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Austrian (later naturalized American) teacher, theorist, and composer.

Life, Teaching, Compositions, Impact

  Photograph of Hans Weisse.
Hans Weisse with Brahms portrait, c. 1913 (OJ 72/24, No. 1 -Franz Hofer)

Weisse studied with Schenker between 1908 and 1919, taught for ten years in Vienna and, after contemplating prospects in Germany, opted to emigrate to the USA, teaching in New York until his premature death. He, more than anyone else, deserves credit for initiating the wide dissemination of Schenker's theory that took place in the USA in the mid-20th century, his impact coming not through publications but through his teaching, his pupils including Oswald Jonas, Adele T. Katz, William J. Mitchell, and Felix Salzer.

Period of Study

Son of the distinguished actor and theater director Adolf Weisse, Hans Weisse studied theory and composition with Schenker from 1908. He was initially a piano pupil of Moriz Violin, but in August 1912 (OJ 15/16, [8]) asked Schenker to take over these lessons, too, and after some awkwardness the transfer occurred on June 3, 1913 (OJ 1/11, p. 359). Weisse continued lessons with Schenker until 1915, then served as an officer in the Austrian army before returning in 1919 to Vienna, where he spent a further half year with his teacher. During the 1920s, he continued to take occasional lessons (entries in Schenker's lessonbooks span January 1912 to January 1927).

During the 1910s Weisse was also enrolled at the University of Vienna, where he studied with Guido Adler. He was awarded the Ph.D. degree in 1919 for a thesis on the "artistic waltz," though much of this had been completed before his military service, and probably more under Schenker's eye than Adler's. (A typescript of "Der Kunstwalzer und seine bedeutendsten Vertreter," inscribed to Schenker and dated February 1915, is in the Oster Collection -- in 1914, Schenker tried to persuade Universal Edition to publish the work (WSLB 235, December 29), and again in 1919 (WSLB 302, May 18).

Teaching in Vienna

After formally and effusively thanking Schenker in June 1920 for the tuition he had given him (OJ 15/16, [41]), Weisse set up as a teacher himself, and was successful in attracting a large number of gifted pupils, including some Americans (the cellist Gerald Warburg, the organist Victor Vaughan Lytle), through whom he was eventually to gain an entrée into American music education. Weisse's gifts as an educator were also recognized by Adler, who in 1921 recommended him as a teacher for the Institute for Rural Reconstruction founded by the Nobel prizewinning Indian poet and philosopher, Rabindranath Tagore, in West Bengal. (Weisse declined this invitation, partly on the grounds of being unable to speak English fluently.)

By the mid-1920s his pupils included Felix Salzer and Oswald Jonas, who were to study with Schenker after Weisse's departure for New York, and who followed him to America to cement the foundations of Schenkerian theory there. He seems to have had a particularly close relationship with Jonas, one that mirrored that between himself and Schenker (whom he repeatedly acknowledged as his "spiritual father"). In 1927, he conceived a journal, Die Tonkunst, devoted to Schenkerian theory, which was to be edited by Jonas; this project fell through for lack of sponsorship, but a similar enterprise was successfully launched by Jonas and Salzer in 1937. In 1931, he put Jonas on to the task of compiling all of Schenker's early journalism (c. 1891-1901) and preparing a general preface charting the progress of Schenker's thinking between 1900 and 1930. Though this project, too, did not reach fruition, Jonas was nonetheless able to complete a book-length introduction to Schenkerian theory in 1934.

Prospects in Germany

The year 1930/31 marked a turning point in Weisse's life. Through the efforts of Wilhelm Furtwängler, with whom he had long been on friendly terms, he was invited to give a series of three lectures on Schenkerian theory at the Central Institute for Musical Education in Berlin in December; a further series, given to the Society for Music Pedagogy in Vienna in February, included the lecture "What is Counterpoint?" (A typed essay with this title is preserved in the Oster Collection (OC 17/3); but, as he remarks in several letters, Weisse extemporized before his audiences, rather than reading a prepared text.) Around this time, Violin asked Weisse to teach theory at his new Schenker-Institut in Hamburg; Weisse contemplated this proposal for a while but ultimately accepted the offer of a year's teaching at the David Mannes Music School in New York.

That spring, in spite of the pressures of preparing for a new teaching post in a foreign country he had never before visited, Weisse expended considerable energy mobilizing Furtwängler to raise 3,000 Marks to defray the printing costs of Schenker's "Eroica" Symphony analysis for Das Meisterwerk in der Musik, vol. III. (Weisse may have also been instrumental at that time in obtaining from the Viennese industrialist Paul Khuner a further 5,000 shillings toward the publication of Der freie Satz.) Despite the occasional innuendo from within Schenker's circle that he was exploiting his teacher's work, Weisse consistently insured that Schenker received just remuneration for his work; and when, after Schenker's death in 1935, Weisse learned that his widow Jeanette was facing poverty, he devised and successfully executed a scheme whereby his pupils contributed to a kind of pension fund, thus guaranteeing her a monthly income of 200 shillings for the year 1935/36, this in spite of the hardship that he, and many of his pupils, faced during the Great Depression (OJ 15/16, [98]).

New York

Arriving in New York in late September 1931, he introduced himself to his new colleagues at Mannes with a successful half-hour talk on "the relationship of a music theory teacher to the other teachers in a school of music" (OJ 15/16, [82]), and he quickly confirmed his reputation as a gifted educator. Many of the letters of this period describe the success he had in communicating the importance of music theory for the way music should be listened to and, especially, performed.

Weisse's family joined him in New York the following season, during which he was also engaged at Columbia University. They maintained a European household, speaking exclusively in German at home, and spent the summer holidays in the country: there are letters from Lake Placid, New York, from 1933, and from Tenant's Harbor, Maine, from 1934 and 1935. Weisse devoted the summers as much as possible to composition. Despite the difficult economic conditions in America, which for a time meant a reduction in teaching and a cut in salary, he succeeded in implanting Schenker's views on music in a new generation of Americans, including the composers Israel Citkowitz and Arthur Berger, and the writers Adele T. Katz and William J. Mitchell. After his untimely death, at the age of 48, he was succeeded at Mannes by Salzer, the title of whose seminal textbook Structural Hearing, 1952) resonates with that of the first course Weisse taught at Mannes, "Creative Hearing."

Weisse's time in New York is characterized by a growing independence of thought, in particular a concern with communicating Schenker's most advanced ideas in the most pragmatic way, rather than allowing this to be guided by cultural or political ideology. His involvement in the publication, jointly in New York and Vienna in 1932, of the textless (and thus polemics-free) Fünf Urlinie-Tafeln/Five Analyses in Sketchform is emblematic of this stance. He wrote frankly to Schenker that the early Harmonielehre was a poor choice for a first English-language textbook on Schenkerian theory; and when, in the summer of 1935, he made a long, intensive study of Der freie Satz, he was unrestrained (and, later, unrepentant) in his condemnation of a book that, in his view, was misconceived and failed to give a coherent account of its subject matter. This critique is expressed in two long letters to Jeanette Schenker (OJ 15/16, [100]-[101] and one to Moriz Violin (OJ 70/46, [12]). For some of Schenker's followers, including Otto Vrieslander and Violin, the American Weisse was an apostate, having betrayed Schenker and his "cause"; but Weisse continued to defend his position, insisting that communicating the "idea" underlying Schenker's views of music was what mattered, not whether Schenker would have approved of his approach.

Weisse's Compositions

Among the pieces composed by Weisse mentioned in the letters -- from which we are able to assign dates of composition -- are a string quintet (1912; new first movement, 1913), a string quartet (performed by the Rosé Quartet on November 3, 1921), a clarinet sonata (1921), vocal quartets with piano accompaniment (published by UE in 1924), a clarinet quintet (1926), a cycle of bagatelles for piano (1929), a string sextet and an octet (1930), some three-voice piano pieces (1931) and a violin sonata (1932) in "Bachian" style, a set of variations and fugue on a "popular American song" (1933), and a second string quartet and a set of six-voice madrigals on texts by Goethe (both 1934). From 1912 on, Schenker repeatedly recommended UE to publish his works ("very, very fine works; they will surely [...] bring you commercial success" -- WSLB 116, June 2, 1912); in letters to other pupils of his, Schenker often expressed praise for Weisse's compositions, particularly the Octet and the pieces in Bachian style.

Correspondence

with the Schenkers

His correspondence with the Schenkers survives as OJ 5/45 (Schenker to Weisse: 7 items, 1915-31), OJ 15/15-16 (Weisse to the Schenkers: 177 items, 1911-35), and OC 18/32-33, 20/402, 24/85-86, 97, 100, 44/41, 52/650-651 (Weisse to Schenker: 8 items, 1921-34). In addition, there is a letter from Weisse to Otto Vrieslander regarding a planned Schenker Festschrift (OJ 71/40), and four photographs of Weisse, one with his children (OJ 72/24).

Several of Weisse's early letters to Schenker include analytical material on the waltzes Op. 39 and other compositions by Brahms. After 1915, there are few such discussions, but one of Bach's short preludes surfaces at the time of the 1930-31 lectures.

with Moriz Violin

Only the Weisse side of the Weisse/Violin correspondence is known to survive, and it divides into three groups. The first, OJ 70/46, [1], [3]-[5], is a series of short notes dating from January and February 1912, when Weisse was a piano pupil of Violin's; they mostly concern a recital given by Violin in which some of Weisse's compositions were to be performed. The second, OJ 70/46, [6]-[11], comprises six letters written in 1931, a year in which Weisse was actively seeking to obtain regular employment outside of Vienna and Violin was in the process of setting up a Schenker-Institut in Hamburg. The last group comprises a single letter of 1935, OJ 70/46, [12], in which Weisse defends his critical stance with regard to Der freie Satz, which had been published earlier that year.

with Oswald Jonas

There are early letters from Weisse to Jonas, and a brief two-way correspondence dating from 1938, after Jonas had left an Austria annexed to Germany by the Nazis (OJ 36/73: 2 items: Jonas to Weisse; OJ 36/246, 6 items: Weisse to Jonas). These show that Weisse was successful in obtaining from Gerald Warburg an affidavit that would enable Jonas to emigrate to America; in one of these letters (OJ 36/246, [6]), he urges his former pupil to cast off the ideological and polemical aspects of Schenker's teaching, as these were alienating to "the American psychology" and could only inhibit the spread of Schenker's ideas in the New World.

with Leo Kestenberg

Copies of two letters from Kestenberg to Weisse, dated July 15 and August 4, 1930, are preserved as OJ 71/20, [1] and [2]. Weisse's replies, though referred to in Schenker's diary, are not known to survive.

Bibliography

  • Weisse, Hans, "Was ist Kontrapunkt?" OC 17/3 [22-page typescript, with emendations in Weisse's and Schenker's hands, c. 1931/32]
  • Weisse, Hans, "The Music Teacher's Dilemma," Proceedings of the Music Teachers National Association (1936), 122-37; repr. in Theory and Practice x (1985), 29-48
  • Hans Weisse, Music [interview with Irving Kolodin] Arts Weekly i (New York, 1932) [preserved in OC 2/p. 86, pp. 86/87]

Sources:

  • Kurth, Ulrich, Die Auswirkung der Lehre Heinrich Schenkers und seiner Schüler in den USA, Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft SP "Exilforschung" (DFG-Az. 8/9-1), Wiener Schulen in den USA (Schwerte: typescript report, April 1985), pp. 98-104 et passim
  • Federhofer, Hellmut, Heinrich Schenker nach Tagebüchern und Briefen ... (Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1985), pp. 50-55, 116-19, et passim
  • Grünzweig, Werner, Vom 'Schenkerismus' zum 'Dahlhaus-Projekt': Einflüsse deutschsprachiger Musiker und Musikwissenschaftler in den Vereinigten -- Anfänge und Ausblick, Österreichische Musik Zeitschrift iii-iv (1993), 161-70
  • Berry, David Carson, Hans Weisse and the Dawn of American Schenkerism, Journal of Musicology xx/1 (Winter 2003), 104-56
  • "Hans Weisse (1892-1940)," in Eybl, M. & Fink-Mennel, E., eds, Schenker-Traditionen: Eine Wiener Schule der Musiktheorie und ihre internationale Verbreitung (Vienna: Böhlau, 2006), pp. 91-103

Contributor:

  • William Drabkin

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