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“My music does not require clarification, it speaks completely for itself.”
ROBERT FUCHS (1847 – 1927)
Robert Fuchs’ lovable, modest, and reserved presence in the Viennese music culture led to very few specifics being known about his life. Fuchs was reticent and thrifty when talking about himself – not just in his private correspondence, but also in his notebooks. He himself did not think he was interesting and could not understand that others could find anything about him interesting beyond the “few notes” that he had written. Only his closest friends and relations were able to sketch a picture of his development using his casual remarks. In reality, these memories and occasional Feuilletons in the newspapers of his day comprise the only biographical sources of information we have regarding Robert Fuchs.
Robert Fuchs was born on 15 February 1847 in Frauenthal an der Lassnitz, the youngest of 12 children. His father, Patriz Fuchs, was an extremely active music teacher; musical talent was readily available in the family. Fuchs’ brother Johann Nepomuk was a conductor at the Imperial and Royal court opera and director of the Vienna Conservatory, while his brother Patriz, who died young, was reputed to be an exceptional pianistic talent. Fuchs’ sisters Maria, Elisa and Ludowika were sought-after singers in church choirs, and Maria, with her light soprano voice, later gained reputation as the “Sulmtaler Nightengale”. The only thing known about Robert’s early childhood is that he enjoyed sitting on the bank of rustling brooks and listening for hours as soon as he learned to walk.
In 1854, Robert’s older sister Maria takes charge of raising seven-year-old Robert and his older brother Johann Nepomuk in the nearby region of Wies, while her husband, Martin Bischof, schoolmaster in Wies, assumes responsibility for the continued musical education of the two boys. There are piano, violin, flute, organ and figured bass classes, all in accordance with the strict motto “a clean stroke of the violin bow and a strong switch”. However, Fuchs is thankful to his brother-in-law, as he himself said, for the absolutely solid base of his musical education. Fuchs writes to his mother on 25 November 1870, saying, “Send my greetings and kisses to darling Martin Bischof in Wies and tell him that even if I don’t write him myself, his memory and the feeling of infinite thankfulness that connects us is alive in my breast and will never be extinguished.” From 1860 to 1865 Fuchs attends the elementary school and pedagogy course so that he too can become a teacher.
Soon, however, Fuchs is no longer able to withstand the tempting reports from his friend, Wilhem Gericke, regarding musical life in Vienna and arrives in Vienna on 6 October 1865 after an eight-hour journey, with just sixteen gulden to his name. He enrolls at the Conservatory as Otto Dessoff’s, the former conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra’s composition student and keeps his head above water by giving lessons and coaching. The first concert he hears under Dessoff’s tutelage is Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony. “When I heard this piece, I truly believed that I had been transported to a spirit world and when the first movement ended I could no longer make out the people around me for my eyes swam in tears. And then the finale! It pulled me completely out of my saddle. Like a man possessed I screamed ‘bravo, bravo!’ until I finally realized that the hall was already empty.”
Before his 23rd birthday Fuchs marries Amalie Kopp, the daughter of a factory director in Hirtenberg. In the meantime, he has written two symphonies, the second of which is performed in 1872 by the Philharmonic led by Dessoff. However, he feels that he has not yet learnt enough and begins Opus 1 again at the age of 25. Three years later he becomes a theory and composition teacher at the Conservatory, a post that he will retain for the next 36 years until 1912. During these many years of teaching, Fuchs taught almost the entirety of the musical Vienna of the subsequent decades. He taught the majority of all composers, conductors and music publishers who obtained fame in Vienna, always with mildness and friendliness. Alexander Zemlinksy, Franz Schreker, Ernst Decsey, Karl Lafite, Egon Kornauth, Otto Siegl, Hugo Wolf, Gustav Mahler, Franz Schmidt, Jean Sibelius, Arnold Rose, Arthur Nikisch and many others number amongst his pupils. In 1912 Fuchs is more or less forced into retirement (along with Hermann Grädener).
Fuchs begins studying English when he is 50 and Italian when he is 60 and evidently could read celebrated literary works in their original languages, such as Dante, Manzoni, Byron and Shakespeare. Fuchs lived the last 40 years of his life in Wieden, at Mayerhofgasse 9 (which was destroyed in the war) where Hermine Böck, the niece of his late wife, managed his household. Four days after his 80th birthday at approximately 11:00, Fuchs was walking “with his student on the left side of the Wiedner Hauptstrasse towards the city. There, at the place after the Freihaus where the planks covered with posters begin, he fell quite suddenly without having complained previously about feeling poorly and sunk into his surprised friend’s arms. He was unconscious and wheezed softly. Mr. Leder carried him with the help of two passersby into the building across the street, to Wiedner Hauptstrasse 1, which houses a Unionsbank branch. Shortly after entering the doors of the building, Professor Fuchs passed away.” (Neue Freie Presse, 19 Feb. 1927)
Without a doubt, the largest influence anyone had on his artistic career came from Johannes Brahms, who was fourteen years his senior. In terms of the more contemporary musicians, Brahms particularly loved Bizet, Dvorak, Smetana, Verdi and Johann Strauß; still, he always had a special preference for the refined, intelligent Robert Fuchs. The two had met in a concert where Brahms was seated by chance between Fuchs and his friend, Kapellmeister Gericke. He was introduced as that gentleman “who had recently explained that if he didn’t like one of Brahms’ compositions, he would blame himself and not the composition.” At first, Brahms was quite aloof. It was in the Salon Billroth where Brahms and Fuchs’ relationship gradually began to deepen. In particular, Billroth raved about Fuchs’ first piano sonata, which had been published in 1877. Fuchs was prompted to play it in Brahms’ presence. Brahms listened attentively and admired it so much that he later played it for Clara Schumann.
Fuchs dedicated his first piano trio to Brahms in 1879. “This is a beautiful beginning,” exclaimed Brahms, and in 1888 he said with regards to Fuchs opera plans, “I expect from him a beautiful, virtuous opera,… refined, elegant, not exciting. Fuchs is never deep; in the symphonies he touches upon something deeper now and again. But he is so charming within his limitations, which he only seriously crossed in the trio that he dedicated to me.” When Brahms learnt of Fuchs’ plans for a symphony he only grumbled, “well, it seems to me he doesn’t have what it takes”. However, as soon as he had looked through the finished manuscript he wrote to Simrock by express post on 30 October 1884: “Actually, you should pay attention to the symphony written by Robert Fuchs that will be premiered here this winter. I only had a glance at it, but was very happy to see how fresh and lively, how finely musical it is. If it is even remotely possible to make money on symphonies, then this is the perfect one for it. Publishers, however, are like innkeepers: no matter what it is that they offer, they complain that they cannot make a penny on it right now.”
On 8 November, three weeks before the premier, Brahms expressed his gratitude for Simrock’s alacrity, saying, “because you have so immediately and gladly expressed an interest, I would like to say a few more things. The symphony is decisively his best larger work and much better, much livelier and more complete than I could have ever imagined. I can praise it all the more because I once killed a similar fruit of his in the womb.” He continues by bringing Hermmann Goetz’s symphony into the discussion:“But one should not make comparisons; thus, I will only say that Fuchs, as an Austrian – which quite suits him – has an innate, beautiful, fresh talent. He can let himself go in such a comfortable and wittily intimate fashion.” After the premiere at the philharmonic concert at the end of November 1834, Brahms sent him a basket of champagne “to properly shower the child”. Max Kalbeck visited Brahms the day after the concert to invite him out to eat. The conversation turned to the previous day’s premiere and Brahms indulged himself in praising the piece and its author with even more flattering expressions than he had used with Simrock. This provoked Kalbeck to contradict him, saying that the spirit and work of the composition were certainly admirable, but he did not feel that the ideas were robust enough for a symphony. This upset Brahms, who replied, “So? You don’t always need someone to so massively and bowleggedly settle in with his Ratatataa,” – he intoned the beginning of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony – “other, more delicately constructed people also want to live. Maybe you have something to say against Schumann’s d-minor symphony? There are many rooms in our Father’s house.”
Brahms remained amicably connected with Fuchs, even in dissuasion. Fuchs’ piano concerto was supposed to be played by the Philharmonic, but due to an advanced season no longer came into question. Nevertheless, Fuchs wanted to give it to the publishing house immediately. “Something like this has to be heard first”, warned Brahms. Whenever Fuchs had a piano composition arranged for four hands ready, Brahms was generally the first with whom he played it through, as was the case with the Op. 25 waltz, which Brahms liked very much, and the op. 48 “Traumbilder” which he recommended with lightning speed to the Peters publishing house. The following letter from Clara Schumann to Robert Fuchs proves how much Brahms advocated for the compositions of his younger colleague:
If I might allow myself to write these lines to you, then you have Mr. Brahms to thank for recently encouraging me to do so as he told me it might bring you pleasure when we played your symphony “In der Daemmerstunde” together on the forth day of the month.
I find your compositions so naturally flowing, refined, often dreamily noble, and always resonant throughout, that I truly find pleasure in them. It would be a joy to me to hear the symphony in its original form, and perhaps I will have the opportunity to share my high estimation personally with you.
Brahms said of Fuchs’ opera “The Devil’s Clock”, “Fuchs is really a famous musician; everything is so refined, so adroit, so fascinatingly invented! It is always a pleasure!” Once, when Brahms met Dr. Fellinger (the CEO of Siemens, one of his closest friends) on the Elisabeth Bridge, he asked Fellinger if he knew who Fuchs was. Fellinger did not, to which Brahms replied, “What? You don’t know him? He is Robert Fuchs, one of our best musicians, one should know of him!“
Fuchs also belonged to the same circle of friends (such as Anton Door, Julius Epstein, Eusebius Mandyczewski, Ignz Brull) who accompanied Brahms on his lengthy hikes. Fuchs remembers, “We would often go walking together, and one of his friends called me ‘Master Fuchs’- then you should have seen Brahms’ explode. ‘What do you mean ‘Master’?! Always this ‘Master’! There have been no Masters since Bach and Beethoven!’ Then they would have to cajole Brahms at length, until the upheaval of his agitated mood had calmed.” Fuchs also recalled Brahms’ direct character:
“…once I showed him a composition from my youth. One of the themes seemed to him to be similar to one from a Beethoven Andante and he would not let the topic rest. ‘That there’, he said, ‘I would want to change a bit, not because it is bad, but just so not every idiot would recognize it immediately!’”
For many musicians of the 19th Century who lived long lives well into the 20th, Brahms’ death marked the end of an era of which they were considered living relicts by the younger generation. Even Robert Fuchs, who himself outlived Brahms by thirty years, was not spared this difficult experience. Still deeply shaken by this death, Fuchs lost his wife of 28 years, Amalie shortly thereafter in the same year, 1897; in 1899 his brother Johann Nepomuk, then Dvorak, Bruckner, Strauß; in 1918 his best friend Theodor v. Brücke as well as his last sister; and finally his son after an operation in 1919. “My Hans! My darling Hans died on September 24th at 14:00.”
Interest in his music also ebbed and performances in Vienna were seldom. His 2nd Symphony only received a single performance in 1887 despite Brahms’ warm support and an enthusiastic public reception. “A work composed with great effort over difficult weeks is condemned to the death of eternal silence in three counts”, wrote the cheerless composer. The payments for his three symphonies speak for themselves: Fuchs received 2000 gulden for the first, 1500 for the second, and only 500 for the third symphony with the promise of a bonus should the symphony become “commercial”. This made Fuchs all the happier about the rare performances of his works, such as the premiere of his Sonata for Viola Op. 86 in Berlin on 24 October 1912 by Max Reger, who played it along with his own Op. 107. On 15 November 1916, responding to a request for an article for his 70th birthday, the Austrian “Illustrierten Zeitung” replied as follows:
We deeply regret our inability to assist in your request dated on the 14th of the month, as we have not had the honor of making the acquaintance of the Mr. Robert Fuchs whose 70th birthday should be celebrated in word and picture in the ‘Austrian Illustrierten Zeitung’. We would also like to point out that according to Lehmann there are many Robert Fuchs in Vienna, one of which is a known academic painter, another is an organist in the court music chapel, and a third is a high ranking civil servant at the ministry of trade.
With best regards…
If a few years ago Robert Fuchs, this old Austrian master, was only mentioned with the keyword “Fuchs Serenades”, then an increased interest in his chamber music can now be observed. Thus, the name ‘Fuchs’ has once again returned to the consciousness of the music world. Now, his chamber music appears more and more on records, but his extensive Lied and choral works and his piano music still wait to be discovered.
The First Cello Sonata in d minor, Op. 29, appeared in 1881 and is dedicated to David Popper. On 10 May 1881, Brahms wrote to his publisher, Simrock, “Now a quick word, to which I request a similarly quick response. I do not know if you have taken note of our very own Robert Fuchs? Probably the most beautiful talent in town; a charming man who is also married (so talking about money is a necessity). Up to now, Kistner (his publisher in Leipzig) has always happily accepted his work and paid well for them. Recently, however, the publisher began negotiating, which embarrasses the very modest and fearfully courteous Fuchs. I did not want to go to you regarding the waltzes, since Kistner (who would be happy to wring my neck even without all of this) would have known instantly that I am involved. But now I do indeed have to ask you to let me know in passing if you could incidentally pay 600 gulden for the cello sonata. I think it is his best and most lively work, and if you have never heard of him at all you really should have a look at his Variations (Härtel) and piano sonatas (Kistner)… Fuchs doesn’t know anything about this.” Simrock, however, had a deep mistrust of cello sonatas; they did not entice him, even if they would have been cheaper. The sonata was released that same year with Kistner as publisher.
Fuchs did not particularly care for the higher register of the cello, and so he also begins this sonata with an elegiac melody in the tenor range of the instrument. The secondary theme is powerful and later serves as the basis for the development. The scherzo, which also begins calmly, is strongly contrasted by the trio. The adagio movement begins with a slow, heavily ponderous movement that is quickly re-framed as an introduction to the final movement. This dance-like, quick movement in D Major brings the sonata to a triumphal close with a dramatic Coda.
The seven „Phantasiestücke“ Op.78 appeared in the September of 1905 on the heels of his 4th violin sonata thanks to the requests and demands of his friend Anton Mayr, an amateur cellist. Fuchs wrote to Mayr in Admond on 4 September, “cello pieces are not my passion, but to make you happy I will perhaps try to write some, but only because it is you who is asking”. Thereafter, the pieces appeared in rapid succession. The first was finished on 18 September, three more on the 23rd and by 15 October all seven cello pieces were prepared in fair copy.
At the first play-through on 20 October with Mayr at the cello, several corrections were made, which are described in detail by Mayr in his “Memories of Robert Fuchs”. In the second piece Fuchs said he had imagined that the harmony with the empty D-string would sound more beautiful; the strings should be very evenly and tenderly played together. In the third piece he found the recapitulation superfluous and the pizzicato of the cello too weak against the piano. He was very content with piece number four, and particularly liked the flageolet on the G-string. He did not want the 8th measure of the fifth piece to be played too weakly so that the following dolce came across even more tenderly. In piece number six he added quite a number of dynamic markings. He also wanted the first of the eighth-note figures in the first two measures to be a bit accentuated without changing the length of the eighth note. He wanted the cello to sound robust and full in the sections where the cello played the bass line and the piano was in a higher register. This piece was Fuchs’ favorite. In the last piece the arpeggios in the beginning of the second part proved to be too difficult and he made minor adjustments and simplifications to the cello part.
With the exception of a few trivialities, Fuchs seems to have been satisfied with the pieces. They were published the following year with Robitschek and dedicated to Fuchs’ friend, Richard von Perger.
The second cello sonata in e-flat minor, Op. 83 came into being during the autumn of 1908 and was finished on 3 December. It was undedicated. Robert Hausmann, the cellist of the Joachim Quartet should have premiered the piece in Vienna on 19 January 1909, and a sort of pre-premiere was also planned. However, shortly before the premiere, a message arrived that Hausmann was seriously ill. Fuchs went to Hausmann’s hotel with the pianist, Maria Baumayer, where they learned that Hausmann had suffered a stroke. “It would have been so beautiful”, he wrote to his friend Anton Mayr in Admont, “but it was not meant to be”. Four months later the then 30-year-old Paul Grümmer played the sonata in Munich with the composer present.
The three-movement sonata is – though similar to the first in expression – much more complexly constructed. Fuchs was in the bloom of his personal style in this work, and it is full of his surprisingly chromatic twists and enharmonic reinterpretations. The first movement exudes a great calm through its two lyric themes. The second, even calmer movement is interrupted by a dramatic middle section. Finally, the third movement rounds out the sonata with boisterous-yet-untroubled exhilaration in E-flat Major.
Translation by Chanda VanderHart, M.A. and Dune Johnson
Sonata for piano and cello in d minor, Op. 29
1 Molto moderato ………………………………………… 15:37
2 Allegro ………………………………………………………… 5:07
3 Adagio – Allegro non troppo, ma giocoso …… 10:44
‘Phantasiestücke’ for cello and piano, Op. 78
Nr. 1 Etwas bewegt, launig …………………………… 4:49
Nr. 2 Ruhig und äußerst zart ………………………… 4:14
Nr. 3 Lebhaft ………………………………………………… 5:21
Nr. 4 Ruhig und gesangvoll …………………………… 3:59
Nr. 5 Anmutig bewegt (Menuett) …………………… 3:51
Nr. 6 Etwas langsam, sehr innig …………………… 5:17
Nr. 7 Lebhaft bewegt …………………………………… 2:14
Sonata for cello and piano in e-flat minor, Op. 83
1 Allegro moderato assai ……………………………… 9:28
2 Adagio con sentimento ……………………………… 5:13
3 Allegro vivace …………………………………………… 6:01
“My music does not require clarification,
it speaks completely for itself.”
ROBERT FUCHS (1847-1927)
Robert Fuchs’ lovable, modest, and reserved presence in the Viennese music culture led to very few specifics being known about his life. Fuchs was reticent and thrifty when talking about himself – not just in his private correspondence, but also in his notebooks. He himself did not think he was interesting and could not understand that others could find anything about him interesting beyond the “few notes” that he had written. Only his closest friends and relations were able to sketch a picture of his development using his casual remarks. In reality, these memories and occasional Feuilletons in the newspapers of his day comprise the only biographical sources of information we have regarding Robert Fuchs…
Continue reading About Robert Fuchs’ life on the second tab of this page
Chanda VanderHart, Piano (Steinway, Modell C, New York 1884)
Ronald Fuchs, Cello (Giovanni Battista Gaibisso, Alassio 1911)
Sonata Nr. 1 and ‘Phantasiestücke’ recorded 5-8 May 2009,
Sonata Nr. 2 recorded 20-21 Nov. 2009 in Kunsthaus Mürzzuschlag
Recording and Sound Engineer: Matthias Huppmann (www.derguteton.at)
Graphic design: Michael Gletthofer, Michael Murschetz
Total time: CD 1 61:18 – CD 2 20:43
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