The Haba "School"

Article excerpt

We must exercise a certain caution when using the word "school" in the sense of a musical movement. Admittedly it is now conventional in music history to employ terms like the "Low Countries", "Neapolitan" and "Venetian" schools to characterise particular trends in music of the Renaissance and Baroque, the "Mannheim" and "Viennese" school for the Classical period, and the "Second Viennese School" for the circle of Arnold Schonberg and his followers (not to speak of the "national schools" that appear everywhere in the literature), but the most recent historical analysis has challenged this blanket use of the concept. The fact is that the definition and application of the term "school" is very changeable and relative, like historical knowledge itself. When a new musical phenomenon appears, it is either rejected or accepted by those contemporaries who encounter it, but neither rejection nor acceptance is the result of truly objective aesthetic judgment; since this is impossible when the phenomenon is so new. The initial experience is not, therefore, the criterion of subsequent evaluation. If the new phenomenon is to any degree accepted, however, what follows is a phase in which efforts are made to universalise and stabilise it, and at this point the distinguish marks of the new phenomenon become a measuring rod, and the first "continuers" appear. Only then, as the new movement starts to identify its own historical position, does a search for "forerunners" ensue, subsequently enabling us to talk of a "school", a "personal style", the "style of a generation" or "epoch" and so forth. Bearing all these caveats in mind we find that it is both possible, and impossible, to talk of anything like a "Haba School". In his attempts fully to integrate microtones into European musical language and give them a place equal to that of traditional tonal and harmonic techniques, Haba remained an isolated solitaire in the history of European music, but as we shall show, he was not without his continuers. His rejection of the classical romantic doctrine of musical forms and his promotion of "athematism", was supposed to open the way to absolute creative freedom and emancipate the composer from dependence on a given compositional canon. Some considered this to mean the loss of a firm footing, not a negligible aspect of the creative process of composing (whatever the extreme avant-garde may have thought), and perhaps even less negligible when it comes to the reception of the music by the audience. On the other hand theory is one thing and its application another. Haba himself was not a purely microtonal nor a purely athematic composer. His musical talent was spontaneous and his music was never contrived.

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It was another feature of Haba's personality that he managed to gather around him a very large circle of kindred spirits. These included his pupils in the strict sense of the word, i.e. those who attended his courses in microtonal music at the Prague Conservatoire, and his "pupils" in the broader sense, i.e. people who met him at his innumerable lectures (at home and abroad), who worked with him in musical associations and societies, and studied his articles in the music journals and books.

Entry into Musical Life

Alois Haba was undoubtedly one of the most influential people in Czech music in the period between the two world wars. He was a composer, theorist, organiser, propagator of modern music and a teacher. Active in music clubs and societies, he used them as a platform for applying and promoting his views. In the world of Prague associations he developed this activity first and foremost in Pritomnost [Presence], becoming its chairman at the beginning of the 1930s, and in the Czechoslovak section of the International Society for Contemporary Music, ISCM. In both societies he had the deciding voice in the most critical years, when political and national conflict was becoming ever more intense. …