Max Reger,composer,and author of a famous music review, most quoted, yet seldom identified

Max Reger 1873-1916, a prolific composer of polyphonic works for organ, but also three Sonatas for Clarinet, and his last work, a Clarinet Quintet, much in the style of the Brahms Quintet. It is considered his finest work, especially of chamber music, and well worth considering by any clarinetist or String Quartet.

Of course, there is always one big problem with programming this fine Quintet by Max Reger for Clarinet and String Quartet.

But allow me to back in my lengthening history to my discovery of this gifted composer, and the performance of all of the above works.

Years ago, I was asked by Francis Wainwright, then a senior produce for the English CBC in Montreal to perform the Quintet with the Laval String Quartet(of the University of Laval) at an Arts National Concert for the CBC. Broadcast throughout Canada, the concert was special in that is featured music of the Verein.

What was the Verein. How many know? Was it important in the history of music and the clarinet?(I don’t mean to separate history of music from the clarinet, even though many clarinetists do….but not you)

The Society for Private Musical Performances (in German, the Verein für musikalische Privataufführungen) was an organization founded in Vienna in the Autumn of 1918 byArnold Schoenberg with the intention of making carefully rehearsed and comprehensible performances of modern music available to genuinely interested members of the musical public. In the three years between February 1919 and 5 December 1921 (when the Verein had to cease its activities due to Austrian hyperinflation, the organisation gave 353 performances of 154 works in a total of 117 concerts.

Circumstances permitting, concerts were given at the rate of one per week, with each programme consisting entirely of modern works. The range of music included was very wide, the ‘allowable’ composers not being confined to the ‘Schoenberg circle’ but drawn from all those who had  a real face or name. During the Society’s first two years, in fact, Schoenberg did not allow any of his own music to be performed; instead, the programmes included works by Stravinsky, Bartok,Debussy,Ravel, Webern, Berg, and many others, including Max Reger, specifically his Clarinet Quintet.

The players at these events were chosen from among the most gifted young musicians available, and each work was rehearsed intensively, either under Schoenberg himself or by a Vortragsmeister (‘Performance Director’) specifically appointed by him. Clarity and comprehensibility of the musical presentation was the over-riding aim, with audiences sometimes being permitted to hear ‘open rehearsals’, and complex works sometimes being played more than once in the same concert.(actually, without knowing of this history, I have done this many times in performance, repeating the work)

“Only those who had joined the organisation were admitted to the events: the intention was to exclude ‘sensation-seeking’ members of the Viennese public (who would often attend concerts with the express intention of whistling derisively at ‘modern’ works by blowing across their house-keys) as well as keep out hostile critics who would attack such music in their publications: a sign displayed on the door – in the manner of a police notice – would state that Kritikern ist der Eintritt verboten (‘Critics are forbidden entry’). Applause was not permitted after the performance of any work on the program”.

Stop, but for a moment.

How many of you have ever been involved with such an organization? Or, how many have wished for such an organization?

I was and I did, and that was perhaps the most fortunate years of performance I enjoyed, even though it was very difficult. Difficult to find he performers, choose the composers and mostly ,to rehearse and perform that music, which was almost always chamber music.

Think of it. The time to find the best players, to find the best music, or what one thought was the best, finding a hall in which to perform, remunerating the women and men who played, and how much, and yes, getting a recording of the performance, and sometimes, a review, even though in Schoenbergs Verein, critics were not permitted to attend. (a perfect and honest idea. But man does not live by bread alone.)

I had the honor and privilege of doing this in Tangleweood at the Concerts of New Music, sponsored by the Fromm Foundation, at The Center for the Creative and Performing Arts at the University of Buffalo, and with my own group, The Concordia Chamber Players of Montreal. (And yes, Le Conservatoire Americain at Fontainebleau)

Now, before this turns into another bragging game of “my resume is longer than yours”, let us go back to poor Max Reger, a gifted composer, quite so, especially in polyphonic music. He said, “most  compose fugues. I live in them”.

Also, he practically never received a good review, this most quoted is from Mr. Reger. “I am sitting in the smallest room in my house.Your review is in front of me, Soon , it shall be behind me.”  Have you ever wished you could say something similar to a (so-called) music critic? Perhaps.

What makes this posting interesting is that the clarinet music of Mr Reger, while being similar to the style of Brahms quite frequently, does not work anywhere near as well.

I first expored the three Sonatas with the gifted pianist, Dale Bartlett of McGill.While he was always prepared and never said anything criticalabout any of the many works of a contemporary nature, he had a special name for these sonatas, difficult and with wormy counterpoint crawling about everywhere, in every key imaginable. Dale called them The Ronald Reagan Sonatas. 

(Those were the years of the presidency of Mr. Reagan).
The Clarinet Quintet, Regers last work, and called by many his best, is startlingly similar to the Quintet of Brahms. Beautiful themes and phrases, written very well for all, in A for the clarinet, but contained in an seemingly unintelligle labrynth of counterapuntal devices.
And like other of his works, has an arch form, beginning and ending pianissimo.
And, when the choice comes to your program, you would never put the Reger on the same progeram with Brahms. Nobody knows it, it is longer and takes more rehearsal time. On a clarinet concert , the two will not fit.
Schonberg did indeed perform the works of Max Reger in his private Performance Club. And  we have all wished for as much time that is needed in order to perform new works perfectly, but alas, the end of that story is in the time, the schedules of the players, their “other work”, which pays the bills, and…one is left with frustration in the filling of the duties one thinks carry importance for the performance of new works. We seem to be repeating ourselves, with organizations of all kinds falling by the wayside in the wake of many expenses  and new technics.
Keep practicing, no mater what.
and it is the duty of every musician to perform new works.

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