Sunday, December 18, 2005

Hans Gál

I've been listening to Leon McCawley's wonderful performances of the complete piano music of Hans Gál. Gál, who died in 1987 at the age of 97, was one of the great Austrian composers of the twentieth century, though his career was interrupted and for a time eclipsed by the rise of Nazism in Germany and Austria. I had the good fortune to study piano with him in Edinburgh, Scotland, during the early 1960s, and the lessons I had then have enriched my experience of music throughout my life.

To hear these works now played with such assurance and delicate energy is a revelation. And I'm struck by the words of the composer's grandson, Simon Fox-Gál, who was recording engineer for the new Avie 3-CD collection:
The deeper I get to know Gál's music the more I come to realise that it demands mastery of one of the highest challenges for a human being: balance. This could have been achieved by avoiding any extremes. But a far more powerful approach is to maximise seemingly opposing elements, allowing them to combine as one magnificent whole. Specifically, maximising Gál's emotional intensity on the one hand while bringing out his humour and wit on the other; punctuating contrapuntal intricacies and at the same time drawing out lyrical beauty to the full; emphasizing the extraordinary harmonic twists and turns that are such an important part of Gál's musical language whilst stating the music with directness and simplicity.
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