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Max Reger (1873-1916) was a progressive early modernist composer in Germany who expanded upon the styles of Johann Sebastian Bach and Johannes Brahms. During his lifetime, Reger was considered one of the great composers of the era along side Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler. Reger was a prolific composer who wrote more than 1000 works in all forms except opera. In America, he is best known for his organ works, which consist of symphonic-like compositions, short character pieces and chorale preludes. The organ works are a significant part of his oeuvre but they are not all inclusive. Reger also contributed extensively to the chamber, orchestral, vocal, piano and choral repertoire throughout his life; these works are rarely performed today, in America.

Although the primary influences upon Reger were Bach and Brahms, it is the harmonic language of Richard Wagner that permeates his tonal style. He is noted by many scholars and musicians as being the person who emancipated dissonance to a level that allowed Arnold Schoenberg to more easily develop serialism in the 1920’s. With this said, Reger wrote tonal music, exclusively, expounding on the chromatic relationships between key structures.

In 1947, Albert Schweitzer wrote: “The significance of Reger’s work will only be appreciated in the future. I have had many opportunities to see that other countries are not yet really acquainted, much less familiar, with him. The fault is to be found largely in the two wars and the interwar period, which set up barriers to becoming acquainted and familiar with him-barriers that would otherwise not have existed when it was time for Reger’s art to go out into the world.”

Reger’s legacy extends to other composers who were influenced by him. They include Bela Bartok (who visited with Reger in 1907, in Leipzig), Alban Berg, Paul Hindemith (who attributed his compositional style to Reger), Arthur Honegger, Sergey Prokofiev and Arnold Schoenberg (who considered him a genius).

The following musical examples show the various elements of Max Reger’s stylistic achievements:  His music can be described as:

• Dramatic – Fantasy and Fugue on the Name of B.A.C.H., Opus 46 (1900)
• Serene - Piano Concerto, Second Movement, Opus 114 (1910)
• Chromatic - Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue, Opus 96 (1906)
• Melodic - Wiegenlied, Opus 142 (1915)
• Humorous - Quartet, Second Movement, Opus 109 (1909)
• Joyous - Scherzino for Horn and Orchestra, without opus (1899)
• Verging on Atonality - Variations on an Original Theme, Opus 73 (1903)
 


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