NÖN: You published your first composition, a waltz, at the age of 16. How did you get into music as a young person?
Gerhard Habl: My interest in music started when I was in preschool. Both my parents played the piano. That has always interested me as well. Then I type hits with a system of two fingers. Purely by ear, I didn’t know anything about sheet music. From the age of seven I received piano lessons, later also in composition.
Has your style changed since then?
Hable: Certainly, it has matured and become more diversified. That is my trademark. As a composer you deal with different types of compositional styles. After that, you choose what you like best, where you see more development opportunities.
Today there is no single “classical school” that one can say is today’s style. You can study music created in the 16th and 17th centuries, as well as contemporary styles and styles from different directions. I dealt with the twelve-tone range as I did with Mozart, Beethoven and others, with the major-minor tonal system as well as with the atonal. I deal a lot with the bringing together of traditions and what began in the 20th century with a great upheaval and is only partially supported by the audience. An example of this is my three-part composition “Contrast”, which is available in the smallest, narrowest space, for example in terms of tempo, volume and rhythm. And there are the biggest contrasts, with certain chords and themes and in the three parts with each other.
As a lawyer, you made it to the Supreme Court. Why weren’t you composing more at that time?
Hable: I am a person who does not do things by halves, but someone who goes to the whole pig. At the beginning of my legal work I noticed that there was no more room to compose. I was strictly separated. I played the piano from time to time, but did not compose, focusing instead on my professional life. It was a kind of self-protection. If I always thought that I would rather compose than edit any act, then it would lead to a situation of constant conflict.
Did you miss the creative work?
Hable: Yes. But I still save that for the future, hoping to return to creative work. But my work as a lawyer was also very satisfying. I made a career because I worked properly and my performance was appreciated.
Is there a procedure in your time as a lawyer that you particularly remember?
Hable: It’s hard to choose one from so many. You must do each procedure responsibly, because the fate is decided there. Of course, there are some that remain in your memory more, but these were often cases where I was involved as the first example. For example, having an adopted child, which was very formative. A mother’s circumstances were impoverished after a divorce and the child was placed temporarily with the paternal grandparents. He was in positive hands there, for a while. When the mother’s condition improved, the child was given to her. But he did not return to her.
It was a very delicate decision at the time, media coverage, including television, was very much against me. nonetheless, enforcing the court’s decision was not so easy, as the execution was interfered with several times. But then he came over. They hid the child there, took him out of the school and took him to a farm. The school principal played along, the conditions were unimaginable. It was only through my efforts that I came to know that the child had returned to school, so I picked him up and handed him over to the mother. These are things to remember.
Does the legal work affect your work as a composer?
Hable: There is a certain analytical thinking. You also learn this in your law studies, and you can use it very well when composing. Among other things, the topics are divided into motifs, processed and the results of this analysis are used. This has to update you.
There is a concrete connection through the first composition I wrote after the time at the Supreme Court, it is a piano piece for four hands called “OGH-Reflexionen” – a review of the work at the Supreme Court. There are a lot of legal abbreviations – then I transfer some letters of the names of the notes and create motifs in them. The work was first round in the Supreme Court.
So an approach related to this letter can also become music?
Hable: Yes, Bach, for example, did the same with his name. I also composed a birthday gift using the person’s first and last name as a musical balance. But of course, a subject often comes to mind, so you draw little sketches so that you can later compose something with it.
How long does it take, from the idea to the premiere?
Hable: That’s different. Sometimes there is a certain amount of time pressure. The first ones have already been announced, although I have not yet written a single note. Of course, this also has to be repeated, so a certain amount of lead time is necessary. And I am basically not a fast typist. I often have ideas later on how to change something that could bring on an interesting twist.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Hable: There are many suggestions. It is certainly not the case that you are desperately waiting for an idea, rather the opposite. If one percent of what I have in my head is written as notes, that is a lot. There just isn’t enough time to write everything.
Do you want to convey a certain story or message with your pieces?
Hable: There is usually no real common thread. The compositions usually come about when I talk to professional musicians and realize that they want a work in a certain direction or with a special instrument. Then I get to work.
Is there a job that means a lot to you?
Hable: I was writing a code quartet and while I was working a family member died at just 30 years old. That influenced the piece. I devote the entire second sentence to this situation. Grief, despair, rebellion, anger that a young person who had a great job was killed by a disease. The first was held in 2018 as part of the Pielachtaler Classic Concerts.
When you hear this composition today, do you feel transported back to that time?
Hable: Yes, of course. But I noticed that the piece made a big impression on other people too. For example, it was held at the Millstatt Collegiate Church as part of the Millstatt Music Weeks. Afterwards, several people came up to me and said they were so touched and moved to tears.
You compose for a while in your “house of composition” in Hofstetten-Grünau. Why did you end up in Pielachtal from Vienna?
Hable: It was many years ago when I bought a piece of land with a building shell on it and completed it. I noticed that you can compose very well in this calm and sometimes had to isolate myself from my family – this is just part of the creative process. My family gradually had to learn that this did not mean that they were angry with the family. You just need to work in a focused way and stay on task, so distractions are not exactly positive for you. The house is surrounded by green nature, which is very interesting. Looking out the window you can see the forests and mountains of the Prealps.
After composing for some time in Hofstetten-Grünau, the Pielachtaler Classic Concerts (PCC) came on.
Hable: Yes, I noticed that classical music does not actually exist in the valley, or only very rarely. So I thought to myself that we should try to build something in this area. That’s why I founded the “PCC project” in 2017 through the communities. My idea was to involve the music schools as well. So, not only popular music is played – nothing against popular music, but there is also another kind of music. Classical music is closely related to popular music, or pop music and jazz. Too much attention is paid to this.
In your opinion, what makes the PCC series special?
Hable: Some concert series pursue specific goals. That’s why you have to make sure that there is not already another classic series in the area, whether there is a need. You can’t leave everything in Grafenegg, there are other places too. And the public noticed more and more the quality offered by PCC.
You are a member of the INÖK (interest group of Lower Austrian composers) and the “Association of Austrian composers”. Why is advocacy for composers important?
Hable: There is a certain exchange there, and also a composition competition that you can participate in. One’s own composition work can be carried over and spread. Every composer is interested in that.
Do you think classical music can “survive” – get enough new blood, both in terms of audience and musicians?
Hable: In any case. Orchestras and chamber musicians have enough children. Many great musicians lined up for one job. I have no worries about that at all. The audience for classical music is of course older on average. It may well be that in the course of life a certain maturation process sets in and a person is more interested in this kind of music. But it’s not like we have to worry about not getting any new blood here.
We have offers for young people, students and students to get their tickets at half price. I also try to interest the young audience through my deputy in the PCC association, Heinz Peter Luger, who is also a music teacher at the music school in Pielachtal. Another way would be, for example, to talk about classical music in schools, play small excerpts from work and give information about the background and the instruments.
What are your goals and plans for the future?
Hable: Compose as much as possible. I hope to stay healthy and able to compose for a long time.
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