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ClassicsOnline Home » TINTNER: Violin Sonata / Variations on a Theme of Chopin / Piano Sonata / Trauermusik
The Austrian-born Georg Tintner achieved fame as a conductor but considered himself a ‘composer who conducts’, with an ambition ‘to write beautiful music’. His early works are tonal and Romantically influenced, while later music – notably the Violin Sonata – is of great lyrical beauty. Although Tintner led a varied and successful career on four continents, he found himself unable to continue composing – the result of personal disasters and the loss of his culture and musical language. He was one of the many ‘lost composers’ of the wartime era, ending his life tragically in 1999.
The Straits Times
By Christopher Latham
By David Denton
Georg Tintner (1917-1999)
Georg Tintner was born in 1917 in Vienna and was for four years a member of the Vienna Boys Choir. He entered the Vienna State Academy at the age of thirteen, studying composition and conducting. He became Assistant Conductor at the Vienna Volksoper at the age of nineteen, until escaping from Vienna in 1938 after the Anschluss. He arrived in New Zealand in 1940, moving to Australia in 1954 as Music Director of the National Opera. His subsequent career took him to Cape Town as Music Director of the Municipal Orchestra, to Australia as Senior Resident Conductor at the Australian Opera and, for several years, to London, where he worked at Sadler's Wells. In 1987 he moved to Canada as Music Director of Symphony Nova Scotia and has conducted all the major Canadian orchestras. Georg Tintner has a special affinity with Bruckner and has conducted his works on five continents, including performances with the London Symphony Orchestra for the BBC and several first performances. His recordings of the 11 symphonies for Naxos have been widely acclaimed. He has been awarded the Order of Canada, a number of honorary doctorates, and the "Grosses Ehrenzeichen" of the Austrian Government for his services to Austrian music.
Georg Tintner is known only as a conductor, yet he always thought of himself as a composer who conducted. He began composing around the age of ten, as a member of the Vienna Boys Choir, writing pieces for the boys to sing (and himself to conduct). One of his works, Steht auf!, was part of the choir's standard repertoire in the 1930s. In 1931, aged fourteen, he entered the Akademie für Musik und darstellende Kunst as a composition prodigy, studying with Josef Marx. After graduating in 1935 he studied conducting with Felix Weingartner.
The Sonata in F minor and Auf den Tod eines Freundes (On the Death of a Friend) probably date from his early years at the Academy. The sonata, in one movement, is fully tonal and in the Romantic style, owing much to Scriabin, Chopin and Brahms. Full of the passions and enthusiasms of youth, it is a remarkably sophisticated work for a boy or fourteen or fifteen. In 1934 he completed the Variations on a Theme of Chopin, fifteen variations on the Prelude in A major, probably written for his own use. It was performed by Renée Gärtner at the Konzerthaus the following year and in a Radio Vienna broadcast in 1936. By that year Tintner had loved and lost a fickle young pianist named Piroška, and his romantic tribulations were transformed into altogether more mature compositions. Several of these he always considered among his best works: a number of songs for female voice, and the short, Scriabinesque prelude Sehnsucht (Longing).
In 1938 Tintner fled from the Nazis, first to Yugoslavia and then to England for a year while awaiting admittance to New Zealand. While in London, he turned towards the fugue, a form that appeared many times in his later music. It was an odd choice for a composer whose stated aim was to write 'beautiful music', and in the Scriabinesque mould at that, but in the uncertain times in which he found himself the rigorous intellectual exercise of writing fugues must have given him some comfort. In 1939 he wrote two two-part and two three-part fugues for piano, and then began another piano work, Trauermusik (Musica Tragica), which would occupy him for a year and a half. As its title suggests, it is full of grief, indicative of his state of mind as a penniless refugee in a strange land. The work is mostly tonal, but contains a fugal section on a theme comprising ten of the twelve tones, his first known excursion into serialism. Tintner thought highly of this piece. He arranged it for orchestra in 1958 and it was premièred by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra under Nikolai Malko.
By the time Tintner completed Trauermusik in March 1941 he was living in Auckland, New Zealand, newly married to his first wife Sue, conducting a church choir, and despite the loss of his career was probably as happy as he ever was in his life. Probably in the same year he began writing his violin sonata, which he considered one of his two finest works. He completed it at the end of 1944 and dedicated it to the great German poet Karl Wolfskehl, another Jewish refugee in Auckland. The four movements 'deal entirely with emotions', and represent (respectively) Love, Defiance, Sorrow and Triumph. Tintner attempted to explore the expressive possibilities of the larger interval, and the violin part in particular encompasses leaps from the very first phrase. The work includes passages of great lyrical beauty, especially in the first and longest movement; its second tune was inspired by Sue's long hair. In places he again explores serialism, but it was a compositional language he later decided was 'a dead end'. The first performance was given in Auckland on 15th July 1949 in an NZBC studio broadcast by Robert Pikler and Maureen Jones.
After the violin sonata Tintner struggled for many years to write an opera, without success. He wrote only one more important work, The Ellipse for string quartet and soprano completed in 1959. After 1962 he fell virtually silent, owing to a combination of personal tragedies, the loss of his culture and transplantation into alien lands where he was little understood, and (as with so many other mid-twentieth century composers) not knowing which language to use once serialism had had its day. His inability to express himself was a matter of enduring grief to him. Although his music was not suppressed, as was that of many Jewish composers, he was certainly a 'lost composer'.
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