Haack [Haacke, Haak, Haake], Friedrich Wilhelm

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Husa, Karel

(b Prague, 7 Aug 1921). American composer and conductor of Czech birth. After initial training as a pianist and violinst, he attended the Prague Conservatory (1941–5), where he studied composition with Jaroslav Řídký and conducting with Pavel Dědeček and Václav Talich. While a student at the conservatory, he composed his first published piece, a Sonatina for piano (1943). From 1946 to 1951, on a French government scholarship, he attended the École Normale de Musique in Paris, studying composition with Honegger and conducting with Fournet. He then continued his studies in conducting at the Paris Conservatoire with Eugène Bigot, and took private lessons with Boulanger and Cluytens. Husa gained international recognition with the first performance of his String Quartet no.1 (1948) in Paris. The quartet was repeated at the ISCM Festival in Brussels (1950) and at Darmstadt (1951), and was awarded first prize at the 1951 Gaudeamus Festival. In 1954 he joined the music faculty at Cornell University (he became an American citizen in 1959). As Kappa Alpha Professor of Music he taught composition, conducting and orchestration until his retirement in 1992. He appeared frequently as a guest conductor with major orchestras in Europe and America. His honours include two Guggenheim Fellowships (1964, 1965), the Pulitzer Prize (1969), the Friedheim Award of the Kennedy Center (1983) and the Grawemeyer Award (1993). He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1994, and was awarded the Gold Medal of Merit of the Czech Republic in 1995.

After early works in a broadly neo-classical idiom, Hussa experimented, in such works as the Poème (1959) for viola and chamber orchestra and Mosaïques (1961) for orchestra, with serial techniques. These he adapted to his own expressive purposes, writing with characteristic vital rhythms and an unerring dramatic flair. He also explored extended instrumental sonorities in the Concerto for alto saxophone and concert band (1967), the String Quartet no.3 (1968) and the Violin Sonata (1973). Husa is best known for a series of large scores that derive their considerable power from the combination of coruscating orchestration and formal invention with an emotional depth that reflects his political, ethical and humanitarian concerns. Foremost among such works are Music for Prague 1968, Apotheosis of this Earth (1971, rev. 1972) and the ballet The Trojan Women (1981). After the large-scale Concerto for Orchestra (1986), commissioned by the New York PO, Husa composed concertos for organ (1987), trumpet (1987), cello (1988) and violin (1992). The intense lyricism and refined economy of these scores is also evident in the chamber works completed during this period, which include Recollections (1982) for woodwind quintet and piano, the Variations (1984) for piano quartet and the poignant String Quartet no.4 ‘Poems’ (1990). Husa has composed for an impressive array of instrumental combinations, and has explored virtually every important musical genre except opera. In his search for colourful and novel sonorities, he creates vividly expressive musical canvases, filled with arresting timbres and startling juxtapositions of texture.


(selective list)


The Steadfast Tin Soldier (H.C. Andersen), nar, orch, 1974; Monodrama, orch, 1976, Indianapolis, 26 March 1976; The Trojan Women, orch, 1981, Louisville, 28 March 1981


Orch: Divertimento, str, 1948; Concertino, pf, orch, 1949; Portrait, str, 1953; Sym. no.1, 1953; 4 Little Pieces, str, 1955; Fantasies, 1956; Poème, va, chbr orch/pf, 1959; Elégie et rondeau, a sax, orch, 1961, arr. a sax, pf; Mosaïques, 1961; Fresque, rev. 1963; Serenade, ww qnt, str, 1963; Conc., brass qnt, str/pf, 1965; 2 Sonnets from Michelangelo, 1971; Pastoral, str, 1979; Sym. no.2 ‘Reflections’, 1983; Sym. Suite, 1984; Conc. for Orch, 1986; Org Conc., 1987; Tpt Conc., 1987; Vc Conc., 1988; Ov. ‘Youth’, 1991; Vn Conc., 1991; Celebración, 1997

Wind: Divertimento, brass, perc, 1959; Conc., a sax, concert band, 1967; Music for Prague 1968, arr. orch, 1968; Perc Conc., 1970–71; Apotheosis of this Earth, 1971, arr. SATB, orch, 1972; Al fresco, 1973; Tpt Conc., 1973; Intradas and Interludes, 7 tpt, perc, 1980; Conc., 1982; Smetana Fanfare, 1984; Les couleurs fauves, 1994

Chbr: Suite, va, pf, 1945; Str Qt no.1, 1948; Evocations of Slovakia, cl, va, vc, 1951; Str Qt no.2, 1953; 2 Preludes, fl, cl, bn, 1966; Divertimento, brass qnt, 1968; Str Qt no.3, 1968; Studies, perc, 1968; Sonata, vn, pf, 1973; Landscapes, brass qnt, 1977; 3 Dance Sketches, 4 perc, 1979; Intradas and Interludes, 7 tpt, timp, 1980; Sonata à tre, vn, cl, pf, 1982; Recollections, ww qnt, pf, 1982; Variations, str qt, pf, 1984; Str Qt no.4 ‘Poems’, 1990; 5 Poems, ww qnt, 1994

Kbd: Sonatina, pf, 1943; Sonata no.1, pf, 1949; 8 Czech Duets, pf 4 hands, 1955; Elégie, pf, 1957; Sonata no.2, pf, 1975; Frammenti, org, 1987


Festive Ode (E. Blackall), mixed/male chorus, orch/band, 1955, arr. chorus, wind; 12 Moravian Songs (folk, trans. R. Martin), 1v, pf, 1957; An American Te Deum (H.D. Thoreau, O. Rølvaag, O. Březina), Bar, chorus, band, 1976, arr. chorus, orch, 1978; Every Day (Thoreau), SATB, 1981; 3 Moravian Songs (folk, trans. Martin), SATB, 1981; Cant., TTBB, brass qnt, 1983

Principal publishers: Associated, G. Schirmer, Schott, Leduc



L.W. Hartzell: ‘Karel Husa: the Man and the Music’, MQ, lxii (1976), 87–104

B. Adams: ‘Karel Husa’s Music for Prague 1968: an Interpretative Analysis’, The Instrumentalist, xlii (1987), 19–24

S.H. Hitchens: Karel Husa: a Bio-Bibliography (Westport, CT, 1988)

B. Adams: ‘Scores by Karel Husa’, Notes (1995), 1149–50


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