker Memorial Hall. The programme included works by Palestrina, Pitoni, Casali, Handel, Mozart, Schubert and featured singers such as Dennis Reynecke (later PACT Chief Director), Joseph Sprenkels and Deanne Lewaid.

This, then, was the path Bruno Peyer had set foot on, and which he was to follow tirelessly: introducing a repertoire of choral works ranging from the 7th to the 20th Centuries, selected discerningly by the music expert which he was, and always keeping his primary aim in mind: choral singing of high standard, but always working for an even higher; introducing new talent to the music scene, and accompaniment by gifted musicians - a foursome blended together by the profound musical profound musical sense and enthusiasm of a fine conductor.

After a third consecutive successful concert with his church choir, Peyer realised that Pretoria was ready to accept a permanent choir particularly to fill that, by now, acknowledged void. The Pretoria Bach Choir was founded and gave its first concert on 7 December 1962, featuring singers Rene Webb, Anne de Vries, Joseph Sprenkels, Franz Jacobs, and Marita Napier, at the very commencement of her career. Organist Willem Mathlener accompanied the works by JS Bach, Schnabel, Werner and Mozart.

The name chosen for the Bach Choir did not imply that only works by JS Bach were to be featured, but rather that the choir would strive towards the same level of excellence as is typified by Bach's compositions.

Bruno Peyer, with his Bach Choir, was responsible for a considerable number of "firsts" during their 34 years together. Some milestones along this road read like a South African 'Who's Who' in choir singing, with exciting first performances of both known and lesser known composers. In 1964 JS Bach's Magnificat was performed, featuring, inter alia, Joyce Barker; in 1965 the Beethoven Mass in C major, with Nellie du Toit, Sarie Lamprecht, Ge Korsten, Graham Burns... 1967 saw Judas Maccabeus with Nellie du Toit again, together with Peter Haffter and Gert Potgieter. For the first time in South Africa, Telemann's 1728 St Luke's Passion was performed in 1976, with Reinhard Keiser's St Mark's Passion to follow in 1977, the choir's silver jubilee year, featuring singers June Kraus, Sjoerd Beute and Gwilym Evans. Other 'firsts' for South Africa were Salieri's Te Deum de Incoronazione, the Laudes Organumof Zoltan Kodaly, Liszt's Via Crucis, and from the September 1996 concert both the Bruckner and Liszt pieces, as well as the Gounod Requiem, which was sadly to be the last work which Peyer performed with the Bach Choir. Works that appeared regularly on the Bach Choir repertoire were the St John's and other Passions, Handel and Bach Oratorios, and Handel's Messiah, to all of which Peyer rendered his unique interpretation, actually, as has been acclaimed 'much nearer the original intention of the composer'.

Peyer's value as musicologist lay not only in the compilation of his repertoire, but also in compiling the accompanying programme notes, which, if put together, would yield a vast treasure of knowledge. This, too, was a feature of his choir practices: his imparting of this knowledge to his choir members all along, so that they would always leave a choir practice enriched in this respect. This added to gaining from his craftmanship as conductor, which might be tested to the extreme, with fifty-odd more or less "analphabetics", musically spoken. (Choir members at one stage represented ten different nationalities, with Bruno addressing them in at least six languages!).

The number of soloists 'discovered' by Bruno Peyer, and set upon their careers, as well as established ones, included next to those already mentioned, Mimi Coertse, Rudi Neitz, James Bowman, Bronwen Basson, Rina Hugo, Richard Cock, Rikie Venter, Ruth Karius, Erie Visser, and many others. Many have remarked on Peyer's creative and revelating work, and have remained loyal supporters of Peyer, just as the Collegium Musicum ad hoc orchestra, as well as other instrumentalists.

Apart from the Pretoria Bach Choir, Peyer conducted various choirs for shorter or longer periods, amongst whom the Pretoria German Male Choir, the Hollandia Singers, the Johannesburg Singers, the erstwhile Army Gymnasium Choir, the Sursum Corda and the Bel Canto Choirs.

Not only was the Pretoria and South African music scene enriched by the life and work of Bruno Peyer, but, particularly so, the lives and musical experience of his choir members, his 'family', as he lovingly referred to them. His personality, his faith, as expressed through his music, his unequalled sense of humour - and his appreciation shown towards his choir members, will live on in the hearts and memories of all - as is aptly expressed in the homage compiled by Sjoerd Beute at the event of Bruno's funeral mass.

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