Absolute Bavarian (Musical) Cream
His Life: An Almost Finished Symphony


Much better things were planned for the son born on the nineteenth of March in 1873 than they had been for the school-teacher father, Josef Reger. Josef, of Brand, Bavaria, Germany, like his three brothers, were well educated, and because additionally, he married a connected and sophisticated lady, this gave the family many more talented relatives. His father, a tailor, had improved his lot in life from that of his Papa, who literally scraped a living from the cold earth on someone else's land. But not wanting to be pretentious, they called the säugling, at his Christening, Max-- henceforth not using the full name: Johann Baptiste Joseph Maxmillian Reger.

The family moved, with the year-old toddler in tote, to Weiden near Josef's new multi-subject position at the Royal Seminary. The mother's attempt to teach piano to the five year old Max was rewarded with success. This actually was without too much surprise as the young boy earlier could identify --by sound only-- any note played on the piano. How convenient it was for father and son that Josef now had another sideline of repairing instruments, so the boy could continue learning while he helped the father detect faulty notes. Max had inherited this same trait of his father's perfectionist ear; but meanwhile, his parents still thought the kinder's precocious intelligence would be put to better future use as another teacher. He was still a kid, though, and he and his friends liked to act out the exciting stories coming out of the American West, Cowboys versus Indians; and he once got to play a real hero, using his superior swimming skills to save a floundering playmate. Max Reger, now just twelve, would become lifelong entwined with the organ-- after the providential moment his father brought home the lately deprecated organ from the Seminary.

Avid and Livid Student

Although Max was way ahead of his school-mate peers, the parents also realized their home musical instruction was wanting, and they endeavored to get a visiting parish organist, Adalbert Lindner to come and give lessons which started in the fall of 1884. Interestingly and coincidently Lindner, (as he also moved up in social class from his parent's background of butcher-cum-inn-keeper), therefore, without hesitation, shared their zeal in improving the pre-adolescent's potential. Not unlike other exuberant artistic apprentices, creatively minded Max hated the practice (exercieren) of virtousity mechanics of Eduard Mertke's "Technical Exercises" but got readily through Karl Czerny, Muzio Clementi, and Jerome Bertini examples and instructions as required for the near future event of entering Prepatory School. During these lessons he favored the polyphonic Riemann studies better than the obligatory Mozart. How ironic that he would mock Mozart, (like 'Wolfie' did his contemoraries) but more significant that he would adore Beethoven. (Later Reger would be one of those at the fin siecle of what Ludwig helped start in the Romantic but formalistic style.)

Debut in the Spotlight

After showing remarkable maturity in his playing pieces Lindner put before him during his year at the Präparandenschule, he finally got his chance to perform live at the school year's end. His playing Julius Schulhoff at that first concert was followed by others by Chopin and included Beethoven's C# Minor Sonato. The young lad, asked by his mentor if he had those typical pre-show jitters, answered calmly, "No..." that his stomach was only hungry for "...a couple of sausages...," and sure enough --that requirement, met by Adalbert, was all the impetus needed for his initial success. The relationship of teacher/student evolved into compatriotship; both having great fun with four handed arrangements --until the handy supply of such compositions was completely devoured. However, the lessons did continue, with Ignaz Moscheles, Mendelssohn, and Schubert. He was persuaded, after venting some frustration while he was trying to reach some accomplished end-- to stick to the three B's: Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms. This he did with zeal hardly matched by any other of his league. This temporary disgust had erupted coincendently, after trying to prepare to follow Lindner's suggestion that he should play one of his favorite composer's pieces for an upcoming May-Fair, Beethoven's "Rage Over a Lost Penny" (Rondo Capriccio). The somberness of Beethoven and the creativity of Brahms was balanced, most importantly, by the pure formalism of Bach. These heroes and their methods would be smiling over his shoulder and haunting his style all his career.

Musical Inspirations

As a fourteen year old in 1887, his summers were spent at an uncle's place near Regensburg where he continued absorbing the works of Handel and Scarlatti. He additionally critiqued the cathedral's choir's Mass, especially the quality of not only their organ, but the Domorganist as well. His Aunt tried to keep him from hearing (and thus getting sidetracked) the Kapelle band's playing assorted arrangements, like the Second Rhapsody of Liszt. The next year, however, in spite of Lidner's avoiding exposing the lad to early, especially Wagner, he took a trip to Beyreuth and was enthused thoroughly after hearing Parsifal and Die Meistersinger. He eagerly added a Richard Wagner biography to his list of books he was always reading.

He awed Lidner after, studying on the side, Liszt's Tristan and Isolde's Liebestod; and then played it for a surprise his instructor's 29th birthday. About his performance Lidner gushed:

The assurance, the passion, the mighty breadth of comprehension which the fiery young spirit put in the execution of this of this work, though he had never seen it performed, was astounding. work

Dear "John" Letter

Just sixteen, Max, as sometimes substitute organist in Lidner's position at the Stadtpfarkirche, further astounded Lidner with his development of improvisational skills. After a suggestion by Lidner, Reger wrote an Introduction to an Overture in B Minor for their quintet that included student and teacher, as well as a couple of others from Weiden. It grew from a cute idea to a major project with more than a hundred pages, and this prompted his mentor to send the manuscript to be analyzed by music theorist, Hugo Riemann of Hamburg. Though Riemann thought the young man was corrupted by the Bayreuth phenomenon, he discerned correctly the boy's talent, and assented with Lidner concrning that same guideline of concentrating on Beethoven and Bach. After Lidner informed Max that Doctor Riemann expected more melodic consistent movements before further consideration, he burned his manuscript and proceeded in earnest to show he could do Wagnerian motifs as well as formulate melodies, and wrote some twenty songs and composed his first String-quartet in D Minor, (in spite of the fact he had never really heard any chamber music).

But Should You Quit Your Day Job?

Everybody, by the year 1890, knew that Max should go pro in his musical career, but the confirmation came in that important second letter from Riemann, who had looked at favorably at Max's last works, when he assured Josef he had a financial future in this field, and would take him under his wing in Sonderhausen.

The Riemann family took him in like he was their own, and there he encountered cultured men and music; and he moved with them to Weisbaden when Hugo became instructor at the Konservatorium. The good orchestra was available to him, and his music style with Riemann teaching piano and organ was now developing more in line with the "classics" than with the Wagneresque.

Counterpoint, Cigars, Food and Beer

Weisbaden's charm's were becoming a strong lure that he was hooked on for the rest of his life. He loved filling his belly with good food, and his lungs with good cigar smoke, and washing it all down with spirited beverage. After a year with Riemann, who sometimes exasperated Max with his regimen, he finished his Violin Sonata, Opus 1 and 2, and a Piano Trio, Opus 3: all obtuse to the public, but lauded solely by Riemann. After a short-lived, probably unrequited infatuation with some official's fraulein, he wrote some happy songs like "Im April," "Bitte, and "Nelken." Even after Riemann himself sent manuscripts to several publishing houses, there was no one knocking down the door buying his oeuvres.


It was chance that came to town that summer of 1892 in the form of an agent of the London Music publishing house of Augener and Company visiting the restorative treatments there. When they asked Riemann if he knew of any newcomer talent, he was able to advertise successfully his young protegé, resulting in a seven year contract. Max produced many works, but many were of his typically too difficult pieces, though he did provide some series of Deutsche Tänze, but finally reluctantly, indignantly had to give the buying public some hack work in the form of the ever popular two-hand waltzes. It was during this year that he finished his Three Organ Pieces, Opus 7 (which included a Prelude and Fugue) and was dedicated to the great Dutch organist, Samuel de Lange, and was followed the next year by another work for the organ, O Truarigkeit, O Herzelied.

Top of the Town, Down in the Dumps

Love problems, musical disrespect, and enmity from fellow musicians he harshly reviewed in Die Allgemeine Musikzeitung (After an Augener sponsered London concert gave him noteriety) drove him to meloncholy in the next couple of years. He despaired that folks did not understand his pain:
He who knows, the pain with which I give birth to my children, who knows these sleeplessness nights, who knows that I wrote my Opus 15 in two nights, he will understand this fatal breakdown. Yes, honestly, you will often find in the loneliest corner of the Rathskeller a guest sitting alone at three o'clock in the morning and brooding. Why? I can not sleep. It is impossible. It is terrible!

His piano playing was in demand, even pwerforming for royalty, and he had a name for himself, yet he was over the heads of most people, and that bothered him. In 1894 he wrote also for organ, Kommsser Tod, in a year that included the highlight of meeting Eugene D'Albert, who had just started a curt stint conducting at Weimar. Things were better in 1895 as he, too, became a member of the teaching staff at the Fuchs Konservatorium and yet with this added responsiblity he still managed to write many more compositions, some, of course, for organ, like the Organ Suite in E Minor, Opus 16. He had to rely on his memory of earlier days' familiarity with the full breadth of that instrument because surprisingly the Conservatory lacked a decent one. He began a friendship this same happier year with the noted pianist and composer, Ferruccio Busoni, as well as meet Johannes Brahms. In this period, his transcriptions to piano made from Bach's organ work benefited from his superior knowledge to even those done by Lizst or his two esteemed comrades, D'Albert and Busoni.

Das Ist Der Vermacht Herr Max

As 1896 was rolling along with Max trying to finish his Symphony in B Minor he was drafted into the German Army. It was not until Spring of 1897, six months after he reported, that his anxious friends and parents heard he had not only survived, but it seemed he thrived from the exercise and fresh air. His only gripe, which was of indignation, was hearing a write-up on his Suite that labelled it as leaning to the left, politically:

I, the most passionate worshiper of Bach, Beethoven and Brahms preaching Revolution?

Sick Call, Musical Reveille

His initial renewed robustness soon gave way to podiatric problems from constant marching, and he developed oral sores that the Weisbaden doctors could not help. He had to return in 1898 to his parent's home in Weiden, where fortunately their medical authorities prescribed successful abstention, or at least serious reduction, from the very heavy smoking and imbibing. His three years here were productive, and though his Brahmsian-type work (free modulative and counterpoint) disappointed the Wagner-loving Papa, Lindner, now a peer, loved them.

In 1898 he wrote, (despite being written under tremendous familial distractions, it is what some consider his best work), Fantasy for Organ on the Chorale "Em' feste Burg ist Unser Gott", Opus 27 and Fantasy and Fugue in C Minor for Organ, Opus 29, and Fantasy for Organ on the Chorale "Frue' dich sehr, O meine Seele", Opus 30, his first year back. That same year when he switched publishing companies to Schott's. The second year produced, First Sonata in F# Minor for Organ, Opus 33; Two Fantasies on the Chorales "Wie schön leucht't uns der Morgenstern" und "Straf' mich nicht in deinem Zorn", Opus 40,, and Introduction and Passacaglia in D Minor for Organ. It was a year that he embarked on a profitable partnership with Richard Strauss through Munich's Aibl-Verlag publishers, and one that had his putting a concert evening at the Anersaal, playing his songs, (music set to much new native poetry, like that from Holz, Riter, Dehmel, and Von Liliencron, and he performed other's works like Liszt and Chopin.

Reger, a devout Catholic Christian, who also loved the Protestant works, was trying to restore, (even without his knowledge of Latin) that Roman tradition to the big keyboard. 1900 was a productive year for organ: , Fantasy and Fugue on Bach, Opus 46 (dedicated to Joseph Rheinberger), Six Trios, Opus 47, Organ Prelude in C Minor, "Wet weiss wie nahe mit mein Ende",, and Three Fantasias for Organ on the Chorales: "Alle Menschen müssen sterben;" "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme;""Halleluja! Gott zu loben, bliebe meine Seelenfreud," Opus 52. He had During this undistracted interval in his life he wrote six Morceaux, several Aquarellen, seven Phantasiestücke and some chorale work based on Rodolf Baumbach's Lacrimae Christi. Meanwhile, he would be honored in Berlin by a Reimann protegé, Karl Straube, playing before a highly receptive audience at Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, his Organ Suite, and repeated this feat in Brankfurt and Wesel with additional Reger music.

He had a chance to enjoy Weisbaden one summer, where he tried to relax in its beautiful parks, rather than in the previously familiar rathskellers, and there he first was acquainted with Miss Eisa von Bagenski.

Before his residence was up in Weiden, he had continued his list of poet's works for adaptation, Hartleben, Dehmel and Falke, and he published his Symphonique Phantasie and Fugue for Organ, Opus 57, did two clarinet sonatas, a clarinet trio, and a clarinet quintet for Kürmeyer's Kapelle, (the sonata even pleased his tough critic father), and two string quartets,

Not a Eunuch in Munich

By August 1901, because of the deteriorating health of his retired father, he moved with his family to Munich. He created some organ and choral pieces that his new Lutheran friends played as the Roman musical liturgical authorities forbade polyphonic and modern styles. They included The most significant event in Munich was his marriage to Eisa von Bagenski in 1902 and took up residence there with his bride. That same year he wrote a grander work, his Piano Quintet, Opus 64, and in the next he changed publishers to Lauterbach and Kuhn. In 1905 he had bad news and good, he had to bury his father, but he also was appointed Director of the Porgehsen Choirverein (Porges Choral Society); and was hired to teach at the Royal Academy of Music in Munich as professor of Counterpoint, Composition and Organ. It is reported that this year he was second only to Strauss as the most rendered composer in Germany. He was working and touring by rail extensively at these times, composing Opus' 65 through 100, like 1904's: Opus 72, Violin Sonata, Opus 72, Variations and Fugue on an Original Theme, Opus 73, String Quartet, Opus 74 while finished writing his Beitrage zur Moduationslehre (Theory of Modulation) as well as other similar articles. In 1905 he wrote Variations and Fugue on a Theme by J.S. Bach Opus 81, Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Beethoven, Opus 86 and Sinfonietta. Unfortunately his goot essen and strenuous schedule caught up with him. In 1906 he suffered a stroke, paralyzing his total right half, while doing an April concert in Berlin. But, he was able to write for a Darmstadt performance: Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue for two pianos while healing at Lake Chiem.

Upscale in Leipzig

By 1907 he had gotten the Directorship, as well as the title of Professor of the Conservatory at the University of Leipzig. He moved to a big house in the well-to-do neighborhood in the Kaiser-Wilhem-Strasse. Ironically he was not popular in Leipzig like he was in the rest of Germany, and lauded in the rest of Europe and the United States. In that same year he published his renown Variations and Fugue on a Theme by J.A. Hiller, Opus 100 (for Orchestra) as well as taking over the Choir at St. Paul's University; and by November he was titled as Royal Saxon Professor,. The next year that he received an Honorary Doctorate of Philosophy in Letters and Science, honoris causa from the University of Jena, he no longer needed Lauterbach and Kuhn, and finished his Violin Concerto, Opus 101 and Piano Trio, Opus 102. The list of works written over the next four years (as well as the rest of his life) becomes exhaustive, with but it includes, from 1908, Symphonic Prologue to a Tragedy, Opus 108 and (Orchestral), Psalm 100, Opus 106 (for Choir and Orchestra).

On the Road Again

In May of 1909 Reger went to England for his first concert appearance there, and his performing his work received standing ovations. He continued his itinerary in Dortmund, Rotterdam and Zurich to witness more success. Some of his works that took him to Opus 122 are, , Piano Quartet, Opus 113, Piano Concerto, Opus 114, Comedy Overture, Opus 120, String Quartet, Opus 121, and Violin Sonata, Opus 122. In 1910 he was conferred an honorary doctorate from Berlin University's Medical Faculty. (This author can only guess that there was a correlation with "music soothing the savage beast."

Suppose They Gave a War...

In 1912 he joined the Meiningen court orchestra (Meiningen Hofkapella) after being rejected by the military in his attempt to fight for the Kaiser when initial hostilities started before the first World War broke out in full. He still managed while touring in 1912 to write: Gesang der Verkirten (for choir and orchestra), Aus meinem Tagebuch, (for contralto and orchestra), , three pieces for orchestra-- Nocturne, Elfenspuk, and Helios. By the time the Great War did start in 1914 he had purchased a new house in Jena at Beethovenstrasse, but had a nervous breakdown so that he was not able to move into until almost a year later. He had been traveling around quite a bit with this orchestra which he had improved, while he still was teaching in the Leipzig Conservatory, but he left them to have more time to compose, though he had written quite a bit of work then. He did in those couple of years, Concerto in the Old Style, Opus 123, An die Hoffnung, Opus 124, Romantic Suite, Opus 125, Böcklin Suite, Opus 128, (Orchestral), Ballet Suite, Opus 130,, Nine pieces of Organ, Opus 129 and a Pasacaglia and Fugue in E Minor for Organ, Opus 127 (for Organ). He had cut back on some of his first love, the organ, with that orchestral position. And finally he wrote Thirty Small Chorale Preludes for Organ, Opus 135A, Fantasy and Fugue in D Minor for Organ, Opus 135B; Seven Organ Pieces, Opus 145, and Clarinet Quintet, Opus 146 (the last three works were from his last year, 1916).

Made Man

By now, the world knew of Max Reger and his extremely prolific contributions-- of sacred, profane, or instructional music for intimate or massive production, whether it be voice or instrumental-- indeed, also all his creations of anything in-between. He took to sophisticated levels, formalism, and counterpoint with no details spared that had been supposedly perfected by Bach and Brahms; all the while deciding to leave some of the contemporary developments in harmony to others. Most people today recognize his organ pieces as his best legacy, as he tilted much of his creative weight perhaps a bit to heavy on the then popular nationalistic Germanic, neuvo-scientific side.


By 1916, Max knew about his deteriorating cardiac condition, but kept it from his family and lately he was feeling the strain from his last grueling show in Amsterdam. In May of that year he went to Leipzig for another tour and stayed in a hotel there to be feted by friends. He returned to his room later, and suffered either a stroke or heart attack, and was found by his friend, Karl Straube, with Max reading a newspaper after working on another piece:

I will never forget the expression on his face...He must have seen the overpowering apparitions on his way to the Unknown Land... God recognized him as a true servant. For that was the characteristic feature of Reger's personality and artistic production.. .The things of great importance in his life had a religious connection.


The Music Lovers' Encyclopedia, Rupert Hughes; Gramercy: NY, 1903.

http://www.mitglied.lycos.de/RobKruijt/maxreger.com; (antecdotes, compilation, etc. by Rob Kruijt; bio by DavidVCox, NY, 2002)

The Grove Concise Dictionary of Music, (online), ed. Stanley Sadie, 2002.

Famous Composers, Nathan Haskell Dole, Thomas Crowell: NY, rev. 1925.

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