Karl Amadeus Hartmann

1905 1963

Karl Amadeus Hartmann



Hartmann was a 20th century German composer whose music greatly reflects the political situations of his time. His music provides much commentary on society, especially during World War II.

Hartmann studied trombone and composition at the Staatliche Akademie der Tonkunst in Munich with Joseph Haas between 1924 and 1929 and with Hermann Scherchen at various festivals and seminars from 1929 to 1933. From 1941-2 Hartmann studied with Anton Webern.

Hartmann’s theories on the interaction of the arts and their socio-political environments was greatly influenced during a series of contemporary music concerts he organized between 1928 and 1932 in conjunction with the artists’ association Die Juryfreien. He came to believe that ‘the categorization of art as political or non-political, engaged or disengaged, seems to be somewhat superfluous, for no artist, unless wishing himself as written off to nihilism, can sidestep his commitment to humanity’. Throughout his career, his music thus provides commentary on the world around him. Udo Zimmermann stated very gracefully that Hartmann’s ‘concept of life oriented towards humanity is inscribed in all his scores. A warning in view of the atrocities of this world, but also resistance from the heart: a revocation of the spirits, love and life’.

Hartmann’s output can be divided into four periods: early works (1927-32); politically charged works (1933-45); revision and consolidation (1945-53); search for new compositional path (1953-63).

The early period, from 1927-32, features works that were written during the final years of the Weimar Republic. These early compositions include music for small chamber ensemble, solo sonatas and suites for violin and piano, five chamber operas and a series ofa capella settings of texts. The five chamber operas comprise the workWachsfigurenkabinett (1928-32) and the a capella settings are based on texts by Karl Marx, Johannes Becher and Max See. Through these works, Hartmann provides criticism on society, portrayed through satire and irony and references to many other musical forms such as jazz, Baroque dance and contrapoint. In particular, the works aim to attack American values, materialism and the economic boom and bust cycle.

Hartmann’s second period, from 1933-45, began before World War II and continued until the war was over. His music during this period reflects a strong disapproval of the political climate and the ruling party. Even the titles of his music display his opposition and bleak outlook. These titles include,Miserae (1934), Concerto funebre (1939, rev. 1959), Sinfonia tragica (1940-3)and Klagegesang (1944-5). He also included dedications such as that found in hisMisrae, ‘to the victims of the Dachau concentration camp’. His choice of texts, such as those from Walt Whitman inLeaves of Grass and the Gryphius Sonnets, also clearly state his stance. He also composed the confessionalBekenntnismusik around this time. Hartmann’s opera Simplicius Simplicissimus(1934-5, rev. 1956) provides a comparison between the Thirty Years War and the Third Reich.

The conclusion of World War II marked the beginning of a new period for Hartmann. During this period, he revised many of his works from the war years and wrote six symphonies (1945-51) and the Second String Quartet (1949). The material used in his work at this time was often drawn from his previous compositions and displays his great variety of influences. Each of the symphonies draws on a different composer’s style: the First (1935-6, rev 1954-5) on Mahler, the Second (1945-6) and Third (1948-9) on Berg, the Fourth (1946-7) on Bartók and Bruckner and the Sixth (1951-3) on both Stravinsky and Berg. The Sixth symphony reverts to the neo-classical style of Stravinsky while including variation and fugue. His use of Baroque forms was influenced most directly by Max Reger. During this time he also developed a polyphonic style based on layers in which themes and motives would sound at the same time as their inversions or retrogrades.

In his last compositional period (1953-63), Hartmann explored new compositional techniques. He was particularly intrigued by Blacher’s theories of variable metre, which can be seen in his Concerto for Piano (1953), Concerto for Viola (1955) and the Scherzo for Percussion Ensemble. Both the Scherzo and the Concerto for Piano employ palindromes while the Viola Concerto uses additive techniques and a French rondeau form.

He also returned to texts similar to those he used in his Bekenntnismusik. He contributed the movement ‘Ghetto’ (1960-1) toJüdische Chronik, to which the composers Blacher, Henze, Dessau and Wagner-Régeny also contributed. Hartmann’s movement refers to the Warsaw Ghetto. Hartmann again makes commentary on the economic and social structure of society in hisSodome et Gomorrhe, which warns of the consequences of the division of rich and poor nations, the exploitation of science, abuse of technology and physical and spiritual pollution.

During this time he also wrote his successful Concerto for Trumpet and Wind Ensemble (1933). He attracted international attention with the performance of Misrae at the Prague ISCM Festival in 1935 and won first prize at the Carillon Chamber Music Competition, Geneva in 1936 for his First String Quartet (1933-5). His cantata in memory of Alban Berg,Friede Anno ’48 (1936-7), received high distinction from the Emil Hertzka Memorial Foundation, Vienna in 1937.

During this period, works that were banned by the Nazi Regime provided Hartmann with inspiration and sources for quotation. He also used Hebraic incantation and folk music at this time. Evidence of this can be found inMiserae , the First String Quartet and in the overture toSimplicius Simplicissimus. A Russian revolutionary workers’ hymn along with Tábor’ and ‘Blaník’ from Smetana’s Má vlast cycle can be found in Hartmann’s Concerto funebre. Sinfonia tragicaincludes materials and techniques from Mahler, Bartók, Stravinsky, Berg, Webern and Hindemith while the Second Piano Sonata (1945) contains a quotation of the revolutionary songBrüder zur Sonne, zur Freiheit in the ‘Trauermarch’.

After 1948, Hartmann’s compositions were performed frequently and he was awarded numerous prizes such as the Music Prize of the City of Munich in 1949, the Kunstpreis from the Bavarian Academy of the Fine Arts in 1950 and Bavarian Order of Merit in 1959, among others. He became of member of the Academy of Arts in both Munich and Berlin in the 1950s and received an honorary doctorate from Spokane University in Washington in 1962.

Header image courtesy of Kammer Musik Kammer Other images courtesy of Store Norske Leksikon and Karl Amadeus Harmann