Category: Musician or composer
Hans Rott (1 August 1858 – 25 June 1884) was an Austrian composer and organist. His music is little-known today, though he received high praise in his time from Gustav Mahler and Anton Bruckner.
[Rott is] …a musician of genius ... who died unrecognized and in want on the very threshold of his career. ... What music has lost in him cannot be estimated. Such is the height to which his genius soars in ... [his] Symphony [in E major], which he wrote as 20-year-old youth and makes him ... the Founder of the New Symphony as I see it. To be sure, what he wanted is not quite what he achieved. … But I know where he aims. Indeed, he is so near to my inmost self that he and I seem to me like two fruits from the same tree which the same soil has produced and the same air nourished. He could have meant infinitely much to me and perhaps the two of us would have well-nigh exhausted the content of new time which was breaking out for music.
Rott was born in Braunhirschengrund, a suburb of Vienna. His mother Maria Rosalia (1840–1872, maiden name Lutz) was an actress and singer. His father Carl Mathias Rott (real name Roth, born 1807, married 1862) was a famous comic actor in Vienna who was crippled in 1874 by a stage accident which led to his death two years later.
Hans was left alone to continue his studies at the Conservatory. Fortunately, both his skill and financial need were recognized and he was excused from paying tuition. While studying, he briefly stayed with Gustav Mahler and Rudolf Krzyzanowsky. He studied piano with Leopold Landskron and Josef Dachs, harmony with Hermann Graedener, counterpoint and composition—like Mahler—with Franz Krenn.
He studied organ with Bruckner, starting in 1874, and graduating from Bruckner's organ class in 1877, with honours. Bruckner said that Rott played Bach very well, and even improvised wonderfully - a high compliment since Bruckner himself was a great improviser.
The effects of being constantly criticised
For the final year of his studies in 1878, Rott submitted the first movement of his Symphony in E major to a composition contest. Apart from Bruckner, the jury was very derisive of the work. After completing the Symphony in 1880, Rott showed the work to both Brahms and Hans Richter, in order to get it played. His efforts failed. Brahms even told Rott that he had no talent whatsoever and that he should give up music.
Rott, already traumatised by the death of his father, gradually became mentally unstable from this barrage of criticism and he succumbed to serious mental illness.
Rott's mind snapped in October 1880, whilst on a train journey. He was reported to have threatened another passenger with a revolver, claiming that Brahms had filled the train with dynamite. Rott was committed to a mental hospital in 1881, where despite a brief recovery, he sank into depression. By the end of 1883 a diagnosis recorded "hallucinatory insanity, persecution mania—recovery no longer to be expected." He died of tuberculosis in 1884, aged only 25. Many well-wishers, including Bruckner and Mahler, attended Rott's funeral at the Zentralfriedhof in Vienna.
We have a number of people on this site whose mental illness served to fuel creativity. The periods of mania provided times of extraordinary genius, but in Rott we have an example of a sensitive person, who may well have developed a form of manic depression when his father died and for a time channelled it, but who in the end succumbed to the depression that follows defeat after defeat.
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