Josef Matthias Hauer

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Born: March 19, 1883; Wiener Neustadt, Austria   Died: September 22, 1959; Vienna, Austria  
Josef Matthias Hauer was the odd man out as far as Viennese serialism was concerned; working independently of Arnold Schoenberg, by 1919 Hauer developed a system of twelve-tone organization identical to Schoenberg's in that no note was heard twice until the other 11 were sounded. Hauer's method of applying the technique to musical composition, however, was completely different from Schoenberg's, and his work was never very seriously considered Read more during his lifetime or even immediately after. Toward the end of the twentieth century, Hauer's music began to appear in concert and on recordings, which has led to a reappraisal of its value.

Born in Wiener Neustedt, Hauer took a basic teaching certificate in 1902 and taught in elementary schools until 1919. He was self-taught in music and orchestration and began to compose in 1912. By the time of his first twelve-tone composition, Nomos for piano, Op. 19 (1919), Hauer had already composed a respectable amount of vocal, orchestral, and chamber music in a modern style that was cutting-edge for its time. His first treatise on twelve-tone composition, Vom Wesen der Musikalischen, appeared in 1920, three years before the first publication of Schoenberg's method. Rather than strict serial organization of pitches, which was what Schoenberg favored, Hauer organized each 12-note series into two hexachords, then subdivided into tropes to produce twelve-tone music in a non-strict fashion. Schoenberg had some awareness of Hauer, and even programmed one of Hauer's works at a Society of Private Musical Performances concert in 1919, but refused to acknowledge Hauer's discovery of twelve-tone composition as having been "first," much to Hauer's great disappointment. Nevertheless, Hauer's music was heard at ISCM concerts in the 1920s -- the Seventh Orchestral Suite (1926) was particularly well received -- and he was awarded a Vienna State Prize in 1930.

With the rise of Nazism, Schoenberg fled Europe, putting an end to the ISCM. By 1938, Hauer's music was banned as "degenerate" by the Nazis, and from that time Hauer kept a low profile while remaining in Vienna. In 1940, Hauer himself abandoned formal structures other than those identified as "Zwolftonspiele," abstract, single-movement pieces written for a wide variety of instrumentation utilizing his standard recipe for twelve-tone composition. It is said that Hauer wrote more than 1,000 compositions of this kind between 1940 and his death in 1959; if so, not all have been accounted for.

Hauer is frequently cited as one of the models for the lead character in novelist Thomas Mann's book Doctor Faustus, and for the character Joculator Basiliensis in Hermann Hesse's The Glass Bead Game, comparisons Hauer was aware of, and detested. Late in life, younger musicians in Vienna began to regard Hauer as a sort of an ancient mystic, a comparison he liked somewhat better -- Hauer's techniques had more in common with figures like Stockhausen thanSchoenberg. While his compositions are very similar to another after a certain point in his development, their basic sound remains fresh. Hauer's gentle, charming, and domestic approach to atonality as a kind of off-kilter Gebrauchtsmusik is one of the most interesting and overlooked sidelights of twentieth century music. Read less
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