Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Peter Paul Fuchs - a compelling voice

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


Garth Trinkl said...

As well as exploring Peter Paul Fuchs's largely unknown music, I'd also be curious to read his The Psychology of Conducting, from 1969; as well as his much more widely available edited volume,
The Music Theatre of Walter Felsenstein. (The former lists at Amazon at $100; the latter at $5. I will hope that the Library of Congress has a copy.)

Perhaps John owns the Fuchs Psychology of Conducting volume and can revisit it, and share here a few choice passages.

Thank you.

Pliable said...

JMW writes:

Here's a link to an excerpt, horn oriented, from Fuch's book - http://www.hornplayer.net/archive/a289.html

Garth Trinkl said...

Thanks, John, for locating the fascinating long excerpt from Peter Paul Fuchs's 'The Psychology of Conducting'!

Here are three shorter excerpts from Fuchs's 'The Psychology of Conducting'(from a fairly recent University of Maryland academic dissertation).

And also an interesting 1969 advertising blurb for the Peter Paul Fuch's The Psychology of Conducting, as published as an end-piece in the Oxford Journal of Music.

“How significant this spark should be will largely depend on the
conductor’s personality. One conductor will give everything he has to give
during the rehearsal. He will prepare his concert down to the smallest
expressive detail, including the fullest extent of all the emotional peaks, so
that the concert will essentially be an exact repetition of the dress
rehearsal. Another will rehearse the orchestra most meticulously, but will
quite purposely limit the giving of emotional resources, in order to have an
element of surprise left in the performance.”

“The conductor should focus on the orchestra and not the audience. Now
the conductor’s task is to keep things technically well under control, to
indicate the correct tempi and tempo changes, to maintain the proper
balance by making adjustment where they are needed, to give the
necessary cues, and most of all, to furnish the inspiration through gestures
and expressions that will draw the best efforts from the musicians”.

‘The conductor needs to know when he should let the performers have a sense
of security from him, but sometimes he needs to figure out the psychological problem
of the performers, then solve it. For example, at the beginning of the Magnificat, the
conductor needs to give a very clear preparation in order to lead the singers’
breathing. If the gesture of preparation is not clear enough, each singer will interpret
it differently and then breathe at a different moment.’


by Peter Paul Fuchs
Explores the relationship between
the conductor and all
facets of his profession (instrumentalists,
soloists, audience,
etc.). Features interviews and
special viewpoints of 10 top
conductors, including Leonard
Bernstein, Eugene Ormandy,
Erich Leinsdorf, William Steinberg
and Max Rudolf.
Not only for the conductor and
the music student but for all
musicians, as well as the layman.

[near end.]