Arguably one of the greatest German symphonists of the 20th century, Karl Amadeus Hartmann (1905-1963) was the youngest of four, born to an artistically inclined family. Between 1924 and 1929, Hartmann studied trombone and composition, thus starting to develop his own particular style. However, during the Nazi era, Hartmann–as part of his cultural resistance and protest–prohibited any performance of his works within Germany. Though musically disconnected from German life, he was still prolific, composing multiple pieces that commented on the sociopolitical climate during Hitler’s regime. This included references to types of music that were forbidden as well as subversive dedications and inscriptions, such as his Musik der Trauer (1939), which translates to “music of mourning” and protested Hitler’s occupation of Prague, or his opera Simplicius Simplicissimus (1934-35), which draws on Jewish songs.
Following the conclusion of the Second World War, Hartmann was appointed as dramaturge (director) at the Bavarian State Opera in 1945 and became a driving force in the rebuilding of German musical life through his concert series, Musica Viva, that fostered critical engagement with other nations through dialogue and the introduction of contemporary music to audiences. At its 1945 debut, Hartmann presented works by Debussy, Busoni, and Mahler, whose music was banned during Hitler’s regime.
Along with many of his contemporaries, Hartmann later revised his compositions from the turbulent era of fascist rule, working them into new pieces including his first six symphonies. While his sixth symphony is highly regarded and recognized as his best work, Symphony No. 7 (1958) demonstrates his technical mastery of symphonic composition and was the first to not draw on his previous material, exuding a confidence and depth that was not fully present before.
To a large degree the Seventh Symphony may be regarded as a summation and synthesis of the various strands in Hartmann’s musical language and style.—Bernard Jacobson
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Composed by Karl Amadeus Hartmann
Conducted by Leon Botstein, music director