The Origin of the “New Symphony”

Hans Rott

Hans Rott

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. 

4 Responses to “The Origin of the “New Symphony””

  1. 1 paul barasi March 27, 2013 at 7:40 pm

    Great to see you plugging Hans Rott but a few errors crept in. His new approach to the symphony was not admired throughout Austria but only within his small circle. Rejection and non-recognition helped trigger his breakdown. He was a victim of the Brahms/Hanslick–Wagner/Bruckner conflict that divided Vienna and died in obscurity. Rott was caught by the musical politics of his own day as well as today when many Mahlerians are in denial about the how much and how consciously Mahler drew on Rott.

    It isn’t so much ‘believed’ that Rott completed his symphony before Mahler wrote any but an established fact. Rott composed his during 1878-80, Mahler wrote his embryonic 1st Symphony (The Symphonic Poem) during 1884-8, heard Rott’s symphony 1st movement played by orchestra as a student at the Vienna Conservatory in 1878, played the whole work to friends on the piano in 1882 and borrowed the score to study it in 1900 before writing his Rott-influenced 5th Symphony scherzo.

    Rott had a nervous breakdown not on the train ride home (which was in Vienna) but on the train to Mühlhausen to take up a new job. The significance is that everything for him was in Vienna, including Louise who he loved and having to leave both her and his city were also factors in his breakdown.

    Additional points worth mentioning: Mahler quoted from Rott and used his ideas more than any other composer and right across his symphonic cycle. He did so deliberately, probably to commemorate Rott. The difference with Mahler’s first symphony is that he used two Rott sources: the symphony as usual but also in the finale’s signal triumph of victory standing horns bells peel chorale motif Mahler used the core theme from Rott’s Suite in E (which he also heard played at the Conservatory).

    Rott’s symphony has been recorded a remarkable 10 times. There is also the myth, perpetuated by Wikipedia, that all Rott’s Lieder were destroyed whereas all 8 of his extant complete songs have now been performed in concert and 4 recorded, as have been the Symphony for String Orchestra, Pastorales Vorspiel, Orchestral Overture in E, Prelude to Julius Caesar, Suite in E, Suite in B flat, and the String Quartet. That’s 3 whole hours on CD.

    • 2 Sheet Music Plus March 28, 2013 at 9:31 am

      Hi Paul, thanks for adding so much to our article and for clarifying a few points! It’s indeed remarkable how there are only 10 recordings of Hans Rott’s symphony. Even more fascinating how similar Rott and Mahler’s compositions are.

  2. 3 Zach April 2, 2013 at 4:21 pm

    Hey Paul thanks for the contribution! It’s great to hear others who know about one of the greatest stories in music history. One thing I love about this story is the continued research and how the story continues to unfold.
    Thanks for clearing up some myths from the facts.

    What an incredible talent he was!

  3. 4 autozone April 20, 2013 at 11:55 am

    Wonderful, what a website it is! This webpage presents valuable information to us, keep it up.

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