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Gál was born to a Jewish family in the small village of Brunn am Gebirge, Niederösterreich, just outside Vienna. He was trained in that city under Richard Robert and others at the New Vienna Conservatory, where he later taught for some time. While a student he won the K. und K. (Royal and Imperial) State Prize for composition. In 1928, he won a Columbia Schubert Centenary Prize for his Sinfonietta. The next year, with the support of such important musicians as Wilhelm Furtwängler, Richard Strauss and others, he obtained the directorship of the Mainz Conservatory. Gál composed in nearly every genre and his operas, which include Der Artz der Sobeide, Die Heilige Ente and Das Lied der Nacht, were particularly popular during the 1920s. When the Nazis occupied Mainz in 1933, Gál was dismissed as director of the conservatory and his music was banned.
He was forced to leave Germany and eventually emigrated to Britain, where he taught at the University of Edinburgh for many years. However, at the start of World War II the British government interned all enemy aliens, including Gál. He continued to compose whilst interned in Huyton Camp near Liverpool and Central Camp in Douglas, Isle of Man. He was not interned for long as the government soon began to release those who did not pose a threat to the allies.
His style was rooted in the Austro-German musical tradition of the late 19th century, and in his early years he was influenced by Brahms. However, by the end of the First World War, he developed his own musical language. He did not embrace the Second Vienna School or twelve tone music. His later music generally is polyphonic in structure but does not eschew traditional melody.
Beside opera, Gál wrote many orchestral and chamber music works, which many regard among his finest efforts. Wilhelm Altmann, the eminent chamber music critic, writes about Gál's first string quartet, composed in 1916, in his Handbuch für Streichquartettspieler (Handbook for String Quartet Players) as follows:
"Those who enjoy Brahms' music should pay great attention to this work although this is not to say that it is merely a copy of Brahms' style. While the Quartet is somewhat in the style of Brahms, it is also indebted to Schubert and to the general musical milieu of 19th century Vienna... the entire work is very finely written and shows good understanding of quartet style."
Since the early 2000s, Gál's music has started to be recorded on a significant scale. Recordings made during this period include a set of the four symphonies on the Avie label, under conductors Kenneth Woods and Thomas Zehetmair, as well as recordings of concertos and chamber music.
Honours and awards
- Austrian State Prize (1915)
- Composition Prize of the City of Vienna (1926)
- Officer of the Order of the British Empire (1964)
- Grand Austrian State Prize for Music (1957)
- Austrian Cross of Honour for Science and Art, 1st class (1971)
- BBC Radio 3's CD Review program, 9 July 2011
- Cultural Heritage and Prisoners of War: Creativity Behind Barbed Wire edited by Gilly Carr, Harold Mytum, available on Google Books
- Internment on http://www.hansgal.com
- Altmann, Wilhelm. Handbuch für Streichquartettspieler. Wilhelmshaven : Heinrichshofen’s Verlag. 1972-1974.
- Midgette, Anne. "Little-known composers get their due in the studio if not the concert hall." Washington Post, 10 August 2012. Accessed on 8/13/12 at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/music/little-known-composers-get-their-due-in-the-studio-if-not-the-concert-hall/2012/08/09/d7b5c1c2-e0b6-11e1-8fc5-a7dcf1fc161d_story.html. See also Hans Gál official webpage: Recordings. Accessed on 9/6/12 at: http://www.hansgal.com/recordings-eng.html
- The Palgrave Dictionary of Anglo-Jewish History
- "STAATSPREISTRÄGER: Musik" (pdf) (in German). Österreichischer Kunstsenat. Retrieved 22 November 2012.
- "Reply to a parliamentary question" (pdf) (in German). p. 324. Retrieved 19 October 2012.
- Some of the information on this page appears on the website of Edition Silvertrust but permission has been granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.
- Cobbett, Walter Willson. Cobbett's Cyclopedic Survey of Chamber Music, London: Oxford University Press. With a preface by W. H. Hadow. 1963 2nd edition.
- Peacock, Alan Turner (1997). Public Choice Analysis in Historical Perspective. p. 201. ISBN 978-0-521-59976-4..
- Sadie, Stanley, ed. The New Grove Dictionary of Music & Musicians. London: Macmillan 1980. ISBN 0-333-23111-2.