Max Reger (1873-1916)
Clarinet Quintet in A major, Op.146
String Quartet in E flat major, Op.109
Max Reger owed his early musical leanings to the example and enthusiasm of his father, a schoolmaster and amateur musician, and his early training to the town organist of Weiden, Adalbert Lindner. Reger was born in 1873 at Brand in the Upper Palatinate of Bavaria. The following year the family moved to Weiden and it was there that he spent his childhood and adolescence, entering a course of teacher training. Lindner had sent examples of Reger's early work as a composer to Hugo Riemann, who accepted him as a pupil, initially at Sondershausen and then, as his own assistant, in Wiesbaden. Military service, which affected Reger's health and spirits, was followed by a period at home with his parents in Weiden and a continuing series of compositions, in particular for the organ. These included a monumental series of chorale fantasias and other works, often, it seems, designed to challenge the technique of his friend Karl Straube, a noted performer of Reger's organ music.
In 1901 Reger moved to Munich, where he spent the next six years. His position in musical life was not without difficulty, since he was seen as a champion of absolute music and as hostile, at this time, to programme music, represented by the successors of Liszt and Wagner. He was, however, successful as a pianist and was gradually able to find an audience for his compositions. The period in Munich saw the writing of his Sinfonietta, of chamber music, and of his important Variations and Fugue on a Theme of J.S. Bach for piano, and his Variation, and Fugue on a Theme of Beethoven, the latter subsequently orchestrated. In 1907 he took up an appointment as Royal Saxon Professor of Composition at the Conservatory of Leipzig. His music now found a still wider international audience, supported by his own distinction as a performer, with concert appearances in London, St Petersburg, the Netherlands and Austria, and throughout Germany.
The year 1911 brought an invitation from the Duke of Saxe-Meiningen to accept the position of conductor of the court orchestra, an ensemble established by Hans von Bülow and conducted, at the outset of his career, by Richard Strauss. Reger held this position until the death of the Duke, resigning a few days later, on 1st July 1914. With the outbreak of war the orchestra was disbanded. He spent his final years based in Jena, but continued his activities as a composer and as a concert performer. He died in Leipzig in May 1916 on his way back from a concert tour of the Netherlands.
Reger was a prolific composer, continuing the tradition of Bach, Mozart and the great German composers of the nineteenth century, with a technical mastery and command of harmonic and contrapuntal resources that allowed him to expand the bounds of tonality in chromatic exploration. His organ compositions, in particular, represent a very significant addition to the repertoire of the instrument. He left an equally extensive body of chamber music, with songs, choral works and orchestral compositions.
The Clarinet Quintet in A major, Opus 146, was Reger's last completed work and was written in 1915, to be published with a dedication to Karl Wendling. Here he continues to deploy all the resources of chromaticism in a closely woven composition. The first movement, in the expected tripartite form and marked Moderato ed amabile, starts with a first theme, followed by a secondary theme in E major, marked tranquillo and introduced by the first violin. Elements of this exposition appear in a central development that leads to a return of the second theme in the key in which it first appeared. The recapitulation proper follows, with a version of the first subject, followed immediately by the second theme, now transposed. The second movement is a B minor scherzo, offering immediate contrasts of rhythm between the clarinet and muted strings, while the viola, unmuted, provides a running counterpoint. The trio section, in G major, avoids cross-rhythms and is generally more straightforward in texture and relaxed in mood. The scherzo returns to end the movement. The E major slow movement has a more elaborate central section and finds room for reminiscences of the secondary theme of the first movement, with its descending contour. The quintet ends with a theme and variations. The theme itself, marked grazioso, is presented by the strings and the clarinet makes a more significant appearance in the first variation, with its cross-rhythms. The second variation makes use of shorter note values, to be followed by a rapid Vivace. A gentler minor key version of the material leads to another Vivace and a slower variation. There is a further Vivace and a final, slower, Sostenuto, with the fragments of the theme heard in their original form.
Reger wrote his String Quartet in E flat major, Opus 109, in 1909 and dedicated it to the Privy Connsellor, Professor Adolf Wach, the husband of Mendelssohn's youngest daughter Lili and, in Ethel Smyth's lively account of her relationship with the family, an intrepid and enthusiastic mountaineer. The first movement, in tripartite sonata-allegro form, opens with a principal theme, shifting in key before it has gone far. There is varied transitional material, with elements of starker outline before the chordal secondary theme proper. The central development of the themes and motifs brings an element of counterpoint, and the cello leads to the recapitulation in which the two subjects return. The final coda brings a reminiscence of the first theme. The G minor second movement, marked Quasi presto, is introduced by a rapidly descending minor scale and an urgent rhythmic figure from the cello. Contrast is provided by an ascending version of the main theme and its further development. The expressive A flat major slow movement in 6/8 metre opens with a chordally accompanied melody and has a central section that includes references to the second theme of the first movement. The quartet ends with an energetic fugue, its extended subject announced by the first viol in and marked sempre grazioso. This is answered by the second violin, followed by the viola and the cello. The vigorous course of the movement is interrupted by a derivative second theme, marked Adagio, eventually combined with the fugal subject, both to be presented emphatically as the work nears its close.