Details of the new Hans Rott songs CD are on the new recordings board, see: Hans Rott Lieder premiere recording. This posting deals with the survival and loss of the songs; the poets Rott used; and where the songs fit into Rott’s timeline. I will be following up separately on issues arising from lieder content and the broader significance.
(1) The Songs exist!
A decade after Rott’s songs hit the concert hall, numerous references (even Wikipedia) still say he destroyed them all and that Mahler, who did indeed find Rott’s lieder “strange and extraordinary,” regretted Rott carried these in his head rather than writing them down. (This originates from Mahler books by Baucher-Lechner and de Le Grange written before rediscovery of the songs).
(2) What’s missing?
Rott continued to compose after being confined from 1880 up until towards his death in 1884 but his work became confused, sketchy and poor in quality, and he destroyed much though not all of it. Accounts seem muddled about what exactly Rott (just before going mad) had sent to the copyist along with his symphony for the purpose of submission for the Beethoven competition and a state stipend. There are mentions of the String Sextet and Pastorales Vorspiel but additionally he had two songs copied anyway: Der Sänger (the most important complete song we still have) and the Pied Piper Ballad. We do have the copyist's full score of the pastoral plays but only autographs of these two songs, of which the Ballad lacks the words that obviously once existed. Rott destroyed the Sextet in the asylum but we do have Sketches for Song Melodies that he wrote there.
It seems plausible to conclude that the entire Rott collection (which of course also includes 8 now recorded orchestral works, and many choral pieces – none recorded) that Fritz Löhr deposited in the Austrian National Library was sourced both from what Rott left behind him in the asylum when he died and from material held externally. Moreover, when it comes to the songs (listed on the Hans Rott website, with original and translated lyrics), that we have fewer than Rott wrote before or after 1880, and that some we do have were once more complete than what has come down to us. This frustrates full evaluation of Rott’s music, for instance, the Hans Rott website comments that the incomplete song Winterlied reveals “impressionistic tendencies years ahead of Debussy and Ravel”.
(3) The residual Rott song collection
There are 19 lieder (plus some sketches) but for 11 the scores are incomplete. All the remaining 8 all have been performed since 2002 (premièred in concert 126 years after composition). Four of these are recorded on the new CD. Three of the 8 complete songs are for female voices.
(4) Rott’s literary sources
Rott drew on 3 poets and the complete songs divide equally between two: Goethe and Zusner – apparently a popular but mediocre and most likely morbid poet later used by Zemlinsky in 1892 and Schreker in 1899.
Goethe’s Der Sänger is about a wandering minstrel’s dignity and Schubert set exactly the same words in D149 (1815) but in a completely different musical style. Hugo Wolf was to use it in 1888 too, 8 years after Rott. Similarly, Rott used Goethe’s Wander’s Nacht 12 years before Wolf, but both used Abendglöcklein that same year, 1876.
Rott’s favourite for his incomplete 1880 lieder was Julius Wolff, whose 1876 poem had just been made into an opera by Nessler in 1879, whilst Rott used this poem in composing 3 songs as part of an envisaged Pied Piper of Hamelin lieder set.
(5) Fitting the songs into the timeline
Rott’s surviving songs are from 1876-80 and mostly very early. (There are lost Mahler songs and a couple of his fragments from this period before the first extant Mahler song that dates from 1880.) Ten of the 19 songs are dated, a further 2 have been allocated assumed dates, and all but 1 of the 8 complete songs have dates: 5 from 1876 and 1 each from 1877 and 1880.
(a) Early period
Five songs are from 1876 (the 3 dated are all on the CD; 2 more are assumed to be from 1876). This was Rott’s 3rd year at the Vienna Conservatory (when two of the greatest song writers, Mahler and Wolf were his classmates). These songs were written after Wagner’s Vienna concerts of 1875 and before the Ring cycle was stamped on all Rott's orchestral work (except his earlier Symphony for String Orchestra) following his attending its premiere at the 1st Bayreuth Festival in 1876.
Twp Songs are dated 1877 (but 1 of these is incomplete), before Rott’s Symphony 1st movement was rejected by the Vienna Conservatory competition finals jury in 1878.
(b) Late period
Five songs (1 on the CD; the other 4 are incomplete) are dated 1880, from what could be called the mature period of the then 22 year old composer! These songs are sandwiched between Rott falling for Louise Löhr (sister of Fritz) and completing his symphony dedicated to her, shortly before his mental collapse. Der Sänger, which is on the CD, is the sole example we have of performable mature Rott Lieder.