Saturday, September 16, 2006

Robert Heger and the music of the Third Reich

Last night I revisited the Six Partitas and Toccata by Robert Heger, based on the chorale Nun jauchzet alle Landen Gott zu ehren, Op.41, based on what the announcer describes as Psalm 66 but sounds for all peoples that on earth do dwell like the Old Hundredth. Maybe it's the slightly opaque 1968 ORF recording (Heger conducting the Bamberg SO) but it's a terrifyingly impressive work, all insistently glassy divisi strings and barking brass, not unlike postwar Hindemith parodying Bruckner. It's made for TV programmes about the Alps or the retreat from Kursk.

Heger was active as an operatic conductor in Nazi musical life, although doesn't figure in Kater's studies of same, so maybe there's hope.

Much Nazi-era music was rubbish - Max Trapp's Second Piano Concerto, despite Walter Gieseking and Willem Mengelberg's best efforts on an Orfeo remaster a few years back, is a clunker, and the likes of Pepping, Grimm and Orff hardly add to the sum of human happiness. But Wilhelm Furtwangler's gigantic First Symphony, composed in 1941, improves with every airing, and Strauss's late music - notably Die Liebe der Danae - is deathless. Heger - whose lengthy but adorable Violin Concerto I also own as a bootleg - is definitely worth re-appraisal. And what of other names? Siegmund von Hausegger (1872-1948) was a Graz-born conductor and composer and holder in perpetuity of the Most Teutonic Name Ever award, and was a frequently played composer. His orchestral works say it all - Wieland der Schmied, Barbarossa, Natursinfonie (over an hour long - who'd a thunk it?). Gottfried Muller (b.1913) was one of the tiny handful of artists that Hitler kept from the front at all costs - Wieland Wagner was another - largely thanks to his enormous Deutsches Heldenrequiem of 1933.

The template is predictable - stolidly tuneful music, as predictable as Biedermeier furniture, lots of Brahms and Reger - but this does not preclude quality of craft. Joseph Haas (1879-1960) wrote much vocal and choral music, including some intriguing-sounding oratorios for soloists, chorus and ork - based largely on religious and folk themes, which sounds like the very stones and mortar of Blut-und-Boden Nazi prescription - until one realises that after the war Haas was not denazified but achieved high academic office in Munich.

More research needs to be done - not least by me - but until then, Heger's Six Partitas and Toccata needs a few more concert halls to lift the roof off. CPO, and the inestimable Werner Andreas Albert should jump at it.

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