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Karl Amadeus HARTMANN
Symphonies 1 - 8.
Bamberg Symphony Orchestra I Ingio Metzmacher.
EMI Classics. CDS5 56911 2 . 3 CD set
 Amazon UK  Amazon USA approx £25 (Crotchet)

 This set of magnificent symphonies is very welcome. It is a pity that it excludes the Sinfonia Tragica of 1940-3 which was thought to be lost but discovered many years after the composer's death. Perhaps, because much of the material appears in the Symphony no.3, it was thought that this compilation would suffice.

Hartmann was the greatest German symphonist since Brahms. He is every thing that a great composer should be. His music is original; his work develops over the span of his creative life ; he is a marvellous craftsman ; he had a truly amazing technique; he is the greatest orchestrator since Wagner, who remains the finest of us all. His music has a tremendous energy and elan. He can write tender music of the highest quality which music is never trite. He was not just a composer of pretty tunes as was Schubert. In fact, his themes, while attractive are also very profound. But the quality that Hartmann has which is the most immediately obvious is the sheer excitement which his music generates. He could write an Allegro and keep it going for ten minutes without easing up. Bruckner, fine composer though he was, could not do that. Neither could the genius of Sibelius. Elgar was the worst offender.. all his allegros are slow and get slower at various stages of a symphonic work. It should be remembered that allegro means quick, merry and lively.

Hartmann belongs to a group of great German composers of the twentieth century and they were few. Boris Blacher was the most innovative, Fortner was a master, Von Einem was very skilled and Hans Werner Henze also borders on genius. But the composer that began the German revival was the legendary Paul Hindemith who is still maligned, and for reasons I cannot fathom. He revitalised an interest in all musical forms; on the one hand, he went back to the past and the great German tradition, but then so did Max Reger, another maligned composer and a magnificent one too, but also explored the new. Music Nova was the term used. Both Reger and Hindemith revived the interest in Bach and composition in clear contrapuntal lines. Reger made his work highly original, rich in chromaticism whereas Hindemith majored on the diatonic scale and modes. These composers lifted German music out of a dull Teutonic tradition and gave it life. Some composers may have gone too far. For example, Schoenberg wrote some cabaret songs and Hindemith's early works are erotically perverse.

Hartmann studied with Webern, the supreme master of clarity, and also with the finest German conductor of the last 150 years, Hermann Scherchen. These two teachers were very much at opposite ends of the musical spectrum. Webern was into economy of style and texture and Scherchen had an immense command of the orchestra and all its capabilities, but then so did Hindemith.

The fact that drew me originally to Hartmann many years ago was nothing to do with his music but his bravery. He was born and lived all his life in Munich. He hated Nazism and Hitler and anything that ranked of extreme socialism and communism. He did not flee Germany. Even in the war years he stayed in Munich still hating what Hitler and the Nazis were doing to his people. I remember when I wrote my first book, which was about the life of Graham Scroggie, I quoted what Scroggie said in 1940, "We have no quarrel with the German people. We have a quarrel with Hitler and the political ideology he has produced." Hartmann would have agreed with that truth.

Benjamin Britten fled from Britain when war was obvious. And whatever excuse is given he did so because he was a coward and non-patriotic. Hartmann stayed at home in a country he knew was in the wrong, diseased by the evil of Hitler, the madman. One can only admire a man like Hartmann and when one listens to his music that admiration increases.

His music is not for the shallow music lover. If you are a pretty- tune- music- lover and wanting predictable harmonies Hartmann will not be for you.

The Symphony no.1 is subtitled Essay for a Requiem and was written in 1934/5 and revised during 1954/4. It is scored for contralto and orchestra and uses texts from Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass 1855/92. There are five movements, the central one being purely orchestral, a theme and variations in fact. The official Symphony no.1 was the Miserae of 1923/4 which was withdrawn. The present Symphony no. 1 was the Symphonic Fragment of 1935/6 premiered at Frankfurt am Main in 1948. But in its final revisions, the Symphony no.1 expresses mourning, despair and rage at the Nazi regime.

The opening movement has a stunning begining. The contralto sings, I sit and look out upon all the sorrows of the world... The second movement is a setting of Spring based on words used by other composers such as Hindemith and Roger Sessions, When lilacs last in the dooryard bloomed. The Theme and Variations has a wonderful Webernesque simplicity and the music is never weak. The fourth movement is a setting of Tears

Not a star shining, not a star
All dark and desolate
Moist tears from the eyes of a muffled heart.

The anguish is simply magnificent. Hartmann not only laments German politics but German morality. He introduces a jazz piano indicating the seediness of German life with its nightclubs and the sadistic sex that was a feature of German brothels.

In the 1850s the French took the earliest form of the camera and used it to take erotic and pornographic pictures. The Germans seized upon this immoral activity and in the 1880s a series of books written by German scientists, some allegedly in the medical profession, wrote books advocating nudity as healthy and so, nudism, or naturism, was born. It was a natural development from Socialism which embraced the theory of evolution that man was merely an animal and animals did not wear clothes neither were they sexually inhibited. Between the wars German would go for 'hikes' in the wooded countryside sometimes travelling to the site on bicycles. In the woods they would take off all their clothes and dance and frolic, go swimming and engage in sports. This was merely a smokescreen for sexual vanity and voyeurism. Hitler capitalises on this idea by promoting sport among the Hitler Youth knowing that sports which necessitated few clothes, encouraged voyeurism and sexual activity between his youth and therefore could advance his Arian race. Swimming pools and the beach, as well as the sports' field, are regular hunting grounds for perverts and paedophiles. Hitler was a pervert himself and he also has a morbid fascination with rotting corpses. This background, which Hartmann knew, leads me to the finale of Hartmann's Symphony no. 1

The fifth movement is an epilogue, a setting of Supplication, in which Hartmann's hatred of war,and Nazism in particular, is expressed in visions of torn bodies on battlefields.

O my earth I charge you , lose not my sons, lose not my sisters.

When one considers the sad song cycles of Mahler such as Kindertotenlieder and some of the accounts of soldiers going to war and never coming back as in Des Knaben Wunderhorn one can admire them but where Hartmann suceeds is that his utterance is simpler and never grandiose. He avoids the music of war machinery with all its percussive and military sounds. Hartmann is more discreet, subtle and even when dealing with anguish and horror he and his music are in control - never pompous, never military since he not only hated war but the ridiculousness of having to dress up for it. He would have agreed with A. E. Houseman who laments Commanding Officers sending soldiers off to die

The Symphony no.1 is not so much an anti-war symphony but an anti-Nazi symphony. It depicts Hartmann's loathing of Hitler, Socialism, the Jesuit military tactics that inspired Hitler, and the gross immorality of the German people.

The soloist is very good and the integration of the material is noteworthy. In fact, every note counts; every harmony is exactly right. It is a profound, moving, evocative compelling symphony. The final pages are staggering too... if you have the insight to appreciate the point that is being made.

The Symphony no.2 is a one movement work, an expansive Adagio for large orchestra with an important part for a baritone saxophone. It dates from 1945/6. Its songlike theme on the saxophone, reminiscent of a Red Indian incantation, leads to a towering and glowing climax. The music presents itself as a lament for a bombed Germany and for a people deceived and destroyed long before 1939 by a grossly evil man and ideology. The work may also a tour of bombed out cities with pictures of Berlin, Cologne, Frankfurt, Dresden and Leipzig and then on to the camps with the emaciated naked bodies being shovelled into pits. These were once living people who were loved and loved, who had lives before them. The saxophone solo seems to depict single people in their loneliness. Here is an orphaned child looking at the camera with painful yearning, desperately alone; here is an attractive young woman knowing that her fiancée is dead somewhere, but where? This engagement ring... what does it now mean? Here is a mother searching for her loved ones. What has become of them? What a waste is war. What condign shame and disgrace has befallen Germany. Can they ever be forgiven? The whole world looks upon this nation with shock that has robbed them of the power to hate. The depth of Hartmann's music is extraordinary but it is not gloomy. There is an expression of the innocence of Germany who has been deceived and there is a quiet optimism. There is also a hint of Hartmann's self-vindication. It is not a callous I told you so but a lament coupled with hopes for the future. The horn writing may recall the sunrise in Carl Nielsen's Helios Overture. Profound distress gives way to brilliant radiance, bustling excitement, a scurrying perpetuum mobile and a powerful confidence. The war is over. Hitler is dead. Germany is defeated and that is the cause for Hartmann's celebration. He rejoices in the hope that socialism will die too. This is wonderful music of intellectual and emotional intensity. Very, very special.

The two movement Symphony no. 3 was compiled from earlier works, the Klagegesang Symphony of 1944 and the aforementioned Sinfonia Tragica of 1940-3. It begins with a largo and a double bass solo which passes to a string quintett and the full strings in music of Bergian warmth which introduces a fugue. It is rich in texture, poignant and utterly convincing. Music of rare beauty which some will dismiss as belonging to a modern idiom as if that were a crime. By turn, it soars, it sings, it reflects, it laments, it lifts and it communicates, which is what all music should do. But the beauty of Hartmann's music is not restricted to simple or diatonic terms. When the full orchestra and the timpani enter (a tremendous moment) in the allegro con fuoco the virtuoso fugue begins and that is what it is. It makes the great fugues of Bach and Handel mundane. It is such a good fugue that you are unaware that that is what it is. Academia does not get in the way and spoil it.. Brilliant stuff. And when the music becomes frentic one is aware of how good the orchestra and the conductor have to be. But there is more excitement to come. When the timpanist unleashes his powers and the strident brass enter we are in another world, a world where music is so ecstatic that one has to remember it was written by a mere mortal. The sinister chords give way to music-box innocence and playfulness, the simplicity of the string writing in the opening Largo is now with the woodwind. This is really a Concerto for Orchestra. The music heads towards a climax but is delayed but the high horns, snarling brass and shrieking woodwind do not fail both to fascinate and impress. The music is episodic and needs a great conductor for it to hang together. The second movement is also strong but also episodic. Its constant shift of moods does not make for a unified whole but there are some unforgettable moments.

One expects a symphony for strings to be light and brief. It is often the composer's first attempts in this form as with Malcolm Arnold and Kenneth Leighton, for example. Hartmann's Symphony no. 4 for string orchestra started life as a Concerto for soprano and string orchestra in 1938. In its present form it was presented in 1948 before the Symphony no.3.

The Fourth Symphony last for about 33 minutes being in four substantial movements. The opening movement is elegiac, a passionate Lento. Although again rich in texture, it is uneasy in utterance, aurally compelling and arguably the finest work for string orchestra ever written. The climax of the movement is one of rugged grandeur unparalleled in string orchestra literature. The only other composer who could write in such a masterly way for string orchestra was Bartok. The movement seems to be a narrative, another personal view of shamed Germany yet the high violin solos at the end may depict a type of resurrection. The middle movement is usually lively but somewhat hesitant. It makes references to the composer's String Quartet no.1. The uncertainty of Germany's future, its industrial power, the return to family life and its values (you can hear laughter in this movement), the victory over Nazism and the recalling of bitter memories are all here. It will be too much for some listeners.

The finale is another slow movement and is also appassionato. It is incredibly powerful at times and not for shallow music-lovers. One climax is simply crushing.

The Symphony no.5 of 1945 is entitled Sinfonia Concertante and was originally written in 1932 as a Trumpet Concerto which in actual fact it still is. It is written in an eighteenth century style with three short moments Toccata, Melodie and Rondo. Again, Hartmann's political and moral views are here displayed in his retrospective appeal to a pre-Nazi Germany hence the anachrostic style of the music. The wind orchestra has the lions share of it and there are no upper strings. This is an excellent example of how to write for wind and keep orchestral balance. The saxophone of the Symphony no.2 has something to say as well.

Arguably, Hartmann's greatest work is the Symphony no.6 of 1951-3. It is based on his earlier work the Symphony L'Oeuvre after the Zola novel. This appeared in 1938 although only the adagio is used. The symphony is in two movements, the adagio and a toccata variata. The adagio is nowhere near as heavy as those in the Symphony no..4 and has a more airy texture but still that warm intense romanticism.. Harps, bells, piano duet, explosions and unleashed power, uncontainable excitement, crashing climaxes and a soaring melody line. What else do you want? The orchestration is faultless.

And what a start to the second movement. A fugue gives way to an essay of majestic power, ongoing motion and stirring timpani attacks. The excitement is almost dangerous. What this ultra-special music does is to stir the maximum level of real and lasting enjoyment. The fugue returns and the final pages are electric, dramatic, terrifying, stunning and unbelievably exciting.

Very good as this performance is, it does not match that of Hans Rosbaud.

The last two symphonies are not derived from any earlier material as are the previous six. Symphony no.7 dates from 1957/8 and is in three movements namely an introduction and ricerare, which harps back to the past and the Germany before Hitler, an adagio marked mesto cantanto and tranquilo and a finale marked scherzoso virtuoso. The opening movement could almost pass for a modern day Brandenburg Concerto. When the movement reaches its height its clear textures gives the music a mountain stream freshness and an excitement under control. The Stravinsky of Dumbarton Oaks is not far away.

The return to the past, as in the Symphony no.5, is stylistically worrying. It makes the work a hybrid. In the first four symphonies Hartmann had, and developed, his very personal style which, for those who like comparisons, could be described as an aggregate of Mahler, early Schoenberg and Berg but with a greater intensity and a highly personal stamp. The slow movement is one of contemplative beauty and the finale is another virtuoso piece as are the finales of the Symphony no.6 and of Symphony no. 2 It is exhilarating and full of energy quite at odds, thankfully, with Teutonic and Edwardian music.

What can I say of the Symphony no.8 written in 1960 - 2? It is in two movements, a cantilene and dithyrambe which is mainly a scherzo. It uses sections of the orchestra as groups more so than in previous works and there is a very interesting use of percussion. Yet what this symphony has is a real sense of space or resignation. It is as if the composer knew it would be his last. He incorporates his political and moral views, his hopes for the future, his return to the past and there are sections rich in polyphony. Somehow, this work is the most personal, the most sublime and I can say little more other than to say that I loved it the first time I heard it and still do. For me, it is one of those very rare examples of music that, whatever its qualities, gives a deep personal joy that cannot be expressed. This is music beyond praise.

The recording is generally exceptional although there is a tendency for engineers to be conductors. The performances are very good but I have to say that my love of these symphonies may make me a little prejudiced in that I want perfection. But this is very special music. Music for which no adjectives exist and, even if they did, they would not suffice.


David Wright




David Wright



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