CDE 84530 Hans Gál Quartets vol. 1

Hans Gál Quartets vol. 1

Hans Gl Quartets vol. 1

Product Description

CDE 84530

String Quartets vol. 1

Quartet No.1 in F minor Op. 16
Quartet No. 4 Op. 99
Improvisation, Variations and Finale on a theme by Mozart Op. 60b.

Edinburgh Quartet

Hans Gál (1890-1987)

Born in Brunn am Gebirge, a village then just outside Vienna, in 1890, Hans Gál was one of the many artists with Jewish connections displaced by the Nazi regime. As a composer and a conductor in Vienna in the 1920s and 30s, he had established a fine reputation. His piano music begins with Three Sketches Op.7 from 1910. The extensive chamber music starts with Five Intermezzi Op.10, followed by his first String Quartet of 1916, (first performed by the highly prestigious Busch Quartet), and includes a Wind Octet of 1924. Perhaps the greatest success of his early compositions was his second opera Die heiliger Ente (The Sacred Duck) of 1920/1. From the first production in Düsseldorf in 1923, conducted by no less a figure than George Szell, it was immediately taken by another six opera houses and was still in repertoire in 1933. There is also a body of choral music with a fine 8-part Motette Op.19 from 1924, and Three Rilke Songs for Women's voices and Piano of four years later.

In 1924 Hans Gál signed an exclusive contract with Simrock so that the publisher would have first refusal of his new works. In Simrock's Yearbook of 1928, twenty-five performances of Gál's works, Opp. 6-27 are recorded, taking place in the important musical centres of Leipzig, Hamburg, Vienna, Berlin, Cologne and Dresden. This number was more than most of the other composers attached to that publishing house. In the following year fifteen performances and five broadcasts are listed. He had success with orchestral works - Overture to a Puppet Play Op.20 with over 100 performances - and he was awarded the Columbia Broadcasting Corporation prize for his Symphony in D Op.30. Gál was also awarded the Art Prize of the City of Vienna in 1926.

In 1929 Gál was appointed Director of Mainz Conservatoire and he was also active (with Alban Berg and Ernst Toch) with the Allgemeiner Deutscher Musikverein, an organisation promoting festivals of Contemporary Music. Gál continued to write an array of compositions, including his Ballet Suite Op.36, the second String Quartet, a fairy-tale play Der Zauberspiegel (The Magic Mirror), the Violin Concerto Op.39 and a new opera Die Beiden Klaas. He was one of the most regarded composers of his generation.

But in 1933 with Hitler's seizure of power, Gál was summarily dismissed from his post. The Third Reich banned any performance, or the holding of official or civil positions to anyone who was a Jew or had Jewish blood. At a stroke Gál had no means of livelihood and all performances of his works were forbidden. He returned to Vienna where he was able to continue his work, although under the political shadow of Germany. Politically aware and sophisticated, a genuine enlightenment man of high intellect, Gál considered this period of his life as an absolute nightmare. Gál sometimes conducted the Vienna Concert Orchestra and the MadriGál Society, which he had formed in 1927, but otherwise depended on private teaching for his livelihood. From this period comes a large cantata - De Profundis, dedicated 'to the memory of this time, its misery and its victims'. The cantata is a testament to the robust nature of the human spirit. In 1938, when Austria was annexed to the Third Reich, Gál left Austria to save himself and his immediate family from being persecuted - or even worse. Many other composers, including Schoenberg, Bartók and Hindemith, sought refuge in the USA, and had to rebuild their shattered careers. In an environment that was even more hostile to the new in his music than Europe had been, Schoenberg continued to compose in an ever-richer vein of creativity, but turned more strongly to teaching, as did Hindemith. Bartók continued to compose, but drew on his earlier experiences as a pianist to try to make ends meet. Hans Gál came to Britain, settling first in London and then, because of a chance meeting with Donald Francis Tovey, moved to Edinburgh, where he remained, eventually attached to the University, for the rest of his life.

After the privations of the war in Britain, during which he was briefly interned in Huyton and on the Isle of Man, Gál re-established his career as a teacher, writer and composer. Though he never again enjoyed the prestige of the posts he had held before the war, Gál became an important figure in the musical life of Edinburgh, helping Rudolf Bing (originally from Vienna) in the founding of the Edinburgh International Festival in 1947. Gál was able to re-establish contact with many of his former friends and colleagues - musicians of central Europe such as Furtwängler, Bruno Walter and Dohnányi. Perhaps the most spectacular visitors to Edinburgh would have been Glyndeborne opera, founded in 1934 with their European team of director Rudolf Bing, producer, Berlin-born Carl Ebert, and musical director Fritz Busch - celebrated for his work in the 1920s at Dresden. Today it is difficult to imagine the impact of this Festival and of the influx of established, even legendary figures, from the music tradition of Europe, to the provincially remote city of Edinburgh just after the barren cultural years of the war. Gál himself was sceptical when the concept of such a Festival was first mooted, but it is entirely characteristic that he did all he could to ensure the success of the enterprise.

Gál's music, though played in his lifetime by some of the most eminent musicians of his generation, has not yet received the recognition of the compositions of other emigrées. Gál's musical style is firmly founded on the German-Austrian tradition and its development of musical syntax. But further afield in Paris, new attitudes to the perception of sound in the early years of the twentieth century, evidenced by Debussy and Ravel, were a vital component in the popular 'revolution' of the French-Russian axis of twentieth century culture. The radical, but evolutionary early Diaghilev ballets of Stravinsky, culminated in the primaeval le Sacre du Printemps (first performed in 1913). None of these developments from France appears to have had any effect on the language or outlook of Gál's music. He was unconcerned by 'mosaic' construction - non-developmental music - as he belonged to a school with an extended history of thematic, harmonic and formal development. This became severely unfashionable in the 1950s and 60s, as the new and radical vocabulary of music derived from interpretations of the second Viennese School, at the hands of Boulez and Stockhausen, gained popularity. This radical avant-garde was formed on a misunderstanding of Webern and his late works, which did not help to retain links to the older traditions represented by Schoenberg and Berg. Composers who were imbued with formerly established idioms and structures were regarded as old-fashioned and outdated. With the benefit of hindsight we can now see that although the new and radical avant-garde of the late 1950s was a very exciting and necessary part of the renewal of music's vocabulary (or alphabet, if you will), this was not the only way to go. Many critics now regard that overtly modernistic development as an artistic and creative cul-de-sac, which can now be given a welcome historical perspective.

The physical displacement Gál underwent with his emigration to Britain was a trauma perhaps less severe than the neglect of his music in the face of the new avant garde. (For instance, the first performance of Gál's first String Quartet in London was not until 1987, the year in which all four Quartets received their London premieres.) The passage of time often encourages a broader perspective than polemics of the type shared by the Darmstadt radicals. In our twenty-first century, we are now perhaps able to appreciate all the more readily the essential qualities of a music that was the culmination of earlier generations. We are hopefully less concerned with fashion and more with substance - a stance that would surely have appealed to Hans Gál?

A love of the primacy of lyrical melody, and the ability to write effective counterpoint against a background of coherent, structural, triadic harmony are constants of Gál's style. There is a fundamental place for tonality, though with an increasing use of chromatics but always in a controlled hierarchy. Another constant is the importance of compositional craft. Gál was always thorough about his work, so that the notes on paper, with their various designations, have to be followed to the letter to let the music speak. Only when the surface is correct can the underlying and deeper levels of meaning be revealed. Gál was a man of many layers; polite, friendly and helpful, with a very wide and readily accessible knowledge of music. His inner life however, the kernel of the composer, was a private matter revealed only through his music. His many writings, including books on Schubert, Brahms and Schumann, all tell something of Gál's own musical personality. The book on Viennese musical history, The Golden Age of Vienna, is almost a mirror to Gál's compositional concerns, especially when he writes of Beethoven as a 'living volcano' for whom a 'categorical imperative of formal control' was essential. The quotation from his book on Schubert at the head of this essay, seems as much a statement of autobiography as of observation. It is perhaps revealing that Gál's own programme notes are confined to the severely practical - the underlying meaning of the musical procedures was something that he left entirely to the listener. In our age when he who shouts loudest tends to be the voice that is heard, Gál's own consideration for the value of the intimate, individual response is perhaps indicative of the world in which he grew up - cultured, educated and respectful. Like anything worthwhile, we have to work at the music of Hans Gál if we are to reap the many benefits that a superbly well-crafted art can confer. 'The real face…behind the mask' is there for those who seek.

Roger WilliamsHans Gál Quartets vol. 1