Tag Archives: chamber music

Has Max Reger’s time come at last?

This weekend, cellist Iris van Eck opens her Chameleon Musicians series in Fort Lauderdale with music by Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann and Max Reger.

The music includes two string trios: Beethoven’s Op. 9, No. 3, in C minor, and the Schubert B-flat, D. 471. Schumann’s powerful E-flat major Piano Quartet, Op. 47, is also on the program, and then there’s one of the three solo cello suites of Reger — in D minor, Op. 131c, No. 2. Van Eck is going to record all three of the solo Reger suites in the coming months, and I’ll be eager to hear them.


Reger, a tall, large man who died of a heart attack at just 43, was critically derided for decades because of his ornate, thick style, his long-windedness and his essentially dead-serious body of work. At first he sounds a lot like a Wagnerian Brahms, but without the tunes, and yet when I play some of the pieces from his Op. 82 collection, Aus Meinem Tagebuch, I find someone who’s more like the Schoenberg of Verklaerte Nacht.

Reger died in 1916, and some of the most radical music of the century had already been written, but this music sounds in many places like he would have been not far behind his colleagues, if he took longer to get there.

The most crucial composer for Reger was Bach, and much of what he wrote has a contrapuntal feel. Organists play his music a good deal, but it would be welcome to hear some more of his chamber music. He wrote a gargantuan amount of music in his short life — something like 1,000 pieces –  and I don’t know of any concerted effort right now for a serious exploration of his chamber music in performance, to say nothing of the rest of his work.

But it looks to me that interest in Reger is growing. I have heard his music more often in the past five years that I can remember before, including a flute, violin and viola trio at this year’s Palm Beach Chamber Music Festival, and a lovely Reger arrangement of a Bach organ prelude for chamber orchestra in last year’s season of the Boca Raton Symphonia.

And one of Reger’s songs — the Maria Wiegenlied from his 60-song Op. 76 collection (it’s No. 52) — seems to be getting sung more frequently at Christmastime. It’s a lovely piece that makes good use of the folksong Joseph lieber, Joseph mein, amid a Wolf-like chromaticism that gives this tender song a heartfelt emotionalism that’s hard to resist.

It could be that Max Reger’s time has come at last. As the world’s performing organizations look in the libraries for good music from the Romantic era that they might have missed, Reger offers a very large selection to look through.

Here are two YouTube videos of music by Reger. The first is soprano Renee Fleming singing in Mainz in 2005 the Maria Wegenlied, and the second is a young Russian pianist named Igor Levit who won second prize in the 2005 Rubinstein Competition. In this performance, Levit does a masterful job of the fugue from Reger’s Telemann Variations, Op. 134.

Here’s Fleming:


And here’s the Levit performance:


When comfort and chamber music meet

A brief entry today to second the words of Amanda Ameer, whose Life’s a Pitch blog can be found on ArtsJournal.com, which I now realize I have neglected to add to my blogroll until now.

In this piece, Ameer cheers a New York Times effort to review two perfomances by the Emerson String Quartet, one at Avery Fisher Hall and the other at Joe’s Pub.

The NYT‘s Vivien Schweitzer is right on the money when she points out that chamber music’s origins are as humble and matter-of-fact as they can be, and that many of the great 19th-century works were literally Hausmusik, designed to be played in everyday homes. It’s harder to imagine now because we’re so used to radio and television obliterating home music-making, but it used to be a normal middle-class thing to do.

I think, too, that much chamber music would be better off heard in a less formal setting . How many string quartet recitals have I heard in which a large stage in a big hall has to be fitted with baffles to that the compression of the sound can actually be brought across to the audience, and indeed, so the players on stage can actually hear each other?

It’s not the right format for chamber music, and I would welcome a series hereabouts in which chamber players gathered at some decent informal place to offer up some music. There are plenty of attendant problems: the Delray String Quartet always plays at the Colony Hotel in downtown Delray, but the noise from the street is often overpowering. And anyone who’s ever played while people are eating or drinking knows that playing is only half the battle; it’s being heard above the clank and clatter of cutlery and glasses that can really get in the way.

But surely something with some common-sense rules would do the trick. A quartet appears at a restaurant in a side room; if you want to hear it, have your brunch, then go into the side room, but only coffee and other drinks in paper cups allowed, or something. It might at once pay respect to the idea of informality and respect for the players and the music at once.

I’m reminded of the photos of the room at the club in Busseto where Verdi’s first pieces were heard, or of the drawings of Zimmerman’s Coffeehouse in Leipzig (at left), where new music by J.S. Bach could be heard as town worthies talked politics and sipped hot Turkish brew. It all seems quite cozy, and I would like to see some more of it.

Maybe I’ll have to fund a series myself and see whether I can get it to work.