Sigmund von Hausegger, Wieland der Schmied, symphonic poem

By Byron Adams

Written for the concert The Remains of Romanticism, performed on Nov 15, 2009 at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center.

Siegmund von Hausegger was the son of a passionate Wagnerite who instilled into his child a lifelong devotion to the Master of Bayreuth. As Hausegger wrote in a biographical sketch, “My father, Dr. Friedrich von Hausegger, a lawyer, was highly gifted musically, and from his earliest youth had the ardent wish to devote himself completely to this art . . . [I]t was his special pride that he was one of the first in Austria to recognize the greatness of Richard Wagner and to exert himself to the uttermost in order to propagate his music.” Unsurprising for a Wagnerian devotee, Hausegger’s father admired Schopenhauer above all other philosophers; the elder Hausegger even went so far as to write a rebuttal to Eduard Hanslick’s Vom Musikalisch-Schönen. The Wagnerian predilections of both father and son were doubtless further confirmed when, in the midst of an unhappy meeting with Brahms in 1891, the young Hausegger shyly confessed his ambitions as a composer; Brahms’s characteristically sarcastic reply was “Alles schon besetzt.”—“All those jobs are taken.”

Hausegger was educated in a thoroughly Teutonic fashion: along with extensive musical training, he studied literature, philosophy, and art history. His first opera, Helfrid, was performed in 1890 at the Landestheater in his native town, the Austrian city of Graz. Hausegger’s first notable success was with a “romantic-comic” opera after a tale by E.T.A. Hoffman, Zinnobar. In 1898, Richard Strauss established Hausegger’s reputation throughout Germany by conducting a brilliant performance of Zinnobar in Munich. Hausegger settled happily in Munich for the next few years, becoming part of the circle around Alexander Ritter, a violinist, composer and littérateur who was married to Wagner’s niece Franziska. Ritter was a rabid Wagnerian who encouraged the young Richard Strauss to study Wagner’s music closely, and who proselytized the Wagnerian gospel—both racial and aesthetic– to Strauss and Ludwig Thuille. Hausegger, of course, needed no encouragement from Ritter in this regard, and became close to Ritter and his family, marrying Ritter’s daughter, Herta, in 1902. It could not have been lost on Hausegger that his happy union had allied him with the Master’s own bloodline.

In the same year, Hausegger accepted an influential position as a conductor in Franfurt, dividing his time between his duties there and his country house at Obergrainau in the Bavarian highlands, very near to Strauss’ villa at Garmisch. In 1920, Hausegger accepted the post of conductor of the Munich Philharmonic; shortly thereafter he befriended the brilliant young conductor Wilhelm Fürtwangler. The persistence of Hausegger’s peculiar brand of Wagnerian romanticism may well have left him particularly susceptible to the blandishments of the Nazis. Given his unwavering support of Wagner’s aesthetics and nationalism, it is unsurprising that Hausegger signed his name, alongside those of Strauss and other luminaries, to an strident article that appeared on April 16,1933 in the Müncherer Neueste Nachrichten pillorying Thomas Mann for a recent anti-nationalist attack on Wagner. Hausegger eventually recoiled from Hitler’s brutality, but his recantation came too late to save his postwar reputation: he died in 1948 a broken and impoverished man.

Written in1904 and dedicated to “Meiner geliebten Frau,” Wieland der Schmied (“Wieland the Smith”) is a symphonic poem after the expansive Straussian model, but devoid of the slightest hint of Strauss’ irony or self-conscious bravado. Hausegger could not have made his Wagnerian allegiance more overt, for he took as his inspiration the draft of a libretto sketched by Wagner between December 1849 and March 1850. In Wagner’s libretto, Wieland is a proto-Siegfried who saves the beautiful Swanhilde from the clutches of the evil Neidings. Hausegger aptly illustrates Wieland’s yearning for Swanhilde as well as the smithy’s creation of wings that allow for a magical Daedelus-like flight into the heavens. Hausegger’s refulgent music is poised between that of Wagner and Strauss, and the dramatic opening—a storm that distinctly recalls passages from the first act of Die Walküre—as well as the chromatic harmony and lavish orchestration attest to its composer’s fervent and Teutonic romanticism.