By Zachariah Friesen
Hans Rott was a prodigy. His new approach to the symphony was admired throughout Austria and was the subject of great discussion in musical circles in 1880. He was a Wagnerian composer, now considered the long lost link between fellow Austrian composers Anton Bruckner and Gustav Mahler. Likened to those Great Masters, Rott’s innovation and development of his themes as well as the orchestration and the propensity for heavy brass writing characterized his music. Themes of his Symphony No. 1 in E minor are nearly identical to that of Mahler’s “Titan” Symphony No. 1 that radically changed the concept of a symphony forever. It is believed Hans Rott’s symphony was written before Mahler began working on his Titan Symphony, suggesting that Mahler heard this “New Symphony” before he even wrote it. This was just the beginning of one of the most interesting and tragic stories in music history.
What music has lost in him is immeasurable. His First Symphony, written when he was a young man of twenty, already soars to such heights of genius that it makes him—without exaggeration—the founder of the New Symphony as I understand it . . . His innermost nature is so much akin to mine that he and I are like two fruits from the same tree, produced by the same soil, nourished by the same air. We would have had an infinite amount in common. Perhaps we two might have gone some way together towards exhausting the possibilities of this new age that was then dawning in music.
~ Gustav Mahler
When Hans Rott arrived at the Beethoven Competition, a composition competition that determines the new talent of the classical composition world, he was the favorite to win. He was poised to lead the musical world into the new age of music. Johannes Brahms, the competition judge, advised Rott to give up composing all together. Deflated and defeated, Rott had a nervous breakdown on the train ride home after confronting a passenger with a revolver and exclaiming the train had been filled with dynamite by Johannes Brahms. He was taken to a psychiatric hospital where he died a few years later.
Little was known about Hans Rott. In the 1990’s he became a trend in musicology and knowledge and popularity of his music grew immensely and there are now several recordings of Hans Rott’s famed symphony and other works. If you haven’t already done so, check out some recordings and compare Mahler and Hans Rott!
You can also find some of his works in our catalog here.
Zachariah Friesen is the online merchandiser at Sheet Music Plus. He is also a freelance trombone player and private lessons teacher in the bay area.