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ClassicsOnline Home » REBAY, F.: Oboe and Guitar Music (Complete) (M.P. Sanchez, G. Noque)
Ferdinand Rebay (1880–1953)
Complete Music for Oboe and Guitar
After his death in 1953, the figure of Austrian composer Ferdinand Rebay faded into obscurity, his name associated only with the numerous piano reductions he produced for the publisher Schott. This only changed in recent years when Johann Gaitzsch, his interest in Rebay piqued after guitarist and publisher Simon Wynberg introduced him to the Sonata in E minor for oboe and guitar, published two articles¹ which shed new light on a prolific and talented composer, whose music for and with guitar occupies a unique and outstanding place in that instrument’s repertoire, in terms of both quality and quantity. (Most of the biographical information in these notes is drawn from Gaitzsch’s articles.)
Born in Vienna on 11 June 1880, Rebay studied both the violin and the piano (the latter with his mother, Therese Rebay, who had herself been taught by Anton Bruckner). His father, another Ferdinand Rebay, owned a music shop and was also a partner in the publishing firm Rebay & Robitschek. In 1890, at the age of ten, the young Ferdinand became a chorister at Heiligenkreuz Abbey, where over the next five years he received a thorough musical education and became a solo alto. By the time he joined Joseph Hofmann’s piano class at the Vienna Conservatory (today’s Universität für Musik und darstellende Kunst) in 1901, Rebay had already begun to make a name for himself as a composer of Lieder and choral works. He went on to study composition at the Conservatory with Robert Fuchs (1847–1927), one of the few composers praised by Brahms and who also counted Mahler, Sibelius, Richard Strauss and Korngold among his star pupils. During this period of study with Fuchs, Rebay was awarded a number of prizes, including the Brahms Prize and the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde’s silver medal.
In 1904 he concluded his studies in triumph with his final academic work, Erlkönig, for large orchestra, which Fuchs labelled the finest work to have been produced in his 29 years at the Conservatory. In the same year Rebay became chorus master of the Wiener Chorverein. Some years later, in 1915, he took on the same rôle with the Wiener Schubertbund, remaining in the post until 1920 when he was appointed to teach the piano at the Vienna Music Academy.
Following the Nazi Anschluss of Austria in 1938, Rebay lost his job (he was reinstated in 1945) along with his pension, probably because he was thought to have had Jewish origins. He died in Vienna, on 6 December 1953, penniless and unknown.
Most of Rebay’s vast production survives in manuscript versions held by the Austrian National Library and the library of Heiligenkreuz Abbey. Though he also wrote choral works, symphonies, an operetta, works for piano and piano four hands, and chamber works for various combinations of instruments, it is noteworthy just how many pieces he wrote for the guitar, probably encouraged by his niece, the guitarist Gertha Hammerschmied (1906–85). There are works for solo guitar (including seven sonatas), Lieder and choral works with guitar, and chamber works for two to seven players featuring the instrument. All in all, a veritable treasure trove which has lain undiscovered for years and is only now being brought back into the public domain, thanks to the efforts of Philomele Editions.
Rebay’s style would definitely be classed as conservative, bearing in mind the musical revolutions that took place in the first half of the twentieth century. Brahms’s influence is very clear and, employing Classical and even Baroque forms such as the suite, his compositions frequently incorporate elements borrowed from German and Austrian folklore, with occasional touches of Impressionism as well. His guitar music, with its Brahmsian roots (virtually unique in the repertoire) combined with a sophisticated compositional technique, has therefore forged its own highly significant place in the history of the instrument.
The works included here constitute Rebay’s entire output for the unusual instrumental combination of oboe and guitar. In addition to their intrinsic high quality, they are particularly notable for their quasi-pianistic treatment of the guitar, taking it far beyond its more usual function as an accompanist. As a result, these pieces are full of dialogue and enlivened by an admirable variety of textures.
The E minor Sonata, composed in 1925 and dedicated to Alexander Wunderer, then principal oboist with the Vienna Philharmonic, was first performed on 31 March of the same year in Vienna by its dedicatee and guitarist Hans Schlagradl. Cast in the traditional four movements, it opens with a movement in sonata form (Lebhaft bewegt, doch nicht zu schnell) and of profoundly Germanic character, containing a delightful second subject and a concise development section defined by tonal instability. This is followed by a traditional Menuet and Trio, with some remarkably virtuosic writing for the guitar, full of complex passages in thirds and sixths. The slow movement, headed Sehr ruhig, doch nicht schleppend, is an emotional, cantabile piece in B minor, with a central section whose immobility emphasises the moving lyricism of the recapitulation that brings the movement to a close. The sonata ends with a Rondo in E major. A strong contrast to its martial symbolism (reminiscent of that of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries) is provided by a short central section in A flat in which folk-inspired elements prevail.
There is a long gap between the E minor Sonata and the Sonata in C major (dated 17 January 1942), and the latter work consequently reflects a more open attitude towards other musical styles on the part of the composer. This sonata includes a number of Impressionistic elements, for example, which bring it a certain contemplative and nostalgic air, as can be heard in the opening movement, an Allegro moderato whose lyrical nature is very different from the martial tone that introduces its counterpart in the E minor Sonata. The slow movement, Langsam und ausdrucksvoll, is placed second here; a delicate piece with a Mediterranean feel, it recalls at times the writing of the Italian composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, while its central section is pure Brahms. The following Scherzo brings a return to the Germanic features of the earlier sonata, with some brilliant imitative play between the two instruments leading to a trio which, if not explicitly indicated so, nevertheless takes us into the world of the Ländler. To end, Rebay brings us back to the thoughtful nature of the first movement by means of a Rondo whose frequent changes of tempo and character, as well as its unexpected modulations, give it a fragmented aspect not often found in finales.
The recording ends with an arrangement for oboe and guitar of the slow movement from Bach’s Italian Concerto. In this insightful adaptation, the pairing call to mind the quintessentially Baroque sonorites of sonatas for oboe and continuo.
GAITZSCH, J.: “Ferdinand Rebay: Forgotten Brahms epigone or major guitar composer?”, Soundboard, Vol. XXXI, No.4, 2006.
GAITZSCH, J.: “Ferdinand Rebay (1880–1953): epigono dimenticato di Brahms o compositore di prima grandezza?”, Il Fronimo, No.139, 2007.
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