Dionysian „Sturm und Drang“

Regrettably, the text of my oral report is no longer extant – which is why, instead of settling accounts with the sins of my youth, I can only offer conjectures about its content. The biography, of this I am certain, hardly would have gone beyond reporting what Wilhelm Zentner had regarded as worthy of mention in Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart (MGG), which then had just been published. To be specific, it would have mentioned that the main character of our considerations, the son of the jurist and musicological university instructor Friedrich von Hausegger, was born in Graz on 16 August 1872; that the elder Hausegger hoped that his son would have musical talent; that as soon as these hopes began to be fulfilled he developed a study plan and taught him in accordance with it; and that during later years, when he had almost completely abandoned his creative activity, the younger Hausegger became an outstanding conductor. I also probably would have referred to Erich Wolf Degner, the artistic director of the Styrian Music Society, and to the conductor Carl Pohlig. A not inconsiderable share of the comprehensive education of the talented youth owed to these two individuals. Even when he was in secondary school, he had distinguished himself with a series of enthusiastic works and did not let himself be deterred from composing, »thickheadedly continuing along this path,« after Johannes Brahms, in his well-known manner, had advised him to do his musical service as a second violinist in an orchestra since in the field of composition »there were no more free places.«

The Frühlingssymphonie »in three movements, instrumented for an entirely impossible orchestra« (Hausegger) no doubt was kept from public view – but not the one-act opera Helfrid premiered by Pohlig in March 1893 or the full-length Zinnober after E. T. A. Hoffmann’s Klein-Zaches, which in 1898, three years after its completion, scored a considerable success in Munich when it was performed under Richard Strauss. Hausegger’s enrollment for university studies; the beginning of the conducting career that in 1899 would take him from the city of his birth to the People’s Symphony Concerts of the Kaim Orchestra, to the Frankfurt Museum Concerts during 1903–06, to the Hamburg Philharmonic Concerts in 1910, and then to the music director’s post with the Blüthner Orchestra of Berlin; his appointment to the Munich Academy of Music in 1920 and his tenure as the director of the Munich Philharmonic (Concert Society Orchestra) – I would have mentioned in passing all of the above as well as his resignation as president of the academy (1934) and his relinquishment of all his other posts (1938). Wilhelm Zentner, who had previously written an extensive article honoring Hausegger on the occasion of his seventieth birthday and had published this piece in the Jahrbuch der deutschen Musik 1943, quite understandably in MGG did not mention the true reasons for the musician’s multiple resignations. Since the works considered for discussion had all been composed quite some time prior to World War I, he had not had the slightest reason to explain terms like »patriotic« and »national« or to ponder the true meaning of the word »German.«

I also would have mentioned Hausegger’s family circumstances: his mother Hedwig, née Goedel, who gave her son his first piano lessons; his marriage to Hertha Ritter, the daughter of the »pioneering New German thinker« Alexander Ritter, who died on 15 January 1913, not even a month after the birth of the couple’s son Friedrich; his marriage to Helene (»Hella«) Bronsart, who brought their daughter Veronika into the world in 1917 and survived her husband by eight years after his earthly life as Siegmund von Hausegger had come to an end on 10 October 1948.

However, I fear that in my »youthful folly« I would have had a few words to say about the special father-and-son relationship that in the meantime I have long recognized as mistaken notions and have thoroughly revised. The historical collection of fathers and mothers who during the course of time have exploited the talents of their offspring out of very worldly motives and turned them to their own advantage (»my boy, my pride, my retirement fund«); the crowd of failures who for better or worse decided to use their former missed targets to calculate the orbits of their later satellites; and finally the »geneticists« who so fervently believe in the biological inheritance of creative capabilities that they entirely forget to raise their children in the humane manner befitting the human species – these model examples of parental educational artistry at the time must have greatly obscured my view of things, which is why in the relationship existing between Friedrich and Siegmund von Hausegger I first and foremost saw the scholar whom the Lord God had forgotten while distributing the tools of the creative trade and who therefore à la Pygmalion carved his gifted mini-me in the image of the true artist, used his own, not insignificant influence in the music world to find places for the productions of his little charge at home and elsewhere, and basked in the sunny knowledge that he had converted his personal deficits into surpluses the second time around. The fact that a productive symbiosis is supposed to have been involved – that I could not and did not want to believe.

However, Friedrich von Hausegger was no Leopold Mozart, who pilgrimaged through Vienna, ringing doorbells like a peddler and agent to sell the music world on his son; he was no Friedrich Wieck, who with jealous rage watched over his daughter Clara’s virginal purity; he was no Nicholas-Joseph Franck, whose ambition was to turn his César into a virtuosic golden ass; and he was no Cosima Wagner, who had no qualms about sacrificing her son Siegfried’s architectural inclinations to continue the family musical line. (3)

No, the elder Hausegger’s motives were of a very different kind. To be sure, we cannot entirely free him of the charge of a certain self-interest inasmuch as he apparently was committed to finding a highly suitable object of study for the practical verification of his theoretical treatises in the field of the psychology of art and musical evolution. In the process he developed a method that (if it had ever been applied on a broader front) might have helped to prevent the course of events leading to the dreadful state of today’s educational system so very burdened and buried under an increasing mass of data. In any case, as Siegmund later wrote in the published memoirs of his childhood and youth, it was not anything like a rigid pedagogical scheme: »The understanding of art as the expression of the personality, as held by him in all his writings, was also regarded as the guideline during my education. ‘Sight should never be lost of the goal of educating pupils for whom music will become an enriching element in their intellectual developmental process, in such a way that it comprehends their whole being and purifyingly influences all expression of the same. Music should become for Germans what ή μουσική was for the Greeks, not a field, not an individual branch of knowledge, but the embodiment of the education corresponding to the particular nature of a people and guiding this nature to the sublime heights of harmonic ways of feeling and expressing.’ Therefore, I never had the feeling that music was something that had to be learned by way of obligation.«

The whip, the club, and a rap on the head are the worst means to this end. The intellectual formation of a personality, unlike the conditioning of an underling or a »mature citizen,« has to be carried out with the quiet breath of a butterfly, at most by pointing a finger and by an individually designed relation between technical familiarization and the childlike joy of discovery that in a best-case scenario stops at nothing: understanding by comprehending, development by (discreetly guided) campaigns of conquest, the acquisition of one’s own means of expression from impressions received without preconceived notions – this good fortune was granted to the young Siegmund. He practiced one hour a day under the supervision of his father, who gave him little theoretical exercises to complete until the next session, then thoroughly worked these through with him, and gradually intensified them to the contrapuntal large forms: »I remember having written countless fugues with true passion. However, my father did not influence my compositions in any way; I was supposed to enjoy complete freedom in them and seemingly to find my path on my own. Seemingly – for, entirely unknown to me, here too he knew how to guide me by giving me impulses here and there of a more specific kind for a new composition or by directing my attention to exemplary works of art« – which, as is known, represents an art in itself. The narrow passage between edification and crushing demolition is all the narrower, the more broadly the charge entrusted to one’s protection sees the world. It then may quickly happen that somebody to whom, for instance, the Hammerklavier Sonata or the Ring des Nibelungen is held up as an unattainable ideal will abandon creativity forever with a cacophonously cawed »Nevermore!« and in a worst-case scenario turn to the profession that »always finds the most and biggest faults with the most perfect persons, and at precisely the time when one at all concedes to them the most brilliant advantages, again is able piece by piece to remove enough from them so that in the end hardly as much remains to them as the everyday human being needs in order to be tolerable.« (4)

However, the maxim in the Hausegger household was: »One should learn from the greats, love them, and not find fault with them« – and Siegmund took this to heart. He learned, admired, and gave free rein to his exuberance. He created a secondary school pupil’s »impossibilities« like the Mass with which he »wanted if possible even to outdo« Bach’s Mass in B minor »in blissful ignorance of the art of counterpoint,« a piano fantasy based on E. T. A. Hoffmann’s Elixiere des Teufels, a piano quartet, the abovementioned Frühlingssymphonie, for which he had special, forty-line score paper printed for him, and finally the Helfrid, in which »a king’s son who has grown up far away from all the world’s hustle and bustle« is »enchanted to a first song« at the sight of a »female kindred spirit.« Carl Pohilg conducted the one-act work during a farewell concert that he had arranged to present in Graz on his own behalf on Wednesday, 22 March 1893, and registered a fine success for Hausegger, who by then was a twenty-one-year-old student. Only one bitter drop fell: the caustic review of a certain Mr. »-sdl-« in the Grazer Volksblatt of 25 March took advantage of the opportunity to give the »musical Pontifex Maximus of Graz« a solid kick in the back of his knee. »I have such a high opinion of the critical judgment of Dr. Hausegger, of his rich knowledge, of his honest frankness and always ideal uprightness that it is absolutely incomprehensible to me how this so very eminent man of musical erudition could so much forget the critic while favoring the father and permitted this work by his son to make its way to the stage.«

While »sdl-« in what followed dealt in great detail with the »formless, endless tonal morass that self-suffocatingly rolls like a musical mudflow over all the poetic thoughts,« he overlooked the creative hands-off pact between father and son in keeping with the motto: »I’ll get you the ticket to ride, but you’ll have to do the riding yourself.« Without this pact there surely would have been some tension at home about the younger Hausegger’s first »official« orchestral work, which he committed to paper in 1896 and had performed at the beginning of 1899 – for with the Dionysische Phantasie [2] Siegmund now explored the field of musical art that Friedrich von Hausegger regarded as strictly off limits: program music, in which, as he presented it, a role reversal occurred in which tone and word exchanged places. In his writing on music as expression, Die Musik als Ausdruck, he decreed with the greatest vehemence: »The tone assumes responsibility for the mediation of ideas, while the word suggests to us the moods which we have to bring to them. In this inverted state of affairs one therefore has to supply from outside what is able to serve toward the greatest possible fulfillment of this unnatural task.« Apart from its contradictoriness, this attempt to harmonize Darwinian materialism and the aesthetical idealistic »Beyond of the Artist« is very instructive precisely in view of the always somewhat suspect terrain of program music. The elder Hausegger spoke categorically against »lending tones the significance of linguistic signs« that from the very beginning would restrict the receptive capacity of the listening audience.

This did not stop an ambitious young man bent on conquering musical heaven. He wanted to have his wild fun, and he had his wild fun: »The magic of my time at the university was only two years behind me and had not entirely faded away; it had been joined by the expectant mood accompanying one’s first independent steps into the world and viewing life as a playground of unrestrained powers. The highest product of that joyful affirmation of existence presented itself to me in the work of the artist; in it lay the victory of the creative personality. Although an inkling already dawned in me that not unlimitedness but the powerful command of feeling was the prerequisite for artistic design, I nonetheless wanted once again to follow my inner urgings with the whole carefreeness of youth and its enthusiasm knowing no bounds. The reading of Nietzsche’s ‘Geburt der Tragödie’ with its compelling glorification of Dionysian enthusiasm and along with it the first impression of the challenging existential vitality of R. Strauss’s music gave rise in me to the plan for an apotheosis of artistic creative power. Heroism and love collapse under death’s claim to power. But a first glimpse of the ‘whole misery of humankind’ aroused in me the fervent wish to oppose this world doomed to death with a world of light created from my own inner being. Even if it is only born of fantasy, then it at least has taken on tangible shape in the work of art and proclaims the victory of life over death.« This is how Siegmund von Hausegger in 1910 described the concept behind the creation whose sections he wanted to have understood as »Heroism and Love,« »Valley of Death,« and the »Let there be! of the Artist.«

The formal details – a short introduction, a march with a tranquil trio, a free song form, and finally the »union of a movement of scherzo character with a song of great breadth« – are just as thoroughly explained in the analysis as are the motivic semantics, whose most important elements may be represented in the following manner: motive of life (0’40), first main theme (1’25), motive of death (3’25), love song (4’30), lyrical theme of the second main part (9’40), and song of the solo violin which (from 14’35) announces the »awakening of new life« and in the last segment (17’05) joins in triumph with the rhythms of the woodwinds.

Ever since its premiere the Dionysische Phantasie has been accompanied by a lengthy poem without rhymes (but not without reason) that is supposed to convey to the listening audience the idea of the path from joyful play in the flowery vale through wandering over desolate ground to the vigorous awakening of artistic energies. It will be left open whether these thirty-six stanzas of four lines each really contributed to the understanding of the music when the symphonic poem was first performed in Munich on 10 February 1899. In any case it is beyond dispute that the twenty-six-year-old Hausegger scored a success at the conductor’s desk of the Kaim Orchestra – a success that became a complete triumph in conjunction with its »framing action« formed by Beethoven’s Coriolanus Overture and Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7.

Hausegger’s native Graz registered this event with precision. On 13 February the Tagblatt initially printed the spirited tribute from the Münchner Neueste Nachrichten. Its author evidently was swept off his feet by the immense power of the musical course of events, without this meaning that he was silent about Hausegger’s obvious models Franz Liszt and Richard Strauss. On 15 February a correspondent’s report that could likewise claim its place of honor on the kitchen cupboard was published in the same press medium: »A look at the score of the work shows us a command of technique, polyphony, and instrumentation that produces astonishment as well as admiration and finds its equal only in the art of a Richard Strauss. And yet all of it exclusively serves expression; there is not even one little contrapuntal feat or sound effect for its own sake. But the most sympathistic [sic!] thing and at the same time what is so properly characteristic of Hauseggerian art is the youthful health and honesty in which he presents himself as he is without any compulsive striving for originality, for the special effect. His music is not afflicted by sickly »paleness of thought«; it is not philosophy set into tones but absolutely and entirely unaffected, natural feeling. Here he has advanced since the ‘Zinnober’ to a great independence of invention. When one bears in mind that a twenty-four-year-old – for it was as such that Hausegger created this work – had already developed such a technical and artistic maturity that now ranks him with the most outstanding modern composers, one will agree with me when I claim that his talent, if it continues to develop favorably along these lines, gives us reason to have the very greatest hopes.«

This news must have been among the last things that Friedrich von Hausegger was able to read about his son. When Siegmund returned home in triumph, his father was on his deathbed. On 23 February 1899, two months before his sixty-second birthday, he left his family forever.

The shock produced a profound impact. Siegmund had begun work on Barbarossa but set it aside for a while and for the time being suspended what until then had been his rich song production. (5) At the end of 1899 Siegmund moved to Munich to serve as the second conductor of the Kaim Orchestra. His mother went with him. more