By the composer’s son Rainer Hessenberg
When my father’s Second Symphony was performed for the first time in 1944 I was just about two years old. Naturally my memories of those years are not very distinct, and much of what I know about my father can be looked up in any encyclopedia of music. Other information, however, has been related to me by hearsay, by long-standing friends, by my father himself and of course also by my mother, Kurt Hessenberg’s wife Gisela.
Leipzig played a crucial role in my father’s musical development. He studied there from 1927 to 1931, absorbing everything the town had to offer in the way of music. For example, he heard performances of the St. Thomas Choir directed by Karl Straube, the Gewandhaus Orchestra with Bruno Walter conducting, Hindemith, Kodaly and Stravinsky performing their own works. All these experi-ences must have had a magical and magnetic effect on the young musician. Against this background the political repression he witnessed was all the more harrowing and left deep traces on my father – Nazis preventing a concert with Bruno Walter from taking place and forcing a great musician of that time to leave the country. In his autobiography my father wrote: “I shall never forget the deep shock that I and many other concert-goers felt.” My father’s teacher and close friend, Günter Raphael – a Halbjude or “half-Jew” – was dismissed without notice from his teaching duties at the Leipzig Conser-vatory. This bitter injustice distressed my father greatly, but it also strengthened his friendship with Raphael.
Leipzig, however, also stands for Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach’s works had a strong formative influence on my father. As a member of the “Bach Verein” choir at the Gewandhaus, he performed the St. John and St. Matthew Passions as well as the Magnificat and the Mass in B Minor. For many years attendance at performances of these works was obligatory in our family – a yearly ritual which I admittedly only really appreciated after I came of age. In his short autobiography my father wrote that Bach’s music was the “greatest and most profound experience” of his Leipzig years.
As a composer my father approached sacred choral music relatively late in life. The motet “Oh Herr, mache mich zum Werkzeug Deines Friedens”, op. 37 for six-part a cappella chorus has been performed by many a choir on innumerable occasions. Yet this motet – perhaps my father’s best-known piece of choral music – and the works recorded on this CD represent only a fraction of all his compositions. A creative and delicate sense of humor is reflected in many of his works, for example in the Struwwelpeter-Kantate (the Cantata of Shockheaded Peter), op. 49, in Lieder eines Lumpen (“Songs of a Rascal”), op. 51, as well as in his opera Der gestreifte Gast (The Striped Guest) based on a novella by Werner Bergengruen, which still awaits performance.
Several performances of his Regnart Variations are unforgettable, and with pleasure I now remember the brilliant piece of Music for Two String Orchestras, op. 39, as well as many other compositions which I was not really able to appreciate fully as an adolescent. Now the whole family, including my brother and sisters and our 83-year-old mother Gisela, is looking forward to the first recording of the Second Symphony, op. 29 and of the Concerto No. 1 for Orchestra, op. 18, and of course we hope that this CD will – to quote our father – “also please a few others”.Düsseldorf, Germany, January 2001