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Hans Lanner - A Biography

Hans lanner was born in 1873 in Reichenau an der Rax in the province of Lower Austria as the son of a woodworker. His place of birth and later residence was the "Scheiterplatz" in close vicinity of the famous hotel Thalhof, which was frequented by the leading personalities of the arts and sciences. Lanner's father was already much sought after as companion and for the excursions of the vacationers into the surrounding area.



At the age of ten Hans Lanner received his first lessons on the zither after having been taught the violin at the local elementary school. It might have been during one of the excursions with his father that the young Lanner was given the opportunity to present his talents on the zither before members of the Imperial Family and that he met his later "patron" the Archduke Charles Francis Joseph ( 1887 - 1922 ), the future and last Emperor of Austria. From 1910 on Lanner plays his zither regularly for the Archduke. Lanner, who earns his living as a woodcutter, receives repeated invitations to the Imperial castle of Wartholz and in 1911 he plays at the wedding of Archduke Charles with the Princess Zita of Bourbon-Parma at the Schwarzau castle. He visits the couple in the small garrison towns of Brandeis ( Bohemia ) and Kolomea ( Galicia ) where in 1912 he is bestowed the honorary title of "Imperial Chamber Zither Player" and also travels - accompanied by his son Johannes - to the Imperial castle in Hetzendorf in order to play for them. From his exile in the villa Prangins on Lake Geneva, the Emperor invites Lanner in 1920 to come visit and play for his Emperor. In the course of these few weeks at Lake Geneva, Lanner writes a variety of compositions for the members of the Imperial Family. They were to be the last of their kind and they are documents of a deep emotional relationship, which survived the terrible years of World War I and the end of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. In the middle of his life Lanner looses his inspiration and the death of the Emperor on Madeira in 1922 is more than an artistic caesura; in addition, the economic and political upheavals of the following years push the zither in Lanner's life as a woodworker more into the background.

However, he becomes active as a zither teacher on a larger scale in the area close to where he lives, which leads to an up-swing in the importance of the instrument in Reichenau, Hirschwang, etc. Until today one finds many people in Reichenau who were taught by Lanner and still keep a fond memory of him. His last contact with the Imperial Family of Austria is at the wedding of Emperor Charles' eldest son, Dr. Otto Hapsburg, in Nancy in France when 77 year old Lanner is asked to play for the couple on the occasion. After the death of his wife Maria in 1953 Lanner continues to live on the Scheiterplatz for another ten years and does, what he has been doing since his youth: he plays zither for guests who spend their vacation in the area and thus he becomes a symbolic figure that reaches beyond the region. On February 13, 1964, after 90 years of hard work and rich experiences Hans Lanner's life ends where it began: on the Scheiterplatz in Reichenau an der Rax.

Lanner played and composed for a zither with Umlauf's Viennese tuning. This differs from the - nowadays much more common - so-called normal tuning in having deep bass notes on the melody strings and in particular an additional string g' on the fret board. This zither is an instrument that developed from popular music, was formed according to the practical performance-oriented, harmony and melody requirements and eventually established itself in "art music" as well as in the very highest circles. The woodworker, autodidactic composer and later Imperial Chamber Zither Player went along with it for a good part of its way.



This article has been translated from the original German by Ms. Mona Fenichel. The zither music of Hans Lanner has recently been recorded by zitherist Cornelia Mayer. For more information on the Viennese zither and Cornelia Mayer, visit her home page at www.wiener-zither.at.

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