Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Mystery Composer

Well, not really. Franz Mittler was a great "unknown" composer. He is not listed in Grove. He has works that have been published, but I don't believe the publishers who sold them are still viable (you can see a list of works that are housed in various libraries here). He lived in Vienna from 1893 (the year of his birth) until 1938 (the year of the Anschluss), and then he returned to Europe in 1964 where he remained until his death in 1970. His daughter wrote a book about him that was published in 1994 but does not seem to be available anymore (It was her doctoral dissertation).

CPO has just released a CD of two of his wonderful string quartets that you can sample at Amazon (he wrote the first one when he was 16). My hope is that this becomes a kind of "gateway disc," and more recordings of Mittler's music will become available.

I came across a clever little poem of his that brightened my day yesterday. Maybe it will brighten your day today.
I'd like to leave the state, why should I bother?
Let the remaining contrasts fight each other.
The binding one, the one that tries to sever,
Must I stay sandwiched in between forever?
This letter from Mittler holds the key to the deeper meaning of this poem.

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7 comments:

rootlesscosmo said...

The link to the letter didn't work, but the quartet samples are interesting. I notice the movements of the 2nd are named for areas of Eastern or Central Europe--"Wolhynien" (Volyn, or Volhynia, in Ukraine, where my mom was born), Serbien (Serbia), Steiermark (the area of Austria usually called Styria in English) and Hungarian Rhapsody. I'd like to know more about this composer and his work (the quartet samples sound pretty conservative in style--maybe Dvorak-y?)

Elaine Fine said...

I'd like to know more about him too!

Lisa Hirsch said...

Those samples are lovely, and I will get the CD. The music raises a question that interests me: how to evaluate a composer (or any other artist) writing in an anchronistic style. Rachmaninov and Medtner, for example, and Mittler. Of all three, I would say, the music is gorgeous, and composed with superb skill levels. How do you evaluate their place in musical history, their importance, if you will, when their compositional styles seem 50 years out of date?

rootlesscosmo said...

That's an interesting question, Lisa. One of the things I did when I read The Rest is Noise was to go through the index to see who got omitted. I know, it's not a encyclopedia, but in any case if there's another neglected category besides women composers, I'd say it's the consciously "conservative" or "anachronisic"--Rodrigo, Respighi, Hahn. Are they so atypical that they don't belong in a study of 20th century music (or the music of the 20th century) at all? Or was the backward-looking impulse also a product of its time?

Elaine Fine said...

Actually, Mittler was not writing in an anachronistic style: he was simply writing creatively in the musical language he knew and used so well. Lesser-known people like Mittler and Kauder, and well-known composers like Respighi and Strauss really throw a wrench into the generalized concepts connected with what we like to think of as progressive modernism. The more I learn about non-atonal music in the early 20th century, the more I know that I know very little. And it is such a pleasure to find out just how little I know.

Lisa Hirsch said...

But R. Strauss was considered a modern composer, and his style au courant, until at least the 1920s. Mittler was 25 years his junior and composing in a similar style. I agree that music doesn't move forward in straight lines, if it moves forward at all - but carrying the Strauss style in the 1950s or 60s, if Mittler was still composing then, would be, to my mind, anachronistic.

Elaine Fine said...

Let's hope that we will get a chance to hear what Mittler was writing in the 50s and 60s!

I always find it interesting that R. Strauss began to write more and more "conservative" music as he entered his later years.