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Franz MIXA (1902-1994)
Isländische Rhapsodie (1949) [15:05]
Symphony No. 2 in A minor (1956) [32:53]
Tritonus diabolus domitus (1977) [12:30]
Donau Philharmonie Wien/Manfred Müssauer
rec. Slowakische Staatsoper, February, June 2006. DDD
ANTES EDITION BM-CD 31.9252 [60:33]
Experience Classicsonline

Vienna-born Mixa was a student at the Hochschule für Musik in Vienna with Joseph Marx, Eusebius Mandyczewski and Robert Heger. From these three he absorbed the romantic-melodic mainstream but he did not stop there.

The three movement Icelandic Rhapsody is a rustic and sometimes blundering ramble. A predominance of galumphing dance material, occasionally reminiscent of Mahler, rubs shoulders with pastoral meditation. The latter is strongly evident in the Lark Ascending episode for solo violin towards the end of its last movement – a spell cast again in the Tritonus of 1977. The Icelandic connection is attributable to his eight years (1930-38) at the centre of musical life in Iceland. His music from that time bears the stamp of Icelandic folk music. The Rhapsody, though dating from more than a decade after his departure from Iceland to Graz, reminisces in the language of those years. It is also separated from his Reykjavik sojourn by the war years and his time as a prisoner of war in France. The year 1949 was personally pivotal for Mixa. It was then that he married his second wife, the singer Hertha Töpper. A First Symphony (1953) was followed by the Second Symphony recorded here. This is a dour and serious three movement work stern with tragedy. The language is tough and unglamorous yet by no means extreme: it can be compared with late Franz Schmidt with a spray of sharp dissonance. The middle movement is energetic but bears that same subdued impress – presumably a reflection of his experience of the war years. The finale with its awkward rhythmic cross-hatching from the percussion rather recalls Havergal Brian in its grimness and William Alwyn in its searing lyric angularity. That rebellious, stuttering and drum-articulated counterpoint also appears in the Tritonus. The symphony finally curves into a quiet gasp and silence. It is the work of a composer steering his own course and having no interest in easy victories. There were to be three more symphonies before 1975. One of his last works was the Tritonus diabolus domitus – a Meditative Fantasy for Large Orchestra. It was premiered in 1980. This too makes no bid for popularity. The strings sing with greater liberation yet still in the chains of experience and far from carefree.

We owe it to Bella Musica, the Mixa Society and Frau Kammersängerin Professor Hertha Töpper-Mixa that this admirable project came into being. Ursula Simek wrote the illuminating and much-needed essay (German and English). Mixa’s scores rest now with the Bavarian State Library.

Ultimately the gritty integrity of Mixa’s music is felt in subdued allure. There is about it an undertow of tragedy which takes as its point of departure the same elegiac pain we know from Franz Schmidt’s Fourth Symphony.

Rob Barnett


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