Hans Gál has long been on my music shelves, not as composer but rather as editor in connection with the Brahms Complete Edition. Adolf Hitler chased him out of Mainz in Germany , and then from Vienna . It was the farsighted Donald Tovey who lured him to Edinburgh . A prolific composer of operas , symphonies , many choral works, and much chamber music , he scored more than a century of opus numbers. The ‘Newest Grove’ has not caught up with all this duo music, though admittedly the Op 43 Concertino from 1934 is a slight cheat.
The CD has been divided equally between music for piano duet and two pianos , played with their customary skill by Anthony Goldstone and Caroline Clemmow. The Three Marionettes of 1958 deal with the most important characters of the Commedia dell’ Arte. If Gál leaves out Pulcinella, who developed into our naughty Punch, that may be because Stravinsky got in first. ‘Arlecchino’ (Harlequin) is a madcap and pensive tearabout never quite achieving his much-desired Columbine.
Gál had every reason for gratitude to Serbia , as it got him out of fighting in the First World War . He had nevertheless to deal with military matters while there, as did I more recently, while gazing gloomily at Belgrade buildings knocked about by allied bombing and also admiring the remains of Trajan’s bridge over the Danube towards Dacia. Gál turned his residence into music, an enchanting suite of six duet pieces based mainly on folk music that had caught his fancy, while not forgetting the Vienna where he had recently completed his studies .
The three-movement Concertino, first performed with great success at an Austrian Radio Festival , was originally written for piano and strings but later arranged by the composer for two keyboards. This works particularly well in the final fugue . Mozart had managed a similarly acrid movement for the same combination . Gál is here in full contrapuntal flight , laying claim to the great musical heritage in which he had been brought up. By contrast , his arrival in Britain was heralded, very properly, with A Pickwickian Overture.