JBWA Congratulates Paul Bryan on his 100th birthday!

It is a great pleasure to wish Paul Robey Bryan Jr. a happy centenary! More than anybody else, we have Paul to thank for the modern revival of Waṅhal’s music.

Unlike a composer such as Dittersdorf, who left an elaborate autobiography that ensured that he never receded completely from view, the slim paper trail left by Waṅhal belies his status as a composer. His worth could only be gauged through his music, and it is only through Paul’s perseverance and ingenuity that this has finally been acknowledged.

Paul was not the first scholar to work on Waṅhal: Margrete von Dewitz’ finished her doctoral dissertation on his piano works from 1933, around the same time as the famous dispute between Adolf Sandberger and Jens Peter Larsen over the nature of the famous Quartbuch, in which Waṅhal was copiously mentioned, took place; Alfred Einstein also took a keen early interest in Waṅhal’s works. These efforts remain isolated, however, and it was only with Paul’s tireless work throughout the post-war period and beyond, beginning with his doctoral dissertation of 1957, that Waṅhal, slowly but surely, became accepted as perhaps the finest composer of symphonies in Haydn and Mozart’s Vienna. This seems, in many ways, to have been an upwards struggle. There have, however, been several great triumphs, which deserve recognition. Paul has managed to publish scores of several of Waṅhal’s symphonies, through A-R Edition’s Recent Researches in Music of the Classic Era series and the series The Symphony 1720–1840, and later through the revived Artaria publishing house.

His greatest achievement, however, is his book Johann Waṅhal, Viennese Symphonist – His Life and His Musical Environment, colloquially known as the Big Red Book, which was published by Pendragon Press in 1997. This book belongs to a series of catalogues, but it is far more than a catalogue of Waṅhal’s symphonies: it is a fount for a lifetime of knowledge, and contains essays on his musical style, a thorough biography with extended essays on different aspects of his life, as well as a tour-de-force guide through questions of authenticity and watermark studies. It is one of the most impressive books of its kind, and unlikely to be superseded at any time in the foreseeable future. More than anything, it is the book that could provide the scholarly basis for a rediscovery of Waṅhal’s symphonies.

One of the most impressive aspects of Paul’s work is that he managed to do this under trying circumstances. From 1951 to his retirement in 1988, his main employment was always with the Wind Symphony at Duke University; if he wasn’t exactly working on Waṅhal on the sly, Paul had to balance this project against more immediate matters. What is more, his research was done at the height of the Cold War, when access to music collections in the old Eastern Bloc was far from given. In a stroke of synergetic genius, Paul solved this by bringing the Wind Symphony with him on extended European tours, which meant that he also had the opportunity to study sources in East Germany, Hungary and the former Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia.

Every person who reads these words most likely owes Paul a debt of gratitude, but to those of us who work with Waṅhal on a daily basis he has almost been a musicological Moses: Paul’s work means that every later Waṅhal scholar can assume a relevancy that will not have been obvious to the scholarly world through most of his own career. This puts even greater demands on us to be productive and proactive, but only because we can do so and assume that our work will be of interest to others – and this is largely Paul’s achievement. As Mozart once said of C.P.E. Bach, ‘Er ist der Vater, wir sind die Bub’n’.