Hans Rott: Symphony No. 1 / Mahler: Blumine / Bruckner: Symphonisches Präludium

Hans Rott: Symphony No. 1 / Mahler: Blumine / Bruckner: Symphonisches Präludium

Important discoveries can happen in unusual places. “I was lying in bed, about to go to sleep,” the Czech conductor Jakub Hrůša tells Apple Music about how the name of Hans Rott first came to his attention. “I’d been looking at information about Bruckner, whose symphonies I was conducting at the time, and Hans Rott popped up in front of me.” Rott was an organ pupil of Bruckner, and his little-known Symphony No. 1 has been recorded by Hrůša and the Bamberg Symphony on their new album for Deutsche Grammophon. Until recently, Hrůša had no idea that either the composer or his symphony existed. “So, I went online and found the symphony and thought I would just listen to a bit of it out of curiosity,” Hrůša recalls. “And I was so fascinated by the music, it was unlike anything else I knew, and I sensed a kind of visionary quality in it.” Born in Vienna, Rott was just 21 when he completed his Symphony in 1880, and despite his relative inexperience, he was pushing hard to reinvent what the form was capable of expressing. “Each movement expands to a bigger size than the one before, as Rott incorporates very brave ideas in ways not heard previously. For example, the huge, wild folk dance in the scherzo [Track 3],” Hrůša explains. “There’s also an incredibly wide range of contrasts, from intimate moments with just two or three instruments playing to truly monumental moments with the full orchestra.” Rott’s training as an organist with Bruckner is felt particularly in the Symphony’s wide-ranging finale, which lasts 23 minutes. “Rott was an incredibly talented improviser on the organ, and his symphony sounds like a huge expansion of an organ piece, with human beings playing rather than the pipes.” This can, Hrůša adds, spell difficulty for orchestral players. “It’s easy to hold chords for a long time on the organ, but much harder for wind and brass players. Rott’s writing for those instruments is extremely demanding, and I’ve never come across any other piece which is so tiring for them.” Despite the exceptional demands, Hrůša found the Bamberg players more than equal to the challenges posed by Rott’s Symphony. “Of course, they hadn’t played it before, but the orchestra here in Bamberg is extremely curious, and we trust each other,” he comments. “We played the Symphony in concerts and even took it on a little minitour, and audiences were very enthusiastic. So, we had about 10 days’ full immersion in the music before the recording, and the orchestra even suggested the short pieces by Bruckner and Mahler, which are also on the album. It was a very special project.” Rott’s desire to expand symphonic form and take it to new levels of expression was shared by a student friend of his, Gustav Mahler. Mahler subsequently became the greatest symphonist of his generation and took from Rott’s pioneering Symphony more than just generalized inspiration. “The first idea I had when listening to Rott’s Symphony was that he was stealing from Mahler, as there are very close similarities between bits of it and passages in Mahler’s First and Second Symphonies,” Hrůša comments. “But then, you look at the timeline and realize the opposite is the case—Mahler’s symphonies came later.” Mahler’s career ascent was stellar, but there was, unfortunately, no happy ending to Rott’s personal story. Just four months after completing his Symphony, he succumbed to mental illness, at one point threatening a train passenger with a revolver and claiming the composer Brahms had packed dynamite into the carriages. Committed to an asylum, Rott died three years later, aged 25, of tuberculosis. “I’m not a psychologist, but I think there was probably a genetic predisposition in play there,” Hrůša explains. “Rott was living in poverty at the time, and there were also triggers when people like Brahms rejected his Symphony. So, I think Rott was very sensitive and easily shaken, and that his mental fragility might be the other side of his extreme courageousness and originality.” Hrůša firmly believes Rott’s Symphony is a work of real significance and one that should be played more often. “I would never claim that Rott is equal to composers like Mahler and Richard Strauss, who had the opportunity of profoundly improving themselves during much longer lifetimes, whereas Rott died young,” he comments. “But I’m shocked that today’s world doesn’t know at all that this man existed and wrote something of fascinating originality before Mahler. Rott’s contribution to orchestral music is far too important, and he should not be forgotten.”

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