Hans Moldenhauer, 1906-1987

Publication Year: 1988.


Hans Moldenhauer, a Life Member of the American Alpine Club, died on October 19, 1987. He grew up in Mainz, where he studied music. He began climbing in the Swiss-Austrian Rätikon group, making several first ascents, and in the early 1930s he turned to the Western Alps, where he climbed, among many others, the Matterhorn, Dom, Zinal Rothorn, Monte Rosa, Mont Blanc and the Grandes Jorasses. Hans made ski ascents everywhere, winter climbs of the Mönch and Jungfrau and strenuous traverses (one in 1937 from Gressoney to Macugnaga in 2½ days via eight 4000-meter summits). He was active in the Swiss Alpine Club, the Österreichisher Alpen Klub and the elite Kletter-Gild Baderd.

In 1938, Hans left Nazi Germany for the United States, lived briefly in the East where he climbed with Fritz Wiessner and others, and then settled in Spokane. His Tagebuch from this period lists most of the major peaks of the Northwest, first ascents in the Cabinet Range and a proud note of January 7, 1941: “Election to the American Alpine Club.” Our 1942 and 1943 American Alpine Journals contain articles written by Hans, who was an accomplished mountain writer. In 1943 he served briefly with the Mountain Troops at Fort Hale but was discharged with frostbite. Even after this, Hans’ climbing diaries record a relentless (and successful) love of mountaineering.

His career in music was quiet but spectacular: from modest beginnings he built a vast collection of music manuscripts, the Moldenhauer Archives, now installed at Harvard, the Library of Congress and other institutions here and in Europe. With his wife Rosaleen, he wrote the definitive and acclaimed biography of the Austrian composer Anton von Webern, and for his work he was awarded medals and honors by Austria, the City of Vienna and the Federal Republic of Germany. All this with an eye condition which left him blind by the early 1960s.

Hans took me on my first climbs, walking behind me with his hand on my shoulder, his archivist’s memory keeping us on course. In winters we rocketed down icy, winding roads on his old luge with me steering and Hans directing; “Watch out for the turn to the right!” Mountaineering was not only sport, but an inspiring analogue to the life well lived—full of beauty, risks, hard work and fulfillment. His motto Excelsior! applied to all he undertook, from a scholarly paper to a New Year’s Day summit toasted with champagne in plastic cups. At my wedding, Hans recited, in his resonant accent, the Old Testament lesson: “Blessed by the Lord be His land . . . with the finest produce of the ancient mountains, and the abundance of the everlasting hills…” Like those mountains which mean so much to all of us, Hans gave freely of his riches, and drew our eyes to the highest summits. Excelsior, Hans!

David K. Coombs