The following text is taken from the liner notes to the album Tief in der Nacht: Alban Berg, Karl Amadeus Hartmann (ECM New Series 2153).
Hartmann’s Lamento had to wait a while in its composer’s drawer, for this ‘cantata for soprano and piano’ of 1955 was made out of the solo passages in a 1936-7 score for soprano, choir and piano. Hartmann had dedicated the original choral work to the memory of Alban Berg, the recently deceased Viennese master, and the piece won honourable mention in Universal Edition’s annual Emil Hertzka competition of 1938. However, Hartmann’s reasons for revisiting old compositions were rather special, Lamento being one of many for which he had sought no outlet during the Nazi years, and which he then felt the need to revise once that period was over, while maintaining his music’s qualities of protest and mourning.
Hartmann thus calls on a distant past—or, rather, two pasts, those of Gryphius’s war-observant poetry and of Bach’s heavenward music—to help him find his present. That present, though, is bifurcated. With its incisive imagery in the piano, its vociferous yet intensely precise soprano and its constant inventive power, Lamento is a big piece, one that thoroughly engages the two formidable musicians who present it here. Juliane Banse is the kind of singer Hartmann must have imagined, one who can maintain ease, power and warmth under difficult circumstances, whose singing conveys at once authority and vulnerability, and whose musical experience runs from Bach to the present day. Aleksandar Madžar similarly brings out the depth of history and the immediacy of feeling written into this work. Yet these artists also convey the desperate silence from which the piece started, when, living through unspeakable times, its composer could only lay down strong shadows for the future.
From Guy Rickards, Hindemith, Hartmann and Henze (London: Phaidon Press, 1995) pp. 101-09
The Sinfonia tragica was dedicated to Paul Collaer, who had planned to give the opera, Des Simplicius Simplicissimus Jugend, its première at the end of May 1940, before the German occupation of Belgium prevented its realization. Collaer was also unable to perform the Sinfonia tragica, but did ensure its rehearsal before returning the score to Hartmann, together with some suggested alterations.
One possible explanation for this disparity may lie in several circumstantial facts that in isolation amount to little but when taken together could be construed as significant. Karl’s brother Richard had distributed leaflets against Hitler during the presidential campaign in 1932. On Hitler’s assumption of the chancellorship the following year he fled to Switzerland, where he remained until 1946. Karl himself never belonged to any political party, though his Socialist sympathies were not unknown. He was summoned on several occasions to attend medical examinations to determine his fitness for military service. Judicious use of tablets causing profuse perspiration was sufficient for a final verdict to be deferred until a local art-loving medical director confirmed and certificated Hartmann’s unfitness for duty. Hartmann managed to help a pianist friend, Martin Piper, to dodge the draft at another examination by administering a disgusting concoction of ‘boiled washing soap, cigars and cognac’. Small beer perhaps, but enough to cost him liberty, or life, if he had been caught. His bravery and dissidence were never in doubt.
Hartmann first consulted Webern—in 1941—by letter, asking whether Universal Edition in Vienna, who were Webern’s publishers, might take on his music. Nothing came of this, but Hartmann was sufficiently encouraged to travel to Maria-Enzersdorf near Vienna, where Webern lived, in order to study with him. Hartmann learned to be careful and keep his political differences with Webern apart from his musical studies, as well as separate from his respect and admiration for the man. In the same letter to his wife, Hartmann wrote, ‘I was largely to blame that the conversation repeatedly turned to politics. This was a mistake, because with my strong sympathies towards anarchism I discovered things that I would have preferred not to. The main thing was that he seriously held the view that all authority should be respected for the sake of good order, and that one should—no matter what the price—recognize the State in which one lives.’
Some of Hartmann’s own scores were gone through, including Des Simplicius Simplicissimus Jugend and what he termed ‘my first symphony’. It is unclear which symphony this might be: Versuch eines Requiems would not be called a symphony for eight more years, so either the 1938 Symphony for string orchestra and soprano or that based on Zola’s L’Oeuvre could be meant. It is even possible that the work referred to is the Sinfonia tragica. Pupil and teacher did not always concur in their opinions of other composers’ stature. ‘Even as I heartily rejoice at his opinion of Reger I cannot agree with his appraisal of Bruckner. He does not believe that Bruckner has contributed to the development of music. Is Bruckner then so different from Mahler?’ This remark encapsulates the essential difference between pupil and teacher. Webern’s music sprang ultimately from a Mahlerian, high-romantic aesthetic, whereas Hartmann was preternaturally Brucknerian in orientation. The music of Anton Bruckner also linked Hartmann to Hindemith in spirit. The Icelandic composer Jon Thόrarinsson who studied at Yale between 1944 and 1947 recalled that, among ‘the composers of the Classic and Romantic period, Anton Bruckner was the one most often referred to by Hindemith. I believe he considered Bruckner, who at this time was practically unknown in America, to be the greatest symphonist after Beethoven.’
Vita nova was lost (and part of it remains so), while the Sinfonia tragica was to disappear for over forty years en route to Belgium when Hartmann despatched it in 1946 to Collaer for the much-delayed première. In both works and life, wartime cast a shadow over Hartmann that took years to dispel.
Look at the singer: Her hair is exactly the same red as yours, the red of copper in the evening sun, the copper by which gods enter the ear drum. Does she remind you of Mara? She does me. Listen! Now fiercely tender, now declamatory, there’s depth and immediacy in her every phrase. How does she manage to combine such authority with vulnerability? Look at the pianist: The curl of his fingers, the relaxation of his wrist, as spider-like he spins out a soft, fluid legato—only to execute a violent, flat-fingered attack right after. I look at you and I am moved: The moist glow of your eyes tells me you’re thinking of Matteo. And thus, into this juxtaposition of the Third Reich and the Thirty Years War, into this song of suffering and remembrance, comes the death of a friend. Dark-hued, entreating, the singer’s voice captures your emotion.
Bisher sind wir tot gewesen, kann nun Fried ein Leben geben,
Ach, so lass uns, Friedenskönig, durch dich froh und friedlich leben,
Wo du Leben uns versprochen!
Herr, es Ist genug geschlagen
Angst und Ach genug getragen,
Gib doch nun etwas Frist, dass ich mich recht bedanke.
Gib, dass ich der Handvoll Jahre
Froh werde eins vor meiner Bahre,
Missgönne mir doch nicht dein liebliches Geschenke.
Herr, es Ist genug geschlagen
Angst und Ach genug getragen
Friede den Menschen
Friede den Toten
Friede den Lebenden
Friede, Friede, Friede
We once were dead; now peace a life is giving,
So, king of peace and joy, let us be living
The life that you have promised!
Lord, I have borne enough,
I have been torn enough,
Allow me yet a little time for thought.
Give me a few years more
In which to count the score
Of gifts your love for me has bought.
Lord, I have borne enough
I have been torn enough
Peace to humanity
Peace to the dead
Peace to the living
Peace, peace, peace