The Instrumental Music of Robert Fuchs: an article in progress by Eric Schissel.

Robert Fuchs (1847-1927) is far more known even now as a teacher than as a composer. His pupils included, after all, Gustav Mahler, Erich Korngold, Hugo Wolf, Jean Sibelius, Alexander v Zemlinsky, Franz Schmidt, Franz Schreker, and (more obscure) Erkki Melartin.

(Biographical notes, filched from Manfred Muessauer's notes for his recording, Thorofon CTH2260, of Fuchs' 3rd symphony. Get it.)
Robert Fuchs was born on February 15, 1847, the youngest of 13 children. After training as a teacher in Graz, he studied under Hellmesberger and others in Vienna. After two years at conservatory, he presented in 1867 a symphony (not one of the canonical three) as his examination piece. This symphony was performed by among others Arthur Nikisch, a once-famous conductor whose recordings are now being resurrected.

In 1874 he composed the first of the five serenades (D major, op. 9, string orch.) on which his reputation rested for long thereafter. The nickname Serenaden-Fuchs stuck. The next year the Conservatory appointed him as a professor (harmony, later general theory). It was between then and 1912 that he taught most if not all of his pupils. (One, Richard Heuberger, though now almost-forgotten, wrote a work which can- ironically?- be heard on a CD with one of only two existing recordings of Fuchs' 3rd serenade.) He was also an organist at the Hofkapelle (and a fantasy for organ by him may be the first work of his to have been recorded).

Brahms praised his first piano sonata (ref. William Newman, The Sonata Since Beethoven) and first symphony. His opera The King's Bride was not so lucky. Neither was his third symphony (Brahms' not praising this being understandable, though, since it was in 1907; still, Bernard Shaw should not have been the only one praising it.) Where the first two of Fuchs' symphonies had been premiered within a year of each other (1886, late 1887) this was played first in a concert conducted by Ferdinand Lowe (no doubt taking a break from the hard work of mangling Bruckner scores) in 1907. The parts were snafud, too. Felix Weingartner (himself a composer deserving "resurrection"; try his string quartets or symphonies) conducted a better performance in 1923, during celebrations for his 75th birthday "which lasted a whole year" -- flattering but perhaps somewhat embarrassing to this (personally) modest composer. He died 4 days after his 80th birthday, it is said as a result of such celebrations. (Long celebrations of anniversary birthdays of well-known figures were not restricted to Fuchs.)

Fuchs' music is distinctive in a low-key way, and can be mistaken for derivative of his predecessors Schubert and Brahms, and sometimes strongly hints at the music of his pupil Mahler. I am convinced that it is worth not only a listen but some commitment, and have not regretted my own, for his best music sings in a way that I am convinced is important. Others are more than entitled to disagree.

To get down to cases, Fuchs wrote 3 symphonies, 4 string quartets, a piano concerto (given in 1880 in Vienna, but I know little more about it), 3 piano sonatas, 2 cello sonatas, a viola sonata, a double-bass sonata, 6 violin sonatas, piano trios, string trios and terzetti (trios for 2 violins and viola). He also wrote operas, the infamous serenades, organ works, fantasy pieces, and much other music, including duets for 2 violins and for violin and viola. (The sonatas mentioned are all for instrument with piano.) Rather little of his music has been recorded as I write (I will try to prepare a good discography)- one organ fantasy, violin duets, violin & viola duets, one violin sonata, the complete cello works twice, some viola works including the sonata on a little-known label, a piano quartet, one symphony, one serenade twice and the clarinet quintet (quatrice!), along with the three piano sonatas and some other music. Thankfully (not predictably) generally good reviews have greeted these recordings; since the virtues of the music are considerable but only apparent after the sort of immersion a critic can usually ill-afford, this surprised me somewhat.

(The following section may be omitted in a later version of this essay.)

Some of Fuchs' works are harder to find in libraries than others. So for instance Lincoln Center Library in New York City, Sibley Library in Rochester New York, some University of California Libraries and one Austrian Library have some of Fuchs' never-recorded string quartets in score and/or parts; almost no other libraries do. The Fuchs "cause" has been immeasurably served by the printin, by not unknown publishing houses (Amadeus, Walter Wollenweber), of modern reprints of some of his works. That these are probably having the intended effect is attested to by the (incredibly coincidental) appearance of two recordings of his cello sonatas soon after modern reprints of the works were published.

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