Roman Haubenstock-Ramati

Roman Haubenstock-Ramati biography

Born in Krakow in 1919. Died in Vienna in 1994. Between those two dates there lies the life, the fate of a survivor.

A Polish Jew or a Jewish Pole? After the German fascist troops marched into Poland on 1 September 1939, that rather speculative distinction was no longer of any importance: Roman Haubenstock-Ramati’s family had to flee.

Before the Soviet Union eventually joined up with the Allied Forces, the composer was arrested and banished a number of times. After his abrupt release, he tried in vain to join the Free Polish Army: he contracted typhoid fever. One of the few to recover, Haubenstock-Ramati reached Palestine via Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Iran.

He returned to Krakow in 1947 and was soon appointed to head the radio’s music department, a position which he kept until 1950 when he decided to settle in the State of Israel, founded two years before. There, he was entrusted with setting up a music library which he then directed.

Haubenstock-Ramati’s first attempts at composition go back to his childhood. One of his pieces (written under the influence of Szymanowski and Stravinsky) received a public performance in Krakow when he was eighteen.

The flight from Poland first led him to Lemberg (now Lvív in the Ukraine) where he joined the composition class of the former Schoenberg pupil Józef Koffler. There he was introduced to the world of the Second Viennese School – a novelty for the young man who soon found his bearings in it and wrote pieces in the new idiom, adapted to his own needs. Koffler, executed in 1943/1944, composed in a strict twelve-tone idiom while keeping to traditional forms but he never forced his pupils to adhere to the same stylistic tenets.

Koffler admired Webern even though he held that Webern’s music led to an impasse. On that point, Haubenstock-Ramati disagreed with his professor: ever since his first encounter with a score by the Austrian composer (still in Krakow), he had been fascinated and was ready to battle it out with the older man. As he was to remember, “we would fight in a spirit of love for each other”. For all their disagreements, Haubenstock-Ramati graduated from the Lemberg Music Academy with a degree.

The music that he composed in Israel proved to be far too advanced, performances foundered on the instrumentalists’ failure to come to terms with the scores. Miraculously enough, Heinrich Strobel in Germany heard of Haubenstock-Ramati’s difficulties and programmed a piece at Donaueschingen in 1954. The success of the world premiere led to commissions: the harpsichord concerto Recitativo ed aria was composed in the same year; Papageno’s Pocket-Size Concerto for glockenspiel and orchestra was included in the “Divertimento für Mozart” commissioned by Strobel from twelve composers to mark to 200th anniversary of the composer’s birth in 1956.

Both works came to be published by Universal Edition, thanks to a meeting with Alfred Schlee, the publisher’s director. It also resulted in Haubenstock-Ramati’s joining the UE staff.

Life began anew for the composer and his family: they left Israel in 1957 and settled in Vienna. At UE, he was appointed music editor but he also cast a critical eye on publishing projects and put forward new notational ideas which were then duly implemented.

Between 1973 and 1989, Haubenstock-Ramati acted as Professor of Composition at the Vienna Academy of Music; one of his pupils there was Beat Furrer.

Similarly to a number of other composers, Haubenstock-Ramati was also a talented graphic artist. In addition to works which have considerable artistic merit, some of his scores – though meant for performance – also have a definite aesthetic value. His pictures and his scores were exhibited a number of times and he himself organised an exhibition of scores with graphic notation at Donaueschingen.

Lothar Knessl has provided the following portrait of Roman Haubenstock-Ramati:

“RHR became a quiet man and stayed that way. He was unassuming – and so were his music and his pictures. It was a reserved and endearing discreetness, a coolness tinged with warmth. He kept aloof from the glitter of public life – one reason more to ensure that his name and his work are kept alive.”


Roman Haubenstock-Ramati was born on 27 February 1919 in Krakow where he studied musicology and philosophy as well as composition with Artur Malawski and took private lessons with Jósef Koffler in Lemberg.

1947– 1950 head of the music department of the Krakow Radio

1950 – 1956 director of the State Music Library of Tel Aviv and professor at the Music Academy

1957 return to Europe, worked at the Studio de Musique Concrète in Paris where he drew inspiration from Olivier Messiaen. Then worked as editor and music consultant of Universal Edition Vienna; permanent residence in Vienna. Visiting professor in Buenos Aires, Stockholm and at the Yale University.

1973 to 1989 he accepted an appointment to the Wiener Hochschule für Musik und darstellende Kunst as professor of composition. In addition to composition Haubenstock-Ramati focused on the development of new forms of notation and musical graphic.

In 1959 he organised the first exhibition of Musical Graphic in Donaueschingen.

In 1981 he was awarded the ‘Grand Austrian State Prize’.

He died on 3 March 1994 in Vienna, a week after the gala concert in honour of his 75th birthday at the Wiener Konzerthaus.

Works by Roman Haubenstock-Ramati in the UE

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