Josef Matthias Hauer: Zwölftonspiel for violin, cello, accordion, and piano four-hands (October 1957)
From the album Zwölftonspiele
The impression was bizarre enough… I knocked at the white door. It opened, and before me there stood an old Chinese sage in his long nightshirt. It was Hauer. He had a white Van Dyke beard. “I’ve already been waiting quite a while for you,” he said without any surprise.” Then he asked me in, got back into bed, and spoke with deep bitterness about Thomas Mann, Darmstadt, and Theodor Adorno. With every word it became clearer to me that here the excess pressure of a volcano brought to the point of eruption by increasing isolation was venting itself. But the strangeness of this man had traces of prophecy about it… The compositions he showed me were all very similar. Most of the pieces were piano duets or string quartets. “Do take it with you if you want to read it,” Hauer said. I did not want to take the responsibility upon myself. “What do you mean?” he asked. “When you’ve read it, just throw it away. I write something new every day.” (H. H. Stuckenschmidt)
The more I learn about Josef Matthias Hauer, the more fascinating he becomes. (This is my second post on the Viennese composer; in October 2009 I shared a movement from Hauer’s 7th Suite for orchestra from 1926.) It is now fairly well known that Hauer shares the distinction of the discovery of twelve-tone composition (albeit of a distinct form) with Arnold Schoenberg—although the Ukrainian composer Yefim Golishev also has claims in this regard. In spite of their sometimes acrimonious dispute over intellectual priority, Hauer and Schoenberg supposedly considered jointly publishing a book on twelve-tone technique in the 1920s.
Through his friendship with the artist Johannes Itten, Hauer was involved with the activities of the Bauhaus during its “expressionist” phase in the early 1920s. In the synaesthetic spirit of the times, Itten and Hauer worked together to develop theories on the correspondence of pitch and color. For a time there was talk of establishing a musical equivalent of the Bauhaus in Weimar with Hauer as its director.
An intense personality convinced of the convergence of rationality and mysticism, Hauer was supposedly the model for a number of characters in contemporary German-language literature, including Magister Ludi in Herman Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game (1943).
Portrait of Hauer by Christian Schad (1927)
Then there is the music: already in his earlier work, Hauer’s version of twelve-tone composition was something quite distinct from the dominant expressionist vein of Schoenberg and company. But later his musical style became even more idiosyncratic. Beginning in 1939, Hauer began calling all of his compositions Zwölftonspiele (“twelve-tone games”). At first, these pieces were numbered, but later Hauer began titling them simply with the date of their composition. In these works, the act of composition is reduced to a kind of self-executing algorithm, and the music takes on a corresponding quality of mathematical clarity and unpretentiousness. As Steffen Schleiermacher writes, “The tonal range of the pieces is as a rule very limited, the melodic and rhythmic figures always remain the same, there are no great agogic phrasing lines, there is neither development to high points nor release of tension, and yet…the music does not remain in one place. Rather, it seems to move sideways.”
In these modest, quotidian compositions, Hauer achieved the most staggering transcendence of basic stylistic assumptions of classical music. The twelve-tone games are a kind of atonal Muzak, which in their disavowal of pathos attain new heights of musical sublimity. Hauer’s music (and not only his) disproves the popular notion voiced by composers such as George Rochberg that atonal music is constitutionally restricted to a single expressive register: this music knows joy, playfulness, and sprightly humor. An anonymous reviewer of this album nicely expressed its effect on the auditor: “These little essays in pure music are like perfect crystals. […] After listening to this disc, I felt alert, calm, and clear-headed. I felt as though the electro-chemical circuitry in my brain was set straight to run on its proper lines of neural communication by this cerebral music.”
In 1947, Hauer wrote:
I reject all my modern musical ideas of composition which I developed along the path to knowledge because I recognize only the great, complete, cosmic, eternally unchangeable, absolute music— the genuine guardian; the most holy, most spiritual, most precious in the world; the heart and understanding; the satisfactory manifestation of the world order as religion; the original language which directly increases reason; the Spirit conceiving God’s Word; the art of all arts; the knowledge of all knowledges—in short because I recognize only the twelve-tone game.
Distinguishing specious from genuine sources of wisdom, the eternal outsider Hauer signed this manifesto “not from the university, but by grace of the universe.”
Played 80 time(s).
December 17, 2010, 10:16pm