Hans Keller was born in 1919 and died in 1985, Hans was an Austrian-born British musician and writer who made significant contributions to musicology and music criticism, and invented the method of ‘Wordless Functional Analysis’ (in which a work is analysed in musical sound alone, without any words being heard or read).
Hans Keller was born into a well-to-do and culturally well-connected Jewish family in Vienna, and as a boy was taught by the same Oskar Adler who had, decades earlier, been Arnold Schoenberg’s boyhood friend and first teacher. Hans Keller also came to know the composer and performer Franz Schmidt, but was never a formal pupil. In 1938 the Anschluss forced Hans Keller to flee to London (where he had relatives), and in the years that followed he became a prominent and influential figure in the UK’s musical and music-critical life. Initially active as a violinist and violist, he soon found his niche as a highly prolific and provocative writer on music as well as an influential teacher, lecturer, broadcaster and coach.
An original thinker never afraid of controversy, Hans Keller’s passionate support of composers whose work he saw as under-valued or insufficiently understood made him a tireless advocate of Benjamin Britten and Arnold Schoenberg as well as an illuminating analyst of figures such as Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven and Mendelssohn. Much of this advocacy was carried out from within the BBC, where he came to hold several senior positions.
Hans Keller’s gift for systematic thinking, allied to his philosophical and psycho-analytic knowledge, bore fruit in the method of ‘Wordless Functional Analysis’ (abbreviated by the football-loving Hans Keller as ‘FA’), designed to furnish incontrovertibly audible demonstrations of a masterwork’s ‘all-embracing background unity’. This method was developed in tandem with a ‘Theory of Music’ which explicitly considered musical structure from the point of view of listener expectations; the ‘meaningful contradiction’ of expected ‘background’ by unexpectable ‘foreground’ was seen as generating a work’s expressive content. An element of Hans Keller’s theory of unity was the ‘Principle of Reversed and Postponed Antecedents and Consequents’, which has not been widely adopted. Hans Keller’s term ‘homotonality’, however, has proved useful to musicologists in several fields.
Hans Keller was married to the artist Milein Cosman, whose drawings illustrated some of his work.
As a man very prominent in the world of ‘contemporary music’ (even working for several years as the BBC’s ‘Chief Assistant, New Music’), Hans Keller had close personal and professional ties with many composers, and was frequently the dedicatee of new compositions. Those who dedicated works to him include:
Benjamin Britten (String Quartet No.3, Op. 94)
Benjamin Frankel (String Quartet No.5, Op.43)
David Matthews (Piano Trio No.1; ‘To Hans Keller’)
Buxton Orr (Piano Trio No.1; ‘In admiration and friendship’),
Robert Simpson (Symphony No.7; ‘To Hans and Milein Keller’).
Robert Matthew-Walker (Piano Sonata No.3 – ‘Fantasy-Sonata: Hamlet’), Op.34
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