Hans Barth, an internationally known pianist and composer, was born in Leipzig, Germany on June 25, 1897. At the age of six, he received a scholarship and studied under Carl Reinecke at the world famous Leipzig Conservatory, founded by Felix Mendelssohn in 1843. Barth moved with his family to New York in 1907 and a year later made his recital debut. While still 12 years old, he performed 13 recitals in a single season. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1912. In all, Barth performed in over 500 recitals in the United States and Europe, including at Carnegie Hall. He was the featured artist for the first musical event in Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., where he performed on November 2, 1929, before the largest concert audience to have assembled in that city.
Barth was inspired by a visit with Ferruccio Busoni, who predicted in 1907 that future music would include a division of the octave into more than twelve degrees. Barth began experimenting with new scales and quarter-tone music, in which each note is divided into four steps, not two. In 1928 he worked with George Weitz of the Chickering Piano Company to develop and build a quarter-tone piano. The project was financed, in part, by noted composer Charles Ives. Barth developed and performed a program tracing the development of the piano, using “The Piano of Yesterday,” a harpsichord; “The Piano of Today,” a concert grand; and “The Piano of Tomorrow,” a quarter-tone piano.
On March 28, 1930, he performed his composition Concerto for Quarter Tone Piano and Strings with the Philadelphia Symphony, Leopold Stokowski conducting. He composed at least two other concertos, as well as the operetta Miragia (1938), the Drama Symphony and the Prince of Peace Symphony (both 1940) and Ten Etudes for Quarter-Tone Piano and Orchestra (1944.) Barth also composed two chamber pieces, two piano sonatas, and two suites, plus numerous songs. An accomplished pianist, Barth was the primary performer on at least seventeen Victor recordings. Two of his performances may be heard on the Library of Congress “National Jukebox.”
For the last eleven years of his life, Barth lived on Mandarin Road with his wife, Lois. He taught music at Jacksonville Junior College, now Jacksonville University. He died on December 8, 1956 and is buried in Mandarin Cemetery.
Listen to Barth performing:
Mozart’s Fantasia in D Minor
Cécile Chaminade’s The Flatterer
Cécile Chaminade’s Scarf Dance
Daquin’s Le Coucou
Christian Sinding’s Rustle of Spring