9 December 2021
Hans Huber - Weissagung und Erfühlung
(Concert program was changed due to Covid-19.)
This Christmas it is exactly one hundred years ago Hans Huber passed away. “Hans Who-ber?” I hear you thinking. “Where did I come across this name?” If you attend chamber music concerts as enthusiastically as you frequent the concerts of the Sinfonieorchester Basel (SOB), the penny may drop quickly, but if not, who exactly is Hans Huber?
Today Frank Martin may be Switzerland’s internationally most revered composer, but around 1900 Hans Huber took the top spot. Born in the canton of Solothurn in 1852 into a musical family – his father was an amateur musician and a choral conductor –, Huber opted for a career in music. After secondary school, he moved to Leipzig to study piano and composition with, among others, Carl Reinecke, a composer today most recognised for his works for flute.
Having spent some years teaching in Alsace, he settled in Basel in 1877 at a time the city was gaining importance as a musical centre. Just the year before, not only the Allgemeine Musikgesellschaft (a forerunner of the SOB) had been founded, but also the Musiksaal had opened its doors: A stimulating environment for Huber to deploy his numerous musical talents.
Many of his works saw the light of day in Basel and were often premiered by himself either as the pianist or the conductor. With eight symphonies, dozens of chamber music pieces, operas, songs and religious works, Huber was one of the most prolific Swiss composers. His compositions for the festivities commemorating the fifth centenary of the merger of Gross – and Klein-Basel in 1892 and the fourth centenary of Basel’s accession to the Swiss Confederation in 1901 cemented his name and gained him a large audience.
Huber’s compositions were influenced by German giants like Brahms, Wagner and Strauss, but he also maintained close relationships with Busoni – the Italian composer who arranged Bach’s Chaconne for piano. Despite his international network and being open to musical ideas from abroad, he also drew inspiration from Swiss sources like the lakes and mountains, the paintings of Böcklin, Wilhelm Tell, and folk music.
Huber hugely contributed to the improvement of musical education in Basel. He initially taught at the local Musikschule of which he eventually became its director. As the Musikschule was a place where both amateurs and professionals honed their skills, it eventually spawned a conservatory fully dedicated to those making a living from music. And Huber became the director of the conservatory.
In short, during the forty years he lived in Basel, Huber was a pivotal figure in the development of the city’s musical life. He can be credited for laying the foundations of Basel’s reputation as a city of music that lasts to this day. Even so, his works fell into oblivion, not to be rediscovered until the late 20th / early 21st century. Meanwhile, many of them have been recorded, most notably his symphonies and chamber music. However, to my best knowledge, the Christmas oratorio Weissagung und Erfüllung hasn’t. The title of this work refers to the first chapter of the gospel of Matthew, where it is written that Mary’s immaculate conception and the birth of Jesus were the Erfüllung (fulfillment) of what the prophets had presaged (Weissagung).
Huber died on Christmas Day of 1921. If you had heard of him, you have most likely visited the Stadtcasino’s Hans Huber-Saal for chamber music, a lasting memory to one of Switzerland’s greats.
These English program notes have been published in the magazine of the Sinfonieorchester Basel.