Discovery: Hans Rott
Ways to Gustav Mahler
A new CD was produced in the summer of 2013 together with the Munich Symphony Orchestra. Hansjörg Albrecht conducted the Symphony No. 1 of Hans Rott, an Austrian composer and organist who died fairly young and studied together with Gustav Mahler. A song cycle of Hans Rott in the orchestration of Enjott Schneider has also been recorded. The baritone Michael Volle is the soloist.
The CD has been published by OehmsClassics in June 2014.
Reflections on the “Lieder-Reise” by Enjott Schneider
The Lieder-Reise “Balde ruhest Du auch!” is a cycle consisting of five songs with piano by the Bruckner pupil and Mahler contemporary Hans Rott, a hitherto neglected composer who died prematurely. Today, he is exerting a growing fascination on the musical world. Analogous to Schubert’s Winterreise by Hans Zender, Enjott Schneider leads us through the songs of Hans Rott, most of which are characterised by a longing for death and withdrawal from the world, with musical commentaries (Prologue, Interludes, Epilogue in a contemporary idiom) which are sensitively orchestrated and intended to remain unchanged in their original expressive quality.
The commentary provides a contrast to the late-romantic writing of the songs, in a freely tonal musical language with clusters, high glittering sustained notes (cryptically placed above quotations of Rott) and subtle sounds which always refer to “death” and “madness” of Hans Rott with fragility or excessive outbursts. The songs are placed before an imaginary shadow-world, so to speak, attaining plastic contours through this. They are held together
by a leitmotif that is also sung: “Warte, balde ruhest du auch!” (Wait, soon you will rest, too), above all exposed in the Prologue and Epilogue. Hans Rott sits in the insane asylum before a white wall; moments of his life glide past him like shadows, disappearing into oblivion …
A Strange Man Worthy of Note
Thoughts about Hans Rott (1858-1884)
The edge is narrow and the plunge is probable: the fine line between genius and madness. Philosophers of ancient times were also of this opinion. In 1872 a psychiatrist named Cesare Lambroso substantiated this theory with medical arguments that appear monstrous today. His work was called Genio e follia and it was to appear in German as Genie und Irrsinn (Genius and Madness) in 1887. This was seven years after the abrupt fall of the Austrian composer Hans Rott into what the romantics called a benighted state. Hans Rott died in this night four years and several suicide attempts later, at the age of twenty-six.
At twenty he was a phenomenon that no one forgot: Hans looked like King Ludwig II, friends said. And he was highly talented. The musicologist Guido Adler even explained: “He was the most talented of us all.” This statement was of some significance in a circle that included Hugo Wolf and Gustav Mahler. Many people believed in a great career for Hans Rott, especially his organ teacher at the Vienna Conservatory, Anton Bruckner. His “most outstanding pupil” was a figure with star qualities. Rott succeeded in presenting himself, although having absolutely nothing, in such a way that others admired him. Rainwater had free discharge out of his shoes, as he himself said. But when he came along in his old Havelock, a broad overcoat with a shoulder flange, without sleeves and in his red-and-white striped butcher’s trousers, gigantically tall and with a dark-blond lion’s mane, shining grey-blue eyes, easy-going and cheerful, then everyone saw a winner in him.
Rott composed his strongest and most personal works between 1878 and 1880: the First Symphony in E major, a Pastoral Prelude, the art song Der Sänger (The Singer) and probably also the String Quartet in C minor, sketches for a second symphony and an oratorio, Der Tod (Death). When he completed his symphony in June 1880, he had a premonition of death. People became alien to him: “I’d give everything for a dog”, he wrote to a friend; “an animal could make me happy. I cannot entrust my heart to a person now.”
Rott drafted his last will and testament in 1880 at the age of twenty-two. But at the same time, he vibrated with desire for a future. He applied for the position of music director in Mühlhausen and wrote to Hans Richter, the kapellmeister of the Vienna Court Opera. Richter was to perform Rott’s Symphony in E major with the Philharmonic. Rott was in financially dire straits, but he was in such high spirits that even he became frightened. “The depth of the plunge will let people know the height of my present life,” he feared. On 19 August 1880 he wrote to his friend John Leo Löwi: “… there is something hypertensive, feverish in my present life that is pushing me to make a ecision.” He was not the one who decided – it decided.
On 21 October friends from Vienna saw him off in the train to Mühlhausen. They were worried: Rott was convinced that people from Mühlhausen were inspecting how he used his travel money. When a fellow traveller in his compartment wanted to light a cigarette, Rott pulled his revolver and threatened him because this man was endangering his life and that of all the others in the train. He was certain that Johannes Brahms had had the train filled with dynamite. On 23 October he was admitted to the psychiatric department of Vienna General Hospital for observation; on 16 February he was transferred to the Lower Austrian Provincial Asylum for the Insane. The diagnosis: hallucinatory madness and paranoia. One year later, the diagnosis was incurable schizophrenia.
But no one was, or is, satisfied with this explanation. Schumann, Nietzsche, Wolf: syphilis was the reason for their madness. This is a comfort for us, the later-born. We all search for the causality of becoming mad, because only this can take away our fear of its unpredictability. Someone, something must be to blame. In the case of Rott, many people and a great deal came into question. Brahms, who had ostensibly refused to acknowledge him. The professors of the Conservatory who had mocked his symphony at the final examination. His mother, who had given birth to him illegitimately as the son of a man married to someone else, and who thus infected him with the idea that he would have to “make amends, through purity, for the fault of his parents”. His half-brother Karl was, already as a very young man, a seducer with many love affairs; as the “bastard” of an archduke, he was also impure and, moreover, in love with the same seventeen-year-old girl as Hans. This love, that was celebrated by Hans Rott as an eternal and chaste love that could not be lived. Then there were the debts and Hans Rott’s incapability of dealing with money. The excessive smoking and rinking. Even the dog presented as a gift, who ran away.
In the year of his fall, Rott wrote the following: “ ‘Remarkable’ is a meaningful word; it is a child of ‘wonderful’. If people were less cowardly, they would say ‘remarkable’ instead of ‘insane’; the word ‘wonderful’ has been lost because conscious faith, so-called knowledge, has been lost – due to the culture that has removed us from nature on the path towards becoming intellectually dulled.” Rott was not an intellectual. He was worthy of note and strangely wonderful. He created a universal symphony that set the musical world on fire one hundred years after it was written: a work that is madly ingenious, even admired by Gustav Mahler as the epitome of the new. But can it really have come from a mind inhabited by genius and madness?
Four years ago, brain researchers of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, responsible for the bestowal of the Nobel Prize for Science, succeeded in freeing the relationship between genius and lunatic from the obscurity of mystification. They proved that their respective brains function according to the same mechanisms. Chaos dominates in the minds of both highly gifted people and those who are definitively mentally ill. They lack the filter that separates important from unimportant information. Through this, completely new connections and untold associations become possible for the brain: universal associations, regardless of whether others find them wonderful or only wonder about them. The Swedes’ discovery was illustrated in the press with a photo of the mathematician John Forbes Nash. In his younger ears, his wife had committed him to a psychiatric institution because of paranoia and madness. The diagnosis in 1959: paranoid schizophrenia. He received the Nobel Prize in 1994. In 2001, after many celebrated discoveries, he married his first wife again. He is still teaching at Princeton University.
The question is raised: if only Hans Rott …
There won’t be an answer. The music remains.