Heinrich Molbe


Air Arabe for Oboe, Horn and Piano, Op.77

Air Arabe most likely came in to being as a contribution to the then well-known Donnerstagabend Konzerte (Thursday Evening Concerts) held in late 19th century Vienna at his famous brother's spacious Vienna mansion. Like the oriental music of other European composers from Mozart to Rimsky Korsakov, the Air Arabe is not Arabic at all, but an exotic pastiche as imagined by European ears. The air is for the unusual combination of oboe, horn and piano. The oboe begins with a languid melody, full of chromaticism and unusual harmonic modulations which create a mood evocative of the exotic and sensual Near East. The part-writing leaves nothing to be desired and shows that Molbe knew quite well how to write for such a combination.


Heinrich Molbe (1835-1915) was the pseudonym of Heinrich von Bach, a prominent Viennese lawyer whose three brothers—–Alexander, Eduard and Otto—–were nonetheless all better known than him. He was born in the village of Unterwaltersdorf in lower Austria outside of Vienna. His father, an important jurist, sent him, as he had the other brothers, to the University of Vienna to study law. Alexander, the eldest (b. 1813) and most famous of the four, served as Imperial Chancellor to the Emperor Franz Joseph from 1848-1850. Eduard entered the imperial civil service and was a governor of several Habsburg provinces while Otto became a composer and eventually director of the Mozarteum in Salzburg. Heinrich, while at the University of Vienna, studied composition privately, as did his brother Otto, with Simon Sechter, the famous professor of composition and theory at the Vienna Conservatory. Heinrich also entered the imperial civil service and briefly served as the Governor of the Fiume and Trieste Province, then in Austrian possession. Though he could claim to be a professionally trained musician, he apparently felt that being known as a composer would be detrimental to his legal and imperial civil service careers and hence composed under a pseudonym. He was a fairly prolific composer, writing nearly 400 works, including some 200 art songs and 140 chamber works.

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