Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Max factor

Max Reger is a polarizing composer. You either love him or you hate him and there is nothing in between.

The other day I was talking with a co-worker and we realized we were on opposite sides of the Max Reger chasm. Guess what side I was on?

You're right! I am a Reger lover!

That is a picture of Max Reger up above. Here is another picture of him.

They look exactly alike! It is not like Mozart where no two pictures look alike. You would know Max Reger if you ran into him on the other end of the world, that is for sure. All the pictures of him look exactly alike.

I am not sure why people do not like Reger but I can guess at a few things. He wrote for the organ, a not-hot instrument. He was a devout Catholic, big yawn to everybody but me. He was, face it, not good-looking. And his tastes can be, shall we say it, overblown.

But I love him!

One piece by Reger I love is his set of variations on Mozart's A Major Piano Sonata. His tastes are just so far afield from Mozart's! By the end, the thing is all billowing and overblown but I am sorry, I love it. There is just something sincere about it that calls to me. Here is a bit of it played exquisitely on two pianos. Wow, that sounds like fun! Anyone want to play that with me?

The other day I was listening to Max Reger's Maria Wiegenlied, or Mary's Cradle Song. It is perfect for Christmas. Here it is in a solo version but I just heard it on a new CD from Oxford, the Magdalen College. They sing the song all in unison and it is haunting. I love the twists and turns the key takes. And I love its simplicity. It is hard to write something simple. That is true in writing, too. I always have to remind myself that just because it is simple does not mean it is not good.

I just think that is first rate. What a beautiful song. Here it is sung by Renee Fleming in the Mainz Cathedral.

Max Reger uses that German carol "Joseph, lieber Joseph Mein" that Brahms uses in his "Geistliches Wiegenlied," or sacred lullaby, for mezzo soprano, viola and piano.

It is interesting how that song's gently rocking melody inspired both Brahms and Reger.

Both masters, I say.


  1. I'm surprised that there's no English bio of Reger, given the romantic revival. I do own a study of his life and works in English translation. He was a wild man who ate, drank, did drugs, and composed, all at a tornadic rate. His excesses killed him at 43. He also fought with everybody and wrote some very scatalogical letters. You might have cringed from him if you had encountered him. He pilloried critics in his violin sonata, Op. 72 by composing motifs using the notes AFFE (ape in German) and SC (E flat), H (B natural), AFFE (sheep in German). I mention all this because his life makes zippy reading and his behavior reflects pre Great War German neurotic hysteria. I know he was born Catholic, but are you sure he was devout?

  2. I'm a fan of Reger's organ music but a bit lukewarm on the rest of his catalog.

  3. Gorgeous music! Thanks for the links.