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Reflections on Hugo Kauder

Edward E. Lowinsky, Professor of Music, Black Mountain College, 1946:

"Hugo Kauder was born in Czechoslovakia; he lived and worked in Vienna until 1938. For many years, he made his home in the United States. Surrounded by a circle of devoted friends and pupils he continues here teaching and composing.

Among Hugo Kauder's works are two symphonies, concertos for violin, viola, and horn with chamber orchestra, a great number of compositions for small ensembles, preludes, fugues, suites, and sonatas for the piano, sonatas for one violin, two violins, and violin and piano. At present, he is working on his tenth string quartet. His eighth string quartet was recently performed by the Stradivarius Quartet, his fourth and seventh by the Gordon Quartet. Yet Hugo Kauder's work is not as widely known in this country as its originality, simplicity, and depth deserve. One reason for this may be the fact that Kauder shies away from all publicity and works almost as a recluse. Another reason may be that here is a contemporary composer who does not try to be interesting, and who can afford not to try because of the great inner seriousness of what he has to say and the deep warmth with which he says it. In much of our best modern music we feel the wild and hectic beat of our industrial machine age; its truthfulness rests in its reflecting the ever growing mechanical aspect of our civilization. Kauder's music seems to foreshadow a new humanism. It turns from the mechanical aspects of life to the organic, from the external powers that shape our existence to the inner spiritual forces. Kauder is not alone in taking this direction. But he follows this road with an inner assurance which gives his music a rare quietness and power.

Confronted with a musical situation where hardly one composer understands the language of another-as in a true Babel of music tongues-Kauder tried to go back to the fundamentals. In the same Vienna, where Arnold Schonberg boldly had exploded tonality and had written his first works in the twelve-tone idiom, Kauder started to rethink the diatonic scale. While others expanded the tonal means, Kauder reduced them. While modern music in general avoided fixation of a tonal center, Kauder's music establishes tonal centers with complete clarity. Yet the tonality which he creates is a new and unique phenomenon. Kauder shifts the tonal center of the diatonic seven-tone scale to the real melodic center by forming a "closed scale". This scale is so significant because all tones enclosed by the interval of a seventh are represented, yet they are all firmly related to the tonal center, and each tone is a fundamental part of the scale; the chromatic tones are not derived. The real importance of these scales is revealed only in Kauder's compositions. Similarly as in Oriental music, Kauder's scales are more than mere containers of the tone material, they are melodic models that return in hundred variations. Indeed in its perfect balance of ascending and descending lines the closed scale is an image of basic melody. Aside from the scales mentioned, Kauder also uses a number of pentatonic patterns.

The justification of any system of tones or colors is always in the work of art itself. The significance of Kauder's rethinking the diatonic scale can be judged only in terms of the music he created. This music is primarily concerned with the development of linear melody and free rhythm. Because meter and rhythm are rarely bound to one certain pattern that can be expressed in the usual 2/4, 3/4, 4/4 etc, Kauder uses no bar lines in his scores. Because he is primarily interested in linear development, his melodies have no harmonic implications and do not call for harmonic, but polyphonic treatment. The fourth is a much used internal, melodically as well as harmonically. The closed scale is limited by the upper and by the lower fourth. New are not only the forms of the scale which Kauder uses but the tonal relationship between the movements of one work. In a Baroque suite all movements may be in one and the same key, in a Classical Sonata the middle movements go to a related key, but all four movements of a Sonata may be in the major mode. In Kauder's Sonata for English Horn and Piano, the listener will find an entirely different principle employed. The tonal center of all movements is identical, it is G. But each movement is composed on another mode with the center tone G.

This new and original idea of tonal relationship is one of the elements that makes for the peculiar unity as well as variety in Kauder's music. There is another technique which Kauder uses for the first time in systematic fashion, symmetric inversion, that is thematic inversion that inverts each interval exactly and literally, so that the mode changes. A major triad becomes a minor triad, the major mode changes to the phrygian mode through symmetric inversion. Here again we have the same phenomenon; stability of tonal center combine with a change of mode. The listener may discover for himself the symmetric inversion of the them used in the fugato of the second movement, called Intermezzo.

The Sonata opens with a Prelude Andante tranquillo which is one great line of free improvisatory melody given to the English Horn and followed in imitation in the fifth by the piano. Against its pensive mood, the Intermezzo poses its lively rhythm of sixteenth triplets alternating with sixteenths. In the center of the Intermezzo there is a fugato in changed meter after which the first part returns in varied form. The third movement, Melody Sostenuto, is the real heart of the piece. The slow melody in the double scale appearing in its initial form is of a depth and inner greatness that are rare in contemporary music, the work is concluded by an energetic Fughetta, Allegretto which gives a characteristic example of Kauder's polyrhythmic structures. The listener may discover a return to some of the melodic patters of the Prelude, but the character of dreamy pensiveness has changed to that of determined activity."

The above is a liner text of Sonata for English Horn and Piano; and Improvisation for English Horn Alone, recorded in 1946 on Night Music Records (78 rpm), Boston, MA. Boston Symphony Orchestra's Louis Speyer, to whom the Sonata was dedicated, played the Horn.

Norman J. Dee, President of the Hugo Kauder Society, gave this talk at a Kauder concert in March, 2004:

On Playing Kauder

"I first met Hugo Kauder when I was 15 years old when I had been introduced to him by my English teacher at the H.S. of Music and Art, Ruth Steinbach. She often had students over her home to play chamber music as she was a musical amateur pianist. Little did I know she was a secret agent of the Kauder Circle. It was her mission in life to promulgate his music and bring musicians into his world.

As young talented musicians, we were training in 18th to 20th Century music and eager - especially as wind players - to find new music.

We were, of course, smitten with the beauty of Mr. Kauder's music and could not understand why it wasn't holding its own in the music world. Our teachers had never heard of him. Once entering university and conservatory we soon became aware of the politics of music and the music business. Mr. Kauder did not write for the present. He wrote for the future when tonality and the meaning of his efforts would be in its right time and appreciated... but this is a longer story.

Because we were young and open, Mr. Kauder's music had a direct appeal. The challenges of playing Kauder were in the same category of playing any of the other composers we were studying. However, in sharing our enthusiasm and working with other musicians over the years, the individual characteristics of Kauder have become apparent, as they are challenges to some.

Blatantly apparent to the performer, but not to the listener, is the lack of bar lines in Kauder's music. He has been quoted as saying "I don't want those lines cutting through my music.". True, we musicians use bar lines like bases in a baseball game; where once arrived, one feels safe. In eliminating bar lines, Kauder's music requires the musician to be listening and even more aware of what he and the music are doing. Does having bar lines prevent a musician from doing this? No. However, not having them forces the issue.

Another aspect of Kauder is in its intense polyphony and counterpoint - or as having been called before, "Kauderpoint". His music is carefully composed, crafted in which the voices continue for entire sections; unlike many composers who occasionally break out into moments of polyphony only to retract to a simpler structure. Various techniques of canon, stretti, etc. require the musician to be very aware of who has the leading voice and what the music is doing. There is no "solo and accompaniment" in Kauder. The counterpoint emphasizes the reason for no bar lines. Each voice has, as part of its melodic rhythm, its own rhythmic emphasis. What is a downbeat for one voice, is not for another.

Kauder's devotion to, and enrichment of Tonality has led to his use of the Double Scale of which Otto Kauder spoke earlier. In the Double Scale, accidentals (notes which deviate from the key signature) apply only to the note that immediately follows. This break with tradition is a challenge to the novice to his music. In playing polytonal or atonal music the occasional mistake goes by unnoticed; but not in Kauder's music. Every note is clearly within a tonal framework and sounds right or wrong. Kauder once said that "a wrong note is a lie!" This has established a standard of perfection which has been a challenge to all who perform.

Which leads me to my last point on playing Kauder... His music is so transparent that the best musicians feel exposed while performing Kauder. Only Mozart compares to this level of crystal-like clarity and exposure in performance. I have had many friends suddenly sound like students when playing Kauder. What creates this transparency? No unnecessary notes? Simple melodies? I can't define it.

I was privileged to have known Mr. Kauder and hear him play in his weekly chamber music nights. He was not a virtuoso violinist. He barely used vibrato. But, he played with clarity and articulation. His Haydn quartet playing was memorable and exemplary of the music. His Brahms too was phenomenal though lacking the bravura we come to expect from Today's electric artists. His ability to articulate a phrase unlocked the power of the music. As a musician, I have striven to achieve this simplicity. Playing Kauder requires a sense of articulation and clarity - letting the music play itself."