hartmann


While I am composing, the thought about the impact of a new creation is strongly present : my music should represent a piece of absolute life - truth, which brings joy, and at the same time, sorrow.

                                                                                          Karl Amadeus Hartmann 1905 - 1963


Dear Readers,  

Due to the fact that the german composer Karl Amadeus Hartmann is still relatively unknown, it was suggested to me that I should write a short introductory text for the concert. 

Naturally, it is not possible to write a short text about Hartmann, a great composer, and do it justice. Therefore, I will limit myself to only a couple of small points which are particularly important to me, and also pertinent to the piano sonata ' 27. April 1945'.  And for this purpose, I will utilize above all the composer’s own words.

As a basis, I used the book "Kleine Schriften", which was published in 1963 by Schott after Hartmann's early death.  The composer has collected and assembled his thoughts and memories over the years in this book.

It would please me to interest you in learning more about this great musician of the 20th century.                                                            

Esther Walker



Karl Amadeus Hartmann, born in 1905, was the youngest of four sons from a lively and  unorthodox artist family in Munich.  He knew early on that he wanted to be a musician.

His first compositions are lively and perky, in the style of the 20s. According to his own words, he blended  "Futurism, Dada, Jazz and others" into his music in a carefree way. However, he destroyed most of those pieces later.

In 1933, a decisive rupture took place in his artistic life:  

"Then came the year 1933 with its misery and hopelessness, and as a result of tyranny, the most horrible of all crimes happened - the war. I then recognized that it is necessary to give testament.  Not out of desperation and fear of the powerful, but as a counteraction.  I said to myself, freedom will win, even if we perish - which i believed at the time.  And it is during this time that I wrote my first string quartet, the symphonic poem "Miserae", and my first symphony with the words from Walt Whitman : "I sit here and look at all the plagues of the world and on all distress and shame....".

He dedicated the "Miserae" to his friends, "who had to die a hundred times, and now sleep eternally, we will not forget you." ( Dachau 1933/34)  Seven more symphonies then followed this important work.

Between 1933 and 1945, Hartmann, the passionate antifascist, was left with no other choice but to turn inwardly.  His compositions were never performed in Germany, and except for a couple of concerts abroad, his finished works went straight into his desk drawers.

All the pieces he wrote during this period were inspired by the horrors he saw. Accusations and compassion merged into a dramatic and emotional gesture, the power of such intensity leaving one powerless to escape.  Two of his best known works, the "Concerto funebre" for violin and strings and the original version of the opera "Simplicius simplicissimus" came from this period.

In 1941 and 1942, Hartmann worked closely with Anton Webern in Vienna. The correspondence with his wife testifies to the intensity of the exchange between two such fundamentally different composers.  Hartmann later remembered : 

"I was very happy at that time; despite the isolation, I found in him a like-minded friend and teacher, his believe on music gave me strength to work further."

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

"I am now satisfied with my music, and the path I have chosen earlier is still the right one.... above all, I would like to be understood; - every note should be felt and every 32nd rest should be attentively breathed.  To whom my prevailing mood appears depressive and less than hopeful,  I ask: How can someone of my generation reflect on this period other than with melancholic thoughtfulness?  An artist should not live his days without speaking his mind. My works have been named “confessional music” recently, and I see this as a confirmation of  my purpose. It is important to me to communicate my humanitarian attitude towards life to the artistic community......"

And later: 

"I don't want any passionless brain exercise, but a thoroughly-lived artwork with a message.  One does not need to understand its structure or technique, but the meaning, which can not always be formulated into words. This work expresses an universal meaning, for which words and terminologies prove both blind and dull."

After the end of the war, Hartmann took over an important role. He became the founder and director of the concert series "Musica Viva" in Munich.  It was a place with a promising future, where young composers and former personae non gratae could perform their works.  Composers like Nono, Henze, Boulez, and Stockhausen experienced first rate performances of their early works there.


Sonata "27. April 1945"

Towards the end of the war, Hartmann was hiding in Kemptenhausen on the lake of Starnberg from the Nazis. On the 27th of April 1945, he witnessed how the SS moved a group of prisoners like cattle from the Dachau concentration camp to the south, where they met their death.  The SS wanted to avoid letting the prisoners fall into American hands, so they 'evacuated' them and murdered them in a secluded place. 

Hartmann could only process this horrific event by immediately setting about his sonata "27. April 1945".  But after the completion of this very personal work, he left it under lock and keys, and was against it from being performed.  In 1983, 20 years after his death, it finally became published.

The manuscript starts with the following words: 

On  27 and 28 April 1945, a stream of people trudget past us, "preventative detainees" from Dachau - 

                           endless was the stream -

                                   endless was the misery -

                                           endless was the suffering -


© Esther Walker 2013