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TROUBADISC composers

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Max Reger

biography

"Oh, there are still so very many North and South Poles in harmonics."      Max Reger

His musical style, which combines a chromatic harmonic language with Baroque and Classical formal procedures, situates him as both a successor to late 19th-century Romanticism and a forerunner of early 20th-century modernism.

In 1874 the Reger family moved to Weiden, where the young Max’s musical talents were somewhat haphazardly developed by his father. Piano lessons under Adalbert Lindner, emphasizing the polyphonic models of Beethoven and Brahms, began in 1884. However after a visit to Bayreuth in 1888, where the young Reger saw Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg and Parsifal, he told his father that he wanted to pursue a career in music.

Between 1886 and 1889 Reger frequently acted as deputy organist for Lindner. Reger first attracted Riemann’s attention when Lindner sent him some of the young composer’s earliest compositions. An increasingly welcome guest in the Riemann household, Reger followed his teacher to the Wiesbaden Conservatory in 1890. Reger devoted his time in Wiesbaden to cultivating musical contacts (such as Richard Strauss, whom he met 1896, Eugen d’Albert and Busoni) and crystallizing his thoughts on music. His ever increasing knowledge of Bach and Brahms led him away from the world of programmatic music; his ideal was "architectonic beauty, melodic and imitative magic," buttressed by "intellectual content."

A publishing contract with Aibl in 1898 marked the beginning of the composer’s ultimately ill-fated attempt to succeed in the Bavarian capital. His lack of support contrasted greatly with the situations of Richard Strauss, who had champions in Schillings, Thuille, and Pfitzner, whose journalistic friend Louis, the music critic of the Münchner Neueste Nachrichten, became one of Reger’s bêtes noires. The periodical Kunstwart, under its influential editor Batka, was a center of opposition to Reger’s music.

Reger’s outspoken antipathy to the "Aktiengesellschaft für angewandte Impotenz" (or the Company for Applied Impotence, as he called his musical opponents in Munich) and blunt criticism of his contemporaries (such as his remark that "homeopathic 'Wagnerism’" had destroyed Schillings’ considerable talent) were consistent with his vaunted belief in absolute music. Yet it is clear from his own works that he too was influenced by the Lisztian symphonic poem and had no objection, in principle, to the much-trumpeted "Musik als Ausdruck."

With the performance of the Piano Quintet in C-minor op. 64, in 1902 (TRO-CD 01414), Reger’s reputation grew, gaining him the confidence to begin a series of major keyboard and chamber music works.

The range of his public recitals and conducting appearances also begun to expand. Prokofiev witnessed his 1906 visit to St Petersburg. The performance there of the Serenade, op. 95 (1905-6) may have influenced (along with the writings of Busoni) the development of a neo-classical style in the younger Russian composers. European tours gradually became a physical ordeal for Reger, however; the physical debility which afflicted him during concerts was all too frequently cited by unsympathetic critics as evidence of "alcohol abuse."

In 1904 Reger took a post as teacher of theory composition and organ at the Munich Akademie der Tonkunst and in 1907 he accepted the position of director of music at the University of Leipzig. In contrast, the four years in Leipzig brought him the first truly sustained recognition of his career. A steady stream of students, such as Othmar Schoeck, Jaromír Weinberger, Johanna Senfter, the young Erwin Schulhoff and George Szell, were added to a list of prominent friends that included Max Klinger, Christian Sinding and Arthur Nickisch. In addition, Reger was awarded honorary doctorates from the universities of Jena and Berlin.

Of more importance to Reger was meeting the 16-year-old violinist Adolf Busch at the Cologne Conservatory in 1909. Busch, accompanied by his brother, played Reger’s own violin concerto for him. Two years later, Reger and Busch gave their first public recital together at a Bach-Reger Festival (which also included a performance of the Violin Concerto) in Bad Pyrmont. Festivals devoted to Reger’s music had become an important aspect of his growing reputation since Marteau organized the first such festival in Dortmund in 1910.

Although Reger continued to produce chamber music in considerable quantities, his Leipzig years are most notable for his maturation as an orchestral composer. Before his arrival in Leipzig, he had not been successful in writing an orchestral work (an attempt to write a symphony at the time of his marriage was fruitless). The Hiller Variations (1907) were followed by the Violin Concerto (1907-8) and the Symphonischer Prolog zu einer Tragödie (1908). Although this non programmatic symphonic poem shared the stern tone of the later Piano Concerto (1910), Reger’s orchestral output gradually acquired softer, more romantic contours. This was especially true after 1911 when Reger became director of the orchestra of the ducal court of Saxe-Meiningen in a line of succession that included Bülow and Richard Strauss. His orchestral programs were much more adventurous, including works by Bruckner, Grieg, Richard Strauss, Tchaikovsky and Debussy, as well as his own music.

Undoubtedly his conducting activities, combined with his unrelenting outpouring of compositions, continued to weaken his already unreliable constitution. His decision to resign from Meiningen largely on health grounds was delayed by the death of Duke Georg II and the outbreak of  WWI. But in early 1915 he retired to Jena where he intended to sustain his family, which now included two adopted daughters, through continued composition and concert tours.

More representative of his later style are the Hebbel Requiem (1915) and the Eichendorff setting, Der Einsiedler (1915), which are at once personal meditations and reflections of wartime.

On a trip to Leipzig for his teaching duties, Reger suffered a fatal heart attack in Leipzig on 11th May 1916.

(Extract with courtesy from: © The New Grove Dic. of Music, London
1980)

book tip

Susanne Popp
Max Reger  WERK STATT LEBEN - biography
Breitkopf & Härtel 2015



TRO-CD 01413 - Max Reger - Piano Chamber Music Vol.1 - Violin Sonatas opp.72 & 139 - 18,00 €

Details, Preview and order in the Catalogue 
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TRO-CD 01414 - Max Reger - Piano Chamber Music Vol.2 - Piano Quintet op.64 - Piano Trio op.102 - 18,00 €

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TRO-CD 01415 - Max Reger - Piano Chamber Music Vol.3 - Piano
Quartets opp.113 & 133 - 18,00 €

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TRO-CD 01422 - Max Reger - Four Sonatas op.42 for Violin - Renate Eggebrecht - 18,00 €

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TRO-CD 01416 - Max Reger - Seven Sonatas op.91 for Violin - Renate Eggebrecht - 22,00 €

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TRO-CD 01425 - Max Reger - Seven Preludes & Fugues, Chaconne op.117 for Violin - 18,00 €

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TRO-CD 01427 - Max Reger - Six Preludes & Fugues op.131A - Prelude & Fugue A-minor, Prelude E-minor -  Chaconnes opp. 42, 91, 117 for Violin - 18,00 €

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TRO-CD 01424 - VIOLIN SOLO Vol.1 - Max Reger - Chaconne op.117 for Violin - 18,00 €

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TRO-CD 01437 - Max Reger - Piano concerto op.114 - Wolfram Lorenzen - 18,00 €

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Max Reger

 

 

"For the time being, God willing, I pray for only one thing: that each day have 72 working hours so that I might set down every-thing I have in my brain."
Max Reger
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Max Reger, 1908