Who is Hans Gál and why are you recording his music?

Hello Readers!

Greetings from Vftp Int’l Headquarters, where the 2009-10 season is officially underway.

I have a few rehearsals to contend with in the coming week, but I’ll be spending the bulk of my week preparing for next week’s recording sessions with Northern Sinfonia.

It’s a historic undertaking- on a personal level, it’s my first commercial CD as a conductor, something I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. More importantly, this will be the first CD of the orchestral music of composer Hans Gál.

My friends who read this will have heard me discuss this project with great enthusiasm over the many months, even years, that this CD has been in the works. One common thread in these many discussions is the fact that few, very few, knowledgeable, curious and broadly educated musicians know the music of Hans Gál. To be honest, I long knew him only as the editor of the works of Brahms, including my very well worn scores of the symphonies and concerti.

It was my colleague on this disk, the violinist Annette Barbara Vogel, who introduced me to Gál the composer. “He was a composer?” was my first response. Turns out he was a pretty good one- when the idea was hatched by the Gál Society and Annette to try to record the Violin Concerto and Concertino, I was more than onboard.

As the sessions approach and progress, I’d like to start to get readers up to speed on this remarkable man, teacher, scholar and composer, and hopefully to draw you in to the process behind making the first recordings of 3 major works (in addition to the two violin works, we’re recording his Triptych, op 100 for orchestra, a stunning and virtuosic symphony in three movements).

The Gál Society has a wonderful and comprehensive website- one of the best available for any composer. It is the place to start for learning about his music. There is an extensive biographical outline available here. There is also a lovely portrait and tribute from MusicWeb here. Some general background on currently available recordings of his music is here.

I’ve already learned so much in preparation for this project, but the most important thing I’ve learned is that Gál was not simply a worthy or interesting or fine composer- he was a major, major, major composer. I’ve lived the longest with the Violin Concerto now- we did it with the Lancashire Chamber Orchestra to a packed house and standing ovation last October, which was amazingly the piece’s UK premiere and only it’s 4th performance since 1932.  Over time my opinion of it has evolved from affection to enthusiastic advocacy to passionate enthrallment to jaw dropping wonder. It’s a masterpiece. The Triptych and Concertino are similarly fascinating, beautiful, stunning and original.

So, the questions are- what makes this music so special? Why isn’t it well known? How did Ken Woods get to be the first conductor to record some of this music?

Stay tuned for the answers to these and other pressing questions


Bio from Wikipedia-


Hans Gál (August 5, 1890October 3, 1987) was an Austrian composer, teacher and pianist.Hans Gál was born in the small village of Brunn am Gebirge, just outside Vienna. He was trained in that metropolis at the New Vienna Conservatory where he taught for some time. While a student he won the K. und K. (Royal and Imperial) State Prize for composition. In 1928, he won the Columbia Schubert Centenniary Prize for his Sinfonietta. The next year, with the support of such important musicians as Wilhelm Furtwängler, Richard Strauss and others, he obtained the directorship of the Mainz Conservatory. Gál composed in nearly every genre and his operas, which included Der Artz der Sobeide, Die Heilige Ente and Das Lied der Nacht,were particularly popular during the 1920s. When Hitler rose to power, Gál was forced to leave Germany and eventually emigrated to Britain, teaching at the Edinburgh Music Conservatory for many years.Gál’s style, not surprisingly, was rooted in the Austro-German musical tradition of the late 19th century and in his early years, he was influenced by Brahms. However by the end of the First World War, he developed his own musical language. He did not embrace the Second Vienna School or twelve tone music. His later music generally is polyphonic in structure but does not eschew traditional melody. Many of his works are tonally complex while at the same time offer lyric episodes of great beauty.Beside opera, Gál wrote many orchestral as well as chamber music works, which many regard among his finest efforts. Wilhelm Altmann, the eminent chamber music critic, writes about Gál’s first string quartet, composed in 1916, in his Handbuch für Streichquartettspieler (Handbook for String Quartet Players) as follows: “Those who enjoy Brahms’ music should pay great attention to this work although this is not to say that it is merely a copy of Brahms’ style. While the Quartet is somewhat in the style of Brahms, it is also indebted to Schubert and to the general musical milieu of 19th century Vienna… the entire work is very finely written and shows good understanding of quartet style.”

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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

Learn about Kenneth at www.kennethwoods.net

All material in these pages is protected by copyright.

4 comments on “Who is Hans Gál and why are you recording his music?”

  1. Warren Cohen

    I am thrilled to see that you are recording the Gal Violin Concerto. I conducted the American premiere a couple of years ago (with Katie McLin as the violin soloist)and the previous year did the American premiere of the Third Symphony.He is a terrific composer, and the performances were very rewarding. Gal himself seems like an interesting character, and he came up with one my favorite lines “I would like to be reincarnated as third inversion seventh chord”!

    Anyway, bravo. Contact me if you want to hear the performances we did.

  2. Kenneth Woods

    Dear Warren

    Thanks so much for the comment. As it happens, I have the recording of your fiddle concerto performance from the Gal family. Bravo! Nice fiddler, too! I’m so glad to know of another conductor with an interest in this wonderful repertoire

    Readers may be interested to know that Warren’s was not only the American premiere, but only the 3rd performance ever. It was premiered in Mainz in 1932, not played again until 2004 in Vienna with Bertran de Billy and Benjamin Schmid, followed by Warren’s performance then mine with Lancashire Chamber Orchestra in Oct 2008, the UK premiere of the work. Gal lived in the UK for well over 49 years, yet it took 21 years after his death for this amazing piece to be played in his adopted home.

    Congrats Warren, and yes, I’d love to hear the 3rd Symph recording!


  3. Ronald Keay

    Bravo. I am lucky enough to have made a tape of the Cello Concerto in a BBC broadcast from Edinburgh many years ago. The soloist was Morey Welsh. Cleaned up and transferred to CD it is one of the gems of my very large collection. I also have the Triptych from the same concert.
    I actually met Hans Gal when I was a boy treble in my school choir in the 50’s.
    Yes, a really major composer, and I hope I live long enough to hear lots more.

  4. Kenneth Woods

    Dear Ronald

    Thank you for your message and welcome! I have that same concert- the Cello Concerto is wonderful and high on the list of works we’re hoping to record in the years to come. Your timing is certainly impeccable- tomorrow we begin recording Triptych, which is quite a daunting challenge. I trust you own the magnificent disc of the piano music recorded by Leon McCawley? I encourage all Vftp readers to start there if they don’t know his music- wonderful and varied repertoire, magnificently recorded and performed.

    Again, thanks for reading and for writing


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