Max Reger, postcard (1910)
Johann Baptist Joseph Maximilian Reger (born 19 March 1873 in Brand, died 11 May 1916 in Leipzig) was a German composer, conductor, pianist, organist, and academic teacher.
Born in Brand, Bavaria, Reger studied music in Munich and Wiesbaden with Hugo Riemann. From September 1901 he settled in Munich, where he obtained concert offers and where his rapid rise to fame began. During his first Munich season, Reger appeared in ten concerts as an organist, chamber pianist and accompanist. He continued to compose without interruption. From 1907 he worked in Leipzig, where he was music director of the university until 1908 and professor of composition at the conservatory until his death. In 1911 he moved to Meiningen where he got the position of Hofkapellmeister at the court of Georg II, Duke of Saxe-Meiningen. In 1915 he moved to Jena, commuting once a week to teach in Leipzig. He died in May 1916 on one of these trips of a heart attack at age 43.
He had been also active internationally as a conductor and pianist. Among his students were Joseph Haas, Jaroslav Kvapil, Ruben Liljefors, George Szell and Cristòfor Taltabull.
Reger was the cousin of Hans von Koessler.
Recording session with Max Reger for the Welte
During a composing life of little more than 25 years, Reger produced an enormous output, nearly always in abstract forms, although few of his compositions are well known today. Many of his works are fugues or in variation form, including what is probably his best known orchestral work, the Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Mozart (based on the opening theme of Mozart's Piano Sonata in A major, K. 331). He also wrote a large amount of music for organ, including the Fantasy and Fugue on BACH (this piece, based on the BACH motif, is considered one of the most difficult and demanding in organ literature). He was particularly attracted to the fugal form his entire life. Once he remarked: "Other people write fugues - I live inside them". He created music in almost every genre, opera and the symphony being the two exceptions.
A firm supporter of absolute music, he saw himself as being part of the tradition of Beethoven and Brahms. His work often combines the classical structures of these composers with the extended harmonies of Liszt and Wagner, to which he added the complex counterpoint of Bach. His organ music, though also influenced by Liszt, was provoked by that tradition.
Of his orchestral pieces, his richly elaborate Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Hiller and Mozart Variations are still performed now and then; few others are. Among his chamber compositions the lighter-textured trios have retained a small place in the repertory, and the Clarinet Quintet, his swan-song, is widely admired. Some of the works for solo string instruments turn up often on recordings, though less regularly in recitals. His solo piano and two-piano music places him as a successor to Brahms in the central German tradition. He pursued intensively, and to its limits, Brahms's continuous development and free modulation, often also invoking, like Brahms, the aid of Bach-influenced polyphony.
He was a prolific writer of vocal works, Lieder, works for mixed chorus, men's chorus and female chorus, and extended choral works with orchestra such as Der 100. Psalm and Requiem. He composed texts of poets such as Otto Julius Bierbaum, Adalbert von Chamisso, Joseph von Eichendorff, Emanuel Geibel, Friedrich Hebbel, Nikolaus Lenau, Friedrich Rückert and Ludwig Uhland.
His works could be considered retrospective as they followed classical and baroque compositional techniques such as fugue and continuo. The influence of the latter can be heard in his chamber works which are deeply reflective and unconventional.
Liu, Hsin-Hung. (2004) A study on compositional structure in Max Reger Phantasie für Orgel über den Choral, "Hallelujah! Gott zu loben, bleibe meine Seelenfreud! D.M.A. Dissertation, University of Washington, Seattle.
Anderson, Christopher (2003). Max Reger and Karl Straube: Perspectives on an Organ Performing Tradition. Aldershot, Hampshire: Ashgate Publishing. ISBN 0-7546-3075-7.
Bittmann, Antonius (2004). Max Reger and Historicist Modernisms. Baden-Baden: Koerner. ISBN 3-87320-595-5.
Cadenbach, Rainer (1991). Max Reger und Seine Zeit. Laaber, Germany: Laaber-Verlag. ISBN 3-89007-140-6.
Grim, William (1988). Max Reger: A Bio-Bibliography. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-25311-0.
Max Reger, postcard (1910)