Hans Rosbaud and the Music of Arnold Schoenberg

By Evans, Joan | Canadian University Music Review, January 1, 2001 | Go to article overview

Hans Rosbaud and the Music of Arnold Schoenberg


Evans, Joan, Canadian University Music Review


"There is nothing I long for more intensely (if for anything) than to be taken for a better sort of Tchaikovsky - for heaven's sake: a bit better, but really that's all." This oft-quoted comment of Arnold Schoenberg' s was made in a letter to Hans Rosbaud, a conductor who did more than anyone of his generation to fulfil Schoenberg' s longing to be considered not as a wild-eyed twelvetone "experimenter," but as a "normal" composer.1

Hans Rosbaud was born in Graz, Austria in 1895. He obtained his advanced musical training at Frankfurt's Hoch' sehe Conservatorium (where his exact contemporary Paul Hindemith was a fellow student) and remained in Germany throughout his career. Before 1945 this included positions in Mainz, Frankfurt, Münster and (from 1941 ) German-occupied Strasbourg; after 1945 he accepted positions in Munich and Baden-Baden, combining the latter with the conductorship of Zurich's Tonhalle Orchestra.2

From the late 1920s until his death in 1962, Rosbaud was one of Europe's leading exponents of modern music. His carefully prepared and sympathetically executed performances earned him the gratitude of composers and the admiration of critics and audiences alike. Since much of Rosbaud's career was spent in the service of German Radio, a large number of these performances (including many first performances) were recorded-a valuable legacy that spans more than thirty years. Also a vital part of Rosbaud's legacy is his voluminous correspondence, a significant part of which involves the leading composers of the twentieth century.

The music of Rosbaud's compatriot Schoenberg, along with that of Alban Berg and Anton Webern, held a special place of honour in the conductor's affections, while the warm personal relationship between Rosbaud and Schoenberg is documented in their twenty-year-long correspondence, most of which remains unpublished.3 The aim of this study, based in large part on this correspondence, is to document fully Rosbaud's efforts on behalf of Schoenberg and his music. These efforts already bore fruit during the late Weimar period, while in the postwar years, after the forced hiatus of the Nazi era, Rosbaud became known as the Schoenberg conductor par excellence. His efforts on Schoenberg' s behalf included a plan that until now has gone unnoticed in the Schoenberg literature, namely, to bring the aging composer back to Europe. Schoenberg was keenly interested in Rosbaud' s plan, which because of administrative difficulties, however, was eventually (if reluctantly) abandoned.

In the autumn of 1929 Rosbaud was engaged as conductor of the newly established Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra. Shortly thereafter he was also appointed musikalischer Leiter, with control over the station's music programming. Thanks to Rosbaud's outstanding musical gifts-and his prodigious energy-Frankfurt Radio assumed a position of importance not only in the city's musical life, but throughout Germany and beyond. Until the Nazi takeover of January 1933, prominent soloists from all over Europe visited the radio station to perform under Rosbaud's baton, and composers were invited to conduct, perform, lecture, assist at rehearsals, and attend performances of their works.

On 16 December 1929, during his very first season at Frankfurt Radio, Rosbaud presented the local premiere of Schoenberg's Five Pieces for Orchestra, op. 16. The demanding conductor devoted ten full rehearsals to the preparation of the work. In a concert aired the following April, Rosbaud conducted the first performance of Begleitmusik zu einer Lichtspielszene, op. 34, an event predating by more than six months the acknowledged world premiere. Otto Klemperer's performance at the Kroll Opera on 6 November of that year.4

The highlight of the 1930/31 season was Rosbaud's performance of Schoenberg' s Variations for Orchestra, op. 3 1 , a work that had not been played since Wilhelm Furtwängler's world premiere of December 1928. …

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