Beck, Reinhold I.
Quartett für vier Waldhörner (Op. 1)
SERIES ROMANTIC HORN
Stimmen (in F)
Reinhold Imanuel Beck was born in Hanover on January 10, 1881. Conducting was the family trade: grandfather Imanuel had been a respected military music director, and father Paul was a ballet conductor. But the latter died when Reinhold was twelve years of age and it was decided that after his basic schooling the boy must quickly earn a living wage. Beck trained as a pharmacist before suddenly giving it up in favor of the arts. From 1900 to 1903 he studied at the Hanover Conservatory with Karl Leimer (piano), Ludwig Wuthmann (composition), and Albrecht Riesenberg (drama). Beck made his performing debut as an actor at the theater in Essen, but in 1905 returned to the family trade as Kapellmeister at the municipal theater in Kiel. He married Anna Rode the following year and in 1908 the couple returned to Beck’s hometown of Hanover, where he was offered secure employment as chorus master. They settled into central lodgings in the Tiergartenstrasse, and three sons arrived in the years that followed. Their father, now convinced that he should devote himself to composition, quit his theater post.
The First World War intervened. In 1916 Beck was sent east to conduct at the German Theater in Kaunas, Lithuania’s second city. On his discharge in 1919 he headed for Berlin to finalize his musical studies, which included frequenting the Staatsbibliothek collection as well as study with the Leipzig Conservatory trained concert singer Willi Kewitsch. The following year Beck qualified as a state-approved teacher in voice, piano and musicology. In the early 1920s he lectured in the latter at the Herder Conservatory and Berlin-Harmsdorf Volkshochschule. He also composed an explosion of works, nearly fifty within four years, which included orchestral pieces, two operettas, a ballet, choruses, Lieder and a wealth of chamber music. Walter Gieseking premiered a number of Beck’s piano works, the composer rose to leadership in composer’s organizations and he was profiled in the leading music lexicons of the decade. The Leipzig premiere of Acht Gedichte, Op. 45 in 1927, and radio broadcasts of his Lieder increased his renown. The successful Czech premiere of the Psalter Cantata, Op. 59, in 1932 was perhaps Beck’s high water mark, but his focus on composition had already come to an end. His family required more security than a portfolio of largely unpublished compositions could provide, especially during the inflation and uncertainty of the Weimar Republic years. In 1927 the Becks had moved to the little town of Thale, tucked away in the Harz mountains of Saxony-Anhalt, where they benefited from the lower cost of living and Beck had accepted posts as teacher and church organist, duties which gradually eclipsed composition. He lived in Thale for the next four decades, through the Depression, the National Socialist dictatorship (when he was expunged from the list of approved composers), the Second World War (which took the lives of two of his sons), the Russian occupation and finally the establishment of yet another dictatorship, the German Democratic Republic. Throughout, Beck remained the organist of the Lutheran St. Petri-Kirche, appearing faithfully at the console of the splendid 1906 Wilhelm Rühlmann organ until his death on July 11, 1968.
The Quartet for Four Horns, Op. 1 (Hanover: Gries & Schornagel, 1909; plate no. 192), is an unusual work in a number of ways. Horn quartets of the age were typically short lyrical or hunting horn pieces for light entertainment whose modest demands bore little resemblance to the extremes in register and chromaticism that were being composed for horn in tone poem, symphony and opera. Reinhold Beck was in this a spiritual pupil of Richard Strauss, the most famous living composer of the time, who commended “the enormous versatility and highly-developed technique […] the true protean nature of the valved horn.” Beck took this Straussian horn swagger of extremes in register and palette of myriad keys and applied it to a carefully plotted, complex chamber work of three movements. Composing such a sophisticated piece for a quartet of horns, with the instrument’s inherent limitations (and confusing transpositions), would have been a difficult task for any composer. As a first opus it was an astonishing feat. However the late-blooming Beck had benefited from his conducting experience and knew hornists and their instruments firsthand (he would continue to write chamber works for horn, including an expertly composed Trio for Piano, Clarinet and Horn in D minor, Op. 18, that remains in manuscript). The dedicatees of the Quartet, Op. 1 were collectively known as the Hannoversches Künstler-Waldhornquartett. Separately they were the Thuringians Emil Klöpfel (1864-1930) and Hermann Wider (1874-1938), Austrian Heinrich Kellner (1870-1949) and Saxon Richard Unger (1859-1934). All four had earned the title of Kammermusiker (Klöpfel was additionally a Kammervirtuos) and all were veterans of the hand-picked Bayreuth festival orchestra. Their ensemble play was particularly prized; appearances together as the Bayreuth Wagner tuba quartet began in 1896/97 for Hans Richter’s celebrated revival of the Ring, and ended together in 1925.
The work Beck crafted for these musicians in 1909 was unique in both demands and scale, and was composed decades in advance of similarly ambitious quartets by Carlos Chavez, Paul Hindemith and Sir Michael Tippett. Beck’s first movement, Moderato molto in E-flat, is a nine minute essay in closely-argued sonata form. The Andante that follows is in the darker key of D-flat. Three utterances of the straightforward song theme are divided by two contrasting episodes, the second of which (poco più agitato, letter B) embraces a high level of chromaticism and lunges into a modulatory B-flat minor. After four and a quarter minutes the Andante ends ambigously on a muted pianissimo subdominant chord, ganz verhallend (fading entirely away). The third movement Allegro di molto in E-flat (ca. 7:20) begins with a rollicking 6/8 hunting rondo theme, extending the material by development and even employing it in a fugue (letter H). There is also a surprising but deeply satisfying cyclical return: the Andante is reprised muted and far afield in B major (written in B [natural] basso). The first movement opening reappears in E-flat, pausing on a fermata-held dominant chord (marked pianissimo decrescendo, with a saturnine pedal B-flat in fourth horn). Then the rondo theme returns in a codetta (quasi presto), and the composer piles crescendo and schmetternd (blaring) on top of fortissimo as the quartet careens into the last, triumphant sforzando cadence.
This publication is issued in three different formats: a score in the original keys, a set of parts in the original keys, and (for those hornists who prefer to avoid the problematic transpositions of the original) a set of parts transposed into F. Though precious little of the composer‘s output has survived, in performances of his pioneering horn quartet (including the 2013 British premiere by the horns of the BBC Symphony Orchestra), Reinhold Beck’s creativity endures.