Huber, Hans


Huber, Hans

Sextet in B flat for piano, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn (score and parts)


Hans Huber

Sextet in B flat major  for piano, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn

 (b. Eppenburg near Solothurn, 28 June 1852 — d. Locarno, 25 December 1921)


Although he has become an unfamiliar figure beyond the borders of his own homeland, Hans Huber (1852-1921) enjoyed a hugely successful career not only as one of Switzerland’s most important musical nationalists, but as a highly-regarded composer, pianist and teacher whose music was known and admired by musicians across Europe and America. Following early training as a singer and organist in Solothurn, he studied with Carl Reinecke and Ernst Friedrich Wenzel at the Leipzig Conservatoire from 1870 to 1874. These years were to prove crucial to Huber’s musical development. He had the opportunity in Leipzig to make the acquaintance of Clara Schumann, Johannes Brahms, and other notable musical ‘conservatives’, and was a great admirer of the music of Brahms and Schumann in particular. But he also became deeply interested in the compositions of Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner, and later recalled the passionate aesthetic debates of his student years.1 He had not even completed his studies before he received job offers from both Switzerland and America (both of which he declined); and following a move to Basel in 1877, he joined the teaching staff of the Basler Musikschule, an organisation that he was subsequently to direct (in addition to founding a Konservatorium – now the Musik Akademie – which was amalgamated with the school) from 1896 to 1918.2


This Sextet in B flat major for piano, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn, is the only such composition to have written by Huber. His considerable output includes eight symphonies, several large-scale Festspiele, choral compositions, a substantial number of chamber works, and a huge quantity of vocal and piano music – reflecting both his interest in developing a Swiss nationalist symphonic style, and his preoccupation with writing Hausmusik for the amateur domestic market. Yet it seems that this Sextet, although suitable in size for small-scale performance, was written with professionals in mind: the piano part in particular calls for a player of some considerable skill, and all of the performers at the premiere were praised for their virtuosity.3


The surviving autograph manuscript and parts of the Sextet, held by the Paul Sacher Stiftung in Basel, appears to date from 1900.4 But it seems that the piece might have been completed (or at least first attempted) two years earlier, when it was apparently copied out in full score by Alfred Gold, the oboist who took part in the first performance.5 The work was premiered on 11 June 1900 at a soloists’ concert of the Basler Gesangverein, by Fritz Buddenhagen (flute), Albert Gold (oboe), Hermann Wetzel (clarinet), Hermann Krumpholz (bassoon), Gustav Preussler (horn) and Otto Hegner (piano).6 It was sufficiently well-received to be presented in several further performances in Berlin and Frankfurt (where the second movement was singled out for particular praise).7


However, the work remained unpublished until after Huber’s death, and only finally appeared in print in 1924.8 There seems to have been some confusion regarding plans for publication: at least one performance review, dating from 1904,9 assigns the Sextet an opus number of op. 114 as if anticipating its imminent publication… but a work with that opus number had already appeared in print (Huber’s Cello Sonata no.3 in C sharp minor) in 1900! In the event, no posthumous opus number was assigned to the Sextet.10


Also missing from the 1924 edition were the descriptive titles allotted to each movement in the manuscript scores of the piece:


I: Hallen

[Echoes]. Adagio ma non troppo—Allegro con moto

II: Brunnen [Fountains]. Allegro molto vivace

III: Rückblick [Remembrance]. Adagio ma non troppo, rhapsodisch

IV: Feste [Celebrations]. Allegro vivace con brio

It is possible that this was an editorial decision; but certainly Huber had composed a number of pieces by this time with explicit programmatic or poetic content – not least the Tellsinfonie op. 63, the first of his eight symphonies, premiered in 1881.11 In addition to these descriptions per movement, the manuscript also reveals that the final movement of the Sextet includes a number of Alsatian folksongs.12 Although these have not yet been individually identified, it is clear that the opening theme of the movement, the second subject at Figure 3 in the piano, and various other figurations within the writing must have been at least inspired by folk melodies, even if they are not direct quotations; and Huber cleverly combines these themes, often layering them across the players, through a sonata form movement with an extended coda in 6/8. The remaining movements seem to incorporate the influences of Brahms, Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky and others, and whilst underlying tonal structures are based on standard key relationships, bridge passages are often highly chromatic. The first and third movements also make a feature of rhythmic irregularity: the first alternates between 2/4 and 3/4, with the two principal themes being one in each time signature. The third movement, in E flat minor, retains its 3/4 throughout – but the asymmetric phrase lengths of the piano’s opening melody and its chromatic twists lend it a particular air of unsettledness. It was the second movement, however, that was most warmly praised at the work’s premiere, for being ‘a truly magical little piece of the quickest, most graceful movement, which gains its full charm through skilfully introduced contrasts.’13 The movement was repeated then and there; and the entire work was subsequently encored.

Katy Hamilton, 2014




1 “I stood, in Leipzig, in the middle of the raging battle of the New German School against the Conservatives. We were all thoroughly thrown around in this vortex of Vienna, Bayreuth, Weimar and Leipzig.” Quoted in E. Refardt, Hans Huber. Leben und Werk eines Schweizer Musikers (Zürich: Atlantis Verlag, 1944), p. 17.

2 Details of the development and expansion of the Musik Akademie, and of Huber’s directorship, can be found in H. Oesch, Die Musik-Akademie der Stadt Basel. Festschrift zum hundertjährigen Bestehen der Musikschule Basel 1867-1967 (Basel: Schwabe, 1966).

3 [Nf.], “Die Frühjahrskonzerte des Basler Gesangvereins”, Schweizerische Musikzeitung und Sängerblatt: Organ des eidgenössischen Sängervereins, 16 June 1900, p. 167.

4 Sammlung Paul Sacher 228-229, held at the Paul Sacher Stiftung, Basel, CH-Bps.

5 Gold’s full score, parts and short score are held by the Musiksammlung of the Basel Universitätsbibliothek. Their catalogue numbers are CH-Bu/ kr I 669|a (score), CH-Bu / kr I 669|b (parts) and CH-Bu/ kr I 453 (short score).

6 Many of these musicians had longer-term associations with Huber: Buddenhagen, Gold and Wetzel all taught at the Basler Musikschule in later years, and Otto Hegner was both a teacher at the Musikschule and a pupil of Huber’s – indeed, his Second Piano Concerto op. 107 is dedicated to Hegner. See H. Oesch, Die Musik-Akademie der Stadt Basel, pp. 163-8 and . Isler, Hans Huber. Allgemeine Musikgesellschaft in Zürich Neujahrsblatt 1923, p. 38.

7 The Berlin performance (no precise date or location given) appears in A. Mayer-Reinach et al., ‘Musikberichte: Berlin’, Zeitschrift der Internationalen Musik-Gesellschaft 4/4 (1903), p. 191. Frankfurt performances are mentioned in H. Pohl et al., ‘Musikberichte: Frankfurt am Main’, Zeitschrift der Internationalen Musik-Gesellschaft 5/2 (1903), p. 73 and H. Pohl et al., ‘Musikberichte: Frankfurt am Main’, Zeitschrift der Internationalen Musik-Gesellschaft 5/5 (1904), p. 235. The 1903 Pohl review specifically mentions that the performance was given from manuscript, whilst his 1904 article refers to the ‘pretty Scherzo’ of the piece.

8 The first edition, published under the auspices of the Schweizerische Nationalausgabe des Tonkünstlervereins by Hug & Co., was listed in Hofmeister’s Monatsberichte in August/September 1924 (p. 144).

9 H. Pohl et al., ‘Musikberichte: Frankfurt am Main’, Zeitschrift der Internationalen Musik-Gesellschaft 5/5 (1904), p. 235.

10 It is also absent from Hans Isler’s biography of Huber. However, Isler’s book was published in 1923 and despite Isler mentioning Refardt’s work on his book and thematic catalogue, it’s possible that he simply wasn’t aware of the Sextet’s existence (or hadn’t seen it properly to be able to discuss it), since it had not yet been published at this time.

11 E. Refardt, Hans Huber, p. 122.

12 The annotation on Huber’s autograph, at the opening of the fourth movement, reads ‘mit Benutzung elsäsisscher [sic] Volksmelodien’.

13 “Die Frühjahrskonzerte des Basler Gesangvereins”, p. 167.

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