Symphony No. 6
Karl Amadeus Hartmann
Orchestration: 3 flutes (1st, 2nd, and 3rd = piccolo), 3 oboes (2nd = English horn), 3 clarinets (2nd = bass clarinet), 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (bass drum, cymbals, glockenspiel, snare drum, suspended cymbal, tam tam, tambourine, triangle, 2 xylophones), harp, 2 pianos, celesta, and strings. First Los Angeles Philharmonic performances.
“Today I believe the threat against civilization will never belong to the past as long as freedom is threatened somewhere… we need to be on our guard, we need to remind ourselves, to remember past atrocities… we need to speak out when we recognize totalitarian governments [anywhere].”
— Karl Amadeus Hartmann
German composer Karl Amadeus Hartmann, without consorting with the “brown shirts” (unlike Furtwängler, von Karajan, and Richard Strauss, for example) or emigrating abroad (like Schoenberg, Steuermann, and Weill, among others), managed to survive the Third Reich. Not without his own personal crisis, though – an “inner emigration,” some have called it.
After training at Munich’s Music Academy in the late 1920s, the young Hartmann burst upon the German music world. He drew inspiration from futurism, dada, jazz, German Expressionism, the evolving modernist “school” of Schoenberg, Webern, and Berg, and even the fugal techniques of Bach. Hartmann’s work caught on, including excellent notices and major performances throughout the 1930s. As the Nazis came to power, however, he began his personal exodus, disallowing performances of his works in Germany and removing himself from the public realm. Outside of Germany, he garnered several awards and had excellent success, including concerts in Prague, Strasbourg, Geneva, Liège, and Vienna. He eventually halted all performances, though, and withdrew all of his works. He moved to Vienna in 1941 to study with Anton Webern.
After the war – at about the same time his words above were written – Hartmann returned to Munich and dedicated himself to Musica Viva, a new music series that had a tremendous impact throughout Europe. He eventually returned to composition, too, “recreating” a slew of new works by revisiting much of his music from the 1930s. At the heart of Hartmann’s output are his symphonies, eight in number. Conductors such as Leon Botstein have compared him to Mahler and Shostakovich, raving: “I believe Karl Amadeus Hartmann to be one of this century’s greatest symphonists.”
The Symphony No. 6, one of his most performed, is a reworking of a two-movement symphony from 1937, L’Oeuvre. The original work was inspired by French naturalist writer Emile Zola’s novel of the same name, the story of a painter – Hartmann had at one time wanted to be a painter – conflicted between public taste and self doubt (the withdrawn Hartmann?). Between 1951 and ’53, the composer revisited the work, removed musical references to the Zola novel, and thoroughly revised the Toccata variata, eventually also reversing the performance order of the two movements.
Hartmann’s is a very personal musical language, revealed throughout the first movement Adagio. It is neither stridently atonal nor rigorously serial. Instead, he mixes tonal and atonal; colorful and moody moments give way to thundering climaxes, quixotic melodies yield to gigantic tsunamis of sound. The Symphony begins quietly as bassoon, rumbling drums, and snaking English horn initiate the slowly evolving structure, a sound world which ebbs and flows but never loses an extraordinary intensity. The quietude of the opening returns to close the Adagio.
The Toccata variata opens boldly and brusquely, yielding immediately to a fughetta in the strings. The rhythmic vitality and contrapuntal procedures in this movement sound almost Baroque at times, but the character of the music is unmistakably modern, strident, angst-ridden. Jolly and light dialogues between bassoons, clarinets, and strings are interrupted by thwacks and thumps from the brass and percussion.
A major climax arrives about midway through the movement as piccolo, piano, brass, and percussion begin a frenzied and demonic dialogue. A breakdown occurs, as pairs of jolly winds reappear, leading once again to a Neolithic, neo-Baroque dialogue. After a mini-percussion cadenza, Hartmann takes us on a final up-tempo, contrapuntal romp, beginning with the strings. Neo-Baroque quickly yields to the neo-nuclear as the music intensifies for a last manic outburst of energy.
We should remember that for Karl Amadeus Hartmann, writing music really was a political act. For him and others of his day, freedom from the constraints of tonality and the 19th-century orchestra carried special significance, especially in light of the composer’s bitter opposition to totalitarianism. In his private life, and in his music, Hartmann (in the words of Botstein): “provides a compelling example of what ordinary Germans and Europeans ought to have done.”
Composer Dave Kopplin, who holds a Ph.D. from UCLA, is a writer and program editor for the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Hollywood Bowl. He also is a lecturer in music at Loyola Marymount University.