Hans Rott - CD Review


Steve Vasta

Updated on
August 23, 2017
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     The recent surge of interest in Rott's long-forgotten symphony has been occasioned, not only by the record companies' search for new and untried repertoire, but by the question of his influence on the work of Gustav Mahler. The two were students together in Vienna, and testimony by Joseph Seemüller, as quoted by Uwe Harten, indicates that Mahler not only saw the score but apparently knew it well. Much is being made, in scholarly articles as well as in various online fora, of Mahler's supposed debt to Rott, citing subtle and not-so-subtle similarities between Rott's symphony and Mahler's early works. In extreme instances, Mahler is practically accused of strip-mining his fellow-student's unplayed symphony for his own use.
     What’s the evidence? Well, Mahler does seem to have lifted one of Rott’s themes more or less whole: the theme introduced by solo trumpet and horn in Rott’s Trio turns up verbatim in the Finale of Mahler’s Resurrection. And the strong “family resemblance” between Rott’s Scherzo and that of Mahler’s First Symphony, in their lift, thrust, and overall structure, are unmistakable. The veteran Mahlerian will undoubtedly encounter some familiar landmarks.
     But plagiarism? Probably not. More likely, bits of Rott’s music simply stuck in Mahler's brain, and he used them, consciously or not, in the same way that he seems frequently to “recycle” themes from Brahms, Handel, and so forth. And certainly Mahler’s music, borrowings and all, works to a unique effect, aesthetically and emotionally. Mahler’s orchestral textures, perfectly clear even at full tilt, sound utterly different from Rott’s brilliant but sometimes overwritten ones. And, where Mahler’s expressivity is direct and unabashed, Rott’s music, ardently as it sings, maintains a certain reserve behind its affective gestures.
     Then, too, the general cross-fertilization among composers of various nationalities and styles throughout the Romantic period muddies the lines of influence altogether. In some cases, the hommage was deliberate - how could a Schumann, for example, ignore Beethoven's explosive symphonic innovations? In others, we have simply gleaned such resemblances from our always-reliable hindsight. (Thus, Dvořák's Sixth Symphony is generally considered "Brahmsian," though his themes sound utterly different, and the similarities among other compositional elements are more easily intuited than explained.) And how are we to account for Rott's apparent foreshadowing, in the Finale's stark, passionate unison string theme, of Sibelius - a composer who couldn't possibly have known Rott's score to borrow from it? Better, in this case, not to worry about exploitation or worse - let the shades of both Mahler and Rott rest in peace, and just enjoy the music.
Part 3

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