The Music Room > Composer Discussion

Max Reger(1873-1916)

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Reger seems to be slipping off the radar these days-if, that is, he was ever much on it ;D

Not true perhaps of Reger the composer of chamber music or of organ pieces but his orchestral works seem seldom to be performed or recorded.  This is, I think, a pity because, despite his perceived faults, Reger was a composer of considerable importance in his time- as someone who continued but extended the Brahmsian traditions but also returned to the complex counterpoint of J.S. Bach in developing his own style. Schoenberg, for example, heaped great praise on Reger as a musical genius.

Undoubtedly Reger can be criticised for writing frequently at excessive length and-sometimes-in a style which is too academic or too intellectual. His obsession with the variation form and with fugues can become a trifle tiresome. Nor-if it matters at all-was he the most pleasant of customers with his sardonic and often crude wit and his gargantuan appetites for food, drink and tobacco(which probably led to the heart attack which killed him at the age 0f 43). But although he was not perhaps the type of guy to take on a fishing trip he was a dedicated and extraordinarily prolific composer.

Others may wish to comment on the huge corpus of great chamber and organ music but I do return often to some at least of the orchestral music with pleasure. What strikes me is how unfair some of the criticisms of dry, overly intellectual music actually are.

Although there is a incomplete boxed set of the orchestral music on Berlin Classics I am lucky enough to have most of the music on the Koch Schwann discs with the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra conducted by the late Horst Stein.


The magnificent Variations and Fugue on a theme of Johann Adam Hiller, Op 100(Chandos-Royal Concertgebouw/Neeme Jarvi)

The almost as good Variations and Fugue on a theme by Mozart, Op.132(Koch-Bamberg SO/Stein; the coupling is the less impressive
          Variations and Fugue on a theme by Beethoven, Op.86....yes Reger did like his "variations and fugues"!)

The magical Four Tone Poems after A. Bocklin, Op.128(Chandos-Royal Concertgebouw/N.Jarvi, coupled with the Hiller Variations, or BIS-
          Norrkoping SO/Segerstam, coupled with the sparkling, elegant Ballet Suite, Op.130 and the Beethoven Variations, or Koch-Berlin
          Radio Symphony Orchestra/Gerd Albrecht, coupled with the easy going Romantic Suite, Op.125)

The Piano Concerto, Op.114-a natural successor to the Brahms No.2(BIS-Love Derwinger and the Norrkoping SO/Segerstam, coupled
       with the attractive Suite in the Olden Style, Op.93)

The delightful Concerto in the Olden Style, Op.123(Koch-Bamberg/Stein, coupled with the prolix, wearisome Sinfonietta, Op.90)

The Violin Concerto, Op.101 has been quoted by David Wright(of Musicweb) as one of the three greatest 20th century violin concertos,
        along with the Sibelius and the Berg. That seems to me a ridiculous claim-the work is far too long and rambling at 54 minutes-but
        it is worth hearing(Koch-Walter Forchert and the Bamberg SO/Stein)

You can also add the Serenade, Op.95-at 43 minutes one of the longest serenades ever written!(Koch-Bamberg/Stein, coupled with the
        Suite in the Olden Style) or the Symphonic Prologue to a Tragedy, Op.108(33 minutes long!)-(Koch-Berlin RSO/G.Albrecht, coupled
        with the Two Romances for Violin and Orchestra, Op.50)

I have very much picked and mixed to get most of the orchestral works; the Berlin Classics box is missing the Suite in the Olden Style, the Serenade and the Two Romances but does compensate with two of Reger's works for voice and orchestra "An die Hoffnung" and
"Hymnus der Liebe". Reger did write several works for voice and/or chorus and orchestra, of which I know and admire Psalm 100(Koch again-Bamberg SO/Stein).

If the Koch discs are unavailable or difficult to find then the Berlin Classics box would be a good alternative although the performances/recordings are rather elderly-

Josquin des Prez:
Reger is some sort of a proto Schoenberg, except he was born more or less around the same time as the latter. Perhaps that's why his name felt into obscurity so fast. That, and the fact his works tend to sound the same. I'm sort of addicted to his chamber music though. I enjoy his contrapuntal density.

His clarinet quintet is a gem.

Well, I'm a fan of Max Reger and probably own just over a dozen discs of his music - believe that our Harry is also an enthusiast, so surprised that he has not 'chimed' into this thread!  :D

I'll just start w/ a couple of recommendations:

String Quartets + Clarinet Quintet w/ Drolc Quartet (Karl Leister on clarinet) - outstanding 3-CD bargain on the DG Trio offerings!

Piano Selections w/ Marc-Andre Hamelin - just superb (7/8 5* ratings on Amazon HERE) -  :)

But there is so much more interesting music from this composer - enjoy!


  I wish I knew Reger's music better; he is definitely a composer I would like to explore. I have an excellent recording on Berlin Classics of the Hiller variations with Konwitschny and the Leipzig Gewandhaus orchestra, and a Naxos CD of some of his short piano works played by French pianist Jean Martin, which I like.
  I have also heard the BIS recording of the piano concerto and  several other recordings. I don't remember the name of the pianist, but the conductor is Leif Segerstam. Rudolf Serkin also recorded it with Ormandy and the Philadelphia orchestra lonf ago; I have no idea whether this has been issued on CD.
   I don't believe Reger ever wrote any symphonies; this is puzzling. Perhaps he would have if he had lived longer.


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