Joseph Marx


Born: May 11, 1882 Died: September 3, 1964
Joseph Marx was a leading theorist and pedagogue, as well as being a skilled and imaginative composer whose music was largely overlooked because it did not follow the vogue for atonal or serial composition. There were signs of its revival at the end of the twentieth century.

Marx was born to a professional family in Graz. His father was Austrian, and his mother was Italian. Several members of his family were well schooled in musical fundamentals, which they taught him. He seems not to have shown any particular signs of extraordinary musical ability nor inclination for music as a profession. He attended the University of Graz, where he studied philosophy, art history, and German studies, earning a doctorate in 1909. By then he had started studying composition with Degner, and added musicology to his course of studies. His doctoral dissertation was on a musical subject, "The Functions of Intervals in Harmony and Melody for the Comprehension of Time-complexes."

His growing interest in music led to the growth of a dispute with his family, who wanted him to become a lawyer. He refused, leading to a complete break of relations with them that lasted for some time. He began composing professionally at the age of 26.

He became noted as a composer of art songs in the line of Hugo Wolf, writing 120 such Lieder within four years. Many of the songs were quickly adopted by important singers and became quite popular in Austria. Commentators find an Italian strain in his songs that they attribute to Marx's mother. In 1914 he received an offer to become professor of theory at the Imperial Music Academy. He remained with the Academy until 1927, becoming the director in 1922, succeeding Ferdinand Löwe. In 1924, as part of the post-War reorganization of Austrian state functions following the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, his title was changed to Rector, and the name of the institution became the Hochschule für Musik.

During the 1920s he concentrated on symphonic writing, composing Autumn Symphony and a work he called the "Romantic Piano Concerto," a large scale set of three nature poems for orchestra.

His naming the concerto "Romantic" reflected his aesthetic viewpoint: He was a conservative who resisted the atonality and serial style of Schoenberg and his pupils Berg and Webern. As such, he is representative of a group of Viennese composers including Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Alexander von Zemlinsky, and Wilhelm Grosz who did not accept atonality. The International Society for Contemporary Music vigorously promoted Schoenberg's style, and by 1923 entirely dominated the Salzburg Festival to the exclusion of tonal and post-Romantic composers. Marx and Korngold formed their own festival in 1923 to present the best of modern music not using serial composition. The success of the alternative festival infuriated the ISCM. As the serialist position eventually dominated international musical academics until nearly 1980 (except where totalitarian governments intervened), Marx and his group were forgotten and written off; the New Grove Dictionary of 1980 rated him as "a composer of purely local interest."

Marx began in 1931 writing regular music criticism for the Neues Wiener Journal (losing the job in 1938 when Nazi Germany absorbed Austria and took over the newspapers). After the war, he worked for the Wiener Zeitung as a leading critic. He also was a consultant in the founding of the Turkish state conservatory in Ankara in 1932.

Around 1930, he ceased writing orchestral music, concentrating on attractive, well-wrought chamber music that explored and advanced many different styles, excepting atonal ones. He published theoretical textbooks and collections of his musical journalism.

There are 36 Joseph Marx recordings available.

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