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Hermann Heiß

Hermann Heiß was born on 29 December 1897 in Darmstadt (Germany). He got his first musical experiences through one of his older sisters who later became a concert pianist. Hermann Heiß was drafted for military service in World War I at the age of 16 and got into American war captivity where he encountered jazz music for the first time. After the war Hermann Heiss first studied music on his own, but in 1921 continued his composition studies under Bernhard Sekles and piano under Willy Renner in Frankfurt/Main. Fascinated by the twelve-tone technique Hermann Heiß moved to Vienna in 1925 to study with Josef Matthias Hauer for some months. After his return to Frankfurt he completed his piano studies under Alfred Hoehn.
His first professional employment brought Hermann Heiß as a music teacher to a school on the German island Spiekeroog in the North Sea in 1928. The school, the Hermann-Lietz-Schule, was just founded and became – as a part of the „Landerziehungsheime“ - one of the leading schools in the upcoming „Jugendmusikbewegung“ (youth music movement) in Germany in the following years. This was also a merit of Hermann Heiß, who built a student orchestra in his school and composed music for the ensemble.
Beside his works for amateur orchestra Hermann Heiß also continued to compose for professional performers. In 1932 he was commissioned to write a large choral work for the upcoming Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936. This led to the work „Das Jahresrad“ on a text by Edwin Redslob. And also in 1932 Hermann Heiß was invited by Arnold Schönberg to perform his piano work „Komposition E-Fis-D“ in front of the master class of Schönberg and speak about it. But it seems that this lecture never happened because Schönberg had to emigrate to the US in 1933 due to the rise of the Nazi regime.
In 1933 Hermann Heiß quit his position as music teacher in Spiekeroog and moved to Berlin. Although some of his compositions were published and performed during his years on the German island, Hermann Heiß came to the conclusion that in Spiekeroog he was too far away from the main musical scene. But the coming into power of the Nazi regime in 1933 changed the climate for modern, avantgarde music. One of the first acts of the new regime was to cancel the Heiß composition for the Olympic Games. Hermann Heiß answered this withdrawel with a provocative concert of dodecaphonic compositions at the Bechsteinsaal in March 1934. At that concert – which produced a scandal in the public perception – works by Norbert von Hannenheim, Paul Höffer, Bela Bartok and Hermann Heiß were performed. In return this led to future difficulties of Hermann Heiß to find a serious engagement. For his living he had to work as a score copyist and created compositions that fit to the needs and ideas of the Nazi regime (for example „Festmusik“ for an event of the Hitler-Jugend, a bomber song, a fighter aircraft march, a cantata on fighter pilots, etc.).
In 1941 Hermann Heiß finally found a position as teacher at the newly founded army music school in Frankfurt/Main, but was already released a year later due to refusal of obey orders. He moved back to his hometown Darmstadt and the final years of World War II Hermann Heiß scratched a living from publications and projects with the publishing house „Süddeutscher Musikverlag“. In 1944 Darmstadt was aim of a massive air raid in which most of the compositions by Hermann Heiß were destroyed.
After the war Hermann Heiß worked as a lecturer at the newly founded Darmstadt International Summer Courses for New Music, were he taught twelve-tone technique. In 1948 he received the renowned Georg-Büchner-Prize (at that time not yet fixed to literature, but art in general) and began to teach composition at the Darmstadt conservatory.
In the early 1950s Hermann Heiß became more and more interested in electronical music and experimented at the newly founded Studio for Electronic Music in Cologne. In 1955 he then became the director of the Studio for Electronic Composition in Darmstadt which he passed to his own private hands in 1957. There Hermann Heiß created many of the first electronical music compositions but also developed specific equipment for the creation of sounds or the improvement of the technical process. For example he invented a magnetic tape recorder to ease the mixing of several audio tracks to one single track. The machine was produced by the German company Vollmer and so was sold under the name „Heiß-Vollmer magnetic tape recorder“.
In the following years Hermann Heiß composed many electronical works like his „Missa“, an electronical mass for alto, tenor, mixed choir and eletronical sounds. For his pioneering work in both twelve-tone technique and electronical music as well as for his lifetime achievements Hermann Heiß was awarded the „Goethe-Plakette“ of the German state Hessia in 1957 and the Johann-Heinrich-Merck-Prize of the city of Darmstadt in 1958.
Hermann Heiß died on 6 December 1966 in Darmstadt (Germany).


The work catalogue of Hermann Heiß has to be read under reservation because about 90% of his works composed before 1944 were destroyed during the air raid of Darmstadt and could not be restored. The preserved manuscripts together with the documents of his later life are archived at the „Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Darmstadt“. So one has to check there if a composition of the work catalogue of Hermann Heiß still exists or if it was a victim of the destruction of Darmstadt in 1944.
The complete work catalogue of Hermann Heiß consists of symphonic compositions like the „Kleine Sinfonie“ for chamber orchestra, a composition for string orchestra No.1, two concertos for piano, a concerto for violin and string orchestra, a concertino for 2 violins and string orchestra and a concertino for winds and strings. He also composed chamber music like the famous „Komposition E-Fis-D“ for piano, a string quartet, a string trio and a wind quartet. His vocal music include many songs, the oratorio „Das Jahresrad“ and „Das Schicksal“ for choir and orchestra. His later compositions are mainly electronical like the Missa for voices, choir and electronical sounds (world premiere 1964 at the Stift Klosterneuburg near Vienna, and subsequent performances in Milan and Söcking near Starnberg) or the station-identification signal for the „Hessischer Rundfunk“.

In my possession are autograph manuscripts for two compositions by Hermann Heiß:

Komposition für Geige Nr.1


The first autograph is the work „Komposition für Geige Nr.1“ (Composition for violin No.1). The manuscript is not dated but the work was most likely composed in 1930. The Hermann Heiß archive at the university library of Darmstadt holds a manuscript for a work called „Vier Stücke für Geige allein“, also composed in 1930. A comparison with this manuscript clearly showed that the works are two different compositions. But I could find a note that Hermann Heiß registered a work at the German performance rights organisation called „Komposition 'F-B' – 4 Sätze über eine 12tonreihe, für Violine solo“ (Composition 'F-B' – 4 movements on a twelve-tone row, for violin solo). The registration card also gives the information that the work lasts around 15 minutes. These facts match with my manuscript and so it seems likely that it is the „Komposition 'F-B'“, although the title on the autograph is different.
I could not find any information about a performance and the work seems also to be unpublished. Therefore I am pleased to present here the score of this fascinating composition and one of the earliest dodecaphonic works for violin solo:

PDF-Dokument [318.5 KB]

Konzert für Geige und Streichorchester


The second work is the „Konzert für Geige und Streichorchester – Komposition für Streichorchester Nr.2“ (Concerto for violin and string orchestra – Composition for string orchestra No.2). This work was also composed in 1930 and in 1949 published by Süddeutscher Verlag Willi Müller (now a part of the Bärenreiter publishing house). The work was primarily dedicated to Hermann Diener and his chamber orchestra.
In my possession are the orchestral and solo parts. The violin solo, cello and contrabass parts are autographs, the other parts are copies of the autograph. The set also includes a 3-page long handwritten introduction to the work most likely in the hand of the dedicatee Hermann Diener (1897-1955), a German violinist.
It is interesting to learn that the composition in the autographs differ to the published version. The small but many differences clearly show that Hermann Heiß revised the work in the late 1940s with the most significant change of the dedicatee: the published score bears the dedication „in memoriam of my friend the philosopher Prof. Dr. Paul Bommersheim“.
The first verifiable performance of the composition was on 29 June 1948 with Lola Benda (violin), the Kammerorchester des Landestheaters Darmstadt under Hermann Heiß (conductor) at the Darmstadt Summer Courses for New Music. But this performance was not marked as the world premiere in the program. A biography of Hermann Heiß gives a performance in Bayreuth in 1948 with Lola Benda (violin) as the premiere. These facts however don't fit with the documents in my possession: The handwritten introduction by Hermann Diener mentions the „world premiere“ and a „music director Niggl“. Together with the facts of an original and a revised score as well as the two different dedicatees I strongly believe the performance history goes like that:
Hermann Heiß composed his „Concerto for violin and string orchestra“ in 1930 and dedicated it to the violinist Hermann Diener and his chamber orchestra (later called Collegium Musicum) who were located in Berlin. The work was performed shortly afterwards (most likely before the coming into power of the Nazi regime) by Hermann Diener, his orchestra and an unknown conductor (or maybe by Hermann Diener himself). After World War II Hermann Heiß prepared the work for publication and future performances and made some major revisions. He changed also the dedication and let it perform (maybe as a new „world premiere“) with Lola Benda as soloist in 1948.


Like the „Composition for violin No.1“ this „Concerto for violin and string orchestra“ has a very special importance and value for the history of music and especially the history of dodecaphony. Based on the principles of twelve-tone technique this work is one of the earliest violin concertos written in this technique. Preceded only by the violin concerto of Josef Matthis Hauer (1928) Hermann Heiß' concerto (1930) predates the ones by Schönberg (1934) and Alban Berg (1935).
The violin concerto by Hermann Heiß is radical in its compositional style and completely focuses on the twelve-tone row. The introduction by the violinist Hermann Diener shows very good the idea and reception of this work at the time of its creation:


„The composer Hermann Heiss was born in Darmstadt in 1897 and belongs as one of the youngest to the Vienna circle around Schönberg, Hauer, Alban Berg, Anton von Webern, Arthur Schnabel, Emil Peeters und Norbert von Hannenheim, thus a circle of radical polyphonists. This means a tough ordeal for our contemporary ears, surrender of melody and harmony, acceptance of dissonances, even at the movement's endings.
And I can well imagine, that some of you are as shocked as I was at my first encounter with this sort of music – today I show respect for this music, because I realised that it is not composed randomly. There is much system and a law is obeyed.
I am grateful to this music – that ascetically waives all outward success – for its glaring spotlight on the absolute play of lines in polyphony [..]. And therefore I have thankfully accepted the impression of this composition by Hermann Heiss, although in this polyphony the harmony of sound is subordinated to the melodious play of lines and the concept of keys is annulled.“


I am very happy to present here the full score of the original version of the „Concerto for violin and string orchestra“ (1930) by Hermann Heiß. If you are looking for the revised version (from around 1945) please contact the publishing house Bärenreiter. Although they don't list the concerto on their website, a copy is still available.

PDF-Dokument [1.3 MB]

To listen to the complete concerto please go to the website of musician and musicologist Steffen Fahl. He professionally creates computer-generated realisations of unperformed or forgotten compositions on a superb level. I am happy that I could convince him to focus on the original edition of the violin concerto by Hermann Heiss and one can listen to the result of the work by Steffen Fahl here: link to the website of Steffen Fahl.

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© Tobias Broeker