Hans Gál (1890–1987)

Gál never doubted the continuing validity of tonality, nor the potential for saying something new within that medium. (Eva Fox Gál)

Hans Gál was born near Vienna in 1890, son of a Jewish doctor, and grew up in the world of that turn-of-the-century imperial capital. Early recognition as a composer culminated in his winning the Austrian State Prize for Composition in 1915. The First World War, which left Austria politically and economically in ruins, marks a decisive break in his career, but during the 1920s his reputation grew rapidly, notably with his second opera, "Die Heilige Ente", which was so decisively successful at its first performance in 1923, under Georg Szell, that it was immediately taken up by a further six opera houses for the subsequent season, and was still in the repertoire in 1933. Following these and other successes, particularly in Germany, Gál was appointed Director of the Conservatoire in Mainz in 1929. The next four years marked the happiest and most intensely active period of his life. But the Nazi occupation in March 1933 brought instant dismissal from office and a ban on all publication and performance in Germany. He returned to Vienna, but the political situation in Austria became increasingly precarious, and when Hitler marched into the country in March 1938, Gál and his family immediately fled to England, with the intention of emigrating to America. A meeting with Donald Francis Tovey, Professor of Music at the University of Edinburgh, brought some welcome temporary employment in Edinburgh, where the family eventually settled at the outbreak of the Second World War. But Whitsun 1940 brought the next blow: internment as an "enemy alien"; and it was not until 1945 that he finally obtained an appointment as lecturer in music at Edinburgh University. He remained in Edinburgh until his death in 1987, creative as a composer well into his nineties. But in the totally changed musical climate after the Second World War, Gál never re-established his former position, and became better-known as a scholar and teacher - he wrote books on Brahms, Schubert, Schumann, Wagner and Verdi - than as a composer. Hans Gál's compositions include four operas, four symphonies, large-scale cantatas, and a host of chamber, piano and vocal works. By the end of his long life, he had left a legacy of around 140 published works. Although more than half of these were composed in Britain, his work, and indeed his whole cultural identity, remained deeply rooted in the Austro-German tradition. His style draws on many different strands of that tradition: the clarity, wit and formal mastery of the eighteenth century Viennese pre-classics, romantic intensity combined with emotional restraint, a Schubertian love of melody, integrated with a polyphonic texture that derived from a lifelong engagement with the works of J.S. Bach, as well as the harmonic complexity and advanced tonality of early 20th century pre-serial modernism.

(Eva Fox Gál, from the booklet of the CD "Hans Gál - Violin Concerto et al.", CD AVIE, 2010)