Hans Sommer (1837–1922 Brunswick) saw music evolve from Schumann to Schoenberg, Wagner to Webern. A scientist and mathematician by profession, he had an innate musicality, starting to compose as a child but turning to music full-time only in his forties.
Sommer studied music privately and took lessons in composition with Franz Liszt, among others. In 1875, Sommer met Richard and Cosima Wagner for the first time and founded a Wagner Association in Brunswick, one year later he visited as their guest the first edition of the Bayreuth Festival. In the years that followed, he was part of the group of artists based at Wahnfried, although he tried to avoid being “a blind follower”, as Sommer himself wrote in his memoirs.
Sommer’s career as a freelance composer began in his forties. From 1882 on, he published over one hundred songs and ballads in quick succession. Following the success of his opera Loreley (world première in 1891), which Richard Strauss also presented in Weimar in 1892, he became an established opera composer.
Rübezahl und der Sackpfeifer von Neisse was first performed in 1904 in Brunswick and in the following year in Berlin and Weimar under the baton of Richard Strauss. Its special feature is the melodic writing rather than the harmony. Sommer displays here a completely individual type of Post-Romantic “musical prose” – admittedly with certain foundations in Wagner’s music.