Ferdinand Rebay’s Chamber Sonatas: Context, Performance and Reception

A closer look at the 19th century guitar developments in Austria reveals a decline in activity during the second half of that century. As a consequence, there is an absence of relevant guitar repertoire from the late Romantic Period, in contrast to the great activity that happened in Vienna in the early 1800s. The unearthing of Viennese composer Ferdinand Rebay (1880-1953) in the early 2000s revealed a wealth of original works written for guitar, particularly in chamber music settings. Although he lived in a period commonly associated with the Modernism and beyond, it has been suggested that Rebay’s writing shares stylistic traces with those of Romantic master Johannes Brahms (Gaitzsch, 2006), thus offering an extemporary alternative to the absence of original late romantic repertoire from German-speaking countries.

Ferdinand Rebay was a thoroughly trained and a very active musician in the early 20th-century Vienna. Born into a musical family, as a child he sang in the choir of the Heiligenkreuz Abbey and later frequented the School for Arts and Crafts of the Imperial Museum, while studying music privately with Josef von Wöss and Eusebius Mandyczewski. In 1904, he graduated with honors from the traditional Vienna Conservatory, where he studied composition with Robert Fuchs and piano with Josef Hofmann. Rebay started his professional career as a choir conductor (Wiener Chorverein and Schubertbund), piano accompanist and composer, particularly of choral music and Lieder. He turned his attentions to the guitar only in 1924, while a piano teacher at the Academy for Music and Performing Arts (former Conservatory) and having met the Academy’s guitar teacher, Jakob Ortner. Another important guitar-related name associated with Rebay is that of his nephew and Ortner’s student, Gertha Hammerschmied, to whom Rebay dedicated most of his guitar works.

This project deals with a specific group of pieces written by Rebay between 1925 and 1942: his six sonatas for woodwind instrument and guitar. It is being developed in three fronts, unified by contextual, analytical and practical procedures. Firstly, I propose to investigate Rebay’s life and career through the few available biographical sources and contextualize it against the background of the immense historical, political, social and cultural changes that encompassed his life’s period. I also address his extreme conservative style in a period of modernist developments, represented in Vienna by composers such as Gustav Mahler and Arnold Schoenberg. The second part involves an in-depth investigation of the group of sonatas, culminating with a presentation of case studies. Each case study addresses a particular musicological question, with a focus on the practice. Finally, the third part examines the reception of his music by today’s audiences and performers. Through questionnaires directed at audiences (concert and online) and interviews with the chamber music partners, it is possible to go beyond individual tastes and conceive a collective evaluation of Rebay’s music.

This research project is being developed at the Royal College of Music in London, UK, and is supervised by Dr. Natasha Loges, Dr. Terry Clark and Dr. Stefan Hackl. It is supported by a research grant from the Brazilian government agency, CAPES.

(Photo: Austrian National Library, Vienna)

Recordings and Questionnaires

Participate in my research! After listening to each sonata, please answer a brief questionnaire through the following link.

Sonata in E Major for Flute and Guitar (Catherine Hare, flute and Luiz Mantovani, guitar)

Access the questionnaire for this sonata here.

Sonata in C Major for Oboe and Guitar (Alex Fryer, oboe and Luiz Mantovani, guitar)

Access the questionnaire for this sonata here.

Sonata in A minor for Clarinet and Guitar (Melissa Youngs, clarinet and Luiz Mantovani, guitar)

Access the questionnaire for this sonata here.