17. Return to Vienna

Driven from Germany in 1933, the Gáls returned to Vienna. They were not alone in this; Germany, with its active musical life, had been a magnet for Austrian musicians, many of them Jewish, during the 1920s, and many now returned, though others chose to emigrate, to Czechoslovakia, France, Switzerland, or further afield to England or the USA. Although returning to Vienna was the natural thing for the Gáls to do - they had family and friends there, and even some funds, and Gál did not wish to tear himself away from his cultural roots - Austria was, in fact, far from the ideal place for exiles from Nazi oppression in Germany. Fascist tendencies were already evident there, parallelling the developments in Germany. The Chancellor, Dollfuss, suppressed socialist movements in the early 1930s, and was himself assassinated in an attempted Nazi putsch in July, 1934. The seeds of the later 'Anschluss' of Austria by Germany were already being sown.

The difficulty for the newly returned exiles was not merely the loss of employment; Germany, with its many opera houses, orchestras and publishing houses, was by far the most important outlet for the works of Austrian composers, and this market was now closed to them. For Gál there were now very few possibilities for performance of his works. One such took place in Zürich, in December 1934: the premiere of the play Hin und Her by Ödön von Horváth (1901-1938), another Viennese refugee from Germany, to which Gál had written the music, with the composer at the rostrum. (Significantly, the plot revolves around the unsuccessful attempts of a man on a bridge between two countries to get a passport for either.)

Gál now had to attempt to pick up the threads of his previous existence in Vienna, but with no fixed employment he had to rely primarily on private lessons to earn his bread. He occasionally conducted the new Vienna Concert Orchestra and again took over the Madrigal Society, which he himself had founded in 1927, and the concerts of the Bach Society. The most important work of this period is the cantata De Profundis (Op.50), a setting of a cycle of baroque poems compiled by himself. It is a large-scale vocal symphony in five movements, for solo singers, choir, orchestra and organ, dedicated 'to the memory of this time, its misery and its victims', whose texts (dealing with the 30 Years' War) reflect with apocalyptic vividness Gál's sense of impending doom. Nevertheless, this work, written with no immediate prospect of performance, testifies to his unshakeable belief in the validity and viability of the musical tradition in which it is so firmly anchored, and with its composition he liberated himself as a creative artist from the trauma of 1933. Waldstein (op. cit., p. 62) points out that each of the movements of this work ends in a major key, positive and life-affirming in spite of his despair. As Waldstein expresses it:

"The movements of this cantata are not like the acts of a play, which follow on from one another and produce a whole as a sequence. They are like variations on the same theme, each one arrives at the same conclusion, affirming this world and this life with all its bitterness, bringing creator and created together through humble submission; the differences lie only in the path, in light, colour, landscape, in the threatening dangers and their conquest." [loc. cit.]

Another composition of this period was the Improvisation, Variations and Finale on a Theme by Mozart (Op. 60), written for mandolin and strings. Apart from this, Gál occupied himself with various arrangements, such as the G Major Symphony by Gluck (1934), as well as the revision of a text-book on music history by Olga Kurt-Schab (1935).

Even before the annexation in 1938 it became increasing evident that there was no future for the Gáls in Austria. When Hitler invaded, 'annexing' Austria to the 'Third Reich', it was clear that there was no alternative to flight, especially as the Austrian population welcomed Hitler with open arms. Within three days of the German troops crossing the border Hanna left Austria, to prepare the way for Hans, and to find out whether escape was still possible. Hans followed, and they made their way to London, with the intention of emigrating to America.