25. Gál's music

A characteristic of Gál's music is its remarkable consistency and originality of style. Though deeply rooted in the Austro-German musical tradition, he had by his early twenties already found his own musical language, to which, though always open to new forms and combinations, he remained faithful. He at all times kept aloof from fashionable trends and movements of both his own and later generations. The list of his published works is long, and includes compositions of all kinds. But what characterises all of them is their clarity and precision, which derives from his absolute mastery of the material. His music combines polyphonic structure with flowing melody; free, expressive lyricism with emotional restraint. Often complex, it is never obscure; frequently witty, it is never trivial; consistently optimistic, it is never superficial.

His personal style cannot be derived from any single or specific 'influence', but one can identify certain particular affinities on his part: the early classics, whose clarity, plasticity and playful humour are basic constituents with Gál; Brahms, whose lyrical yet restrained romanticism is similarly fundamental to him; the chromatic harmonies and extended tonality of the pre-serial early moderns; a Schubert-like love of melody; counterpoint, which was part and parcel of his style from early on, and which, through his life-long concern with J. S. Bach, became second nature to him.

With the fickle changes in musical fashion, especially in the post-war years, Gál's musical idiom has often been misunderstood, indeed dismissed as conservative, a throw-back to an early period. This impression may perhaps have been reinforced by Gál's long life - as a living composer he was expected to be 'modern'. But this is to misjudge his works. Certainly, he held true to the musical values which underpin the great classics, in a period where, in some circles at least, they were unfashionable. But his works amply demonstrate the capacity for innovative development of the tradition in which he worked, and his ability to put his own stamp on this tradition, developing his own, clearly recognisable style and musical character.