Hába: Familiar Name/Forgotten Music?
Hana Dohnálková, dramaturgist of the PKF’s series, “Krása Dneška” (The Beauty of Today), was really surprised by the number of the people who came to the March concert at Roxy’s NoD Theatre. “There are so many of you today. Maybe you are relatives or friends of friends,” she joked.
Alois Hába is always remembered as the master of avant-garde experimentation in between the wars, who played with quarter tones and fifth tones, and even created his own quarter-tone scale. Since his experimental music is rarely played, requiring specially constructed instruments – and let’s admit it – also a special audience, the packed venue was a surprise.
Interestingly, the evening didn’t try to revive interest in Hába’s avant-garde music experiments, but rather introduced him as a contemporary and completely listenable composer.Soloists of the Prague Philharmonia – PKF performed Hába’s compositions from different periods of his life. The special guest of the evening, Ing. Jan Andreska, provided the factual background to the composer’s work and life.
Though a zoologist by profession, Mr Andreska is an inheritor and manager of Hába’ s estate; his aunt was married to Hába later in life.
As Mr Andreska pointed out, Hába lived through almost all the political systems of the 20th century, and as such his life was full of twists. He was a true Moravian, born into a fairly poor family, but he played music from early on in his father’s folklore band. Moravia left a great mark on his music. He often included folklore themes in his compositions, and his works feature strong rhythms typical of Moravian songs.
Hába’s ambition always was to become a composer, so from the beginning he strove to educate himself and even wrote his own pieces to apply to the Prague Conservatory. Among compositions PKF performed was the modernist Cavatina on the H-A-B-A Theme, composed for that very application.
He was accepted to the Conservatory to study with another famous Czech composer, Vítězslav Novák. But the First World War put a stop to that and he was drafted into the Austrian Army and sent to the Eastern Front.
But by a lucky series of chances he ended up in Vienna and was able to continue his studies there and later followed his teacher, Franz Schreker, to Berlin. The stay in these two cities shaped his music direction; under Schreker and the influence of Schoenberg, Hába’s musical tastes radicalized and he decided the time was ripe for a different scale and different music.
Alois Hába claimed that Moravian song-making motivated him to create a different scale, because somehow in the songs he heard the micro-tones.
In 1923 Alois Hába returned to Prague and for the rest of his active life taught at the Conservatory, where a micro-tonal section was later established.
But after the war and the rise of communism, he returned to tonal music. The last composition of the evening was the String Quartet No 7, ‘Christmas,’ Opus 73, a beautiful piece containing modernist interpretations of classical Christmas carols, composed in 1952. One couldn’t tell that this was composed by Hába.
The audience was fortunate to be reminded what his musical range was like.
The next-to-last concert in this series of concerts with guest speakers is set for May 3, 2016, on composer Karel Husa (1921), at the Roxy NoD Theatre.
– Zuzana Sklenková, Opus Osm writer
Photo Credits: Prague Philharmonia - PKF