Rediscovered Gerhard Hamm
Bagatellen and Clavierstücke
Discovering the music of the Dutch composers Gerhard Hamm and his son Karel was really a chance encounter. After one of my recitals, Carl Hamm, a direct descendant of these composers, handed me a stack of scores. While playing through the pieces at home, I was struck by their delicacy and narrative power. And all of this had been completely forgotten.
The versatile composer Gerhard Hamm, born in 1835 in Trier, was a very important figure in cultural life in the south of the Netherlands. He was a teacher, conductor and member of many music and art societies. Both Gerhard and his son Karel composed an extensive range of pieces; from chamber music to songs and from orchestral works to pieces for solo piano. They were much-loved personalities in Venlo and beyond. In 1868, one of Gerhard’s compositions was awarded a prize at an international music competition in Amsterdam, and when he returned home he was welcomed by a procession of torches and candles, organised by the local music societies. In 1873, Gerhard organised a major music festival in Venlo with many concerts throughout the city.
Gerhard Hamm belongs in a way to the musical heritage of Robert Schumann. He writes small-scale poetic reflections on grand Romantic gestures. A whole world lies hidden in these concise musical poems. His Capriccio, from the Bagatellen, Op.12, is a good example. The piece starts off sweetly, like a music box, with a simple motif that develops throughout the piece, sometimes powerful and proud, sometimes vulnerable and reflective. A Romantic expression of intrinsic beauty.
Gerhard Hamm’s musical gift as a composer is beautifully displayed in his ‘Gefunden: 6 Clavierstücke in Liedform, opus 18’. His craftsmanship is excellent but he never neglects poetic expression. In the first piece – ‘Als ich dich sah’ – I hear a delicate and authentic sensitivity towards harmony and melody. Hamm ‘paints’carefully but with great passion and devotion. In the third piece, ‘War ich bei dir’, an idyllic, sweet melody is set against a restless accompaniment in the left hand. Because of the unique character of each piece, I have based the order of playing on their character.
Karel Hamm composed a number of ‘Schetsen voor de Jeugd’. These pieces reflect the feeling of memories of the past that suddenly spring to mind. He conveys a certain childlike naivety with this music, disarming in its simplicity. The same is the case in his Romanze, which almost feels like a meditation. Karel said of himself that ‘he was born a Romantic and would die a Romantic’.
I think it is very important to enrich the classical music canon by discovering and reviving composers such as Gerhard and Karel Hamm. I feel extremely privileged to have recorded this completely forgotten Dutch music for piano and I am delighted to present it to the public.