Hans Gál is an honorary Scottish composer, pianist, teacher and writer. Despite being born in Austria he spent more than thirty years as a lecturer at Edinburgh University.
Gál was born in town of Brunn am Gebirge, now a suburb of Vienna, on 5 Aug. 1890. After early piano lessons with Richard Robert and music history with Guido Adler at Vienna University, Gál studied composition with the Romanian musicologist, composer, conductor and teacher between 1909 and 1911. After the military service in the German Army during the First World War, he lectured in music theory at the University of Vienna. Gál remained in this post until 1929 when was appointed Director of the Mainz Musikhochschule. When the Nazis took over Mainz in 1933, he was expelled from this position, because he was Jewish. There follows five years working as a conductor of the Vienna Concert Orchestra and the Bach Society in Vienna. After the Anschluss (annexation of Austria by Germany, 1938) Gál fled to London en-route to the United States. He never crossed the Atlantic. He and his family were invited to Edinburgh by Donald Tovey, then Reid Professor of Music at Edinburgh University. In 1945 Gál was appointed a university lecturer in Musical Education at that institution. He became a central figure in the city’s musical life and was a highly respected teacher. Gál was a major player in the establishment and running of the Edinburgh Festival, where he had considerable influence on the choice of repertoire. During this period, he continued to compose a considerable amount of music in many genres. Gál also wrote several books about eminent composers, including studies of Johannes Brahms (1964), Franz Schubert (1974) and Richard Wagner (1976). The composer’s diary of his time in wartime ‘alien’ internment camps at Huyton near Liverpool and on the Isle of Man was posthumously published in 2014 by Toccata Press.
Hans Gál died in Edinburgh on 3 October 1987.
The catalogue of music is considerable: there are 110 published works. Hans Gál wrote five operas, four symphonies, concertos for violin and piano as well as many works for chamber ensemble. There are also several vocal and choral works and many piano solos. Stylistically, Gál’s musical style was largely conservative, Brahms being a key reference, but in some of his music, the influence of Mahler can be heard. Grove’s Dictionary describes his style as ‘[uniting] many elements: the clarity, playful humour and formal mastery of early Classicism; the chromatic harmony and extended tonality of early 20th-century, pre-serial music; a Schubertian love of melody; the lyricism and emotional restraint of Brahms and the contrapuntal textures that remained fundamental to his style.’
If you can only hear one work by Hans Gál…
Hans Gál’s Piano Concerto in C major was composed in 1948 and received its premiere in the following year with the soloist Otto Schmidtgen and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by one of the composer’s champions, Rudolf Schwarz.
There is no doubt that this is a sumptuous romantic work. There is nothing of the prevailing serialism and incipient modernism of the late 1940s. The Concerto opens with an ‘Allegro energico ma non troppo’ which is by turn lyrical, genial and optimistic. Gal has balanced sheer virtuosity with a chamber music clarity. The scoring is pellucid in every sense of the word. The ‘adagio’ is quite simply gorgeous, mirroring an almost perfect sense of resignation and peace. There is a big tune here that is worthy of Rachmaninov. Things come to a sparking conclusion with the playful and capricious finale, an ‘allegretto vivace.’ This music balances humor with a gentle poignancy. The liner notes explain that this movement is ‘replete with spiky harmonic false relations and witty touches. Again, and again, Gál raises the virtuosic stakes, and in the work’s final pages, the music keeps ramping up the speed and complexity, reaching a thrilling ending, striking both for its audacity and humour.’
Gal’s Piano Concerto was given its world premiere recording in 2016 with the Royal Northern Sinfonia conducted by Kenneth Woods. The piano soloist was Sarah Beth Briggs. The CD coupling was Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.22 in E flat (K.482). It was released on AVIE 2358.
A live broadcast the Piano Concerto dating from 2015 has been uploaded to YouTube. Here the soloist is Hartmut Hudezeck with the Philharmonisches Orchester Altenburg conducted by Gera Laurent Wagner/ (Accessed 7 March 2020)