Gerhard Herz (1911-2000)

 Gerhard Herz Hall of Honor banner


Dr. Gerhard Herz, world-renowned scholar of Johann Sebastian Bach and beloved teacher, was inextricably involved in the musical life of the university and the city.  A German-born Jew, he escaped the Nazi regime by immigrating to the United States with the help of famous humanitarian and music lover, Albert Schweitzer.  With a Ph.D. from the University of Zurich and more than a dozen letters of recommendation from Schweitzer, Dr. Herz obtained a University of Louisville faculty position in 1938.  He founded the music history department in the College of Arts and Sciences, became department chair in 1956, and remained chair until he retired in 1978 as professor emeritus.

Dr. Herz showed his love of teaching in countless university seminars and public library music-appreciation sessions, where he was known for humor and vivacity. One former student called him “this dynamo…He didn’t lecture—he acted.” 

Dr. Herz helped shape the musical life of Louisville for over 40 years. He co-founded the Chamber Music Society of Louisville and served on the Louisville Orchestra’s board for more than 20 years and the Louisville Bach Society’s board from its beginning.  Dr. Herz’s reputation as a scholar combined with his tenacity helped Louisville enjoy some of the world’s finest musicians.  In 1959 Dr. Herz convinced Dmitri Shostakovich, then the leading musical figure of the Soviet Union and now one of the most celebrated composers of the twentieth century, to come to Louisville as part of a goodwill tour at the height of the Cold War.  He also succeeded in bringing the world-renowned Budapest Quartet to Louisville

Dr. Herz’s influence extended far beyond UofL.  He was a founder and the first chairman of the American chapter of the New Bach Society (now the American Bach Society).  His scholarly investigations were legendary.  A colleague noted that Dr. Herz  “basically tracked down every scrap of paper that had anything to do with Bach that existed in this country.”  He produced significant volumes on several Bach cantatas and other choral works.  In 1984 his 400-page book, Bach Sources in America, was published in both German and English.  This unique reference catalog of Bach sources from over 20 locations throughout the U.S. took years of painstaking research.  As the current Secretary-Treasurer of the American Bach Society stated, “every scholar working today in this field knows Gerhard Herz’s reputation and his writings.”