1. EARLY LIFE



Hans Gál was born on 5th August, 1890, in Brunn am Gebirge, a village near Vienna, during the family's summer holiday. The name Gál is of Hungarian origin, and both parents came from the Hungarian part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Gál's grandfather on his mother's side, Leopold Alt, originated from Sopron (Ödenburg) and had been apprenticed to a tailor, but having learnt to read and write at the age of 18, he moved to Vienna (where he stood on the barricades in 1848) in order to study medicine. He became a homeopathic doctor. His eldest daughter, Gál's Aunt Jenny, became an opera singer in Weimar at the time of the young Richard Strauss. On his father's side, Gál's grandfather was also Hungarian, and a doctor. Gál's father, Josef Gál, who married Leopold's younger daughter Ilka, came to Vienna from Hungary as a student; he, too, became a homeopathic doctor.

Gál had three sisters, Edith (Ditta), the eldest (b. 1888), Margarethe (Gretl) (b. 1895) and Ernestine (Erna) (b. 1899). The family apartment at 14 Wipplingerstrasse, close to the city centre, was attractive but rather cramped, especially since father Gál needed two of the six rooms for his homeopathic practice. Gretl and Erna shared a room, but Hans had to sleep in the waiting room, though he had the use of a box-room to work in, where a small desk and chair were crammed in between a large linen cupboard and an equally large wardrobe. Despite its ideal central location, the apartment had the disadvantage that four of its rooms faced south, and the heat in the densely built-up city made it intolerable during the summer months. At this time of the year the family therefore stayed in furnished lodgings at 1, Probusgasse, in the outlying northern district of Heiligenstadt, on the edge of the Vienna Woods and almost opposite the Beethoven house (some of the elderly residents recalled throwing snowballs at Beethoven in their childhood). The house also had a large garden. Hanna Gál recalls that

"the children found playmates, the parents played cards, etc. Father Gál organised communal outings with the occupants of the house, for which a hand-cart was hired. . . . One of the residents, who enjoyed walking, took Hans with him on his excursions. As a result, Hans acquired a remarkably good knowledge of the surroundings of Vienna: Mödling, Helenental, Rekawinkel, etc. Furthermore, both of them always took their with them, and Hans was introduced to the mysteries of perspective. [Personal correspondence, December, 1988.]

At the age of ten, Hans was sent to the 'Gymnasium' (grammar school), the only route to a university education and an acceptable career. His time at school was hardly enjoyable. Later he recalled the

"depressingly uniform classrooms, badly heated, badly ventilated, corridors smelling of disinfectant and lavatories, where we spent the 'respirium', a harsh, forbidding impersonal treatment by overworked, sullen teachers." [Letter to Kleiber's biographer John Russell, 14.9.1956]

His close school friend was Erich Kleiber, later a distinguished conductor. The two were known as 'the twins', as they shared the same birthday and were the smallest pupils in the class:

"We always kept our copy-books conveniently near each other for a surreptitious oblique look across at written examinations, and had a well-developed technique of whisperingly prompting each other in case of need. And I can see myself, or Erich, in feverish haste copying from the other's copy-book a spot of forgotten homework, five minutes before eight, when the daily martyrdom started. And we shared a constitutional bias against mathematics. Physical exercise? Next to none. There was gymnastics, but under a stupid, crude teacher, the worst brute of them all. The natural reaction of us youngsters was to make ourselves as inconspicuous as possible by a kind of dull, passive resistance, and to endure it as an unavoidable part of the daily boredom. There were games, once a week, during the summer term, but they were not compulsory and I think neither myself nor Erich ever went there; we would not have wasted an hour of our precious spare time for that. It was certainly an unhealthy upbringing." [ibid.]

Nevertheless, writing half a century later, Gál had to admit that there was something of value in his education, and that, apart from the classics, he obtained a good basis in general education. One thing Gál did not gain from his schooldays, however, was his passion for music:

 

"Music? None whatever. There was some wretched class singing which was not compulsory, and we hardly attended it any longer than perhaps the first term. It looks odd that in a country usually regarded as one of the most musical in the world, music was practically non-existent in the higher school." [ibid.]

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