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Hans Pfitzner


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Hans Erich Pfitzner (May 5, 1869 – May 22, 1949) was a German composer and self-described anti-modernist. His best known work is the opera Palestrina, loosely based on the life of the great sixteenth-century composer Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina.

Born in Moscow, Pfitzner spent most of his life in Germany, working as conductor, pianist, and teacher as well as composer. Pfitzner was the son of a professional violinist and received lessons from his father when he was quite young. The family moved to Frankfurt in 1872. His earliest compositions were composed when he was 11, and in 1884 he wrote his first songs. From 1886 to 1890 he studied composition with Iwan Knorr and piano with James Kwast at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt. He taught at the Koblenz Conservatory from 1892 to 1893. In 1894 he was appointed conductor at the Stadttheater in Mainz. His own music - which includes pieces in all the major genres except the symphonic poem - was respected by contemporaries such as Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss, although neither man cared much for Pfitzner’s innately acerbic manner (and Alma Mahler reciprocated his adoration with contempt). Particularly notable are Pfitzner’s numerous and delicate Lieder, influenced by Hugo Wolf, yet with their own rather melancholy charm. (Several of them were recorded during the 1930s by the distinguished baritone Gerhard Hüsch, with the composer at the piano.) His first symphony underwent a strange genesis: it was not conceived in orchestral terms at all, but was a reworking of a string quartet.

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  • KraeheK

    A difficult figure to assess. Some of his music might lead you into the "overblown late Romantic" cliche, such as Palestrina (despite its sometimes interesting textures), but a lot of his orchestral music is quite nimble, well-orchestrated and doesn't out-stay its welcome. His chamber music is also VERY welcome, with some expressive string quartets. I do wish that he was less angry about modernism - I feel that if he went down the path of Zemlinsky or Schoenberg he could've produced some stunning music instead of simply very good music.

    4 Jul 2010 Reply

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