HAUSEGGER: Aufklänge, Symphonic Variations. Dionysische Phantasie, Symphonic Poem. Wieland der Schmeid / Bamberg Symphony Orchestra; Antony Hermus, conductor / CPO 777 810-2
OK, boys and girls…how many of you have ever heard of, let alone heard, the music of Siegmund von Hausegger? Just what I thought. No hands up!
Well, it’s all right because I had never heard of him, either. Hausegger (1872-1948) was the son of a jurist and musicologist who hoped his son would show musical talent…how different from all those stories we hear of young men and women forced to go into law or medicine, because that’s that their families wanted, only to scrap it all to become a pianist or an opera singer? Apparently, Hausegger scored a few important musical victories early on, particularly when Richard Strauss mounted his opera Zinnober in 1898, directed the Frankfurt Museum Concerts in 1903-06 and became music director of the Berlin Blüthner Orchestra in 1911, but somehow things went awry for him. He was named music director of the Munich Academy of Music in 1920, but abruptly resigned in 1934 when the Nazis assumed power and then relinquished all his other posts four years later. Hausegger’s resignations were based as much on aesthetic principles as political ones. In addition to being virulently anti-Semitic and anti-homosexual, the National Socialists (never forget: these were the German Socialists) detested most modern music, and Hausegger was very deeply involved in new German music and art, which was clearly being attacked and pushed out of Germany at that time.
A follower of Beethoven, Wagner and Nietzsche, Hausegger created his own sound-world, based largely on his own instincts and enthusiasms rather than a meticulous study of counterpoint and form. Happily, his musical instincts were so great that he was able to create a sort of “alternate Straussian universe” in music that had its own direction, color and musical rules. So much is evident in Aufklänge, the longest work on this CD, an energetic and ingenious piece that only resembles Strauss in terms of the colorful orchestration (and a couple of paraphrases from Till Eulgenspiegel shortly after the 24-minute mark). Written in 1917, it was—surprisingly enough—his last major work, compiled on the children’s song “Sleep, little child, sleep” to celebrate the birth of his daughter Veronika. Despite its great length (31:20), the music is continually evolving and changing. Hausegger refuses to fall into the trap, which afflicted such late Strauss works as the Sinfonia Domestica and Alpine Symphony, of trashy Romantic-pop tunes worked to death within a large framework.
We then jump backwards in time 21 years to the Dionyssische Phantasie of 1896-97. This is even starker and more cogently dramatic, darker than any of Strauss’ tone poems. Indeed, with its strong rhythms and almost abrasive scoring in which the winds dominate, it almost sounds like something Beethoven would have written had he lived into the era of Brahms, albeit with Berlioz-like orchestration. One wonders if Hausegger had not seen or heard any of Mahler’s early symphonies by this time, too, for there is a certain kinship to his work as well. One difference here is that the forward momentum of Dionyssische Phantasie is consistent and relentless; he does not indulge in any of the extreme contrasts of tempo and mood that characterized so much of Mahler’s scores.
And I really have to spend some time here singing the praises of conductor Antony Hermus. It would have been easy, perhaps even forgivable, if he and his orchestra performed these scores in the accepted modern fashion, which is to just “play the notes” and not inject any personal viewpoint of their own, but this is not the case. The orchestra really digs into these scores with bite and drive; if Hausegger’s music is not to your taste, you absolutely cannot blame the performers for your lack of enthusiasm. I really can’t imagine that these works could be performed any better than they are here.
The last piece on this CD, Wieland der Schmeid (1904), was dedicated to his wife and inspired in part by the poetry of Nikolaus Lenau, whose songs Hausegger had just set to music. This is the most Straussian of the three works presented here, but once again Hausegger has his own voice and his own modus operandi. The story is based on a symbolist literary fragment by Richard Wagner about Wieland the blacksmith. Hausegger wrote the following preface to the score:
The power and fame his art have created do not suffice for Wieland; he yearns for more. A swan-maiden (Schwanhilde) hovers, descends out of the sky and inclines toward Wieland. He reaches out, but, frightened by his singeing subterranean fire, she flies away. Powerless to follow, he collapses, assailed by the paralyzing thought that he who would be lord of the skies is bound insolubly to earth.
The vision of Schwanhilde fades; a cripple, Wieland stumbles, friendless through his life. Of what use is his art, power, fame? The pain of longing builds up to a cry for redemption.
Suddenly, the lethargy melts away. The transfiguring and blissful vision of Schwanhilde rises within him. His strength returns, bolder than ever. His art will carry him to luminous heights!
He forges himself wings of glittering steel. From the sky, the voice of Schwanhilde calls. Free of his earthly woes, he spreads his mighty wings and flies up to his woman. United in love, the couple soars into the sun.
I am indebted to the website http://www.oocities.org/vonhausegger/wieland.html, part of a scholarly article on von Hausegger and his work, for this information as well as for the musical examples provided below. The tone poem begins with stabbing tremolos followed by a brief, explosive figure symbolizing Wieland’s frustration:
I quote from the website: “This figure – according to the composer the most important theme in the work – builds sequentially to a rapid climax, to be followed by a more lyric theme, that of Earthly Longing:
“He soon combines a variation of it with the theme of Heavenly Longing:”
It’s a wholly remarkable piece, in which Hausegger develops both themes, with interjections of the first example (played by the horns), “leading to an especially anguished outcry of Ex 2, after which the mood shifts. Divisi violins, flageolet lower string tones and feathery, cascading woodwind sextuplets introduce Schwanhilde’s theme in E flat major, on a solo violin. The horn fifth harmonies in the woodwinds clearly indicate Alpine skies.” And so it goes, relentlessly, until the end.
Hausegger also wrote a 56-minute Nature Symphony which is, again, a darker and more dramatic work than Strauss’ mature-themed pieces. There is only one recording of it in existence by the WDR Rundfunkchor and Sinfonieorchester Köln, conducted by Ari Rasilainen; fortunately, it’s available for free streaming here on YouTube, and it, too, is a surprisingly fine performance.
This is the kind of composer and music that people like me live for: someone who was a genuine genius, somehow fell through the cracks, and is in desperate need of revival and re-examination. Who needs dead-heads like Bruckner when you have Hausegger to explore?
—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley