In the course of writing it, the thought of the effect of the completed work moves me very deeply: the whole thing should represent a piece of absolute life – truth, which causes joy mingled with mourning.

                                                                                          Karl Amadeus Hartmann 1905 - 1963

Ladies and gentlemen,

In view of the relative unfamiliarity of the German composer Karl Amadeus Hartmann I have been asked to write a short introductory text to this concert. It is obviously not possible to do full justice to such a great composer as Hartmann in such a small space. I will confine myself to a few points which seem essential to me – particularly in relation to the Piano Sonata 27. April 1945. In the course of this I would like above all to let the composer speak for himself.

The collection of essays and writings, Kleine Schriften, published by Schott shortly after Hartmann’s early death in 1963, will serve as a basis for this. In it the composer compiled and recorded all those thoughts and reminiscences which he had had over the years. I would be very pleased today to awaken your interest and curiosity and for you to get to know this great musician of the 20th century.

Esther Walker

Karl Amadeus Hartmann was born in 1905, the youngest of four sons, into a cosmopolitan, unorthodox artistic family in Munich. He knew from very early on that he wanted to be a musician. His first compositions are witty, saucy pieces written in the style of the Zeitgeist of the 1920s. In his own words he blended “freewheeling futurism, Dada, jazz and other styles”. However he later destroyed most of these early works.

The year 1933 brought about a decisive rupture to his artistic life. He writes about it thus:

“Then came the year 1933, with its misery and its hopelessness; from the concept of tyranny there consequently had to emerge that most terrible of all crimes – war. In this year I acknowledged that it was necessary to make a declaration, not of despair and fear of that regime, but of confrontation. I told myself that freedom will prevail, even if we were annihilated – at least that’s what I believed then. It was at this time that I wrote my first string quartet, the symphonic poem Miserae and my first symphony, to words by Walt Whitman: “I sit and look out upon all the sorrows of the world and upon all oppression and shame.” 

Seven further symphonies were to follow this substantial work. To Miserae he added the dedication: “To my friends who had to die hundreds of times, who sleep for all eternity, we do not forget you. (Dachau 1933/34)”

In the years 1933 to 1945 the ardent anti-Fascist Hartmann had no option but to follow the path of “internal emigration”. His works were never performed in Germany and – apart from a few quite small concerts abroad – Hartmann composed exclusively for the bottom drawer in these years.

All the works dating from this dark time are imbued with visions of horror. Denunciation and compassion combine into a great impassioned gesture whose intense expressive power is difficult to resist. Works from these years include his most famous work, the Concerto funèbre for violin and strings, as well as the original version of his opera Simplicius Simplicissimus. 

During the years 1941/42 Hartmann worked together with Anton Webern in Vienna. An exchange of letters with Hartmann’s wife attests to the intensity of the interaction between the two intrinsically very different composers. Later Hartmann recalled: “I was very lucky at this time; in spite of total isolation I had found a kindred spirit as both teacher and friend; his faith in music gave me the strength to keep on working.”

Years after the war, at a time when Hartmann was already a highly respected composer, he wrote of his music: 

“Today I am happy with my music, and the path which I have taken is the correct one for me… Above all I would like to write in such a way that people understand me. Every note should be felt and each semiquaver rest breathed through. Those people who seem to find the basic mood of my music depressing, without enough hope, I would ask how otherwise can someone of my generation reflect the times he lives in, other than with a certain melancholic doubt? An artist must not live in the everyday world without having spoken. If my music of late has often been called “confessional music”, then I see in that only an endorsement of my intention. It was important for me to communicate my view of life, aimed at humanity, in an artistic organism.... ”

And later:  

“I do not want (to write) passionless cerebral work but a work of art which is the product of experience, one with a message. It does not have to be understood for its structure or technique but rather for its meaning, which anyhow cannot always be put into words. The work expresses a state of affairs of such great universality that the limitation of words and concepts is too small for it and proves to be blind and blunt in relation to it.”

After the end of the war Hartmann still had a very special rôle in Munich. He was the founder and artistic director of the “Musica Viva” concert series. Munich was a place with a promising future where the works of young composers and those previously outlawed were premièred. Composers such as Nono, Henze, Boulez and Stockhausen experienced first-rate performances of their early works here.

On the Sonata "27 April 1945"

At the end of the war Hartmann was in hiding from the Nazis in Kemptenhausen on Lake Starnberg. He was there on 27 April 1945 and witnessed the SS driving a crowd of prisoners south from the Dachau concentration camp to their death. With the liberation of Dachau imminent, the SS wanted to prevent these people from falling into the (rescuing) hands of the Americans, so they “evacuated” them and slaughtered them in a secluded spot. Apparently Hartmann was able to deal with this terrible event only by immediately setting to work on the Sonata 27 April 1945. He kept this very personal work under wraps for a long time and also resisted performance of it during the 1950s, so the work did not appear in print until 1983. The composer prefaced the work with these words:

On 27 and 28 April 1945 a stream of human beings, prisoners from Dachau, trudged past us –

                   endless was the stream -

                        endless was the misery -

                             endless was the suffering

© Esther Walker 2013