In August his uncle Johann Baptist Ulrich invites him to visit the Bayreuth festival. He listens to Parsifal as conducted by Felix Mottl in the staging and decoration of the premiere performance of 1882, and to the Meistersingers given in this year for the first time in Bayreuth under Hans Richter. Reger who for the first time hears an orchestra and a music drama takes the decision on account of the tremendous impression to become a musician.
In the late summer, he composes his first orchestral work, an Overture in B minor (WoO I/1), 120 pages in volume, but for small orchestration (possibly flute, clarinet, piano and string quartet). Albert Lindner sends this in November to Hugo Riemann, the leading musicologist of his time, who replies positively, however guesses urgently to repress Wagners influence and to write melodies instead of motives (cf. letter of Riemann from 26th November 1888 to Lidner). In December, Reger thanks Riemann for his advice and the transmission of textbooks with which he begins to study privately.
In June, Reger finishes the Praeparandenschule with an excellent certificate. At the request of his father, he subjects himself successfully in August to the entrance examination into the royal teacher seminar at Amberg, however, although he passes he attempts to put through his intention to become musician. In the quarrels with the father, he finds support in Lindner and the Weiden-born opera singer Wilhelmine Mayer.
According to Riemann's advice he composes chamber music (cf. letter fom Riemann to Lindner from 26th November 1888), amongst them a string quartet D minor (WoO II/2) which is submitted to the scholar for the final appraisal. He also sends the quartet together with a Largo D major (WoO II/3) to Joseph Rheinberger, then professor at the Munich Akademie der Tonkunst, who certifies Reger for the musical career in spite of »immaturity sufficient talent«. Supported by the continuous intercession of Lindner, Riemann and finally also his mother Reger succeeds in his wish to become a musician against the father's objections.
In Winter 1889/90 eagerly spends his time for self-study and prepares himself for the education of Hugo Riemann with his textbooks (i. a. solutions fir 1000 harmony exercies). The calling of Riemann from Hamburg to the conservatory Sondershausen enabled »that I can graduate under him«.
From April to July Reger is pupil in Hugo Riemanns theory class at the royal conservatory Sondershausen, where he presently joins the counterpoint class. Furthermore he receives piano lessons from Riemann. In Sondershausen he has been intellectually and musically stimulated, visisted all Loh-concerts (named after the concert hall at that time, the Loh-Hall near the Loh-forest), received the friendly acceptance of Riemann and is systematically introduced into the work of Johannes Brahms and Johann Sebastian Bach. He associates with the other Riemann pupils to the knighthood Montsalvat, that have been infamous for ragging.
In the retinue of Riemann Reger enters on September 20th as pupil no. 172 with the main subjects piano and theory the conservatoire at Wiesbaden and is there simultaneously made a teacher for piano and organ in order to finance his studies and to moderate financial problems of the parents resulted by a piano purchase. Reger is invited for lunch and dinner by Riemanns and spends almost his whole leisure time there, even the Christmas days.
In March, the two first movements of the violin sonata D minor op. 1 are performed at the conservatoire, however, find a disparaging reception The attempt to get his violin sonata published by B. Schott's Sons fails. Further chamber music works strongly influenced by Brahms follow. With a performance of Brahms' Handel Variations on June 27th ends Regers his piano studies. In the annual report of the conservatoire for the term 1891/92 (beginning September) he is entered as pupil in theory as well as as teacher in piano and theory.
In pupil concerts of the conservatoire, the 1st movement of the piano trio B minor op. 2 is premiered in March, the complete violin sonata D major op. 3 in April. By procurement of Riemann Reger signs in the summer a seven years' contract with the London publishing company of Augener & Co. In April and May he gets his certificate from Riemann and court music director Franz Mannstädt for admission to the one year volunteer military year. In the annual report of the conservatoire for 1892/93, he is mentioned as a pupil in theory as well as a teacher for piano and organ. Reger's first cello sonata F minor op. 5, no doubt his most advanced Wiesbaden chamber music work, offers difficulties in understanding even to Riemann. In his first organ composition op. 7 he consciously withdraws a claim of originality in order to provide craftsmanlikely secure, traditional journeyman pieces. In December, with the Walzer-Capricen for the firs time he complies with the publisher's request for easy, marketable works, a request which will accompany him lifelong.
The first five works of Reger appear in the publishing firm of Augener at the beginning of the year. In February, Reger leaves the conservatoire as a pupil, however, remains there as a teacher for piano and organ; additionally, he gives private piano lessons, also in the house of Bagenski where in spring he meets his future wife, Elsa von Bercken, née von Bagenski. He occurs repeatedly as a pianist in the Casino and at the conservatoire and in one concert plays one of three early, yet unpublished arrangements of Johann Sebastian Bachs Prelude und Fugue D-dur BWV 532 (Bach-B1 Nr. 3). He sees himself having »arrived in a status of the pianist proper - though composition naturally remains the main thing«.
Heinrich Reimann published in July the first relevant article on Reger's compositions in the Allgemeine Musik-Zeitung; he calls him a »hothead« and warns him of excessive increases, however, expects much from the rising talent. Reger becomes reviewer for the the same paper (until the end of 1894) and gains little friends through his uncompromising judgement. At least some positive reviews gave rise to become connected with prestigious musicians and composers.
Reger aims at independence and becomes himself alienated from dogmatic Riemann's understanding of music; he consciously pushes back the influence of Brahms and studies the works of Liszt refused by Riemann. The first performance of the cello sonata F minor op. 5 in October runs into negative criticism.
On February 14th – with the involvement of the composer – the first evening exclusively devoted to compositions by Reger takes place where the piano trio B minor op. 2 (premiere performance), the complete violin sonata D minor op. 1 (see 1891), the cello sonata F minor op. 5 and lieder are performed in the Sing-Akademie zu Berlin; Otto Lessmann blames Reger in his criticism to exaggerate the Brahmsian traits in this work and recommends a change of direction. A first crisis is in the offing because of absent artistic success, furthered by an unhappy love for Mathilde »Tilly« Hilf, the daughter of a Wiesbaden government councillor; increasing isolation, depression and flight to alcohol are the result.
In autumn, Reger is again motivated through Arthur Smolian's positive review Max Reger und seine Erstlingswerke in the Musikalisches Wochenblatt. Smolian, then teacher at the conservatoire of Baden in Karlsruhe, provides the contact to the Karlsruhe musical director Felix Mottl and to the director of the conservatoire Heinrich Ordenstein, however Mottl's plan to perform Reger's piano trio op. 2 in Karlsruhe fails. In the new edition of his music dictionary, Riemann calls Reger a »rich, promising composition talent«. At the conservatoire, he teaches theory in addition to piano and organ and gives furthermore private piano lessons. In September he sends Eugen d'Albert some virtuoso Bach arrangements (Bach-B1) and arranges, moreover, to his great contentment his Overture to Grillparzer's »Esther« for piano to four hands (d’Albert-B1).
In April Reger contacts Ferruccio Busoni and exchanges arrangements and original compositions with him. On July 23rd he finishes his Suite E minor for organ op. 16, the main work of 1895, which he considers to be his best work to date and dedicated it confessionally »Den Manen Joh. Seb. Bachs«. The 111 Canons (WoO III/4), constructed with great assiduity and contrapuntal expertise, are finished on his Weiden summer holidays in September. In the autumn, Hugo Riemann and his family move to Leipzig. Reger continues teaching piano, organ and theory at the conservatoire and giving private piano lessons. In September he sends his Bach arrangements (RWV Bach-B1) to Busoni as well as Richard Strauss and receives positive replies.
Reger attends a concert of the museum society in Frankfurt in February, where Richard Strauss conducts his Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche and Ferruccio Busoni appears as the soloist in a Rubinstein piano concerto; he makes personal acquaintance with both composers. A performance of his piano trio B minor op. 2 at the Tonkuenstlerversammlung of the ADMV (Allgemeiner Deutscher Musikverein) in Leipzig is refused since he might have little merit to Franz Liszt, the founder of the ADMV. Reger sends his suite E minor for organ op. 16 to Johannes Brahms and asks him to accept the dedication of his 1st Symphony; Brahms accepts in a friendly manner and sends his photography. Augener refuses the publication of the piano (four hands) version of his organ suite op. 16, but publishes further Bach arrangements (Bach-B2). In June 187 pages of a piano concerto F minor (WoO I/4) for Eugen d'Albert are written, in July a Symphony in B minor (WoO I/5) is largely finished. Both works are announced to Augener's for August/September; their fate is unknown.
In October, the time of one year volunteer military service begins at the end of the possible time of deferring. Since the costs for equipment, uniform, catering and accommodation are to be taken over by the recruit, however the income possibilities by instruction and composition (Symphony in B minor and piano concerto f-minor ) are non-existent, Reger gets into deeper and deeper indebtedness. »No one gives a pfennig to me; I am out on a limb; and no one cares about me; au contraire, my colleagues do everything they can to bring me down« (letter from 19th December to August Döring). Unsuitable for military service, he spends already the first weeks (since mid-October) in the hospital because of a foot arthritis; in November he hopes for an official note of unfittedness for military service - in vain. Reger has to serve the entire time: »Even there vanishes the lust for life. And from now on year in, year out, it should be like this. I won't be discouraged; I live and die for my holy, supreme art – and if I don't get recognition, so I shall be simply buried.« (ib.)
Karl Straube premieres the organ suite op. 16 in Berlin in March. In a criticism Reger is called a »social democrat among the present composers« who might preach the overthrow (see letter from April 11th to Adalbert Lindner). In July Strauss recommends »Reger (organ and piano composer, very capable) as able accompanist« to his publisher Jos. Aibl in Munich. Highly indebted and in bad health through an ulcer on his neck (presumed is an actinomycosis), requiring two operations, Reger is dismissed from military service for reserve on October 1st. Several piano works remain unprinted at the publisher's and appear only years later.
A piano quintet C minor (WoO II/9) is finished in February but refused by Augener. Piano pieces and Bach arrangements may remain unprinted and appear only after the successful change to the Munich publisher Jos. Aibl in later years. Reger applies unsuccessfully for conductor's positions in Heidelberg and Bonn, supported by favourable reports of Busoni and Mottl. Through the failures he gets more and more into alcohol addictment. At the end of March, with concerts by Karl Straube in the Frankfurt Paulskirche, in which he also performs Reger's suite E minor for organ op. 16, a lifelong friendship between the two artists begins.
A first attempt of Emma Reger to take back her unkempt brother to the Weiden parents home in March fails. Reger is given up by the parents who presume megalomania in the highest stage. Emma has success with her second attempt: in mid-June Reger returns to the parental home; his health is strongly attacked by alcohol and nicotine, the ulcer on his neck has re-appeared and needs to be operated again.
The isolation in Weiden supports Reger's artistic productivity. Few days after his return he puts the closing mark under the waltzes op. 22; within few weeks he finishes op. 23, 25 amd 26 as well as the piano pieces WoO III/10 and III/11; immediately he starts himself searching for a publisher for his works (also composed partially already in Wiesbaden). Considered by the parents as a failed existence, he is supported by Straube in his vocation as a composer. Already by mid-September the first chorale fantasy »Ein' feste Burg« is finished and is soon being performed by Straube. With that Reger opens his line of big organ works with which he finds to a new and unmistakeably personal organ style, and acquires increasing successes. On the other hand, he has little success with his second cello sonata G minor op. 28 in which the influence of Brahms is still obvious; it is premiered only eight years later.
Richard Strauss mediates Reger to the Leipzig publisher Forberg (opp. 24, 26, 27 and 29) and the Munich publisher Jos. Aibl who in the Weiden years becomes Reger's main publishers. Reger thanks Strauss with the dedication of his Fantasia and Fugue C minor op. 29. With beginning gains Reger can remove the debts left in Wiesbaden by degrees. For the first time for four years a full-length article on Reger with picture and course of life appears again, written by Reger's Wiesbaden friend Caesar Hochstetter who recommends the highly talented young composer to the publishers. Reger thanks him with the dedications of his opp. 25 (Aquarelle) and 34 (Cinq Pièces pittoresques).
The creative high spirits last. Reger composes piano pieces, further organ works, chamber music and lieder. Karl Straube continues the line of premiere performances with the I. organ sonata F sharp minor op. 33 (June) and the chorale fantasy »Wie schön leucht’t uns der Morgenstern« op. 40, no. 1 (October) and also performs Reger's Fantasy and fugue C minor in presence of the composer in Munich.
In May/June Reger spends several weeks in Schneewinkl with Auguste of Bagenski, her daughter Elsa who had been divorced in April of the year and, her cousin Berthel, to whom he had given piano lessons in Wiesbaden. He falls in love with Elsa and composes love lieder; a proposal is nevertheless refused by her, since she well remembers his Wiesbaden time of crisis.
In September, Reger is for some days guest of the violinist Joseph Hoesl in Munich; at this opportunity he encounters Henrik Ibsen, whom he admires through all his life. He thanks Hoesl with the dedication of his third violin sonata A major op. 41. With the four sonatas op. 42 which find circulation within short time, he for the first time deals with the old kind of the solo violin composition.
Reger composes his major coup Fantasy and fugue on B-A-C-H op. 46 and dedicates the work to Joseph Rheinberger, who is horrified by the complexity of the composition. Other organists nevertheless in addition to Straube, also from abroad, begin to be interested in Reger. Andreas Hofmeie premieres the chorale fantasy »Straf mich nicht in deinem Zorn!« op. 40, no. 2 at Brno, while Straube performs op. 46 in Wesel.
Reger turns again to chamber music and composes his first string quartet (op. 54 no. 1). With two clarinet sonatas op. 49 he challenges comparison with Brahms. The plan of a concerto for organ with large orchestra (WoO I/7) does not materialize. In December the premiere performance of the violin sonata op. 41 through Reger and Joseph Hoesl in Munich takes place and is reviewed favourably by Theodor Kroyer and Rudolf Louis who are astonished by the new nature and characteristic of language. Munich becomes attentive of Reger.
In January, Reger appears in Berlin as lied accompanists with Joseph Loritz and is received friendly by Otto Lessmann. In March, Straube plays in a Munich concert five large organ works of Reger which result again in favourable reviews to the composer who is present. By arrangement of Philipp Wolfrum in June Straube performs at the Tonkuenstlerfest of the ADMV Reger's Fantasy and fugue on B-A-C-H op. 46 and thus achieves supraregional attention. Reger cannot participate for lack of time. In July the Ulm organist Karl Beringer gives his first large Reger concert. With the organ pieces op. 59 a co-operation with the publisher C. F. Peters begins who had refused his early works.
Reger misses the musical stimulation and feels increasingly constricted in Weiden so that turns to Munich. He manages to persuade his parents to a move so that he moves after his father's early superannuation with them and his sister Emma to München-Haidhausen on September 1st. For farewell he makes Adalbert Lindner a present of numerous manuscripts of early or discarded work, that lost importance to him.
Reger immediately contacts important personalities of Munich music life, amongst them Max von Schillings, chairman of the music committee of the ADMV. »Schillings, Hausegger, Braungart are great guys – so is my main converse beside Loritz!« (letter from December 4th to Adalbert Lindner) He again works on a organ concerto (WoO I/7), that should be performed at the next which should be performed at the next Tonkuenstlerfest, however, does not the plan materialize. He is at the beginning a very eager concert goer, but reduces concert visits in the following year, too much occupied in his mind with music and having to avoid the largely dull substance of the concert programmes. In November, Straube gives a further noteworthy Reger evening in Munich with the three Chorale fantasies op. 52 and Fantasy and fugue on B-A-C-H op. 46.
Reger finds unlimited recognition as a lied accompanist and chamber musician. His now starting extensive concert activity, lasting his entire lifetime to come, adds essentially to the discussion of his work and and to its success. Reger accepts some private pupils in theory and piano whose number increases strongly in the following years.
The Berlin premiere performance of Reger's daring Symphonic Fantasia and Fugue op. 57 through Straube is partially received with horror and transferred into the field of pathology, so Rudolf Louis, who judges on a performance in Basel 1903, Reger seems to have »some kind of tonal- and sonic-psychological perversity, therefor he revels in cacophony and the musical ugly in the same manner as others revel in melodious sound.« The premiere performance of the first clarinet sonata op. 49, on the other side, brings Reger highest praise of criticism because of their impressionistic sound sensuality. After a symphony in D minor (WoO I/8) remains fragment, chamber music is his essential composition field in the following years.
Through publisher and concert fees as well as private lessons, Reger is now able to set up an own household. He courts Elsa of Bercken again who visits a Munich lieder recital of Reger and reconsiders her refusal. She eventually agrees to a marriage on October 25th. As a divorced Protestant, she is not welcome to the family; Reger is excommunicated. On December 7th in the village church of Boll near Goeppingen (Wuerttemberg) both are united by an evangelic priest.
Since the Aibl company, impaired by the illness of the owner, refuses two works - the Burlesken op. 58 for four-handed piano and the piano quintet C minor op. 64 -, Reger searches for a new main publisher which he finds in Lauterbach & Kuhn. The preempting contract closed by January 1st, 1903 with the recently formed financially weak Leipzig firm in the long run nevertheless proves to be extremely cramping for the fruitful composer.
Reger organizes lieder recitals in Munich, Berlin and Leipzig where Straube takes up his duties in March as organist at the St. Thomas church among others with a Reger evening. The situation becomes critical in Munich; the premiere performance of his combinatorially and harmonically extremely complicated and expressive piano quintet on May 1st is precede by turbulent scenes; the reception by the public is nevertheless favourable.
Composed in euphoria of the first marriage months Reger writes his Gesang der Verklaerten op. 71, which increases the differentiated composition techniques of the piano quintet. Simultaneously he devotes a great part of his time to editing and arranging Hugo Wolf's artistic estate for which he also advertises in an article (Schriften A3).
His novel and practical modulation studies (Schriften A1) are refused by Lauterbach & Kuhn, have however after having been printed by the successor publisher C. F. Kahnt greatest popularity which expresses itself in a considerable number of reprints and translations even into the Japanese. Reger excites himself on a depreciating review of the modulation studies through Arthur Smolian that strongly that he writes an indignant article (Ich bitte ums Wort [Schriften A2]) which is followed in the next year by a further one (Mehr Licht [Schriften A4]); Smolian can not nevertheless be provoked for fight. As a composition commission, the violin sonata C major op. 72 with the unmistakeable themes on the letters S-c-h-a-f-e (sheep) and A-f-f-e (ape) is written, which Reger wants to dedicate to the critics as an answer to their reproach to compose unintelligibly.
Straube plays at the Basle Tonkuenstlerfest of the ADMV Reger's opp. 27 and 57 on the unsuitable, renovation-needy cathedral organ and stimulates the composer to one concert-piece for organ without chorale connection; Reger dedicates his Variations and Fugue on an Original Theme in F sharp minor op. 73 to him in commemoration of the Basle meeting. The first Reger bust is created by the Munich sculptor Theodor von Gosen, who is being thanked by Reger with his avant-garde string quartet in D minor op. 74.
After the wild works of the year 1903, Reger calms down his publishers with the first volume of the Simple Tunes (Schlichte Weisen) op. 76, which he completes until 1912 to a collection of in total 60 lieder in 6 volumes. Also the trios op. 77 bring a conscious simplification with which Reger pays homage to his idol Mozart.
In the new musical director and director of the Akademie der Tonkunst in Munich, Felix Mottl, he finds an ally. With it, he finds himself as secretary in the recently founded local branch of the ADMV in which also Schillings is listened. The first concert of the local branch on April 29th is dedicated exclusively to his works. Reger nevertheless makes with a satirical article Zum 1. April (Schriften A5), in which he redicules the bombastic noise of Munich music journals copied, few friends in press circles.
Since the beginning of the year, he has worked on his first large-scale symphonic work, which has been begun under the title of a serenade but then increases to the Sinfonietta op. 90. His appearance during the Frankfurt Tonkuenstlerfest of the ADMV, where he plays with Henri Marteau his violin sonata in C major op. 72, results in a turn in his life - from now on he is »resident on the railway« (letter from June 17th to C.F. Peters) and performs in all of Germany and abroad at Reger evenings.
After the Frankfurt success he interrupts work on the Sinfonietta op. 90 and opens a new compositoric field: With the Bach variations for piano op. 81 and the Beethoven variations for two pianos op. 86, during the summer months he creates masterpieces received enthusiastically. While he plays the solo work never publicly, the Beethoven variations become his regularly favoured pompous concert end during his lifetime, with which he can convince even strong opponents.
Reger is appointed by Felix Mottl to the Akademie der Tonkunst and assumes office at May 1st 1905. Due to discrepancies with the predominantly conservative staff however he resigns at the end of next years term in July 1906. Many of his students subsequently will receive private tuition.
While Reger is being feted on concert tours of Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and Switzerland, in Munich the hassle with the “new german” circle around Ludwig Thuille, Max Schillings and the critic Rudolf Louis is heating up. Although his two piano variations (Bach-Variationen op. 81, Beethoven-Variationen op. 86) are hailed at the Tonkünstlerfest of the ADMV in Graz in June, Reger breakes up with Schillings and quits the ADMV in January 1906.
On September 28th Regers father dies; his son promises mother and sister to take care of them. Just one week after his father’s funeral the premiere of Reger’s symphonic firstling, the Sinfonietta op. 90, takes place on October 8th in Essen under the conductorship of Felix Mottl. The performance gets lots of exposure, although not receiving unreserved approval. Only the repetition in Cologne under the conductorship of Fritz Steinbach works out. During the first season the Sinfonietta will be performed 22 times – partly by notable conductors as (besides the aforementioned ones) Arthur Nikisch, Hermann Suter and Franz Schalk.
On December 8th Reger records ten smaller pieces for the Welte-Mignon-reproduction-piano developed the year before.
In February Reger makes his successful conducting debut with the Sinfonietta op. 90 in Heidelberg. At the same time in Munich quarrels between opponents and devotees escalate on the occasion of a performance of the Sinfonietta under the conductorship of Felix Mottl. Reger takes this extremely hard and assumes intrigues by the hated “clique” – he suspects them to have “given away 200 free tickets […] to hiss op 90 on February 2nd (in Munich)!”. His resignation from the Akademie der Tonkunst as well as a collapse during a concert in Berlin early in April, entailing a longer rest, are the consequences. Reger decides to postpone the Hiller-Variationen op. 100 having been projected since May 1904 in order to put oil on troubled waters with the unpretentious Serenade op. 95.
In autumn his extensive touring at home and abroad restartes, taking him with the biggest success as far as St. Petersburg. During this season 25 exclusive Reger-evenings alone are mounted.
Staying in Karlsruhe in order to give a concert Reger receives his appointmend as musical director at the university and professor at the Königliches Conservatorium in Leipzig. Reger quits the first occupation the following year already but remains faithful to the exclusively for him established master class for composition whose reputation attracts students from at home and abroad.
In March Max and Elsa Reger move with a 90 year-old grand aunt to Leipzig, in July the childless couple takes the orphan Christa into its family. Thanks to a generous financial grant by Henri Hinrichsen of publisher C.F. Peters Reger is able to restrain his concert activities and concentrate on his large-scale symphonic works, his “Herzblutwerke”. With them Reger finds recognition as leading german composer next to Richard Strauss. The dutch Maatschappij tot Bevordering der Toonkunst appoints him as honorary member. His attempt to break the affiliation with publishers Lauterbach & Kuhn who are demanding easy and sellable works and defect to C.F. Peters fails. Reger intercedes with two pugnacious essays in a dispute about musical progress (Musik und Fortschritt [RWV Schriften A8], Degeneration und Regeneration in der Musik [RWV Schriften A10]) and gets into open opposition to his former teacher Hugo Riemann.
Reger interrupts the completion of the Violinkonzert op. 101 after the second movement in order to compose seriously pressed for time the Klaviertrio in E minor op. 102 whose premiere is going to take place already in March at the Gewandhaus Leipzig from the manuscript. On occasion of its celebrated repetition at the Darmstädter Kammermusikfest Reger is honored by the Grand Duke of Hesse with the silver medal for art and science. For the 350th anniversary of the university of Jena he composes the first part of the 100. Psalm op. 106 and earns the philosophical honorary doctor after the premiere. Reger befriends the sculptor Max Klinger and the writer Richard Dehmel.
From February to July Elsa Reger is forced to stay almost continuously at the hospital and afterwards gets through rehabilitation in a sanatorium near Todtmoos in the Schwarzwald. During this time Reger’s house is kept by the singer Martha Ruben, with whom Reger is acquainted since his time in Munich, and his student Paul Aron. In October a second girl is taken into the family: Selma Charlotte, called Lotti.
The premiere of the Violinkonzert at the Gewandhaus Leipzig under the conductorship of Arthur Nikisch and with the dedicatee Henri Marteau as soloist is received favourably by Arthur Smolian only. Reger’s concert activities are carried on with well-known intensity, now even reinforced by increasing engagements as conductor.
After the harmonious and artistically fruitful start in Leipzig trouble with his environment increases; each negative criticism as well as each small audience puts Reger in a bad mood. He therefore once more seeks recognition on concert tours taking him as far as London. Just like his essay Hugo Wolfs künstlerischer Nachlass (RWV Schriften A3) from 1903 his article in celebration of Mendelssohns 100th birthday (Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdys ”Lieder ohne Worte” [RWV Schriften A11]) becomes an accusation against the ignorant milieu.
In January 17-year-old Adolf Busch, accompanied by his brother Fritz on the piano, plays to him in Cologne the Violinkonzert op. 101 by heart. This encounter is a prelude to a close friendship among artists which is effective beyond Reger’s death. Reger reconsiles with Max Schillings, meanwhile general music director in Stuttgart, and joins again the ADMV. With his almost classical Streichquartett Es-Dur op. 109 Reger gets attention by those quartet associations which were reserved about the “wild” predecessor Opus 74 from 1903.
In May the first german Reger-Fest is made in Dortmund giving a representative overview of Regers work in seven concerts. Committed interpreters of Reger such as Frieda Kwast-Hodapp, Henri Marteau and Karl Straube are contributing to this revolutionary event in musical life at that time without or at least for modest payment. The feast turns out to Reger’s utmost satisfaction and marks a peak of his fame.
At the same time it brings several critics, among them Walter Niemann from Leipzig, to campaign against Reger’s self-promotion. Reger files a lawsuit against Niemann which he wins but in the end draws the short straw: Niemann becomes his most violent opponent and with his colleagues in Leipzig forms a phalanx against the composer.
On concert tours however Reger attains great success; the premiere of the Klavierquartett d-moll op. 113, which just like the other chamber music works written in Leipzig is not as experimental as those written in Munich but highly expressive and worked out to the last detail, is hailed at the Tonkünstlerfest of the ADMV in Zurich. The 100. Psalm op. 106 too is outstandingly performed in Zurich under the conductorship of Volkmar Andreae.
In October the university of Berlin awards Reger an honorary degree. The justification, “that there is nothing more suitable to raise and lift the spirits of the mind of the depressed and ill human than true art and that especially Max Reger being based on the art of the old masters devotes himself with great ingenuity to Musica sacra e profana and made her accessible to the people”, causes some commentaries which rather fancy to detect sketches of mental diseases in Reger’s works.
With the premiere of the Klavierkonzert op. 114 on December 15th played by the dedicatee Frieda Kwast-Hodapp under the conductorship of Arthur Nikisch at the Gewandhaus Leipzig the series of negative reactions having begun with the Violinkonzert op. 101 reaches its peak. Reger seeks solace in alcohol and gets into a extremely unstable mental state of which Max Brod tells on the occasion of a concert in Prague on December 20th 1910: “We sit and drink. Reger is drinking particularly virgorous. At home he is being watched by his wife he tells us ingenuously; being on concert tour he feels free. […] From dionysian pleasures he succumbs to bitter sobbing. His arms lying on the table, the red face drowned in tears on his arms. ‘My poor mother. O God, my mother. She is at the asylum.’ […] The next day […] [we] showed him the Prague castle. Now he was serious and magnificent. Never again I had such a strong feeling that electric sparks swirling around an ingenious person are crackling fantastically to the ground. […] In the evening […] I had the honour of guiding the demigod to the concert. […] Reger sat in his room drinking cognac, not being in plain human regions anymore. […] Well, this is going to be fine at the concert tonight I thought deeply concerned. But then in the main music room Reger played with such a delicacy, a God-stricken intimacy, a subtlety and precision I never again heard a piano being played throughout my life.”
In February Reger is appointed as music director at the court of Duke Georg II. of Saxe-Meiningen, a position he, being dissatisfied with the perception of his works in Leipzig, gladly accepts on the condition of retaining the master class at the conservatory. After contract formation on December 1st he plunges into wildest planning of the upcoming concert season in order to revive the touring style à la Hans von Bülow and Fritz Steinbach and to lead the Meiningen orchestra to former greatness.
His last months in Leipzig still remain characterized by failures at home (e.g. the premiere of the Streichsextett op. 118) and success abroad. In March Reger is appointed as privy councillor by Duke Carl Eduard of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and dedicates as thanks the third volume of his piano pieces Aus meinem Tagebuche op. 82 to him. At the Musikfest in Darmstadt in May the 100. Psalm op. 106 is played even twice by request of the Hessian Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig and in Bad Pyrmont a first Bach-Reger-Fest takes place under the guidance of Fritz Busch.
In June not only Elsa Reger’s father Ernst von Bagenski dies but also Max Reger’s mother, who had to spend the last year of her life in a mental hospital and for whom death came “as release”. In autumn Reger undertakes a highly successful week-long tour playing works by Johann Sebastian Bach with Philipp Wolfrum in an idiosyncratic but convincing interpretation. Meanwhile his wife organizes the move of the family to Meiningen.
On occasion of the premiere of Weihe der Nacht op. 119 in Berlin with dedicatee Gertrud Fischer-Maretzki Reger promises to become a teetotaller – a decision he adheres to until in Meiningen too exhaustion and problems are too much for him.
After his inauguration in Meiningen on December 1st Reger creates due to the daily contact with the tradition-rich Hofkapelle orchestral works of highly diverse styles as if varying alternatives to the symphony as well as getting to the bottom of the soundwise possibilities of the orchestra. The bulkly massive instrumentation of earlier works brightens, he creates scores where “each and every note is ‘calculated’ most exactly on sound” (letter dated October 3rd 1914 to publisher N. Simrock). He reveres his new employer Duke Georg II. with the Konzert im alten Stil op. 123 with the explicit intention of reviving the courtly old form of the barock concerto.
Reger for the first time turns to orchestral song and completes in May An die Hoffnung op. 124, a work not denying the tradition of the great Wagnerian finale monologues. With the Romantische Suite op. 125 as well as the Böcklin-Suite op. 128 he tries out symphonic works of impressionistic sound appeal on an extra-musical basis. Due to meticulously preparation Reger and the Meiningen Hofkapelle present Reger’s as well as traditional works in an ideal way; the focus is on the symphonies of Johannes Brahms, which he is arbitrarily retouching and doing so shocking confirmed Brahms-devotees, first of all Fritz Steinbach.
In November Karlsruhe continues the series of Reger-Feste; Reger gains a “‘comprehensive victory’ as composer and conductor” with his Hofkapelle. Being increasingly taken up by his restless concert and teaching activities Reger’s chances for composing during the following years concentrate on the summer holidays.
The instrumentation of Franz Schubert’s Memnon (Schubert-B2 No. 1) is in April 1913 the first of a total of 45 orchestrations by means of which Reger supplies a resplendent guise to lieder both of his own and of others. In order to the fulfilment of a commission for celebrating the inauguration of the Great Organ in the Breslau Centennial Hall Reger, after a long pause, returns to organ music; his Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue in E Minor, Op. 127 is again dedicated to Karl Straube.
As with all of his tasks, Reger also exaggerates his performing with the Meiningen Court Orchestra; while feeling constrained within the courtly town, he enjoys the success on tour. The Heidelberg Bach Reger Festival in June is the peak of his appreciation as the »modern Bach«.
After having recorded several of his piano pieces for the Freiburg firm of M. Welte & Sons, Reger on 28 May records a number of minor organ pieces for the Welte Philharmonie reproduction organ.
Fully overwrought and over-worked, Reger keeps up on his inhuman schedule merely with consumption of alcohol. In February he collapses after a concert in Hagen in Westphalia, has to cancel all upcoming engagements and to give up on his position as court conductor. But while still on his sickbed, under explicit proscription, he begins to regain his creative drive with instrumentations of a couple lieder of his own and by Schubert. The most productive result of his recuperation in Merano and a following holiday in Schneewinkl are the Mozart Variations op. 132, probably Reger’s most popular creation. In sentimentalist yearning and distance to Mozart he defines his own position, with references to his recent orchestral works he wistfully looks back to the Meiningen period which led to his brilliant mastery of the instruments.
The breakout of World War I hits Reger in the summer break during intense compositional work. After he has in the first month of war finished a Piano Quartet in A minor op. 133, the lively Telemann Variations op. 134 and the orchestral song Hymnus der Liebe op. 136, he seems to lapse into the general war euphoria with his Patriotic Overture op. 140, which is dedicated to ”To the German Army”. During its revision Reger turns to a Latin Requiem (WoO V/9) which he intends to dedicate to the fallen of war. The rejection of this highly expressive work of the largest dimension through his friend and critical advisor Karl Straube makes him abandon the composition, which had already progressed well, while working on the second movement, a Dies Irae full of apocalyptic visions. His life-long dream of a choral-orchestral large-scale work has miscarried.
His parting as conductor of the Meiningen court orchestra, which is dissolved shortly after the breakout of World War I, the death of Duke Georg II. as well as the stopping of his work on the Requiem WoO V/9, drive Reger into a deep creative crisis, from which he breaks free only after his move to Jena. Until then he is consistently travelling (including three performances in the Netherlands) and conducting, amongst other things the Mozart Variations op. 132 and the Patriotic Overture op. 140 in a concert of the Royal Court Orchestra in Berlin on invitation by Richard Strauss.
Since March living in the quietly academic city of Jena in his first mansion of his own and liberated from courtly and occupational compulsions, Reger regains his creative vigour. He writes to Karl Straube on 7 April: ”[...] now the free, Jenaian style begins in Reger.” The so called late work as well as countless adaptations of works of his own and by others are almost without exception owed to these first seven relaxed months, which have to count as Regers most settled ones since his gained fame at a stroke at the Frankfurter Tonkünstlerfest in May 1904. Yet all of his creations of this Jena period, either the Violin Sonata in C minor op. 139, the Trios op. 141 or his very last completed work, the Clarinet Quintet in A major op. 146 reflect less serenity rather than elegiac resignation, which has been given way by his former rebellion. With Der Einsiedler op. 144a he confesses to his artistry – he, too, has wearily turned his back to the world (the first verse of Eichendorff’s poem Der Einsiedler reads: ”Come, comfort of the world, you still night! | How softly you climb from the hills! | The breezes are all sleeping, | only one sailor still, weary with travel, | sings across the sea an evening song to praise God from the harbour.”) and created himself a home in music. With its companion work Requiem (Hebbel) op. 144b, which takes up elements of the discarded Latin Requiem (WoO V/9), he composes an intimate vision of death and oblivion, related not to the world in disaster but to his own personal existence.
With the beginning of the 1915/6 concert season in October Reger’s quiet creative period in Jena comes to an end. Under the complicated travelling conditions during the World War Reger rushes through German and Dutch concert halls and travels to his weekly conservatoire instructions in Leipzig.;
Only after the end of the season he returns to his compositions. His Andante and Rondo capriccioso dedicated to Adolf Busch with which he was hoping to correct the deficits of the Violin Concerto in A major op. 101 – its massive instrumentation and its length – remains a fragment (WoO I/10). On 10 May he teaches all day at the conservatoire and on the night to 11 May succumbs to a cardiac insufficiency at the hotel ”Hentschel” in Leipzig. Throughout Germany memorial concerts are organised, and as early as by July close friends unite to a Max Reger Society. Elsa Reger’s plans of converting the mansion in Jena to a permanent memorial place won’t succeed due to the upcoming economic crisis.
Reger-Werkausgabe, DVD, Carus-Verlag.