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Josef Labor 1842-1924


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Author Topic: Josef Labor 1842-1924  (Read 92 times)
shamus
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« on: August 07, 2017, 10:12:54 pm »

I found a quintet by Josef Labor on YouTube and have often wondered if any more of his music lay hidden away in some archive. He was blind from a young age, a renowned organist, teacher of Alma Schindler (Mahler), Paul Wittgenstein, Zemlinsky, et al. and was one of the first requested to write a piano concerto for left hand only for Wittgenstein after his injury. Does anyone know if this was ever performed, or preserved in an archive somewhere? I know Wittgenstein was pretty picky, but seemed he held Labor in some esteem, so maybe he played it or at least said something about it. Thanks for any info you can lead me to, Jim
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patmos.beje
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« Reply #1 on: August 08, 2017, 04:11:12 pm »


By way of discursion before I try and answer the above query, I first became aware of Paul Wittgenstein in the mid-1970s indirectly from a Mrs Sydow (probably not the correct spelling) who, with her daughter, ran the classical music record section of a well-known Glasgow bookshop (no longer in business).  She was Polish.  I presume her family were Poles who came to Glasgow just before or during the second world war.  She was a great help to me when, as a teenager, my interest in classical music was blossoming.  She told me her father-in-law had responsibility for hiding and protecting Chopin’s heart during the second world war from invading German forces.  He had some position in a Polish music conservatory if I recall correctly. I once noticed, in the bibliography section of a book I had on Chopin, a book on Chopin by her father-in-law.  In the early 2000s, I was appointed by the bookshop to give legal advice to it in relation to winding up one of its pension schemes.  My client remembered Mrs Sydow with fond recollections when I mentioned her to him.

Mrs Sydow introduced me to the Piano Concerto in D for left hand by Ravel, mentioning that in places it sounded as if two hands were playing.  I already knew Ravel’s G Major Concerto.  On hearing the D Major Concerto, I was bowled over and immediately loved the music.  It remains one of my favourite Piano Concertos (and, indeed, pieces of music) and I have many recordings of it.

Since Mrs Sidow’s recommendation, I have been fascinated by works for left handed piano and orchestra.  I have everything that Wittgenstein commissioned that has been recorded.  In my opinion, there is nothing comparable in originality and musical power to the Ravel Concerto.  The nearest to it, in my opinion, is Britten’s Diversions.  The Paragon zur Symphonia Domestica and Panathenaenzug by Richard Strauss are attractive enough pieces as are the Piano Concerto and Beethoven Variations by Franz Schmidt and the Concertos by Korngold and Bortkiewicz.  Wittgenstein never played (in public) Prokoviev’s Fourth Piano Concerto he commissioned nor Hindemith’s Klaviermusik, which was only discovered in the early 2000s among Wittgenstein’s effects having been lost for years.  The latest release of a work commissioned by Wittgenstein, to my knowledge, is the Karl Weigl Piano Concerto.  Wittgenstein, according to my information, never played the Weigl. 

A couple of years ago I purchased a book by Alexander Waugh The House of Wittgenstein: A Family at War.  The reason for purchase was to find out as much as I could about the various commissions (including those from Josef Labor among others).  According to this book, the following is the case regarding the works he commissioned for left handed piano and orchestra from Josef Labor.

Labor’s first concertante work for Wittgenstein was a Konzertstück completed in June 1915.  It is in D Major and comprises of an introduction, five variations on an original theme, an intermezzo and a cadenza.  Its intended premiere in Vienna was delayed due to Wittgenstein becoming a prisoner of war in a Russian POW camp.  The premiere eventually took place in March, 1916 at a private concert in Vienna.  The orchestral part was played on a second piano.  Its first outing with full orchestra was on 12 December 1916 at the Grosser Musikvereinsaal with Oskar Nedbal conducting the Wiener Tonkünstler.  Wittgenstein was soloist on both occasions.  In 1917, on at least three other occasions, he performed the Konzertstück (probably in Germany and what is now Poland and the Czech Repubilc).  In honour of Labor’s eightieth birthday on 29th June 1922, Wittgenstein performed the Konzertstück on 23rd June at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna with the Vienna Ladies’ Symphony Orchestra conducted by Julius Lehnert.

Labor composed two other concertante works for Wittgenstein: a second Konzertstück in F Minor in 1917 and a third Konzertstück in E Major in 1923.  Unfortunately, Waugh’s book provides only the barest information on these. 

A list in German of all commissions by Wittgenstein can be downloaded from:

http://waltercosand.com/CosandScores/Composers%20Q-Z/Wittgenstein,%20Paul/Werke_fuer_Paul_Wittgenstein_from_Singer,Lea-Konzert_fuer_die_linke_Hand-p.459-463.pdf

According to the above (which purports to list all of Labor's works for Wittgenstein) the three Labor concertante works (in German) are:

Konzertstück mit Orchester in Form von Variationen in D-Dur, 1915 [premiered 15th June 1915 (Waugh's information differs - see above)]
Konzertstuck in f-Moll, 1917 [premiered 16th May 1917]
Konzertstück in Es-Dur, 1923 [no premiere date given]

My understanding is that these pieces have never been recorded.


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Grandenorm
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« Reply #2 on: August 08, 2017, 10:44:50 pm »

Have you any idea where the MSS for these pieces by Labor (which have never, I believe, been published) are? If they are no longer extant that would certainly account for their never having been recorded. I would like to think they still exist, however, and would be very interested to see them. The work Eduard Schutt wrote for Wittgenstein exists but it is in private hands (I don't know whose, but I suspect those of Klaus Heymann).
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patmos.beje
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« Reply #3 on: August 09, 2017, 11:49:55 am »

Have you any idea where the MSS for these pieces by Labor (which have never, I believe, been published) are? If they are no longer extant that would certainly account for their never having been recorded. I would like to think they still exist, however, and would be very interested to see them. The work Eduard Schutt wrote for Wittgenstein exists but it is in private hands (I don't know whose, but I suspect those of Klaus Heymann).

If the above question is directed to me, I am afraid I do not know the answer.  As the first Konzertstück was the piece which, according to Waugh's book, established him as a left handed pianist and opened various doors to him, the orchestral parts and a manuscript score must have existed at least until the early 1920s.  I have no information on whether he played it after then.  I suspect with 'big' named composers such as Strauss, Ravel etc providing works and Labor's death, the Labor pieces fell into obscurity and ceased to be performed by Wittgenstein.  I remember reading years ago about the discovery of the Hindemith piece among Wittgenstein's effects.  Perhaps the scores belong to and may be found in the Wittgenstein estate.  However, how one would verify this I do not know.
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cilgwyn
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« Reply #4 on: August 09, 2017, 02:03:31 pm »

I like Franz Schmidt's Clarinet Quintet in A Major. Available on the Marco Polo label,with a playing time of 60' 07''. The final (fifth) movement,being "Variations on a theme of Josef Labor: Allegretto grazioso".
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shamus
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« Reply #5 on: August 09, 2017, 02:17:13 pm »

Thank you very much patmos.beje, a very satisfactory answer to my question. I too have long been interested in concertos for left hand only, I can't at the moment think of any for right hand only, but I suppose some unfortunate pianist needed at least one (per Wikipedia I see only one by Henri Cliquet-Pleyel for right hand, along with some for piano 3 hands--now I need to find out who Cliquet-Pleyel is). I, too, heard the Ravel one first and still love it as much as ever. I remember an episode of "M*A*S*H" when the insufferable Major Charles Emerson Winchester III went to great lengths to obtain the score for one of the soldiers who was a pianist and lost his right arm in the Korean "conflict". Anyway, then Leon Fleischer (William Bolcom, Curtis Curtis-Smith) and Gary Graffman (Ned Rorem, William Bolcom, Daron Hagen) in more recent times inspired some new concertos. I guess it is partly that I admire those who overcome adversity so well, and because I am certifiable when it comes to just about any music for piano and orchestra (except plink-plonk!). Thanks again, Jim
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