Hessenberg CD

After Furtwängler’s enthusiastic championing of Hessenberg’s Concerto for Orchestra, the great maestro kept in close contact with the young composer, offering him advice and encouragement and being watchful of his artistic development. When Furtwängler saw the score of the composer’s Second Symphony four years later, he became even more impressed than before, and expressed an overwhelming interest not only in presenting the world premiere of this work, but also in conducting it “everywhere I have an opportunity of doing so – primarily, that is, in Berlin and Vienna.” The bulk of the composition for this work was completed in 1943, and the premiere by Furtwängler and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra took place, in spite of wartime difficulties, on December 10, 1944, and the program repeated the next day, at the Admiralspalast in Berlin. The critical reception was overwhelming in praise of the new work. The performance was recorded for broadcast, but the tape has never surfaced over the years and is presumed lost. Sadly, Furtwängler’s intention of further performances of the Symphony never came to fruition. The work received a second interpretation by Otto Winkler in 1947 in Koblenz. Besides these, the work’s publisher Schott has no record of other performances, although it notes that its records from that period are far from being complete. Therefore, this masterpiece may have lain dormant for more than half a century.

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Furtwängler’s missive to Hessenberg on the Second Symphony: (English translation by Miriam Schmitthenner)

21. V. 44

Dear Mr. Hessenberg,

The great expectations I was entertaining for your further career on the strength of the Concerto for Orchestra have not merely been completely fulfilled but, in fact, far exceeded by your Symphony, which I have now got to know. I shall be writing to you about it again at greater length shortly. Now I just want to tell you it will give me particular pleasure to perform the work everywhere I have an opportunity of doing so - primarily, that is, in Berlin and Vienna. As I am committed to performing at the first Berlin concert a new work by Westermann which was cancelled in the spring owing to destruction of the Philharmonie, your work will be put on at the second concert - still early enough, I hope. I suppose that will be the premiere, won’t it? By then will the material be ready?

I really must congratulate you. You have left far behind you the modish nondescript semitonal style that is of interest to nobody but those who happen to be critics or publishers or have to do with such people.

Have you not written some chamber music, too, lately? Could I get to know that as well?

With best regards for today,
in haste, yours

Wilhelm Furtwängler

Achleiten, Post Rohr a.d. Krems
Oberdonau (12b)

See a facsimile of this letter: <Page 1> <Page 2>

From Virgil Thomson’s column in the New York Herald-Tribune in 1946:

... we shall be hearing from Kurt Hessenberg of Frankfurt. This young man in his early 30’s [SIC –  the composer would have been about 38 in 1946] is the author of neo-romantic songs, cantatas, and piano pieces that evoke directly and without detours the spirit of Schumann. His Symphony No. 2 is melodious and completely successful. Unfortunately it received the Nazi Schumann Prize in 1942 , an honor that makes it something of a hot potato anywhere just now [SIC – There was actually no such award – perhaps Thomson was thinking of the earlier National Music Prize in composition, but that was not a Nazi prize either.] It is a magnificent work all the same, and will no doubt come into its own later. Everybody, I am sure, will love it. It is quite without the turgidity of the German contrapuntalists and equally void of those vulgarities in sentiment and style that make the works of the more official Third Reich composers (Werner von Egk, for instance) not worth worrying about at present. Hessenberg is a schooled workman and a composer of very real poetic feeling. His Symphony No. 2 is a great work and should be heard.