[now Znojmo, Czech Republic], 6 March 1871 – d. Munich, 18 June 1935)
The German composer August Reuß was born in Znaim in Mähren on March 6th, 1871. His father, whose family came from the district of Unterfranken, worked as a contractor for the railway company; however he was strongly interested in art and music, since his own father had been an organ player and teacher. After his studies at the Gymnasium of Ingolstadt, and at a technical high school in Augsburg, young Reuß took over his father’s activity, although he had artistic hopes and expectation himself.
These had to be postponed, however: the early death of his father forced Reuß to renounce his aspirations and to focus on his job; in his spare time, nevertheless, he cultivated his cultural interests (painting and poetry), and he studied music as a self-taught composer, in the hope to be later able to fulfil his ambitions. It was not before 1899, when Reuß was already in his late twenties, that these could become a reality, when he started his official education as a musician under Ludwig Thuille in Munich. Thuille, who had succeeded his own professor Joseph Gabriel Rheinberger as piano and harmony teacher at the Royal Music School of Munich, was one of the most appreciated professors of his time: among his students, there were such musical personalities as Ernest Bloch and Walter Courvoisier, and his Harmonielehre became a classical of harmony teaching for many composers of the following generations.
Although Reuß proved himself a very promising musician, his career was not a successful one: he had barely started his professional activity as a Kapellmeister in Magdeburg and Augsburg when an illness forced him to abandon this path.
Once more, however, the composer did not surrender his hopes: after a time in Berlin, he went back to Munich where he worked as a free-lance composer and teacher. The time for his official recognition was to come, nevertheless. In 1927, the violinist, composer and teacher Jakob Trapp (1895-1986) had founded a private music school in Munich; five years later, in 1932, his school was to become a Conservatory, the “Trapp’sches Konservatorium der Musik”. Trapp’s teacher at Munich Hochschule had been Reuß’s fellow student Courvoisier; therefore, Reuß was among the founders of the school since its origins, and taught composition there. Trapp’s Conservatory is best known, nowadays, as the “Richard-Strauss Konservatorium” (1962), and has been recently integrated within Munich’s Musikhochschule (2008).
Two years later, in 1929, Reuß was nominated a member of the Akademie der Tonkünste, in recognition for his compositional activity; he maintained the membership and the post of professor there until his death, on June 18th, 1935 in Munich.
Reuß’s theoretical writings include essays of music and culture criticism, an unpublished textbook on harmonic functions; he also left an autobiographical sketch which testifies of his strong moral principles. As maintained by Anton Würz in the MGG, Reuß’s compositional process was not an easy one. Every note was the result of a deliberate choice, and the product of an intense compositional will and of an interior necessity. Nevertheless, he left an impressive catalogue of printed and unpublished works, among which operas (Herzog Philipps Brautfahrt) and pantomimes (Glasbläser und Dogaressa; Laterne und Mantel). His orchestral works, several of which are symphonic poems, reveal the influence of Richard Strauss’s concept, although those by Reuß frequently have religious subjects: among them, we may mention Johannisnacht, op. 19, Judith, op. 20 (after Hebbel), as well as a colourful Sommer-Idylle, op. 39. Reuß wrote many beautiful chamber music works, among which string Quartets and Quintets, a piano Trio, a Sonata for violin and piano and a wind octet (op. 37). Reuß’s interest for the piano is revealed by his keyboard works, whose small number is counterbalanced by their musical importance: among them, two Piano Sonatas (op. 27 and op. 55), and a Fantasy for two pianos (op. 42).
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