HANS GÁL, HIS SACRED DUCK AND BEYOND
Since posting this article six years ago, the discovery of Hans Gál has carried on at such a pace, that an update is required, demanding a broader focus than his opera Die heilige Ente – the Sacred Duck. The previous article has now been replaced by this up-date. Die heilige Ente remains nonetheless remarkable, if for no other reason than an unbroken run from its 1923 premiere in Düsseldorf under Georg Szell until its removal by the Nazis in 1933.
I’ll deal with Die heilige Ente further on. Since the original posting, there have been complete recordings of his symphonies, (one conducted by Kenneth Woods and another by Thomas Zehetmair); numerous recordings of his concerti; two complete recordings of his piano music, recordings of his chamber music and a weeklong Hans Gál profile as “Composer of the Week” on BBC Radio 3. Last year saw the release on CPO of a studio recording of his opera Das Lied der Nacht, and this year sees the first complete, staged performance of Die heilige Ente since 1933. If the stars align properly, we may even have a recording of this opera as well.
There is no perfect segue from my previous article to this update, but certain aspects remain the same. For example, it was when I was preparing material for Vienna’s Jewish Museum exhibition on Hans Gál in 2004, that I stumbled upon a surprising review of Gál’s opera die heilige Ente. It was written by the noted music scholar and journalist Paul Nettl, and the review followed the opera’s 1923 premiere in Düsseldorf. The reason I found the review surprising was because he placed Gál as a continuation of the Lortzing Spieloper tradition. Today, Lortzing is largely forgotten outside of Germany, notwithstanding the occasional outing of an aria or one of his orchestral overtures. In the 1920s, the music world was still debating possible successors to Richard Wagner rather than Lortzing. Indeed, only in 1919, Germany’s most influential critic, Paul Bekker, had pronounced Franz Schreker as the only conceivable candidate, overlooking (among others), Richard Strauss and Hans Pfitzner. Bekker’s opinion would ultimately do Schreker more harm than good, as related in my entry on Schreker. If Austro-German composers were aspiring to follow Wagner, why would a view that Gál was Lortzing’s successor in any way be considered favourable?
Yet Gál was not even slightly offended by the comparison and indeed, as I recount further on, he even contributed an article in his publisher’s in-house new-music magazine Anbruch on issues surrounding the “Comic Opera” in 1927. Gál’s general position as successor to Lortzing rather than Wagner showed an indifference to being part of the “in-crowd”, jostling for their moment in the post-Wagnerian spotlight. Indeed, Gál’s general position in Germany during the inter-war years requires a substantial re-evaluation of musical trends in the Weimar Republic. An encounter with Gál’s music and his actual position in musical life of the Weimar Republic, demonstrates that viewing inter-war cultural life through a post-war prism only shows us what we believe we already know. Yes, much of cultural life in Weimar Republic Germany was exciting and daring, but the organic continuum from Brahms and Mahler was still its fundamental centre of gravity.
Hans Gál was born 1890 in Brunn am Gebirge just outside of Vienna, to Jewish parents whose origins lay in the Hungarian half of the dual Monarchy. Later, Gál was able to attend Vienna’s prestigious Wasa-Gymnasium with his “twin” the conductor Erich Kleiber. They shared desks, birthdays, musical talent and physical statue.
Gál was a bright pupil and the family, though not performers at even an amateur level, took an interest in music and allowed the children Hans and Erna to develop their talents freely.
Their Aunt Jenny, a noted opera singer in Weimar, seems to have been the first to have recognised and encourage their musical abilities.
Hans’s sister Erna, following a lengthy liaison with Rudolf Kolish, erstwhile Schoenberg pupil and leader of the Kolisch Quartet, was a professional singing-coach and accompanist. From her emigration to the UK until her death in 1995, she was one of the most respected members of Glyndebourne Opera’s music staff. Hans’s earliest years as a developing musician seem to have been largely self-taught; score reading was learned from playing duets with Erna. And it’s worth remarking that his legendary ability to reduce any score instantly to a pianistic masterpiece resulted in one of his earliest successes. This was as author of Universal Edition’s manual on how to read and understand the orchestral score. It was a text that was so fundamental and important to young musicians – and still in print today – that when the Nazis took power, they removed Gál’s name as author and replaced it with that of the pianist Teodor Leschetizky.
Gál’s development as a musician was multi-facetted: he studied piano privately with the most important teacher of the day in Vienna: Richard Robert who was also teacher of Rudolf Serkin, Georg Szell and Clara Haskil at Vienna’s New Conservatory. However, his ambitions lay less in performance and more in the pursuit of understanding the fundamentals of composition and the careful honing of what he saw as a deeply technical craft.
Helped by a Rothschild scholarship, he studied composition privately with Eusebio Mandyczewski, teacher of music history and instrumentation at Vienna’s State Academy (today, known as Vienna’s University of Music and Performing Arts, shortened to the German acronym: mdw) and Brahms’ musical executor. Gál wrote his doctorate at Vienna’s University under the supervision of Guido Adler, the distinguished father of modern musicology. His dissertation in 1913 was entitled On the Stylistic Characteristics of the Young Beethoven and Their Relationship to the Style of his Maturity.
He went on to make contributions to Adler’s historic survey of Greater Austria’s musical legacy, (Denkmäler der Tonkunst in Österreich – Monuments to Austria’s Musical Heritage) by producing critical editions of works by Johann Strauss, Father and Son. By 1919, he was able to take over the position formerly held by Anton Bruckner as lecturer in harmony and counterpoint at Vienna’s University.
Gál was soon noticed as a composer of importance, no small accomplishment in a city already dominated by countless important musical figures. In 1915, he won Austria’s first State Prize with his First Symphony – a work he quickly withdrew doubting both its originality and individuality. A performance of another Gál work took place with one of the forerunner orchestras of the Vienna Symphony under Ferdinand Löwe, though it too was later withdrawn. In fact, nearly all of Gál’s works composed prior to 1920 were withdrawn despite performances with some of Vienna’s most noted ensembles and singers.
It is difficult for us to imagine how Austria must have seemed to its citizens following its defeat in 1918. Following the treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye that dissolved the Habsburg Empire, it was reduced from being a major multi-ethnic continental power to its small German-speaking core representing more or less, what is today’s Austria, minus the German-speaking border regions of Moravia, Silesia and Bohemia and South Tirol, which was ceded to Italy. Its agriculture post-1918 landed in Hungary, its ports in Italy and Yugoslavia and its industry in the newly founded republic of Czechoslovakia. The victorious Franco-Anglo-American alliance would have preferred to return to the pre-1871 status quo, before Germany’s thirty-nine independent mini-states were united under Prussia. Attempts were made to carve off large parts of Germany and place them under occupation in the hope that over time, they would prefer full independence to re-integration within a Prussian led Reich. Despite the Austrian parliament voting to become part of the German Reich in 1918, “German-Austria”, as it was formerly called, was forced to remain independent and drop the word “German” from its name. Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia became constituent parts of Czechoslovakia or Poland. Hardly anyone gave this much-reduced Austria, itself barely more than an Alpine mini-state, a chance of survival. Even patriotic Austrian Jews thought after the defeat of the First World War, the only rational thing to do with the region of German speakers within Habsburg Europe, was to be folded into its larger neighbour. In 1919, the victors agreed to return to the question of Austrian annexation by Germany in twenty years. It’s why Hitler’s annexation of Austria nineteen years afterwards was met with hardly more than shoulder shrug by the rest of the world. Nevertheless, with Austrian prospects bleak in 1920, the most creative and ambitious spirits left for Germany. In their opinion, Vienna could at best only become a poor-man’s Zurich. As a result, much of the cultural history of the Weimar Republic looks like a “who’s Who” of Austria. Gál was not alone: Franz Schreker, Max Reinhardt, Arnold Schönberg, Ernst Krenek, Fritz Lang, Joseph Roth, Lotte Lenya, Helene Weigel, Hanns Eisler not to mention the longer sojourns by the likes of Erich Korngold, Karl Kraus, Hugo von Hofmannsthal and countless others – all carrying out a reverse cultural annexation of Germany by Austria’s intelligentsia and creative community. As Anton Kuh, professional scrounger, humourist and counter-weight to Karl Kraus quipped: ‘I moved to Berlin in order to remain among fellow Viennese’.
Gál’s first opera, mostly written during the war years, was the comic prologue and two-act work, Der Arzt der Sobeide – Sobeide’s Doctor. Though it was well received following its premiere in 1919 in Breslau conducted by one of Gál’s earliest supporters, Julius Prüwer, it did not guarantee Gál more than a brief, yet positive mention in German newspapers. Gál continued earning from writing stage music for Vienna’s Neue Wiener Bühne. It was there he met the penniless, aristocratic, eccentric playwright, Carl Michael Freiherr von Levetzow, who subsequently provided Gál with his most successful libretti and would later be approached by Ernst Krenek about the idea of a Jazz Operetta with an African American in the lead role. (to be launched in Leipzig in 1927 as a full-blown opera without Levetzow’s participating as Jonny spielt auf!) Even Richard Strauss was on record as saying that had he not met Hofmannsthal, he would have turned to Levetzow.
In the 1920s, – Gál was engaged in another important project – indeed, an undertaking so enormous and far-reaching in scope it is difficult to grasp its significance during the inter-war years. Together with his teacher, Mandyczewski, he edited the complete works of Johannes Brahms. Even Krenek refers to this Everest of musicological work in his memoirs – condescendingly, as it happens, while mistakenly refers to it as being the complete works of Schubert. But on the other hand, contemporary accounts from both left and right of the musical divide document it as the most important musicological achievement of the day.
Perhaps an example of the universality of its importance can be gathered by the Marxist Schönberg pupil and father of musical agitprop, Hanns Eisler, who mentions in an East German interview that his biggest sacrifice upon leaving Vienna for exile, was abandoning his complete Brahms edition. Brahms’ centrality in Vienna’s musical life at the end of the 19th century perfectly mirrored Mahler’s dominance at the beginning of the 20th. Schönberg saw Brahms as representing the traditions on which his future musical developments were built – Gál saw him as the natural extension of Vienna’s ‘First School’, a bridge reaching back to Mozart, Haydn through Mendelssohn and Schumann: As such, he provided the aesthetic starting point for Gál’s earliest works as well.
The years 1922 to 1924 were among the happiest of Gál’s life. In 1922, he married Hanna Schick, 1923 saw the premiere of his most successful stage work, Die heilige Ente (The Sacred Duck) in Düsseldorf under the baton of his life-long friend, Georg Szell. And his two sons, Franz and Peter were born in 1923 and 1924.
Following the successful premiere of The Sacred Duck, it was instantly taken up by a further six opera houses and by the time Gál’s works were banned in 1933, it had become part of the repertoire of most German opera ensembles, including the Charlottenburg Opera in Berlin. Breslau, where Gál had felt particularly at home, even staged a parody of the work, called Die eilige Rente by Ganz Egal or roughly translated: Easy Money by ‘Who Cares?’
The work was eventually recorded by Austrian Radio in 1929 as its first studio recording of a 20th century opera. Though Gál went on to compose a number of other operas – some, such as das Lied der Nacht, were also reasonably successful, The Sacred Duck, a re-working of a farcical Chinese fairy-tale, would be his most popular work.
With Die heilige Ente always in production in one of Germany’s many opera houses, and the growing popularity of his Leid der Nacht, Gál’s ultimate fame and place in Weimar cultural life was as an opera composer. His final comic opera, Die Beiden Klaas – Rich Klaas and Poor Klaas was scheduled for a double premiere in Dresden and Hamburg. As mentioned at the start of this article, interest has returned to the operas of Hans Gál and we now have an excellent recording of Das Lied der Nacht, in every way the equal of Zemlinsky’s operas from the mid-1920s, with the first staged, uncut run of performances scheduled in the Spring of 2020 of die Heilige Ente in Heidelberg.
The most important orchestras in German performed Gál’s orchestral works and his concertos were premiered by the top-league soloists of the day. To understand Gál’s popularity, it’s worth referring to the memoirs of Ernst Krenek, composer of Jonny spielt auf! He grudgingly relates how Jonny spielt auf! broke all records in its opening season, but remained on performance schedules for only a couple of seasons thereafter; Krenek goes on to relate that “the merest hand-full of works managed to survive from one year to the next”. Works such as Korngold’s Die tote Stadt, Schreker’s Der ferne Klang, along with Schreker’s other operas Der Schatzgräber and Die Gezeichneten and of course, Alban Berg’s powerful Wozzeck could usually maintain their popularity following historic openings, only to disappear for a season or two afterwards.
Schreker’s charismatic and beautiful wife, Maria Schreker added enormously to the public’s fascination with Schreker’s operas. It is therefore significant that one of the few roles she would take on, not composed by her husband was that of “Li” in Gál’s Die Heilige Ente. Indeed, she was so enchanted by the piece that she kept a scrap-book of her performances at the Städtische Opera in Berlin-Charlottenburg, which in fact, re-opened after extensive renovation with Gál’s opera.
The title of Die heilige Ente is as farcical as the opera: Chinese gods, fed up with perpetual worship and the smell of incense descend into an opium din where, as a distraction, they swap the brains of various miscreants. A duck, historically a theatrical tool used as a symbol for the ridiculous, is a by-product of the farce and ultimately leads to a happy end. As yet, there are no recordings of this work. Thanks to Gál’s talented grandson Simon Fox-Gál, we have computer generated tracks and dubbed singers of two short excerpts: one from the opening and the love duet at the end.
In 1927, Gál’s publishers Universal Editions, produced a special edition of its monthly new-music magazine Anbruch on the subject of ‘Opera’ and commissioned Hans Gál to write a contribution on the problems of the “comic opera”. Gál’s article is illuminating. It highlights operetta as moving onto the territory of comic opera, and acknowledges that perhaps, operetta is a stronger advisory, against which, comic opera does not stand a chance. He cites Rosenkavalier as the only recent comic opera to establish itself in the repertoire. He analyses several works that should have been popular but failed, such as Busoni’s Arrlechino, which he believes miscalculated its use of parody. In short, he argues strongly for a return to the German Spieloper, such as those composed by Nicolai, Lortzing and Flowtow. A work he does not mention – and to me, seemed conspicuous by its absence was another comic opera premiered the year after Die heilige Ente in 1924 by Walter Braunfels whom music lovers today know from his opera, Die Vögel – The Birds premiered in 1920. The undisputed Success of Die Vögel was followed by a comic opera that according to Gál’s friend Alfred Einstein, seemed to fit Hans Gál’s directives for the genre to a tee. It was called Don Gil von den grünen Hosen – Don Gil of the Green Trousers and it too had a prestigious and resoundingly successful premiere in Munich under Hans Knappertsbusch. Sadly, despite the original material being by Tirso de Molina, Braunsfels did not have the brilliance of Levetsow as librettist to achieve its full comic effect, despite universal praise for Braunfels’s music. Walter Braunfels was eight years older than Gál and with the popularity of Die Vögel, it was no surprise that his Don Gil was taken up following its Munich premiere by Stuttgart, Königsberg, Leipzig and Cologne, before mysteriously disappearing altogether by 1927. It makes the success of Gál’s Heilige Ente all the more remarkable.
Carl Heinzen, reviewing the premiere in Düsseldorf, was fascinated by Gál’s use of “oriental colours” – and in truth the popularity of stylised Chinese texts was en vogue at the time. The composer Ernst Toch had enjoyed a considerable success with his Chinese Flute songs from 1922, and others such as Egon Wellesz and Julius Bittner had also followed Gustav Mahler’s example with Lieder using texts orientalised by the German poet Hans Bethge. Heinzen confirms that the Düsseldorf audience was enthusiastic, demanding that Gál continue to come out to acknowledge “the ocean of applause”. The renowned stage director Heinz Tietjen mounted further productions of Die heilige Ente in Breslau and Berlin. Hanns Gutmann, reviewing the Berlin performances, wrote “The Score of this opera demonstrates how the orchestra has developed throughout the 19th century and was handled with the same virtuosity as Mahler and Strauss”. Gutmann goes on to admire the exotic nature of Gál’s music with its use of 4ths, 5ths and whole-tones. His sole criticism was directed towards Maria Schreker, to whom he pays the back-handed compliment of stating that though she is “the most enchanting creature on any German stage”, she was vocally unable to fill the newly renovated auditorium of the Städtische Oper.
In 1929, Gál was offered the directorship of the Music Academy in Mainz following recommendations from Wilhelm Furtwängler and Richard Strauss. In only four years, he was able to turn it into one of Germany’s premiere music institutions and a worthy Southern pendant to Schreker’s directorship of the Music Academy in Berlin, or Bernard Sekles’ progressive institution in Frankfurt or Walter Braunfel’s Music Academy in Cologne. With Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor, Schreker, Sekles and Braunfels were all dismissed from their positions, while Gál could not bring himself to believe that Hitler could remove him as well, given the success and popularity he enjoyed in Mainz. Gál was mistaken. Despite being attacked in the anti-Semitic press, he was loudly supported by the city’s mayor (also subsequently removed by te Nazi regime) and many locals, including the owner of the family’s rented flat, who refused to accept rent until Gál was left with no choice but to return to Austria.
One of the last works premiered by a Jewish composer following Hitler’s rise to power was Gál’s violin concerto performed in Dresden under Fritz Busch, with Georg Kulenkampff as soloist. While attending rehearsals, he even encountered Hilter, who was attending the same event as Gál commemorating the 50th anniversary of Wagner’s death. It was there he could observe the “Führer” at close quarters and stated in an interview in German many years later that it seemed incredible anyone could be taken in by him: “But I was mistaken”.
The return to Vienna was not promising. Performances of Gál’s works – and thus a large part of his income – depended on German venues and musicians. These were now withdrawn, including his newest opera Die beiden Klaas (Rich Klaas, Poor Klaas), to have had a joint premiere in Hamburg and Dresden.
Though he composed a number of commissions for local Viennese musicians, wrote and taught as much as possible, it was clear that Austria was not a long term solution. In 1937, he composed a monumental oratorio called De Profundis, as an expression of the sense of hopelessness in which he and his family found themselves. Some of Gál’s most lyric and immediately beautiful works come from these desperate times: Not only the moving De Profundis, but his Sonata for Violin and Piano without opus number and his Serenade for String Orchestra which must be one of the most immediately serene works to be penned by any composer in the 1930s.
The war years were terrible for Hans Gál and his family. Following Hitler’s annexation of Austria in March 1938, the Gáls immediately left for London. Gál had first-hand knowledge of Hitler in Germany and was not prepared to wait and see if policies would be more tolerant in Hitler’s homeland. Indeed, his instincts were right. Jews were subjected to such brutality in Austria that the rest of Europe was horrified and closed its borders, refusing to accept refugees. The Gáls escaped just in time. Cheap boarding houses offered initial refuge in London, but the declaration of war in 1939 followed by bombing raids encouraged Gál to move to Edinburgh where contact had been established with Sir Donald Tovey. Gál’s luck ran out: Tovey fell ill and died soon after their acquaintance, though not before Tovey could organise a cataloguing position for Gál at the Reid Music Library.
Gál was interned by the British government in the Spring of 1940 with everyone else classified an ‘enemy alien’; the older son was deported, the younger son, alienated in a boarding school without fluency in English, or friends for support, committed suicide; indeed, many of Gál’s closest relatives, including his Aunt Jenny in Weimar, committed suicide rather than face deportation. Gál was not idle while locked away on the Isle of Man’s camp for “enemy aliens”. He composed for whatever instruments were to hand and adapted works to suit the comings and goings of various musicians. The music he wrote was fundamentally cheerful and up-beat. It was meant to take people away from the misery of the camp and to help them forget.
He also provided the music for a revue called What a Life! – a bilingual satirical take on life as an internee. One of the writers for the revue was none other than the Schubert scholar Otto Erich Deutsch. If Deutsch does not spring to mind as a writer of humorous verse, neither does Gál as a composer of light music. The revue was so popular that he was persuaded to remain an extra week after his discharge on medical grounds, so that a second performance could take place.
Documentaries have been made about the interment of enemy aliens on the Isle of Man. To the documentary makers and many British historians, the camps were virtual retreats. “Universities” were opened, courses were offered, theatre performances were prepared and on any one day, one was positively paralysed with choice. Did one go to a lecture on Nuclear Physics given by Max Born, or a lecture on Byzantine music given by Egon Wellesz – there was always an art class to attend by Kurt Schwitters, or performances to be heard by the young, still unformed Amadeus Quartet. This popular myth of British benign internment is soundly laid bare in Gál’s memoirs. It may make the British feel better about their momentary lapse in their treatment of desperate people fleeing a desperate situation – but it is not entirely true. As Gál writes, suicides were rife. Families – such as Gál’s own – were broken up. Communication was negligible and the guards were often sadistically cruel. German businessmen, fifth columnists, second and third generations of British citizens of German descent, political and Jewish refugees were all thrown together. The composer Egon Wellesz suffered a total mental breakdown while Gál broke out with an unexplained skin-rash, so severe it was decided to release him for medical reasons.
Once freed from his six months of internment, Gál became active in refugee musical life. Within the restricted confines of refugee organisations, émigrés could put on concerts, some of which were attended by the wider public. Gál was an important committee figure within refugee activities. He constantly travelled from his job as caretaker at an evacuated girls’ school in Edinburgh to rehearsals in London. In addition to many personal appearances as pianist or conductor, he arranged and organised countless musical events. Peter Stadlen and Georg Knepler independently recalled his arrangements of Mahler’s symphonies for four hands – performed by Berthold Goldschmidt and Franz Osborn or Georg Knepler, as being the “Mahler-seed” planted to make London a centre for Mahler performances after the war. During this period, Gál composed some of his most powerful and until recent performances and recordings, least familiar music such as his second symphony and his cello concerto.
At this point, it’s worth mentioning what life meant to refugee musicians in the UK at that time. The Incorporated Society of Musicians, (ISM) had persuaded politicians and civil servants to bar refugee musicians from taking any employment while in the UK – “either paid or un-paid”. In some cases, the ruling was ruthlessly carried out and elderly musicians were threatened with immediate deportation or imprisonment for giving local children music lessons. Famous soloists, who may otherwise have remained in the UK for geographical reasons, realised they could perform there only if they lived elsewhere. Schnabel moved to the States. Others, such as Richard Tauber could not be stopped from performing by the ISM due to his international super-star status. Many prominent individuals debated the issue in the letters’ pages of the Times. Myra Hess who ran the lunchtime National Gallery Concerts, John Christie who was busy setting up Glyndebourne and Compton Mackenzie, editor of Gramophone Magazine pleaded that refugees be allowed to work. The arguments against letting refugees teach or perform were not without merit. White Hall, along with the government of the United States, had taken the precaution of not over-emphasising the fact that most refugees were Jewish. To the British, it seemed nearly insane to take on a tidal wave of Germans just as the two countries were going to war. To orchestral players and conservatory teachers, it seemed iniquitous that they should leave their positions to fight Germans when Germans were taking their places in their former institutions. Vaughan Williams wrote a now iconic letter to the Austrian pianist, Ferdinand Rauter, fearing that the “fragile flower of English music” would be “trampled” by the robust Austro-German tradition arriving on British shores. In fact, few did as much to help Austro-German musical refugees as Vaughan Williams – but his initial resistance reflects the anxieties of British musicians at the time.
Surprisingly, the Comintern in Moscow saw an opportunity to broaden their base and opened, financed and ran refugee organisations for both Austrians and Germans. It was important to Austrian refugees, that the annexation in March 1938 was not recognised on any level and that they would be treated as Austrians rather than their post-annexation status as Germans. In fact, only Mexico pronounced the annexation illegal, and was one of the few countries to offer visas to frantic Austrian Jews. Western Europe and America accepted the inevitable ‘legitimacy’ – so Neville Chamberlain – of Hitler’s claim.
The Soviet financed refugee centres offered language courses, job placement and help in locating relatives. They also put on many cultural events and took great pains not to be political. From 1933 until the Hitler/Stalin pact in 1939, they served as centres of anti-Nazi activities. The Austrian pianist, Ferdinand Rauter, believed it would take time to defeat the Nazis, and participating in refugee activities financed by Moscow was less than ideal. He – unlike any of his German counterparts – decided to set up an organisation that was independent of Soviet support. With the help of Vaughan Williams, Adrian Boult, Benjamin Britten and others, he founded the Anglo-Austrian Music Society in 1942. Within the confines of these organisations, refugees could perform and even put on concerts open to the general-public. Of course, Hans Gál was ever-present as either organiser, pianist, coach or music director. In addition, it’s worth mentioning that Austrians and Germans participated in each other’s cultural initiatives, regardless of where the finance originated.
Eva Gál, born in 1944, would remain aware of the fact that she had been brought into the world to help comfort her parents in light of Peter’s suicide. In fact, in later years Franz too would take his own life – confirming that the terrible sense of dislocation caused by Hitler would continue to resonate and claim victims for decades after his defeat.
With the end of the war, Gál was finally offered the security of a position as music lecturer at Edinburgh University. With his young daughter Eva, born in 1944, now growing up in Scotland, he was in no mood to return to Vienna even when offered a position at the Conservatory. He threw himself into British musical life and was one of the founding fathers – albeit a sceptical one – of the Edinburgh Festival with fellow Austrian Rudolf Bing.
The incomprehension of the cultural watershed produced by the war must inevitably have taken a toll. Works by Gál, when taken up after 1945 by former pupils and supporters, were dismissed by the newly organised music establishments. Departures from tonality became the torch held by all presumed anti-fascists. Post-war Germany had embraced it in an attempt to distance itself from its past, and as a useful political tool for dealing with its cold-war present. Gál’s music was not seen as bridge to a better era pre-Hitler, but as a link to the period that actively led to Hitler. I recall frequent comments from Austrian and German musicologist in the late 1980s and 1990s, who seemed oblivious to the implicit anti-Semitism of their view, that had Gál not been Jewish, the Nazis would have embraced his music. In any case, Gál needed no lectures on Hitler and was in no mood to convert his musical language to the perceived “anti-fascist” developments coming out of post-war Darmstadt, Cologne and Paris. Towards later life, and with increasing public isolation, his works became smaller in scale and more personal.
In Britain, he became a popular lecturer and writer. His biographies on Schubert, Verdi, Brahms, Wagner, along with books such as the Golden Age of Vienna and collections of composers’ correspondence withstand the test of time with both musicologists and enthusiasts. In 1957, he was awarded another Austrian State Prize for Music. In 1970, as a present to himself for his 80th birthday, he composed 24 preludes for piano – for his 90th birthday, he composed their accompanying fugues. His precise manner of expressing himself – both in word and music was unparalleled and his observations remained sharp and well-focused well into old age. He expressed his view on tonality in a later interview, as “being as fundamental [to him] as gravity”. Though he knew it was possible to exist without gravity, he could not imagine for himself.
Hans Gál’s music proves we often only recognise what we already believe we know about musical life in Weimar Republic Germany, while disregarding whatever doesn’t fit into our preconceptions. Gál, and indeed others like him, are important missing pebbles in the ever more complex mosaic of musical life from the end of the First World War up to the annexation of Austria by Hitler’s Germany in 1938. If Schönberg’s contemporaries Franz Schreker and Alexander Zemlinsky demonstrated that progressive Viennese composers writing tonal music could co-exist with the Second Viennese School, Hans Gál represented the more conventional view that the First Viennese School still had quite a bit of life left to it.
Fantastic scholarship — superb, cutting edge work, with much new for music-lovers to learn.
As one of Gál’s students at Edinburgh University in the early 1960s and subsequently a postgraduate student in Vienna (thanks to his encouragement), I have been delighted to read such an excellent account of his life. He was a remarkable man and musician.
Thank you – I wish I had been able to know the man myself. I feel as if I had somehow through curating an exhibition at Vienna’s Jewish Museum and watching the increasing interest in his music over the past decades.
Yes, there has been a remarkable resurgence of interest in Gál’s music, thanks in no small measure to the herculean efforts of his family (Eva and Tanya in particular).
Brilliant scholarship! Thank you for this. I have not listened to your sound clips as I am, as I write, listening to a (personally) recorded performance of Die heilige Ente from Heidelberg in March 2020! I found your site while searching for a more extensive plot synopsis or even a libretto (alas no). I’m afraid that with only a sound file, a cast list, a few sentences of plot, and a smattering of college German, I am a little at sea but getting the overall gist of things as I listen. But I stopped searching and read your piece while still listening to my recording. Die heilige Ente is a charming work & I understand its popularity before WWII. Thank you again.
Thank you for such a fantastic piece on Gál’s life (and yes, we British are largely unaware of our treatment of “aliens” during the war). I suppose the Decca Entartete Musik series would have released some of his music at some stage, but thank heavens for the Avie releases and “Das Lied der Nacht” is indeed a wonderful work.
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