© 1999 by Joe Monzo
Adapted from Jirí Vyslouzil, Alois Hába: zivot a dílo, Prague, 1974.
Biographical information from Suzette Mary Battan, Alois Haba's Neue Harmonielehre des diatonischen, chromatischen, viertel-, drittel-, sechstel-, und zwöftel-tonsystems, PhD dissertation, Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester, 1980.
Alois Hába was born 1893 June 21 in the small village of Vizovice in Moravia (then part of the Austrian Empire). He had 6 brothers and 3 sisters. At age 5 it was discovered that he had absolute ('perfect') pitch. He and his family played and sang their native Wallachian folk-songs at church and social functions. In school he became very interested in the musical aspects (pitch, rhythm, accent, dynamics, timbre) of Czech speech.
At age 15 (1908) he entered the teacher's training college in Kromeríz, began to develop an interest in Czech nationalism, and heard the works of Smetana and Wagner for the first time. After finishing his studies, he got a job as teacher in Bílovice, a small town near the Hungarian border. He continued his musical studies independently and in 1913 wrote his first compositions, displaying an unwillingness to 'follow the rules' that he maintained all his life.
Hába was dissatisfied by small-town life, and when World War 1 began in 1914, he moved to Prague and became a pupil of Novák at the Conservatory. Here he analyzed Debussy, Reger, Scriabin, and Strauss, and studied non-functional harmonization of Moravian folk-melodies.
He was drafted into the Austrian Army in 1915, went to the Russian front, to the Italian front in 1917, and then to Vienna in early 1918, where he was assigned the collection of Slovakian soldier's songs.
Inspired by recitals given by Willi von Möllendorff on his quarter-tone (24-tET) harmonium, Hába wrote his first quarter-tone piece, Suite in the quarter-tone system, for two pianos tuned a quarter-tone apart. He studied with Jan Brandts-Buys, then Richard Stöhr, and becoming dissatisfied with these strict counterpoint lessons, in the spring of 1918 became a student of Franz Schreker, who brought out his more radical tendencies.
Remaining in Vienna after the war, Hába attended the Private Society concerts held by Schönberg and studied Schönberg's works, and became particularly influenced by the 'athematic' style used by Schönberg in Erwartung. He got a job as proof-reader at Universal Edition, which enabled him to study many of the most recent scores by Schönberg and his students, resulted in the first publication of his compositions (including the 2nd Quartet, his first major quarter-tone work), and began his life-long friendship with Hanns Eisler, with whom he shared political as well as musical opinions. Hába became an ardent Communist at this time.
Schreker moved to Berlin in 1920 and Hába followed. He found his first success as a composer in Berlin, studied Stumpf's and Hornbostel's work in Oriental (i.e., near-eastern) music at their phono-disc archives, and published his first theoretical treatise (in Czech), the small booklet Harmonické základy ctvrttónové soustavy ['Harmonic foundations of the quarter-tone system']. In 1923 he met Ferrucio Busoni, who had advocated the sixth-tone (36-tET) system (altho he never composed in it himself), and who encouraged Hába to continue his work in microtonality. Hába began to attempt the establishment of a school of microtonal music, but as the Nazis gained power he came under attack and was driven out of Berlin.
He returned to Prague but was not welcomed there either, as Czech officials considered him to be 'of the German school'. He managed to get a job teaching workshops at the Prague Conservatory, and designed and got built two quarter-tone pianos by early 1924 and a third in 1925. In 1927, Förster built for him a sixth-tone harmonium, patterned mostly after the design by Busoni. These instruments were bought by and installed in the Conservatory. He also wrote several theoretical articles on microtonality, athematicism, and church modes at this time. In 1925 he wrote his major theoretical work and translated and published it in German, Neue Harmonielehre des diatonischen, chromatischen, viertel-, drittel-, sechstel-, und zwöftel-tonsystems ['New harmony-textbook of the diatonic, chromatic (12-ET), quarter- (24-ET), third- (18-ET), sixth- (36-ET), and twelfth-tone (72-ET) systems'].
After the première of his quarter-tone opera Matka ['Mother'] (probably his most important work) in 1931, Hába emerged as a leader in Czechoslovakian and international modern music. Two quarter-tone clarinets and two quarter-tone trumpets were built especially for this work. Hába also expressed a bold socialist viewpoint in his three operas and became politically active.
Finally, in 1933, when Joseph Suk became director of the Prague Conservatory, Hába became a full professor and established the Department of Quarter-tone and Sixth-tone Music, teaching a complete 3-year curriculum. Here he had much influence over his many students.
In 1939 the Nazis occupied Czechoslovakia and banned performance of Hába's work, then in 1941 closed down the Prague Conservatory and prevented him from teaching. In 1945 the Soviet Union 'liberated' Czechoslovakia and he resumed teaching and had several administrative positions.
An important event was Hába's attendance of a lecture by Adriaan Fokker at the International Society of Contemporary Music in 1948; under the influence of this, he engaged in a long study of the fifth-tone (31-tET) system, finally using it in his 16th Quartet in 1967.
Stalin and the Communist Party took over Czechoslovakia in 1948 and this affected both Hába's life and work. His style became simplified, much more 'thematic' and tonal, and he began integrating folk melodies into his work, and also set texts projecting Communist ideology. He also composed much less in microtonal tunings after this. In 1951 his Department of Quarter-tone and Sixth-tone Music was dissolved by the government.
After Stalin's death in 1953, Hába slowly regained his status. He was prolific and continued to compose almost to the end of his life. He died in relative obscurity in 1973.
Hába's earliest published microtonal piece was the 2nd Quartet (1920) and last was apparently the 16th Quartet (1967).
I'm not sure how much Hába discussed 'three-quarter-tones' (8-tET) in his theoretical works, but he used scales in this tuning in sections of some of his compositions.
|1914-15||1||Sonata for violin and piano|
|[3-year break in output / World War 1]|
|1917-18||2||Deux Morceaux pour piano [2 pieces for piano]|
|25||1918||1a||Fugue-suite (3 fugues) for piano|
|1b||Variations on a canon of Robert Schumann, for piano|
|3||Sonata for piano|
|26||1919||4||1st String Quartet (semitone)|
|5||Overture for orchestra|
|27||1920||6||6 Piano Pieces|
|7||2nd String Quartet (Hába's 1st published quarter-tone composition)|
|1920-21||8||Symphonic Fantasy for piano & orchestra|
|28||1921||9a||Fantasy in quarter-tones for violin solo|
|29||1922||9b||Music in quarter-tones for violin solo|
|1922||10||1st Suite for quarter-tone piano [revised 1932 as op. 11a]|
|1922||11||2nd Suite for quarter-tone piano [revised 1932 as op. 11b]|
|29||1922||12||3rd String Quartet (quarter-tone)|
|13||Vocal-suite in quarter-tones (choir)|
|14||4th String Quartet (quarter-tone)|
|30||1923||15||5th String Quartet (Hába's 1st 6th-tone composition)|
|Prague||16||3rd Suite for quarter-tone piano|
|17||1st Fantasy for quarter-tone piano|
|31||1924||18||Fantasy in quarter-tones for cello solo|
|19||2nd Fantasy for quarter-tone piano|
|20||3rd Fantasy for quarter-tone piano|
|22||4th Suite for quarter-tone piano|
|32||1925||21||Fantasy for violin & quarter-tone piano|
|23||5th Suite for quarter-tone piano|
|24||1st Suite for quarter-tone clarinet & quarter-tone piano|
|25||4th Fantasy for quarter-tone piano|
|26||5th Fantasy for quarter-tone piano|
|--||Neue Harmonielehre (treatise on microtonal theory)|
|33||1926||27||6th Fantasy for quarter-tone piano|
|28||7th Fantasy for quarter-tone piano|
|29||8th Fantasy for quarter-tone piano|
|30||9th Fantasy for quarter-tone piano|
|31||10th Fantasy for quarter-tone piano|
|32||Fantasy for viola & quarter-tone piano|
|34||1927||33||Fantasy for cello & quarter-tone piano|
|39||4 Modern Dances for piano|
|34-35||1927-28||34||Fantasy for flute (or violin) & piano|
|34||Suite (arr. J. Horák) (bass-clarinet & piano)|
|35||1928||36||Já [I] (quarter-tone men's choir)|
|37||6 Pieces for 6th-tone harmonium or string quartet|
|34-36||1927-29||35||Matka [Mother] (quarter-tone opera in 10 scenes)|
|37||1930||[1-year break in output]|
|38||1931||38||Toccata quasi una Fantasia (semitone piano)|
|40||Fantasy for Nonet Nr. 1 (12-tone)|
|39||1932||41||Fantasy for Nonet Nr. 2 (7-tone)|
|42||5 Choruses (3 quarter-tone boy's or women's voices)|
|43||Children's Play (quarter-tone children's voices: soli and choir)|
|44||5 Mixed Choruses (quarter-tone choir)|
|45||Pracující den [The working day] (10 quarter-tone men's choruses)|
|40||1933||46||Cesta zivota [The Path of Life], Symphonic Fantasy (orchestra)|
|--||Mass Songs (choir)|
|41-43||1934-36||47||Nová zeme [The New Earth] (12-tone opera in 3 acts & 6 scenes)|
|43||1936||48||Children's rhymes (medium voice & piano)|
|44||1937||49||Duo (6th-tone violins)|
|1938||[Nazi annexation of Czechoslokavia]|
|44-49||1937-42||50||Prijd Království Tvé (Nezamestnaní) [Thy Kingdom Come (The Unemployed)] (6th-tone musical drama in 7 scenes)|
|50||1943||51||Detské nálady [Children's Moods], 8-song cycle (middle voice & quarter-tone guitar)|
|52||Sonata for guitar|
|53||Poesie zivota [Poetry of Life], 12-song cycle (soprano & quarter-tone guitar)|
|54||1st Suite for quarter-tone guitar|
|55||2nd Suite for quarter-tone clarinet (solo)|
|51||1944||56||Suite for quarter-tone trumpet & trombone|
|57||Milenci [The Lovers], 7-song cycle (soprano & piano)|
|58||5 Moravian Love-songs (mezzo-soprano, guitar or piano accompaniment)|
|59||Sonata for Chromatic Harp|
|60||Sonata for Diatonic Harp|
|51-52||1944-45||61||Intermezzo and Praeludium for diatonic harp|
|53-54||1946-47||62||Sonata for quarter-tone piano|
|54||1947||63||2nd Suite for quarter-tone guitar|
|[Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia]|
|55||1948||64||Ústava 9. kvetna [Constitution of May 9th] (men's choir)|
|65||3 Men's Choruses|
|66||Meditace [Meditation] (men's choir)|
|67||Mír [Peace] (men's choir)|
|67a||Soviet Songs (choir)|
|1948-50||--||Mass Songs (choir)|
|56||1949||68||Za mír [For Peace], cantata (choir & orchestra)|
|57||1950||69||Suite for bassoon solo|
|70||6th String Quartet (quarter-tone)|
|71||3 Men's Choruses (men's choir)|
|72||Suite in quarter-tones for 4 trombones|
|57-58||1950-51||73||7th String Quartet ("Christmas") (semitone)|
|58||1951||[forced retirement - Department of quarter-tone and Sixth-tone Music eliminated]|
|74||Quartet for 4 bassoons|
|75a||Fantasy for organ|
|75b||Fantasy and Fugue "HABA" for organ|
|75c||6 Polish Folksongs for harp|
|76||8th String Quartet (semitone)|
|59||1952||78||Sonata for clarinet (solo)|
|79||9th String Quartet (semitone)|
|80||10th String Quartet (6th-tone)|
|58-60||1951-53||77||Valasská suita [Wallachian Suite] (orchestra)|
|52-62||1945-55||84||Slovanské mudrosloví [Slovakian Proverbs] (boy's or women's choir & piano)|
|62||1955||81a||Suite for violin solo|
|81b||Suite for cello solo|
|85a||Suite in 6th-tones for violin solo|
|85b||Suite in 6th-tones for cello solo|
|64-65||1957-58||87||11th String Quartet (6th-tone)|
|64-66||1957-59||88||Suite Nr. 6 (quarter-tone piano)|
|89||Fantasy Nr. 11 (quarter-tone piano)|
|66-67||1959-60||90||12th String Quartet (quarter-tone)|
|68||1961||92||13th String Quartet (semitone)|
|68-69||1961-62||93||Suite in quarter-tones for violin|
|70||1963||94||14th String Quartet (quarter-tone)|
|71||1964||95||15th String Quartet (semitone)|
|96||Suite for bass-clarinet|
|72-73||1965-66||[2-year break in output]|
|74||1967||98||16th String Quartet (5th-tone)|
|75||1968||99||Suite for saxophone solo|
|99a||Praha [Prague] (choir)|
|76||1969||100||Suite for bass-clarinet with piano|
|77||1970||101||Poznámky z deníku [Diary-notes], melodrama (speaker & string-quartet)|
|102||6 Moods for piano|
|79||1972||103||Suite for violin & piano|