Reger: Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Beethoven / Variations and Fugue on a Theme of J.A. Hiller
An extremely prolific composer, Reger (1873-1916) is a study in contradictions. On the one hand, he wrote huge orchestral works, the most famous of which are based on themes by earlier composers Reger admired (his most well-known piece is Mozart Variations, in which he creates dizzying and monumental symphonic variations based on a Mozart piano sonata). On the other, he was capable of a serene simplicity of form and harmonic invention, as found in the art song "Maria Wiegenlied." The piano enters with a theme that is a lilting lullaby, then the singer echoes the melody and the keyboard and voice work their way through a series of very deliberate, quite beautiful chord changes that never stray from the gentle tone initially established. There is also a kind of mysticism in Reger's music that gives it a very modern feel -- something opaque, transcendent and non-linear to be found in many of his pieces for organ, for example -- despite the fact he was a staunch traditionalist, offended by the "vulgarisms" he found in Wagner and Richard Strauss. A complex man whose rich and varied work deserves serious assessment.