Leon Botstein, music director and principal conductor of the American Symphony since 1992, has long been known for his innovative programming and passionate performances. He has also established a reputation as an advocate for lesser-known masterworks, uncovering them and re-introducing them to the public. His previous two Telarc recordings with the London Philharmonic of the Schalk Edition of the Bruckner 5th Symphony, and the Dohnanyi Symphony No. 1 were acclaimed by the critics.
"I believe Karl Amadeus Hartmann (1905-1963) to be one of this century's greatest symphonists," says Botstein. "[His] works, particularly those presented in this recording, are infused with his direct and personal response to the political and ethical crises he encountered in Germany during the 1930s and 1940s."
Hartmann was never persecuted by the Nazi regime. He was neither Jewish nor a Communist; his rebellion against the system was one of intellect and esthetics. He simply withdrew from all public activity in Germany, and in doing so, essentially sacrificed his career. His symphonic poem, Miserae, written in 1933, is dedicated to those who perished at Dachau.
Symphony No. 1, written in 1935-6 and revised again in 1950, employs elements of orchestral song and cantata forms within its unified symphonic structure. It is based on poetry (slightly altered by Hartmann for musical purposes) by Walt Whitman ("I Sit and Look Out," "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd," and "Pensive on Her Dead Gazing"). An intense and dramatic work, it was not premiered until 1949, immediately following World War II.
The Sixth Symphony (1951-1953) is based on an earlier work, the Symphony "L'Oeuvre," which Hartmann composed in 1938, inspired by the tragic Emile Zola novel of the same name.
"[Hartmann's] allegiance to an expressive but uncompromising modernism was rooted not in stylistic preference but in profound moral conviction," says Botstein. "Like all great music, the power of Hartmann's can be sensed long after its historical and biographical premises have receded from memory."