(Johann Baptist Joseph) Max(imillian) Reger


Born in Brand, near Bayreuth, Reger was taught music first at the hands of his father, a schoolteacher.  As he progressed he was given instruction in composition, with an emphasis on counterpoint which Reger was to exploit for the rest of his life.  Living in Bavaria was to give Reger another formative musical experience; attending performances of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg and Parsifal at Bayreuth in 1888.  Again, it was Wagner's polyphony which left the greatest impression.  Around this time Reger was playing locally as a church organist, which led to his commencement of studies under Riemann, who gave him a thorough grounding in the music of Bach

Impressed by Reger's Op. 1 Violin Sonata (1890), Riemann recommended him for a teaching post at the conservatory at Wiesbaden.  While there he met Busoni and Richard Strauss, and began a renunciation of the prevailing programmatic musical style in favour of grand architecture.  Military service between 1896 and 1897 started his slide into alcoholism and depression, but neither of these detracted from his enthusiasm for, or ability regarding, composition.  In addition to organ music he wrote much for chamber ensembles, and a move to Munich in 1901 marked the start of a growth in reputation which allowed him to write increasingly for orchestra.

The following decade saw Reger rise to success, touring as far afield as St Petersburg (where he was seen by Prokofiev), but this exacted a heavy toll on both his performances and his general well-being.  In 1907 he was appointed director of the University of Leipzig.  There his orchestral technique was to reach its zenith with works such as his Hiller Variations (1907), which continued the grand Reger tradition of large-scale sets of variations, each ending with an almighty fugue.  In 1911 he became conductor at the court at Saxe-Meiningen, where he was able to follow his belief that a conductor should not be so much a performer as a conduit for the composer's wishes.  In this, he shared a certain amount of ground with his predecessor there, Strauss.

Reger's workload, not lessened by his prolific composition, led to a deterioration in his health, and in 1915 he retired to Jena to compose and to tour insofar as was necessary to support his family.  His late works, such as the Requiem of the same year, mark a move away from polyphony, probably in response to his critics.  He died of a heart attack in Leipzig, returning home after touring.

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