Alois Hába


Born: June 21, 1893   Died: November 18, 1973  
Alois Hába has become one of those composers more often read about for his musical ideas than experience in sound. Hába's father was a leader of a local folk music and dance band, and Alois and his brother Karel (1898 - 1972) played in it at an early age. His mother was a folksinger who was particularly praised for her authenticity, part of which lay in recognizing and accurately singing intervals of ancient folk music that did not correspond to Read more the standard twelve-note scale system of written music. Alois' classical training began in 1908 at the Komeriz teachers' training institute, where he started composing. He rapidly absorbed some of the newer trends in music. When he tested for admission into the Prague Conservtory in 1914, he was immediately placed in the master level classes and graduated in just one year. He principally studied with the important Czech composer Vitezslav Novák. At this point, he was called up for military service (World War I was in progress), but he was posted for a while in Vienna, where he was able to continue his studies, particularly counterpoint and fugue.

Hába read a newspaper account of a speech given in Vienna on the idea of "quarter tone" music, in which the usual half-step would itself be cut in half, yielding a 24-note scale and many new musical intervals and chords. He immediately wrote a Suite for string orchestra (1917), his first quarter-tone composition. He was not the first composer to use these micro-intervals (or microtones); but Hába was the first to make mictrotones a basic element of his style. He also began centering the tonality of his music on an idea of a polarity of tones (a hierarchical relationship of tones to a central tone rather than a scale).

Hába's brother Karel followed Alois' example and also wrote music in microtonal systems. Hába also worked in smaller intervals, producing sixth-tone and even twelfth-tone intervals. The great Czech composer Josef Suk backed Hába's right to explore this new type of scale and harmony, leading to courses and eventually even a department of mictrotonal music at the Prague Conservatory in 1924. Hába helped design and commissioned the manufacture of quarter-tone and sixth-tone instruments, including pianos, guitars, clarinets, and trumpets. His approach established a European tradition in micro-intervals. Hába wrote that his intent was "to permeate the semitone system with more delicate sound nuances, not to abolish it."

Hába's masterpiece is The Mother, an emotionally powerful opera beginning with the Mother's funeral and covering the effect of her life. Hába had to endure two bouts of opposition to his system, both from the Nazi occupiers of 1938 - 1945 and the Stalinist government that closed his quarter-tone Conservatory department in 1951. Hába continued to write string quartets in quarter- and sixth-tone scales. His music tended toward the simplification of harmonies and forms, even the ones in his experimental scales. His music is strongly emotional and affecting, although the dissonant small intervals and the extended chromaticism of his music (standard and mictrotonal) make it necessary to acquire a taste for his music through exposure and attentive listening. Read less
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