The story of Hans Rott is a sad one – at the age of twenty-two, he was committed to an asylum for pulling a firearm on a relatively innocent smoker on a train, as he was travelling to take up a chorus master post. What is particularly sad is that the Symphony featured here offers so much promise, even earning Mahler’s endorsement in its early performance history.
It was towards the end of the nineteenth century that the symphony began to expand and take hold as a major work that could last more than an hour – only a few select examples such as Beethoven’s Choral had done so previously, with Bruckner’s symphonies often up to ninety minutes long. Rott’s example in the genre weighs in at just under an hour, but the quality of the writing ensures the time does not drag.
The performers are the Cincinnati Philharmonic Orchestra, a youth band conducted by Gerhard Samuel, who display plenty of enthusiasm if perhaps at times lacking the power an orchestra like the Vienna Philharmonic might be able to impart to this music.
The home key of E major was an unusual choice for a symphonic work in those days, with only Bruckner’s seventh to draw as a parallel. Rott includes unmistakable parallels with Brahms and Mahler – the latter, of course, hadn’t even begun his compositional career!
The opening theme, the keystone of the whole work, is suitably epic and expansive, easy to spot on its reappearance in the finale. Brahms disliked the piece, but Mahler showed a definite empathy for Rott’s musical thinking and seemed to imply that the young symphonist had more or less cracked it.
Certainly the opening of the third movement scherzo is Mahlerian in character, and after the trio Rott holds back the reappearance of the main theme in a very theatrical way. The huge last movement is a fitting climax, subsiding in its closing pages to a calm ending.
This is a symphony well worth hearing, with memorable tunes, interesting harmonic movement and plenty of character. This involved reading from Samuel is the one to have, reissued at low price. It serves as the perfect companion to a Mahler symphonic cycle, begging the question as to how much the well known latter composer was influenced by Rott.