As is well known, the Third Reich drove many of its gifted composers into exile, to early deaths or to the concentration camps. But a significant responsibility devolved on another group, who became ‘internal exiles’, remaining in Germany, but refusing to become cultural ornaments of the Nazi regime. Karl Amadeus Hartmann (1905–1963), in Bavaria, consistently kept the spirit of modernism and human commitment alive in his own work.
However, the rise of the Nazis gave his music deeper resonances of anger and lamentation. Concerto funebre was composed during the outbreak of World War II. It is an extraordinary work, inspired initially by Hartmann’s feelings about the Nazi annexation of Czechoslovakia, containing conflicting messages of hope, desperation and foreboding at the times ahead. The solo violin line is at once a mournful commentary and a prophetic cry.
This generously filled disc also contains all Hartmann’s works for solo violin. These sonatas and suites are fiercely difficult, conceived on a grand scale, and recall the majesty and breadth of J S Bach’s solo violin works.
Making her recording debut for Hyperion in this disc of important repertoire is the spectacular young Russian violinist Alina Ibragimova (b1985). Alina’s many concert appearances throughout Europe have earned her the highest praise, and, as Richard Morrison wrote in The Times, she is ‘destined to be a force in the classical music firmament for decades to come … you feel that you are getting the music straight from the composer’s quill’.
As is only too well known, the Third Reich drove many of its most gifted and enterprising composers into exile (Schoenberg, Hindemith, Kurt Weill), to early deaths (Franz Schreker), or to the concentration camps (Erwin Schulhoff, Viktor Ullmann). A significant responsibility devolved on another group—composers such as Boris Blacher and Karl Amadeus Hartmann—who became ‘internal exiles’, remaining in Germany but refusing to become cultural ornaments of the Nazi regime. Hartmann, in Bavaria, kept the spirit of modernism and human commitment alive in his own work during the war, and immediately after it was crucially instrumental in reconnecting German music into the European mainstream. He is a highly significant figure whose music possesses a striking intregrity of purpose.
Born in Munich, the son of a well-known painter and the brother of three more, Hartmann was himself torn, early in his career, between music and the visual arts. He studied composition in Munich with Josef Haas, a pupil of Max Reger, and later he received enormous intellectual stimulus and encouragement from the conductor Hermann Scherchen, an ally of the Schoenberg school. Hartmann’s early works are characterized by satirical humour, an appetite for the latest developments in music including jazz and popular styles, and a strongly socialist political stance. He had been much affected in his early political development by the events of the unsuccessful Workers’ Revolution in Bavaria that followed the collapse of the German monarchy at the end of World War I, and he remained an idealistic socialist all his life.
With the rise of the Nazis, however, Hartmann’s music began to acquire much deeper resonances of anger and lamentation, and a desire to create complex, large-scale symphonic structures: qualities first manifested in a symphonic poem, Miserae, performed to acclaim at the 1935 ISCM Festival in Prague. He attributed this crucial stage in his musical evolution to the advice and encouragement of Hermann Scherchen. Hartmann stayed in Germany throughout the Nazi period, but he remained uncooperative towards the authorities, withdrew from the country’s musical life, and largely concentrated on composition. (He once declared that Art cannot tolerate the dictates of totalitarian authority.) His few performances were always abroad, and ceased with the onset of the war. Meanwhile his style gradually matured, partly drawing on Bartók and Stravinsky and a personal interest in Oriental music, but especially his admiration for Bruckner and Mahler and a kinship (which Scherchen strengthened) with the composers of the Second Viennese School, especially Alban Berg. During World War II, though already an experienced composer, Hartmann submitted to a course of private tuition in Vienna by Schoenberg’s star pupil and acolyte Anton Webern (with whom he often disagreed on a personal and political level). Although stylistically their music had little in common, he clearly felt that he needed, and benefitted from, Webern’s acute perfectionism.
After the fall of Hitler, Hartmann was one of the few prominent surviving anti-fascists in Bavaria whom the post-war Allied administration could appoint to a position of responsibility. He became a Dramaturg at the Bavarian State Theatre and there, as one of the few internationally recognized figures who had survived untainted by any collaboration with the Nazi regime, he became a vital figure in the rebuilding of (West) German musical life. Perhaps his most notable achievement was the Musica Viva concert series which he founded and ran for the rest of his life in Munich. Beginning in November 1945, these concerts reintroduced the German public to the cream of the twentieth-century repertoire that had been debarred since 1933. Hartmann thus brought the previously banned works of Bartók, Stravinsky and the Schoenberg School into general currency and provided a platform for the music of the young composers who came to the fore in the late 1940s and early 1950s, establishing such figures as Henze, Nono, Dallapiccolla, Orff, Xenakis, Messiaen, Berio, Zimmermann and many others. Hartmann also involved sculptors and artists such as Cocteau, Le Corbusier, and Miró in exhibitions at Musica Viva. He continued to base his activities in Munich for the remainder of his life, and his administrative, entrepreneurial and journalistic talents came to absorb a disproportionate amount of his time and energy. This reduced his opportunities for composition, and his last years were dogged by serious illness, operations, and attendant complications. In 1963 he died from inoperable cancer at the age of fifty-eight, leaving his last work—an extended symphonic Gesangsszene for voice and orchestra on words from Jean Giraudoux’s apocalyptic drama Sodom and Gomorrah—unfinished.
In his own music Hartmann attempted a difficult synthesis of many different idioms, including Expressionism and jazz stylization, into organic symphonic forms in the tradition of Bruckner and Mahler. His early works contain music that was both satirical and politically engaged. But he admired the polyphonic mastery of J S Bach and the profound expressive irony of Mahler. In the 1940s he began to take an interest in twelve-note serial methods, and in the 1950s started to make use of metrical techniques pioneered by Blacher and Elliott Carter. Though he wrote much, he published comparatively little, and at his death his ‘official’ output did not seem very large. There was one full-scale opera, Simplicius Simplicissimus, after Jakob von Grimmelhausen’s novel of the Thirty Years’ War; eight numbered symphonies; and some concertos, chamber, instrumental and vocal works. A highly self-critical composer, Hartmann had in fact rewritten or suppressed many of the substantial works he had composed in the 1930s and during the war, or quarried them for material for his post-war works. But since his death nearly all these scores have been rediscovered and in many cases published, much enlarging Hartmann’s total œuvre and affording a much clearer idea of his evolution.
Hartmann seems to have destroyed his earliest works, and among the first to survive is a group of compositions for unaccompanied violin, all dating from 1927. If they were performed at the time, no record of it has survived, and the first known airing of any of them was Rosaleen Moldenhauer’s performance of the Suite No 2 in Spokane, Washington State, in February 1984; she performed Suite No 1 there in April 1986, and the sonatas were premiered in Munich a little later. Like a number of small works for piano that Hartmann wrote around the same time, these pieces seem to have been composed partly to improve his mastery of instrumental technique, and to put his personal stamp on handling traditional forms. Nevertheless their stance is anything but academic. Hartmann was already embroiled in a series of disputes with his teachers at the Munich Academy, and he claimed in later years that he already saw his music would not meet with any approval there, although he was convinced of the need to acquire the tools of the composer’s trade.
Nor are these in any sense ‘student works’, for their confidence and sure command of the taxing medium is remarkable. The grouping of two solo sonatas and two suites recalls the majestic precedent of J S Bach’s sonatas and partitas for violin, though at least as powerful a contemporary influence is likely to have been Paul Hindemith’s various sonatas for unaccompanied string instruments of the early 1920s. Certainly Baroque forms are being viewed here through the medium of 1920s neoclassicism, and the German tempo-directions, specifying the character of the principal note-values, strongly echo Hindemith’s practice—but Hartmann contrives to establish a strong creative profile of his own. These four works deserve a place in the repertoire alongside Hindemith’s sonatas and, indeed, Nikos Skalkottas’s solo violin sonata of 1925.
To a certain extent the sonatas and suites seem to have been conceived as contrasted pairs, the first work in each pair being larger, in five movements, and having a more clearly ‘neo-Baroque’ formal aspect than the second, which is shorter, has four movements, and is more overtly ‘contemporary’ in language. These are only broad distinctions, however—all four works are recognizably of their time, and from the same hand.
The five-movement Sonata No 1 carries for superscription an unidentified quotation: ‘An die schönen Stunden denke immer’ (Always think of the good times). It begins with a wiry, energetic Toccata (a species of movement Hartmann was to favour throughout his career), whose strongly rhythmicized motivic working breaks out occasionally into cadenza-like prestissimo flurries of notes. In complete contrast, the ‘calm crotchets’ of the second movement carry an austerely lyrical melodic line, with a slightly more agitated middle section making use of triple- and quadruple-stopping. The third movement carries the curious direction Verrückt schnell, unschön spielen (insanely fast, ugly playing) and is a furious scherzo in 7/4 time characterized by dissonant double-stopping, manic repeated notes and capriciously changing rhythmic groupings. If Hartmann had a model for this extraordinary movement it was probably the Rasendes Zeitmass (Raging tempo) in Hindemith’s unaccompanied Viola Sonata, Op 25 No 1, of 1922. It comes to a shrieking climax and then a slow coda leads into the principal slow movement, marked Mit viel Ausdruck (with full expression). Here the violin spins a wonderfully flexible cantilena, the time signature changing in almost every bar, and with whole-tone inflections that suggest the influence of Debussy. Spanning the instrument’s full gamut, it mounts to its highest register and gradually descends to a peaceful close. The finale is a fugue, also subtitled ‘Toccata’, oddly characterized as Heiter, burschikos (cheerful and tomboyish) and directed to be played always staccato. This is the most neoclassical movement in conception, though Hartmann handles this most taxing of forms for a solo string instrument with a strenuous panache of his own.
Sonata No 2 has only four movements, but they show a comparable variety. In the first, a brief slow introduction prefaces a strong and muscular movement which is largely an exercise in impressive multiple-stopping and wide-leaping intervals. This is followed by ‘Variations on a Rhythmic Idea’, a brilliant study in aggressive machine rhythms. Its gestossene Achtel (pounding quavers) are directed to be played fortissimo throughout, and the sense of unstoppable motion is enhanced by a generous use of sectional repeats. In the third variation a pair of quiet double-stopped thirds mysteriously interrupts the proceedings, and these are made the basis of the movement’s unexpected final cadence. The deeply expressive slow third movement takes up the materials of the first movement and transforms them in lyrical melodic vein before receding to the violin’s lowest G. As in Sonata No 1 the finale is a fugue, marked Sehr wild und roh im Vortrag (very wild and rough in performance). It is also ferociously difficult, adding an obsessive use of dissonant intervals to its rhythmic complexities, and proves an exhilaratingly diabolic end to a remarkable work.
Suite No 1 is the most overtly Baroque in orientation of all these works. It opens with a lively two-voice Canon on a sinuous subject marked by prominent dotted rhythms. Half way through this quite extensive movement the subject re-enters in its original form, prompting a further bout of canonic development, and the proceedings end with an ad libitum cadenza-like passage leading to a final statement of the subject. A pert fugue follows. Marked Munter (cheerful), this is more orthodox in layout and rhythmically regular than the fugues in the sonatas, getting into a brief stretto towards the end. The third movement is a Rondo whose main theme is full of precipitous leaps while the strongly syncopated episodes hint at a Bartókian ‘folk-fiddling’ style. The fourth movement is headed Dreiteilige Liedform (three-part song form), which adequately describes its layout, with a broad, songful melody dominating the outer sections and enclosing a passionately flowing middle section. The finale, which follows without a break, is a Ciaccona based on the heavily accented subject announced at the outset. In the tradition of Bach’s great D minor Chaconne, though on a much less ample scale, the movement proceeds by accumulating motion in progessively smaller note-values and thus gains in brilliance until an effervescent coda that finally compresses the subject, by diminution, into a single bar to make a terse concluding figure.
Suite No 2, the shortest of these four works, is also the most traditionally tonal in its melodic language, at least as far as its first two movements are concerned. The opening Lebhaft (lively) is also—though not so designated—another fugue, something like an updated Bach two-part invention. The second movement—marked Fließend (flowing)—has a hymn-like simplicity and purity of expression unique in all these unaccompanied violin pieces. Written without bar lines, it is possibly a transcription of (unidentified) folk sources, for the brief central section certainly sounds like a folk tune. In complete contrast, the third movement, Stürmisch (stormy), is largely based on the constant reiterations and variations of a complex idea involving ascending dotted rhythms, wide leaps, and descending triplet patterns. Hartmann seems to be systematically trying it out on different degrees of the scale and harmonizing it each time with different intervals. The last movement is marked Jazz Tempo, with the qualification Sehr robust. It proves to be a vigorous shimmy or cakewalk whose initial stamping figure becomes omnipresent before a bravura coda that ends the suite on a dissonant crushed semitone, played sforzando.
The sheer confidence and effectiveness of these demanding solo violin works goes a long way to explain the success of Hartmann’s only violin concerto, the Concerto funebre for violin and string orchestra, which is certainly his most performed score. By the time he composed it in the Autumn of 1939, he had written several notable works including the original version of his first symphony, Versuch eines Requiems (Attempt at a Requiem, on texts by Walt Whitman), the symphonic poem Miserae, the first string quartet and the opera Simplicius Simplicissimus. He seems to have started the concerto in July and continued it through the outbreak of World War II. The work was partly inspired by Hartmann’s feelings about the Nazi annexation of Czechoslovakia the previous year, and he distilled into it all his feelings of pain for his country and countrymen and his foreboding of the fate that awaited them all. He dedicated it to his four-year-old son Richard, whose fate in the coming times concerned him most of all. As he wrote many years later: ‘The date indicates the underlying character of the work, and the reason I wrote it. The four movements … are played without a break. The chorales at the beginning and end are intended to offer a sign of hope against the desperate situation of thinking people … I wanted to write down everything I thought and felt, and that gave me the form and the melodic style.’
At this stage the work was called Musik der Trauer (Music of mourning), a title that recalls Hindemith’s Trauermusik for viola and strings written three years earlier. There was no question of such a work being performed in Germany at that time, nor had any of Hartmann’s works been heard there during the previous six years; but by this time he had something of an international reputation and contacts with musicians elsewhere in Europe. The premiere took place in Switzerland, in 1940, with the St Gallen Chamber Orchestra, whose leader Karl Neracher was the soloist. The conductor was Ernst Klug, with whom Hartmann had been in correspondence for some years; Klug had aided Hartmann’s brother, also called Richard, who had decided to leave Germany, to find a safe haven in Switzerland. Long after the war, in 1959, Hartmann revised the concerto, and it was only then that it acquired the title Concerto funebre by which it has become generally known.
As Hartmann’s note mentions, the work is cast in four movements, and makes use of chorale melodies. The movements are arranged in two pairs, but played without a break. To this extent it might recall the violin concerto by Alban Berg, but the two works have little else in common apart from their sombre colouring. (In fact the Hindemith Trauermusik, also in four continuous movements and ending with a hymn-tune, may be a closer parallel.) The first movement is essentially an introduction: the melody intoned by the violin, punctuated by brief responses from the strings, is a traditional Hussite chorale, ‘You who are God’s Warriors’, a direct reference to Czechoslovakia. The simplicity of this movement is immediately contradicted by the highly emotional Adagio which follows. Phrases of the chorale are varied here, in a highly chromatic texture, the strings’ dotted rhythms taking on a slow-march character, while the solo instrument’s lament unfolds freely, plaintively, and with increasing eloquence, climaxing in an outcry in the very highest reaches of its register. The violin joins in the strings’ slow-march music to create unanimity in a deeply expressive coda.
The Allegro di molto third movement is a frenetic, highly virtuosic scherzo, like a danse macabre, dominated by hammering quaver rhythms. Hartmann deploys the full resources of his complex, expanded-tonal language from dense polyphony to obsessive ostinati, explosive chords, rapid alternations of arco and pizzicato in both solo and orchestra. The tempo increases to a feverish climax, twice interrupted by a mysterious pianissimo theme in the violin’s low register. The second appearance leads to a short and brilliant unaccompanied cadenza, and the movement concludes with a slow coda, sehr breit (very broad), harking back to the mood of the Adagio. The final movement is entitled ‘Choral’, with the qualification Langsamer Marsch. But the melody, unfolded in a series of serene responses between strings and violin, is a Russian song, variously known as ‘For the Fallen Revolutionaries’ and ‘You fell in Battle’. (Three years previously, Benjamin Britten had used this theme as the basis of his Russian Funeral for brass; eventually Shostakovich would base the third movement of his Symphony No 11 on it.) In the coda the theme melds with reminiscences of the Adagio; all seems to be fading out into silence, but a sudden loud dissonance closes the proceedings in anger.
Calum MacDonald © 2007