When I published a short tribute to the conductor and composer Peter Paul Fuchs, who died last week, I was very aware that there was practically no information available about his music. To try to rectify that I presumptuously asked John McLaughlin Williams (above) to write a short appreciation of Fuchs’ music for An Overgrown Path. John responded within a few days with this wonderful piece:
“I pulled out two of the three scores by Peter Paul Fuchs that he gave me years ago. I think that I never collected back from an orchestra in Boston the score to Fuch's Concertino for Violin & Chamber Orchestra that I had submitted for consideration. Hope springs eternal.
I have two violin works from opposite ends of his career: a Violin Sonata from 1937 and a Fantasy for Violin from 1978. Looking at them again brings back my initial impressions. Here was a fine, even inspired craftsman, exquisitely trained in the traditional methods of composition as it was taught in German and Austrian conservatories. That is to say, Fuchs compositional style is concerned with expression through clarity and rigor. He is rhythmically clear, precise and athletic; he is rigorous in his employment of traditional counterpoint and voice leading. This is wedded to a melodic contour and harmonic vocabulary whose points of departure are Alban Berg and Paul Hindemith. Utilizing that, Fuchs was able to create many passages of bittersweet, even painful beauty.
In examining this pair of violin pieces, it's interesting to note that there is no great variance of style or conscious change of direction between 1937 and 1978, though in the later work his harmony shows greater astringency due to his frequent employment of chordal combinations derived from fourths and augmented sixths. (It was Harold Truscott who wrote that a composer shows his true individuality in how he uses augmented chords. I'm paraphrasing here.)
The Sonata from 1937 shows no sign of the brewing troubles of those years. If not exactly genial, it does exude a bumptious neo-classicism in its outer movements and a lightly worn expressionism in the central slow movement. There is greater intensity in his later Fantasy for Violin, and one senses here that his technique is more relaxed and pliable, and that he is able to explore similar areas with much greater depth.
Fuchs had exemplary teachers (the composer Karl Weigl and the conductor-composer Felix Weingartner), ones with definite ideas about what was good and desirable in music. In 1937, when Fuchs wrote his Violin Sonata, I can easily imagine the reaction of those great but conservative artists to Fuchs more "contemporary" creation. It's to their credit that they allowed Fuchs to find his way, and I can imagine their taking pride in seeing the wonderful artist and composer that Fuchs became.
Clearly, Fuchs knew who he was as a composer and creative musician, and examination of these two scores shows that he was able to remain true to himself throughout his artistic life. Peter Paul Fuchs is gone now, but much as there has been for his emigré contemporaries Hans Gál and Berthold Goldschmidt, I sincerely hope there will be renewed interest in this deserving and compelling voice speaking to us from a golden age of composition.”
We are all indebted to John McLaughlin Williams for sharing the music of Peter Paul Fuchs with us. In his article John mentions Berthold Goldschmidt. Now take this Overgrown Path to find out how Simon Rattle literally helped to revive this important 20th century composer.
We now have information on Fuchs’ music, but don’t have any photographs of him. Any photos for publication would be very gratefully received. Copyrighted material on these pages is included for "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk