Variations On A Viennese Drinking Song, Op.9
For Piano Trio
Hans Gál (1890-1987) was born in the small village of Brunn am Gebirge, just outside of Vienna. He was trained in that metropolis at the New Vienna Conservatory where he taught for some time. Later, with the support of such important musicians as Wilhelm Furtwangler, Richard Strauss and others, he obtained the directorship of the Mainz Conservatory. Gal composed in nearly every genre and his operas were particularly popular during the 1920's. Upon Hitler's rise to power, Gal was forced to leave Germany and eventually emigrated to Britain, teaching at the Edinburgh Music Conservatory for many years.
The Op.9 Variations were composed in 1914 just before the outbreak of the First World War. The actual German title (Variationen über eine Wiener Heurigenmelodie) is somewhat difficult to render accurately into English. Just on the outskirts of Vienna, one finds cozy wine taverns where the Viennese, from even before Mozart's time, have gone to drown their sorrows and to drink the new wines fresh from the wine presses before they are bottled. These popular taverns are known as Heurigers from the German word meaning this year. Despite the title, the melody or theme is not a drinking song but, as the composer himself later noted, a folk melody he had heard while drinking in a Heuriger. Gál and his friends, deep in their cups, took the tune, and added funny words to it, sending up a fellow musician who was drinking with them. The next day, Gal, as a kind of atonement, wrote his set of 24 marvelous variations for piano trio. His friend surely must have forgiven him, in view of the quality of his "atonement".
These variations truly showcase Gál's compositional talent. Although he never digresses, he brings forth much variety and is always entertaining. In the 17th variation, he introduces the famous Viennese folk tune O du lieber Augustin.
The variations (our sound-bite presents about half the work) are long enough to serve as a short work between two longer ones or as a substantial encore.