My first introduction to the music of Hans Gál
(1890-1987) was the Cello Concerto (opus 67) played by Joan Dickson*,
a work of unfashionably lovely melodic beauty. Thereafter, living in
the south side of Edinburgh, I used to encounter Gál at the bus
stop on his way into town, when he would be abstractedly humming to
Melody indeed, together with an aristocratic contrapuntal
intellect, mark all the music of this gentle, shamefully neglected,
musician and musicologist, author of definitive studies of Brahms and
Schubert. Our ignorance is perhaps understandable since his life in
music, culminating in his decade of directorship of the Mainz Conservatoire
was sadly brought to an end in 1938 by the advent of the Nazi regime,
and his dismissal on account of his Jewish nationality. Aiming then
for America he was, by good fortune, diverted to Edinburgh on the personal
invitation of Professor Tovey. Initially his brief was to organise the
extensive library of the Reid music school at the University - but his
ultimate involvement as lecturer and participation in the active musical
life of the University and the City filled his last fifty years@
with a fresh stimulus to create. This was a period which produced a
large number of chamber and instrumental compositions before his retiral
at the age of eighty-eight.
As a consequence of this we know of, but have never
heard, (nor are likely to hear) his several operas (all published and
performed in the days when German opera companies had their own theatres
and resident orchestras), nor his four Symphonies.
Apart from a nostalgic backward glance at opus 3 -
the six Serbian Dances (") the works on this disc are from these Edinburgh
years. Even in the early Dances the mood is one of quietly enjoyable
humour, expressed with impeccable musicianship. In his youth he played
orchestral works in duet form with his sisters, the only true way to
learn and understand music - and it is appropriate that this CD, the
first appearance on disc in this country of his music&
should be in Piano Duo form, with its element of sharing the pleasure
of the music.
The opening 'Three Marionettes' are a delightful compendium
of elegant counterpoint, playable by the reasonably competent amateur,
and a perfect introduction to his music. The Concertino is also a light-hearted
work whose central Siciliano's hypnotic geniality is followed by a contrapuntally
dextrous fugal movement. (The last work he ever wrote was 24 Fugues
for piano). The three Impromptus are ‘fun' pieces, written for the Saturday
entertainments of 'Willie McNaughton and Johnnie McGregor', in which
Gál himself must have participated! The final Pastoral Tune for
six hands provides the Duo with a reason (in the sleeve notes) to recount
the delightful incident when Clifford Curzon joined Gál, and
Gál’s ten-year-old daughter, Eva, in this work. Curzon seemingly
had difficulty counting his treble part, prompting the young Eva to
scold "I don't have to count!".
This is a thoroughly enjoyable disc and must undoubtedly
prompt a demand for more. I would select the three Sonatinas for Violin
and piano, and the Piano Sonatinas - 24 Preludes - And there is a vast
range of chamber music!
(*) Moray Welsh later broadcast this work.
(@) Apart from an unnecessary period of internment as an alien.
(") The Concertino, originally scored for piano and strings, dates
in that form from 1934
(&) There are German CDs of his Oboe Sonata, Clarinet Sonata and