Pavel Haas: Wind Quintet Op. 10

The music of Pavel Haas belongs to a large body of work by European Jewish composers of the 20th century whose body of work was cut short by death in concentration camps, and surviving works have been pulled out of obscurity only with difficulty and dedication on the part of friends, surviving colleagues, and enterprising publishers. Haas, who died in Auschwitz in 1944, in fact composed some of his best-known music while a prisoner: before being sent to Auschwitz he spent three years in Theresienstadt, a camp permitted to carry on an artistic scene for the eventual purpose of a propaganda film intended to discredit reports of Nazi genocide. In the film, Karel Ančerl conducts Haas’ piece Study for String__s. Ančerl was sent to Auschwitz along with Haas after the completion of the film, but survived. He told Haas’ brother that as the two stood next to each other in a line, Haas had a coughing fit, and was chosen for death instead of Ančerl as a result. Ančerl reconstructed the lost score of Study for String__s from individual parts that he found from searching Theresienstadt, and eventually emigrated to Canada, where he spent the last four years of his life as music director of the Toronto Symphony.

Although Study for String__s is still one of Haas’ best-known works thanks to Ančerl’s championing, his other works began to come to light significantly after his death, and are only beginning their long life in the standard repertoire. One of the musicians responsible for continuing Ančerl’s work on that front was a composition student of Haas’ before the war: Lubomír Peduzzi, a Czech musicologist, composer and poet. His short time as Haas’ student influenced him greatly; Peduzzi later wrote his dissertation on Haas’ wartime music, created the entry on Haas in Grove’s dictionary, and was responsible for the publication and performance of much of his music.

In 1991, Peduzzi created a new edition of Haas’ Wind Quintet. Although the piece had previously been published in 1934, almost all copies of it were lost during the war. He found the manuscript instead in the Moravian Museum in Brno, and his edition introduced Haas’ quintet into the company of a number of significant wind quintets written in the third decade of the 20th century. Haas wrote the wind quintet in 1929, at a time when major composers were beginning to recognize the wind quintet as a vehicle for important works. Carl Nielsen wrote his seminal quintet in 1928, Arnold Schoenberg in 1925, Paul Hindemith in 1925, and Leoš Janáček– who was Haas’ most influential teacher, and Haas his best student– wrote his Mládí (Youth), a wind quintet with an added bass clarinet, in 1924. Haas’ four-movement quintet pays homage to his teacher with its mingled folk songs, synagogue music, and rhythmic complexity that places it firmly in 20th century. Despite its primarily minor mode and the mournful character of its second movement, titled “Prayer,” the final movement ends with a grand and expansive final chord that appears to resolve the uncertainty of the previous themes into triumph.