Gottfried Rabl

Josef Matthias Hauer: Symphonic Works

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Josef Matthias Hauer, to judge from his writings and accounts of his social interactions with his contemporaries, was the Rodney Dangerfield of the Viennese serialists; he just couldn't get any respect. Having developed a parallel but markedly individual system of serial tonal organization a little ahead of Arnold Schoenberg's first published efforts in the genre, Hauer wanted recognition as the discoverer of dodecaphonic atonality, an attribute that would forever accrue to Schoenberg despite Hauer's best efforts to the contrary. Mid-twentieth century critics regarded Hauer as a crackpot and his work sank into oblivion; it is only since the 1990s that any effort has been made on Hauer's behalf to get some of his music out on record and to permit the public to judge his relative worth. CPO takes a big step in that direction with Josef Matthias Hauer: Violin Concerto, a disc that features the Radio Symphonieochester Wien under conductor Gottfried Rabl in a selection of Hauer's ultra-rare orchestral music; thus far recordings of Hauer are heavily concentrated in favor of his chamber music, songs, and piano works.

The Apokalyptische Phantasie, Op. 5, is an amazing work -- if Schoenberg had heard it in 1913, when it was written, he would have feared Hauer was going to give him a run for his money, so closely does the opening resemble the "Farben" movement from Schoenberg's Five Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 16. However, it is not pure as with Schoenberg; the texture is interrupted with post-romantic flourishes and ultimately settles into a declamatory section in dissonant counterpoint resembling the sound of Carl Ruggles' orchestral music. It is let down somewhat by its lack of formal coherence, but the Apokalyptische Phantasie is fascinating to consider in the context of its era: Mahler had just died and Russians such as Scriabin and Roslavets were working with synthesizing some aspects of tonal organization. Hauer had developed his system by the time of the Romantische Phantasie, Op. 37 (1925), and "romantic" it is, albeit within a highly dissonant idiom; it runs a little long. The Seventh Suite for orchestra, Op. 48, however, moves Hauer firmly out of the post-Romantic idiom; by this time, he is settled into the "Zwolftonspiele" mode that would dominate his output for the rest of his long life.

There is an awful lot of discussion in the liner notes to this book about Hauer's method of tonal organization, and it even includes some visual diagrams to help illustrate some of Hauer's principles. That is fine, but there is little discussion as to its effect on Hauer's formal development schemes, which were limited indeed. The first and fifth movements of the Seventh Suite, Op. 48 (1926), are transformations of one another, and the second and fourth movements are practically identical, ending with the same prepared seventh cadence that sounds like something from a Jackie Gleason record. In slow movements, Hauer's constantly shifting orchestral tone colors reminds one of Philip Glass with wrong notes, in faster ones it is like a Baroque concerto grosso with wrong notes, chugging right along. Although technically atonal, Hauer's music is never difficult to listen to, just highly abstract, otherworldly, and lacking in strong foreground features, reminiscent of both Erik Satie and post-modernism, but not particularly minimal.

CPO's Josef Matthias Hauer: Violin Concerto is the sort of thing that is endlessly fascinating if you are a composer, theorist, or a musician highly engaged with the workings of tonality; for the layman it will not be a confrontational experience, but will take many, many listens to truly get. Hauer's musical alchemy may have resulted in a compound that's a bit more like lead than gold, but lead also has its useful properties, and this disc writes a new chapter in our understanding of the development of twentieth century music.

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