BY MIKE LEONARD
Two questions that might come to mind after learning that the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music will host a Max Reger Festival September 25–27 are “Who?” and “Why?”
“Unless you are an organist, you will likely be very unfamiliar with his music, which is a shame,” says David V. Cox, founder and chairman of the festival’s sponsor, The Max Reger Foundation of America. “During his lifetime (1873–1916) he was an extremely influential composer, as important as Richard Strauss.”
Reger was prolific, creating more than 1,000 works in virtually every genre except opera. He also was an author, a teacher, a chamber musician, a solo pianist, and a conductor.
The “why” is answered by his significant place in music theory and the development of classical music. “Reger’s claim to fame is how he transformed harmony, and he started it earlier than anyone else,” Cox says. “Reger considered himself a traditionalist following Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms in form. But he was very, very much on the Wagnerian side when it came to tonality. He took tonality as far as he could without stepping into the bucket of atonality, as (Arnold) Schoenberg did.”
It perplexes many people that Reger’s music faded into obscurity so quickly after his death. “One thing is that anything in fashion prior to World War I fell out of fashion after the war,” Cox says. “Another thing that hurt him was that he didn’t write opera. Another piece of the pie is that Hitler considered Reger true German stock, and he often would use his music as propaganda music. I think that hurt.”
“He was a true modernist and an engagement of his remarkable music now reveals the clarity of a vision that, much like that of his idol, J.S. Bach, was not fully understood or appreciated in his own time,” says Music School Organ Department Chair Janette Fishell. She says the festival will provide educational opportunities not only for IU students but also for pre-college and conservatory students throughout Indiana and the Midwest. “We also will have three learning events where our experts will talk in your language if you’re not a musician,” adds Cox.
All events are free and open to the public. For more information, visit maxreger.org/mrf.