Karl Amadeus Hartmann

The most profound incisions in the creative journey of Karl Amadeus Hartmann (1905-1963) were dictated by contemporary history. Having begun composing in keeping with the prevailing artistic trends of the 1920s, his compositional style changed radically in 1933. Hartmann reacted to the events of National Socialist rule with confessional music of gripping urgency. Until 1945, he was largely cut off from all artistic possibilities and his compositions were destined to remain unperformed. After the war, his standing in the music scene changed once again. Hartmann now took on important cultural-political tasks, revised his older compositions and was finally able to gain the public recognition he deserved.

Karl Amadeus Hartmann was born on 2 August 1905 in Munich, where he also studied composition from 1924 to 1929. After completing his studies, his first works reflected the major contemporary trends of neoclassicism and New Objectivity. Hartmann, who sympathised politically with the left throughout his life without ever having joined a party, immediately perceived the National Socialists' accession to power as a threat to his existence. Because of his strong personal ties, Hartmann nevertheless remained in Germany and resorted to an attitude of "self-imposed internal exile", as he himself put it.

The fundamental characteristic of his music after 1933 consisted of the gesture of lament in a double sense, namely as inconsolable mourning on the one hand, and as accusation and angry, desperate protest on the other. Hartmann brought this gesture to staggering life, especially in large-scale orchestral works. Stylistically, he now drew more strongly on the expressionism of the Schönberg school. He often worked with familiar musical forms such as the chorale or march, which traditionally have specific connotations. It was impossible to think of performing his compositions in National Socialist Germany. Hartmann had to get by with odd jobs and was dependent on his family to support him. All the same, he received some recognition as a composer outside Germany in the course of the 1930s. After 1940, however, even the occasional performances of his works abroad came to a complete halt. During the last years of the war, Hartmann lived mostly in seclusion, isolated in the house of his parents-in-law. In the winter of 1942/43, he had an intense exchange of ideas with Anton Webern, whom Hartmann visited at his home near Vienna. Despite such adverse conditions, Hartmann continued to compose steadily even without any prospect of a possible performance.

Immediately after the end of the war, the Allies entrusted Hartmann with various cultural-political and organisational tasks. He earned lasting merit above all by founding the musica viva concert series in Munich, which still exists today. The aim of musica viva at that time was to familiarise the public with New Music, which had been outlawed under the Nazis, and to promote young composers. The series served as a model for numerous similar institutions and had a lasting influence on musical life in the young Federal Republic.

In his creative work, Hartmann now set about sifting through the compositions he had written so far and giving them a definite shape. In the process, numerous pieces were fundamentally revised. Hartmann withdrew individual movements or works altogether, other movements were incorporated into new works, individual passages were deleted, supplemented, or newly composed and numerous details were revised. On the basis of older pieces, Hartmann was thus able to premiere work after work in relatively rapid succession and, starting around 1950, to establish himself as an important composer of his generation in concert life. Meanwhile, Hartmann also continued to work on completely new pieces, and around the turn of the 1960s he composed important works such as his last two symphonies, the symphonies No. 7 and No. 8, and the "Song Scene" to words from "Sodom and Gomorrah" by Jean Giraudoux, in which Hartmann ambitiously developed his stylistic approach from the 1930s. Karl Amadeus Hartmann died in Munich on 5 December 1963.

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