Miserae (1934)

By Michael Kube

Written for the concert From the Last Century, performed on Oct 10, 2001 at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center.

After Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, thousands of musicians and artists were persecuted because of their Jewish religion and their politicalor artistic conventions. As restrictive measures were implemented in all areas of their daily lives, many were able to turn their backs on their homeland in time (however, far too many denied the imminent danger and soon ended up in the ever tightening jaws of the anti-human extermination machinery). But only a few of those who had decided to stay succeeded in retreating from all public areas and by means of this «inner emigration” remain unscathed throughout the dark, dictatorial years. One of these lone outcasts who was able to withdraw from “the system” was Karl Amadeus Hartmann. Though he was stylistically still leaning toward modern musical trends, the political change left its lasting mark on his works, significantly expressed in his grand-scale orchestra music as well as his symphonies. Hartmann himself, who according to Max See was “completely changed” during the course of the early 1930s, reflected upon this incisive change in his musical language in an autobiographic sketch:

“That year (1934) I realized that I needed to make a confession, not because of despair or fear of that power, but rather as a counter-action. I told myself that freedom wins even if we are destroyed at least that’s what I believed then. During that time I wrote my first string quartet, the symphonic poem Miserae, and my Symphony No. l…”

Hartmann’s intellectual and aesthetic rebellion was not bold and simple. The symphonic poem Miserae, which Hartmann long considered his actual first symphony, bears the dedication, “To my friends who had to die by the hundreds, now sleeping for eternity-we will not forget you (Dachau, 1933-1934).” However, musically this is a work of upheaval. Comprising a single movement, the tone poem’s introductory lament of horn and clarinet foreshadows structural and stylistic elements of a later era, whereas the concert-like gests of the developmentally structured, fast segments still reverberate with characteristics from the 1920s. The premiere on September 2, 1935 in Prague, conducted by Hartmann, was without a doubt a great success, reaching all the way into Germany. The Frankfurter Zeitung, which remained liberal long after 1933, had this almost enthusiastic response:

“Among the many heard, there was a new one, commanding everyone’s attention. Karl Amadeus Hartmann has opened the discussion with an orchestra work, Miserae, which may be described as technically excellent, but was especially powerful in its expression and intellectual poignancy, far superlative to many other compositions of our time.”