On today’s date in 1915, the prolific German composer Max Reger conducted in Berlin the premiere performance of what would become his most popular orchestral work—in Germany, at least. These days, for some reason, Reger’s music is seldom played by American orchestras.
Like Bach, Reger was a master of counterpoint and the fugue, and, like Beethoven, loved writing variations. Reger’s “Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Mozart” starts off simple enough, quoting a familiar theme from Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 11 in A Major. Some thirty minutes later, the simple theme develops into massive fugue—it’s all very grand and clever if you like it, or bombastic and tiresome if you don’t.
For his part, the witty Nicolas Slonimsky, in his “Music Since 1900,” described Max Reger’s piece as follows: “Mozart’s ingenuous theme… is subjected to torturous melodic anamorphoses, contrapuntal contortion, canonic dislocation, rhythmic incrustation, and harmonic inspissation.”
To save you the trouble of googling the definition of “inspissation,” let’s just say it’s not a condition you would wish on anybody!
Whether you’re a Max Reger fan or not, his “Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Mozart” is quintessential Reger, and one is tempted to say, “What did you expect? It’s Reger to the Max!”
Music Played in Today's Program
Max Reger (1873-1916)Variations and Fugue in A Major on a theme by Mozart, Op. 132NY Philharmonic; Kurt Masur, cond.Teldec 74007