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German composer, organist and pianist, editor, and writer on music.

Career Summary

Reger was a composition pupil of Hugo Riemann from 1890 and later the latter's teaching assistant in Wiesbaden. After a period working at the Munich Conservatory, he was appointed music director and teacher of music theory with the title of Royal Saxon Professor at Leipzig University in 1907. Having been grounded in Riemann's theory books himself, his teaching of harmony there was based on Riemann's theory of harmonic function. In addition to teaching, he gave concert tours throughout Europe, and was conductor of the court orchestra at Meiningen (1911–13).

Reger was a prodigious composer, in his day widely known, with a large output of orchestral, sacred choral, chamber, solo vocal, piano, and organ works (committed to "abstract" music, he wrote no stage works), all produced in the space of some twenty-six years. He also edited and arranged a broad range of music, notably much by J. S. Bach, and wrote one theoretical work: Beiträge zur Modulationslehre (Leipzig: Kahnt, 1903).

Reger and Schenker

Reger was the frequent object of Schenker's criticism throughout much of the latter's life. Of the Beiträge zur Modulationslehre, which was published at the time Schenker was formulating his own "Das Tonsystem," the precursor to his Harmonielehre, Schenker wrote in his diary in 1907: a small work that nothing in the world can excuse: limited, sloppily done; foolishly complacent and childish: and yet nevertheless the author was appointed professor of theory at the Conservatory in Munich, and has even just now become music director at the University of Leipzig. (OJ 1/3, p. 8d = 1/4, p. 11b)

But already before that, Schenker had had Reger in his sights. Reger is the first contemporary composer to be criticized in his Harmonielehre (1906). Spanning seven pages is a footnote presenting in score an excerpt from Reger's String Quintet, Op. 64, with the annotation: As a deterrent example, I give here the opening of the Quintet Op. 64 of a modern composer. This opening is by far the most supple passage in the first movement, what comes after that is many, many degrees more confused. But I ask: Do we really hear C minor, or is it not perhaps E-flat major? In particular, what do measures 6–8 signify, in themselves, and in the context of the whole? [. . .] One can only ask: What is this succession of scale-steps trying to say? Where is it coming from, where is it going to? [. . .] What is the solution to this problem? There isn't one. There isn't a passage in the work that informs us as to the principal key. [. . .] There is no logic to the keys, no logic to the apparent keys – just merely one big, singular, irrational on-going mass. And in German lands, people are seriously getting ready to celebrate this composer, devoid as he is of all musical instincts, as a "master of composition." – Just a few years after the death of Brahms – Oh what indolence on the part of the German public, what cowardliness on that of writers about music and the powers that be in the musical world! (pp. 220–226, omitted from English transl.)

In June 1911, writing about the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, Schenker remarked: What comes to mind is, for example, Reger's insipid way of writing: with Reger, chord after chord, unmanifested (unerwiesen) by any sort of motive, the chord progression in consequence operating only externally. What is unmanifested is constantly merely dumped at the first portals of our consciousness. Only that which is manifested is capable of penetratating into the depths. It is just the same with Rilke [. . .] (OJ 1/10, p. 134)

In similar vein, Schenker wrote in 1925 of the "lifelessness of a progresssion [in Reger's Beiträge] dreamed up from an exercise-book and derived from unelaborated (unauskomponiert) chords" (Meisterwerk, vol. II, pp. 190–91, Eng. transl., p. 117). At Reger's death, Schenker wrote in his diary: The obituaries of Reger declare almost unanimously that he was an inheritor of the legacy of Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms. If so, then Reger must have been three times richer than each of the other named masters individually – whereas in truth he was infinitely smaller, indeed never once came close to those masters. (OJ 2/2, p. 246)

Schenker's most sustained attack on Reger's music came in Das Meisterwerk in der Musik, vol. II (1925), in the essay "A Counter-Example: Max Reger's Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Bach, Op. 81, for piano," in which Schenker analyzes Bach's theme and each of Reger's fourteen variations and fugue in turn, concluding: That a poor compositional technique like Reger's is not a true polyphony surely needs no further proof. And if Reger had written in a hundred more voices, his writing would never have become polyphonic, for that requires an organic treatment of the voices. Still less can his style claim to be complex, [. . .] for all complexity presupposes, at the least, coherence. (p. 192; Eng. transl., p. 117)


  • MGG
  • NGDM
  • Federhofer, Hellmut, Heinrich Schenker nach Tagebüchern und Briefen ... (Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1985), pp. 246–7, 292
  • Das Meisterwerk in der Musik, vol. II (Munich: Drei Masken Verlag, 1925), p. 173–92; Eng. transl. by John Rothgeb (New York: Oxford University Press), pp. 106–17


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  • CA 1-2 Handwritten letter from Schenker to Cotta, dated November 8, 1905

    This is Schenker's initial approach to Cotta: he asks the firm to consider publishing volume I of his Neue Musikalische Theorien und Phantasien, explains his anonymity, points out the book's attacks of certain composers, explains his choice of preferred publisher.

  • CA 32 Handwritten letter from Schenker to Cotta, dated July 2, 1906

    Schenker explains Ex. 173 of Harmonielehre and makes suggestions as to the layout.

  • CA 41-42 Handwritten letter from Schenker to Cotta, dated October 1, 1906

    Schenker goes back on his earlier agreement with Cotta, and makes an impassioned case for including the "Nachwort" as Section 3 of Part II of Harmonielehre.

  • OJ 12/38, [1] Handwritten letter from Hans Liebstöckl to Schenker, November 29, [1906]

    Liebstöckl regrets having annoyed Schenker by unwantedly disclosing his name as author of Harmonielehre in the Illustrirtes Wiener Extrablatt, promises to write about it "conscientiously," and disclaims being a Reger adherent.

  • OJ 5/15, [1] Incomplete handwritten draft letter from Schenker to Grunsky, dated January 21, 1908

    Schenker has not responded to Grunsky's invitation because of pressure of work with Kontrapunkt. — He thanks Grunsky for his review of Harmonielehre; justifies favoring the piano repertory there; remarks on Strauss and Reger with respect to "good" and "bad." — He refers to his Formenlehre as vol. III of his Neue musikalische Theorien und Phantasien.

  • OJ 5/15, [4] Incomplete handwritten letter draft from Schenker to Grunsky, undated [?between September 23 and December 31, 1908]

    Schenker reports progress on his Kontrapunkt. — The main problem in music is "how length can be produced." — He recollects his love for the pious Bruckner, and his admiration for the latter's music, but speaks of its "defects," comparing the music favorably with that of Tchaikovsky. Bruckner's stumbling block was form.

  • WSLB 35 Handwritten letter from Schenker to Hertzka (UE), January 8, 1909

    In a letter "ironic in tone" Schenker offers alternative editors for WTC Bk II. He outlines the work that he has in hand, and regrets his unhappy experience with UE over Beitrag zur Ornamentik.

  • OC 52/919 Typewritten letter from Hertzka (UE) to Schenker, dated January 11, 1909

    Hertzka still hopes to persuade Schenker to take on editing the Well-tempered Clavier Book II.

  • OC 1A/1-2 Handwritten letter from Schenker to Wilhelm Bopp (Akademie für Musik), dated May 30, 1911

    Schenker has been unable to elicit any response from President [von Wiener].

  • OC 1A/4-5 Handwritten letter, carbon copy, from Schenker to Hans Liebstoeckl, dated May 30, 1911

    Schenker asks Liebstöckl to place an announcement [of a lecture series] in the Illustrirtes Wiener Extrablatt.

  • OJ 10/1, [6] Handwritten letter from Dahms to Schenker, dated July 15, 1914

    Dahms communicates from the Black Forest, commiserating over Schenker's experiences with the Vienna Konzerthausgesellschaft.

  • OJ 15/16, [23] Handwritten letter from Weisse to Schenker, dated July 16, 1914

    Weisse thanks Schenker for clippings of two articles from the Münchener Zeitung. Returning them, he critiques Alexander Berrsche's references there to the theory of the trill as expounded in Schenker's Beitrag zur Ornamentik.

  • DLA 69.930/10 Handwritten letter from Schenker to Halm, dated September 25, 1922

    Acknowledges OJ 11/35, 20 and composition; expects to be able to comment on Halm's Klavierübung in Tonwille 4; reports Leipzig University's decision not to appoint him; speculates on the impact of Kontrapunkt 2 and Der freie Satz; public difficulty in accepting Urgesetze. — Aristide Briand: The importance of being well-read on a topic before commenting in public: Schoenberg and Reger; newspapers. — Maximilian Harden: although faithful to Schenker, Harden had not mastered the topics on which he wrote. — National Govenment: Schenker's publishing plans, including "The Future of Humanity": man's anthropomorphic thinking is a delusion, he needs to adapt to nature, to return to a primitive state, to abandon "development" and "progress" and return to primordial laws; inferior man wants to "govern" (bowel wants to become brain); Schenker deplores "artifice" (French) as against nature (German). — Things French: praises German superiority over French in its joy of work. — Higher Plane: the German should not abase himself before the Frenchman.

  • OJ 6/7, [5] Handwritten letter from Heinrich Schenker to Moriz Violin, dated July 9, 1923

    Having settled into country life in the Tyrol, Schenker returns to his work, in particular to the ongoing battles with Hertzka over the publication of Der Tonwille. He asks Violin’s opinion about a subscription plan for a periodical that would appear four times a year (instead of the current two), and hopes that his friend might spare a few days to visit him in Galtür.

  • OJ 6/7, [6] Handwritten letter from Heinrich Schenker to Moriz Violin, dated July 20, 1923

    Schenker describes his efforts to make Der Tonwille more widely read, through its distribution by his pupils and its display in music shop windows. He needs more help from pupils and friends with the dissemination of his work, but complains that Hans Weisse has let him down on more than one occasion by not writing about his work. Finally, he asks Violin’s advice about whether he should accept an invitation to speak at a conference in Leipzig, or whether he should simply stay at home and continue to write.

  • OC 12/10-12 Handwritten letter from Halm to Schenker dated dated February 1–6, 1924

    Halm offers to send two of his books in return for Schenker's Opp. 109, 110, 111; he discusses the role of improvisation in his own music; he seeks "corporeality" in music, and its absence in Brahms troubles him; argues the case for Bruckner; asks Schenker to choose a passage exhibiting non-genius in his or Oppel's music and discuss it in Der Tonwille.

  • DLA 69.930/12 Handwritten letter from Schenker to Halm, dated April 3‒4, 1924

    In response to matters raised by Halm in two previous letters, Schenker discusses figuration, distinguishing between that which works only on the surface and that which arises out of the middle and background, drawing on primal intervals. He also concedes that he heard Bruckner improvising, and criticizes it adversely. He refers to Reger, and outlines plans for forthcoming volumes of Der Tonwille.

  • OC 12/15-17 Handwritten letter from Halm to Schenker dated April 7, April 14, and May 6, 1924]

    Halm again asks Schenker to point out an instance of non-genius in his [Halm's] music. — Has long believed that foreground (= corporeality) has been neglected at the expense of background (= spirituality) in music. — Defends Kurth against Schenker's critical remarks. — Suggests an explanation for the Bruckner classroom incident. — Will send parts of his [A major] String Quartet and promises a copy of his "Von Grenzen und Ländern". — Accepts offer of assistance with publication costs. — Comments on Reger.

  • OJ 6/7, [19] Handwritten letter from Schenker to Moriz Violin, dated April 10, 1925

    Continuing the story of the ongoing financial battle against Hertzka and Universal Edition, Schenker thanks Violin for providing confirmation of the subscriptions paid for by Max Temming, then recounts that, at a meeting with Hertzka and his bookkeeper, the order-book for Der Tonwille had several pages torn out. Schenker is upset that his lawyer Dr. Baumgarten, though an old friend, is not fully supportive of his position and would prefer seek a compromise with Hertzka; this, Schenker feels, would rob him of much of his hard-earned royalties, especially from the Beethoven sonata edition. He now asks Violin to find a contact – outside Hamburg – who would be willing to order nine copies of Tonwille 1, as evidence that this issue is still in demand, despite Hertzka's claims to the contrary. He has attended a performance of Hans Weisse's Sextet, of which he found the variation movement and the trio section of the scherzo to be the most satisfactory parts.

  • OJ 6/7, [23] Handwritten letter from Schenker to Moriz Violin, dated July 26, 1925

    Two weeks after arriving in Galtür for the summer holidays, Schenker reports that he has caught up on his sleep and has already dictated an essay on Reger's Variations and Fugue on a Theme of J. S. Bach, Op. 81. He will not allow the legal wrangle with Universal Edition to interfere with his holiday, but he is annoyed about not having been paid by Drei Masken Verlag for the manuscript of Meisterwerk 1. He has responded to a critique of his Erläuterungsausgabe of Op. 110, in an essay in Meisterwerk 1, but will not pursue other attacks upon his work and those of his pupils. The Schenker medallion designed by Alfred Rothberger is going to a second impression; but the mezzotint portrait by Viktor Hammer, which Jeanette finds a superior work, has not yet been printed. Throughout the letter, Schenker urges Violin to bring his family to Galtür sometime during the summer.

  • OJ 6/7, [24] Handwritten letter from Schenker to Moriz Violin, dated August 15, 1925

    After expressing his sympathy for Violin, in response to his friend's depressing postcard, Schenker gives an account of some of the summer events, including a visit from Vrieslander and Hoboken and work on two essays for Meisterwerk 2. While continuing to rail against Hertzka and Universal Edition, he repeats the story of Drei Masken Verlag failing to send him 250 Marks upon receipt of the manuscript of Meisterwerk 1. His brother Moses is, however, acquainted with the principal owner of Drei Masken, Felix Sobotka, and through this connection the payment has been made.

  • OJ 8/4, [42] Handwritten postcard from Schenker to Moriz Violin, dated February 11, 1926

    Schenker enquires about Violin's trio concerts with Buxbaum and van den Berg went and ask if Hammer's portrait has arrived. He reports on the possible difficulties in putting together the first Meisterwerk Yearbook, on account of the numerous music examples and separate Urlinie graphs, and summarizes the contents of the second Yearbook.

  • OC 54/65-66 Draft of a publicity note for Das Meisterwerk in der Musik, dated February 15, 1926

    A draft statement of the principles lying behind Schenker’s Meisterwerk series of Yearbooks, together with a provisional table of contents for the second Yearbook.

  • OJ 15/15, [20] Handwritten postcard from Weisse to Schenker, dated April 16, 1926

    Schenker has, mistakenly, sent Weisse a copy of Reger's "Telemann" Variations (Op. 134) instead of the "Bach" Variations (Op. 81) which he had lent him. Weisse asks what is holding up the publication of the first Meisterwerk Yearbook, and suggests that Schenker might write about Bruckner in the next one. A Brahms analysis would help strengthen his position against his opponents. He also recommends that Schenker discuss a work that is less than perfect, and cites Eduard Mörike's "Um Mitternacht" as an example of a poem whose opening verses are beautiful but which deteriorates in meaning and poetic quality.

  • OJ 15/16, [58] Handwritten letter from Weisse to Schenker, dated October 27, 1927

    Weisse congratulates Schenker on the publication of the second Meisterwerk Yearbook, of which has expresses mainly admiration. But he is unhappy with Schenker's dismissal of the fugue from Reger's Variations and Fugue on a theme of Bach, and with his reading of the Urlinie in Schubert's Waltz Op. 9 (D. 365), No. 5, and Beethoven's Sonata Op. 10, No. 2.

  • OJ 9/34, [12] Handwritten letter from Cube to Schenker, dated May 24, 1928

    Cube acknowledges receipt of the Hammer engravings and reports on the planned Scheuermann exhibition; reports on a forthcoming lecture and seminar, and the growth of his student numbers.

  • OJ 9/34, [15] Handwritten letter from Cube to Schenker, dated November 7, 1928

    Cube reports his activities in Cologne, especially his work with Heinrich Lemacher, who is a "connoisseur of the Urlinie"; reports on his compositions. Will visit Hupka and Albersheim next time.

  • OJ 5/7a, [22] (formerly vC 22) Handwritten letter from Schenker to Cube, date not visible (April 1929)

    Schenker expresses pleasure at what Cube has sent him in OJ 9/34, [16] and [17], and offers advice and a warning: ordinary people are not interested in beauty in art, but look for quick, easy judgments.

  • OJ 12/6, [11] Typewritten letter from Jonas to Schenker, dated March 24, 1932

    Furtwängler liked his essay; Jonas describes his lectures at the Conservatory; the situation with Einstein over publishing his review of Meisterwerk 3; asks about permission to consult Brahms's arrangement of Saul.

  • OJ 89/6, [4] Handwritten letter from Schenker to Hoboken, dated March 22, 1933

    Schenker thanks Hoboken for money transferred, for contact with Dlabač, and for information about Jonas. — Oktaven u. Quinten may be published within three weeks. — Schenker has warned Kalmus about paper quality and lithographer. — He expresses reservations about Joseph Marx for inability to understand his work. — Weisse has 90 students enrolled for his course [at Mannes School]; and Furtwängler deems Schenker the "great music theorist."

  • OJ 12/6, [33] Handwritten letter from Jonas to Schenker, dated June 29, 1934

    Jonas describes his summer travel plans, including Bayreuth; hopes to meet Schenker in Vienna in August. Reports state of play on his book, a proof copy of which Furtwängler is reading. Reports on recent lecture, and prospect of another lecture.