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About Karl Haas—an appreciation

Karl Haas was a musicologist with encyclopedic knowledge, a scholar, and a teacher of high order, yet his hour-long network radio show appealed to listeners at all levels of musical maturity and experience. You could tell that he loved music just by hearing him talk about it. He liked to laugh and he had a vibrant sense of humor, which he exercised whenever humor suited what he wanted to convey.

Each of his shows focused on a particular subject, some aspect of music worth knowing about, often an aspect no other classical music broadcaster had thought to explore from quite the same point of view. If you weren't fascinated by his subject before he covered it, chances were you were fascinated afterward.

He was expert in his subject matter, whatever it might be on a given day, and a first-rate teacher. He didn't just play recordings for his listeners, he explained them in a pleasant, simple, clear and conversational style that helped even his lay audience follow and absorb complicated or subtle ideas; yet he never bored even the knowledgeable and sophisticated music lovers among his audience—even music teachers and performers.

There was always structure in his broadcast, however subtle and unobtrusive it might be. He never rambled, but always came swiftly to the point. Not only did he talk about the music he played and the subjects he elucidated; often he would introduce and discuss a given subject and then follow it up by playing recordings that illustrated what he'd just said. He liked to explore and expand a theme he had introduced by presenting several brief discussion periods interspersed with played examples of music throughout the course of a show, each example building on the previous one, each further developing his central idea. Sometimes he would illustrate an idea by personally playing a passage extemporaneously on his piano during his live radio broadcast.

He was a pleasant man, never haughty or pedantichis focus was on down-to-earth musical appreciationyet his listeners consistently came away with a greater understanding of and regard for his subject. He left them with the feeling that he wanted them to cherish what he cherishedto share the emotions he feltas a gift.

His musicology was characterized by refined musical judgment grounded in common sense and good taste and founded on a base of solid academic scholarship. Although his knowledge of music was vast, he showed his listeners a respectful patience. He never overwhelmed his radio audience with too much intricate material presented too quickly. He respected them; he seemed to know instinctively that by matching what he had to present to their ability to absorb, sooner or later his listeners would follow him into every musical nook and cranny.

He liked helping others. He made a point of aiding promising, outstanding (but relatively unknown) professional musicians to get their start and establish their careers by introducing their recordings and extolling their virtues over the air. He felt that this way he was performing a double service, one for his colleagues, and another for his listeners, many of whom welcomed the opportunity to discover obscure but promising musical talent. For example, he was instrumental in spreading the good news about the Labèque sisters, Katia and Marielle, the now-famous piano duo, who since then have taken the classical music world by storm.

Year after year he generated an amazing number of shows—virtually one show for every business day of the week—without the least sacrifice of quality. He made it seem easy. The quality of his work never waned. Each show was packed with information, but the facts didn't seem to intrude on the experience. His show was a perfect blend of left-brain cerebral articulation and right-brain aesthetics and emotionality. What you learned never seemed tedious or boring, and learning it never seemed a chore.

Dr. Haas knew that music was meant to be heard. His emphasis was the musical experience, not the knowledge. Not that he wasn't interested in understanding music for its own sake; rather, the knowledge he imparted never detracted from the experience of hearing and feeling the music; in fact, it augmented it. He had the knack of giving information in a way that would enrich the music when he played it later. When he played it, he usually let you forget about what he'd told you, let yourself go, sit back, and enjoy the experience without thinking about it. Only afterward did you remember that playing the music had helped him make his point. Sometimes he'd talk over the music to make a point or to remind you of something he'd said before the music started, but it only helped. As one listener wrote Haas in the 1960s, the show was a "longhair program with a crew cut."

Listening to one of his shows was like attending a concert or a high school or college lecture, but without the headaches, homework, expense, or the commute. After each show, you came away refreshed, yet more musically mature and more steeped in classical music than before; you came away a bigger person.

Despite the seriousness and thoroughness that underlay his topic, Haas applied a light-heart, sense of humor, and sharp wit that made his presentation enjoyable. His wit showed itself everywhere, but was especially noticeable in the titles with which he graced his programs. Among the best of them are: The Joy of Sax; Baroque and in Debt; May the Source be with You; No Stern Untoned; Handel with Care; Haydn, Go Seek; From Stern to Bow (about the violinist Isaac Stern); Working Up a Lather (about operas featuring barbers); and Nonintoxicating Fifths (about various composers' fifth symphonies).

Sadly, his radio shows are not being rebroadcast. We can only hope that they return to distribution soon and that they continue to be distributed without interruption indefinitely.

So long Karl. We miss you!



  • See The Muse Of Music's biography of the life of Karl Haas: click here.

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