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ClassicsOnline Home » REGER: Mozart Variations Op. 132 / Hiller Variations Op. 100
BBC Music Magazine
Max Reger (1873 - 1916)
Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Mozart, Op. 132
Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Hiller, Op. 100
Max Reger owed his early musical leanings to the example and enthusiasm of his father, a schoolmaster and amateur musician, and his early training to the town organist of Weiden, Adalbert Lindner. Reger was born in 1873 at Brand in the Upper Palatinate, Bavaria. The following year the family moved to Weiden and it was here that he spent his childhood and adolescence, entering a course of teacher training, when he left school. Lindner had sent examples of Reger's early work as a composer to Riemann, who accepted him as a pupil, initially in Sondershausen and then, as his assistant, in Wiesbaden. Military service, which affected Reger's health and spirits, was followed by a period at home with his parents in Weiden and a continuing series of compositions, in particular for the organ, including a monumental series of chorale fantasias and other compositions, often, it seems, designed to challenge the technique of his friend Karl Straube, a noted performer of Reger's organ compositions.
In 1901 Reger moved to Munich, where he spent the next six years. His position in musical life was not without difficulty, since he was seen as a champion of absolute music and as hostile at this time to programme music, to the legacy of Wagner and Liszt. He was, however, successful as a pianist and was gradually able to find an audience for his music. The period in Munich saw the composition of his Sinfonietta, of chamber music and of his important Variations and Fugue on a Theme of J. S. Bach for piano, and the Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Beethoven, the latter later orchestrated. In 1907 he took up an appointment as professor of composition at the University of Leipzig. His music now found a still wider international audience, supported by his own distinction as a performer, with concert appearances in London, St. Petersburg, the Netherlands and Austria, and throughout Germany.
The year 1911 brought an invitation from the Duke of Saxe-Meiningen to accept the position of conductor of the court orchestra, an ensemble established by Hans von Bülow and once conducted by Richard Strauss at the outset of his career. Reger held this position until the beginning of the war, when the orchestra was disbanded, an event that coincided with his own earlier intention to resign. He spent his final years based in Jena, but continuing his activities as a composer and as a concert performer. He died in Leipzig in May 1916 on his way back from a concert tour of the Netherlands.
Reger was a prolific composer, continuing the tradition of Bach, Mozart, and the great German composers of the nineteenth century, with a technical mastery and a command of harmonic and contrapuntal resources that allowed him to expand the bounds of tonality in chromatic exploration. His organ compositions represent a very significant addition to the repertoire of the instrument. There is an equally extensive body of chamber music, with songs, choral works and orchestral compositions.
The well known Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Mozart, Opus 132, are based on a theme from Mozart's Piano Sonata in A major. The work was written in 1914 and first performed in Wiesbaden on 8th January the next year by the Kurorchester, conducted by the composer. He emphasized the absolute clarity of this music, an answer, he claimed, to the current musical anarchy, stressing that Kunst kommt von Können: his music was to be a landmark against the unnatural, quirkiness and eccentricity (Unnatur, Verschrobenheit und Verstiegenheit) of some of his contemporaries .The Variations were performed in the following month in Munich, Berlin, Heidelberg and Frankfurt am Main. The work was dedicated, zur Erinnerung, to the now disbanded Meininger Hofkapelle, the musicians of which Reger had done his best to assist. The variations, which were also arranged for two pianos, treat the theme in a generally romantic idiom, with the first of the eight slightly slower, the second, in F major, with divided strings, in greater excitement and the third in A minor with a change of rhythm that continues in the fourth, E minor, variation. After the Quasi presto of the fifth variation, in A minor, the sixth, Sostenuto, quasi adagietto and in D major, allows triplet woodwind figuration to accompany violins and cellos. The seventh variation, in F major, has the theme in the first horn and cello parts, while the last, in E major, slows and quietens to introduce the remarkablefugue, in which Reger's love of counterpoint and of chromaticism are evident. Here the first violin presents the fugal subject, followed by second violins, violas and first cellos and second cellos with double basses, before the woodwind entries. The fugue reaches a great climax over a tonic pedal-point provided by the timpani.
Reger wrote his Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Joh. Ad. Hiller, Opus 100, in 1907. The theme itself is taken from the stage-work Der Aernotekranz of the later eighteenth century composer and writer Johann Adam Hiller and was dedicated to the Cologne conductor Fritz Steinbach. The first performance was given in Cologne on 15th October 1907 in a concert dedicated to the memory of Josef Joachim. Performances followed before the end of the year in Dresden, Heidelberg and Jena. The variations are remarkably inventive in their development of the original material, opening with a version for full orchestra, leading to a second variation that slows in conclusion to a Largo before the third, an F sharp minor Vivace. There is a fifth variation for alternately muted and unmuted divided strings, a sixth G major Minuet, a hint of Mendelssohn in the seventh and an eighth variation that makes use of a solo violin. The tenth, variation demands a retuning of the fifth string of the double basses down to a bottom B, used at the grand climax of the variation. The eleventh variation leads gently enough to the fugue, in which the string instruments first present the subject in descending order, gradually joined by the rest of the orchestra, deployed to great effect in a remarkable contrapuntal texture, a reflection, as are the later variations, of his skill as an organist and as a composer for the organ.
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, the country's leading arts organisation, is based in Wellington, but performs regularly throughout the country. Formed in 1946, the orchestra was until 1988 part of the Broadcasting Corporation of New Zealand, but thereafter has enjoyed independence as a Crown Owned Entity, with a Board of Directors appointed by the Government. The Chief Conductor, appointed in 1990, is Franz-Paul Decker. Now with some ninety players, the orchestra gives some 120 concerts a year, in addition to its work in the theatre and in television, broadcasting and recording studios. Foreign tours include performance at the Seville Expo in 1992 with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, one of a long line of distinguished musicians, from Stravinsky to John Dankworth, who have appeared with the orchestra.
Franz-Paul Decker has enjoyed a long association with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and currently divides his time between Barcelona, Montreal, Ottawa, Cologne and New Zealand. Born in Cologne, he studied composition and conducting at the Cologne Hochschule für Musik, while pursuing parallel studies in musicology, ethnology and psychology at Cologne University. He made his conducting début at the age of twenty-two at the Cologne Opera and four years later was appointed to the Staatsoper, Wiesbaden and subsequently to the positions of conductor of the Wiesbaden Symphony Orchestra and Generalmusikdirecktor in Bochum. In 1962 he became Music Director of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra. A busy international career brought appointment in 1966 as Music Director of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and other subsequent positions held include that of Chief Conductor of the Orquesta Cuitat de Barcelona and in 1990 of Chief Conductor of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. In 1991 he was appointed Principal Guest Conductor of the Ottawa National Arts Centre Orchestra.
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