Alois Hába

English

“Hába is our most courageous pioneer in the kingdom of sound. This courage is significant because it is not 
only guided by mere speculation of the mind, but is always pushed forward by creative passion – it is part of 
the essence of Hába’s personality.” Those words, formulated by the Czech musicologist Vladimír Helfert, 
realistically characterized Hába’s artistic profile.

Born in 1893 in Vizovice (Czech Republic), he studied composition with Vítězslav Novák in Prague from
1914 – 15 and with Franz Schreker in Vienna and Berlin from 1917 – 23, where he also familiarized himself
with the artistic criteria of Ferrucio Busoni and the twelve-tone technique of Arnold Schönberg. As one of the
pioneers of microtonal music, he dedicated himself in the early years to micro-intervals (quarter-tone, fifth-tone
and sixth-tone systems) under the influences of Valachian and Moravian folksongs.

As of 1923, he taught composition at the Prague Conservatory, where he founded the department for
microtonal music. From 1945 to 1951, he was also the director of the microtonal music department at the
Prague Academy. Hába is regarded as a composer and organizer of contemporary music in Czech as well as
in foreign countries. Quarter-tone and sixth-tone music instruments (pianos, harmoniums, trumpets etc.) were
built after his suggestions.

He discusses the harmonic and melodic music basis in his book “Neue Harmonielehre des diatonischen,
chromatischen, Viertel-, Drittel-, Sechstel- und Zwölftel- Tonsystems”. He debates the athematic music style in
his writing “On the psychology of musical forming, the regulation of tonal movement and foundations for a new
musical style”. He was the first composer to write large-scale harmonic-polyphonic works in quarter-tone and
sixth-tone system with both thematic and athematic styles. Hába discovered that the microtonal system,
compared to twelve-tone chromaticism, has many more possibilities for creating melodies as well as chords. 
It is also the ideal element to carry out the intention of non-repetition and athematic form which originated by
Schönberg and Schreker. He believed that every combination and connection of chords has its musical
purpose.

That Hába is today considered to have been an isolationist is based more on his politics rather than his music.
His students in quarter-tone music at the Prague Conservatory did not only influence the musical life in
Czechoslovakia, they became also internationally successful. The National Socialism violently ended this
development; Hába became – similarly to Křenek – “Jewish”, his music was declared “degenerate”, many of
his students were prosecuted: Viktor Ullmann, Gideon Klein and Erwin Schulhoff, the first interpreter on the
quarter-tone piano, were killed in concentration camps. Karel Reiner and Karel Ančerl survived in
Theresienstadt and Auschwitz, Walter Süßkind emigrated to the USA, Hába’s Yugoslavian student Vučkovič
and Šturm died in the Partisan War. After 1945, Hába could only continue for a short time with the work which
he started before the war: Stalin’s cultural and educational policy forbade his “formalistic” music.

Alois Hába wrote numerous symphonic and chamber music works in half-tone, quarter-tone, sixth-tone system
with thematic and athematic styles, and a quarter-tone opera “Mother”. His 16 String Quartets and one string
quartet with a narrator are an important part of his work. Almost all of which (from No. 6) were dedicated to the
Prague Hába Quartet and were premiered by the ensemble.

The profound friendship between Alois Hába and Dušan Pandula - founder of the “Prague” and later
“Frankfurt” Hába Quartet made it possible for the composer and interpreters to study the work together and
exchange their thoughts with each other. The authentic interpretative hints from Dušan Pandula have been
handed down to the young generation of today’s Hába Quartet.