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ChronologyChronology

Although Gál's family was not particularly musical, his father enjoyed opera, and took Hans and his three sisters to performances, which awakened his interest in music. When Hans was eight, his Aunt Jenny, while visiting them, noticed Hans's musical talent, and insisted that he should receive piano lessons. He did not enjoy practising, and later confessed to having secretly moved the hands of the clock forwards in order to shorten the time.

The musical event which really ignited Hans's interest in music, however, was a concert for school-children at which Wagner's Meistersinger overture and Beethoven's Choral Symphony were played. He was fourteen, and this was his first experience of an orchestral concert. The Choral Symphony so impressed him that he made one of his sisters play it over and over again with him as a piano duet. In the next few years, he developed a passion for music. Like everyone else, he "went through a violent fit of Wagnerism, as if it had been measles" [Letter to John Russell, 14.9.1956] There were performances at the Opera, some of which were conducted by Mahler, whose conducting he could recall quite clearly, even eighty years later. Another event which remained in his memory was a performance in 1907 of Strauss's Salome by a touring company from Breslau, in the 'Deutsches Volkstheater'.

At the age of fifteen, after passing through several piano teachers, Hans had eventually become a pupil of Richard Robert (1861-1924), at that time Director of the New Vienna Conservatory, one of the most respected teachers in Vienna. Gál obtained his music-teaching certificate, which included music history, piano-playing and harmony, under Robert's supervision in April, 1909.

Hanna Gál recalled:

"There were three outstanding piano-teachers working in Vienna at the same time in the first quarter of the century. At the Academy was Emil Sauer, who had himself been a pupil of Liszt and who trained his students primarily to achieve the greatest virtuosity. Also the world-famous Leschetizky had settled in Vienna. His pupils were recognisable by their wonderfully shaped sound. The third highly-respected piano-teacher was Professor Robert. His pupils were not just 'piano-players', as Hans called them. They had to be able to transpose at sight, and vocal accompaniment and score reading were practised. Klara Haskill, before the family moved to Paris, [Georg] Szell, Hans, [Rudolf] Serkin, Rudi [Rudolf] Schwarz and many other musicians came from his school. Frau Robert occupied herself with the social aspects of Robert's pupils. Szell found his first wife there." [Private correspondence, 10.10.1989]

Through his social contacts within the Robert circle, Gál also learnt to ski, which, as Hanna comments,"'opened up a new world for him and gave him great pleasure" [op. cit.]'

By the end of his school-days Gál was already a proficient pianist, and had composed, without any technical training, around 100 songs, piano versions of four opera sketches, and innumerable piano pieces - all later destroyed as works of his apprenticeship.

In 1909 Robert obtained for him an appointment as teacher of harmony and piano at the New Vienna Conservatory, which made it financially possible for him to continue his studies. He was fortunate to find - again through Robert - his ideal mentor and 'spiritual father' in Eusebius Mandyczewski (1857-1929), who had belonged to Brahms's closest circle of friends, and under whom Gál worked intensively for two years (1909-11) on musical form and counterpoint. He loved and revered Mandyczewski, and remained in close contact with him until his death (more ...).

With regard to Gál's relationship to Mandyczewski, Hanna Gál relates:

"In his batchelor days Hans twice spent his summer holidays in Mönichkirchen, a wooded village in the hills above Aspang. Mandyczewski had a house built there to his own specifications. When it was ready an artist friend painted an organ-playing St. Cecilia al fresco on the wall. In the inn Hans heard two locals talking about the house and its decoration. One: 'Well, why didn't he paint the Virgin Mary on the house?' Answer: 'She couldn't play the piano.'

Hans had a happy time there. He lived very comfortably with Fräulein Loni, the former cook of the vicar, to whom the vicar had left the house; he worked a great deal, walked for hours on end every day in the beautiful woods, and could always go and see Mandyczewski, play with the delightlful little Vicki, then about 4 years old, and talk to Herr or Frau Mandyczewski about serious and trivial things. He couldn't have wished for anything better." [Personal correspondence, October, 1989.]

At the same time (1909-1911) Gál embarked on his academic studies of musicology at the Musikhistorisches Institut of the University, under Guido Adler (1855-1941), the eminent music historian and founder of the series Denkmäler der Tonkunst in Österreich. In 1913 he concluded his studies with a doctoral dissertation entitled "On the stylistic characteristics of the young Beethoven, and their relationship to the style of his maturity", which was accorded the rare honour of being published in Adler's own Studien zur Musikwissenschaft.

Click on photos to enlarge
Tante Jenny
Aunt Jenny as Carmen
Tante Jenny on stage
Aunt Jenny on stage
Eusebius Mandyczewski
Eusebius Mandyczewski
Guido Adler
Guido Adler
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© Copyright Anthony Fox and Eva Fox-Gál, York 2001