FEELIN’ THE MUSIC : ON THE UNDER-APPRECIATED COMPOSITIONS OF HUGO KAUN (1863-1932)

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By Kevin Scott / Guest Columnist

Note : Kevin Scott is a composer and a lecturer at Orange County Community College (SUNY Orange) in Middkletwon, NY

In the past few years many of you know that I am one who has championed the works of many unknown and forgotten composers. One such composer who I have been occupied with has been the German composer Hugo Kaun (1863-1932). A contemporary of Mahler, Reger and Richard Strauss, Kaun’s initial fame was not established in his native country, but in ours! Kaun emigrated to the USA in the late 1880s – Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to be exact – where he was an active force in that city in which there was a large German population. Kaun also attracted the attention of Theodore Thomas, who championed Kaun’s orchestral works with what we now know as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

In spite of his successes here in America, Kaun gradually became homesick and returned to his native Germany where he continue to compose. His music, while not considered groundbreaking in comparison when compared against his immediate and more forward-looking contemporaries, embodies the diametric opposites of Brahms and Wagner. His later works subtly incorporate modality, opulent chromatic harmonic progressions and lighter orchestral colors bordering on impressionism and a freer use of classical structure.

As of now, very few musicians have performed Kaun’s music, let alone heard of him. The German composer and music historian Gerhard Helzel has made it his mission to make Kaun’s music better-known, and he has produced several recordings of Kaun’s orchestral music using the Garritan Personal Orchestra, including his first piano concerto and first and third symphonies for purchase, and recently MDG has released a CD of Kaun’s chamber music, including his Octet, Piano Quintet and String Quintet.

Yours truly has written preface notes for the scores of several of Kaun’s orchestral and chamber works reissued by Musikproduktion Jürgen Höflich in Munich (I am finally penning the notes for the first piano concerto), and I have continued to try and interest some musicians here in performing his music. It is also my hope to record some of Kaun’s works, including his three symphonies, two piano concertos and the miscellaneous orchestral works. I already have the interest of one record label, so it’s up to me to get off my duff and do a kickstarting program to see if I can even record one CD.

If you want to find out more about Kaun, go to Gerhard’s website. I know he wishes to get more of the word out, and maybe his CDs, MIDI samplers that they are, may attract enough interest in conductors willing to do Kaun’s music :

http://www.romana-hamburg.de/KaunEngl.htm

You can also read Kaun’s entry in Wikipedia :

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugo_Kaun

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