posted 17 April 2004
The past few months has seen the deaths of a number of friends of the International Forum for Suppressed Music, chief among them two composers and one composer's daughter Peter Gellhorn , Vilém Tauský and Spoli Mills , who was also a Patron of the IFSM. This issue of the Newsletter carries obituaries of all three and, in the interests of promoting the music Peter and Vilém have left behind them, I have added worklists for both composers. Indeed, the IFSM is setting up a fund to mark their passing.
Geraldine Auerbach of the IFSM was in near-constant touch with Spoli Mills for the planning of a special Mischa Spoliansky tribute day, intended to feature his Symphony (as yet unperformed), his piano works, his cabaret songs and a theatre piece to be commissioned about him. Her untimely and unexpected death has increased our resolve to present this event at the South Bank Centre in November 2005.
Although both Gellhorn and Tauský were in their early 90s, their deaths came days too soon quite literally to allow them the satisfaction of seeing a work of theirs on CD. For the two-disc set, Continental Britons: The Émigré Composers, the fruits of the IFSM's two concerts in the Wigmore Hall in June 2002, is at last available (details under Recordings, below). Our plans were initially hatched in conjunction with Andante, whose plans to develop a series of CDs of such repertoire music composed under, or after flight from, dictatorship came to nothing when a change of business partner took them in a different direction. We were delighted to find that Nimbus is very interested in exploring 'suppressed music', in its broadest sense, and our first experience in working with Nimbus, on Continental Britons, has proved extremely heartening: they have shown flexibility, open-mindedness and a concern for quality which encourages us to look forward to working with them in the future.
As promised in the last issue, this IFSM e-newsletter has been prepared with the intention of getting news to its readers in a timely manner. Accordingly, the article on Szymon Laks intended for this issue has again been postponed so as not to hold up the rest.
We are delighted to welcome Jutta Raab-Hansen author of NS-verfolgter Musiker in England: Spuren deutscher und österreichischer Flüchtlinge in der britischen Musikkultur (von Bockel Verlag, Hamburg, 1996) and now London-based onto the committee of the IFSM; her knowledge and expertise will be of considerable help in our work. We are also very pleased to welcome the Austrian conductor Gottfried Rabl among the patrons of the IFSM his efforts on behalf of the symphonies of Egon Wellesz (five of the symphonies are now available on two CPO CDs, and all but No. 5 have now been recorded) have been instrumental in re-establishing Wellesz's reputation as a major twentieth-century symphonic voice.
Once again, of course, I encourage you all to submit news, reviews, articles, etc., to the newsletter. The reviews section in this issue as last consists entirely of pieces written by Steve Schwartz and myself, and I for one would be delighted to find this dominance undermined!
Why 'Entartete Musik'?
'Entartete Musik' has become the term for something that is almost a musical genre, in much the same way that we speak of 'Venetian Baroque', or 'French Impressionism'. In fact, the term is an umbrella concept that allowed unscrupulous politicians to justify deeming music 'unsuitable for public consumption' and for reasons which went beyond pure aesthetics. In an attempt to justify racial theories, backed up by pseudo-science, draconian measures were taken to stamp out not only the cultural contribution of a long-established European tradition, but the adherents of the European tradition itself: Judaism.
In Ernst Krenek's memoires, Im Atem der Zeit, he recounts a conversation with a Viennese Bishop who was complaining of 'Jewish composers and their atonal artistic pollution'. Krenek retorts to the Bishop's astonishment that in his opinion, of the important so-called 'atonal' composers being performed at the time in Vienna, he could only recall one with Jewish ancestry: Arnold Schönberg. The others himself included, Alban Berg, Anton von Webern were all Catholics. At this, the Bishop nearly fell from his chair in astonishment. 'But how could they write such degenerate music if they weren't Jews?' Herein lay the crux of an historic contradiction: Jews were being blamed for a musical development that they were not responsible for. The man who thought up tone-rows in music, something known today as 'twelve-tone' or 'serial music', was Josef Matthias Hauer, another non-Jewish Austrian, whose music 'had the effect on Schönberg that Satie's had on Debussy', as Egon Wellesz mentions in his Oxford lectures on Schönberg. Nor was Schönberg the first to compose 'atonal' music, a term he himself tried not to use until much later. To his students in Vienna, among them Berg, Webern and Wellesz, he mentioned that his music was absolutely not 'atonal', but 'atonic', that is music not dominated by the presence of the tonic.
What Vienna's Bishop was demonstrating was the effect of propaganda in action. The words 'atonal', 'Jewish' and 'degenerate' had become so intertwined and interchangeable, that the logic of the resulting policies could never be questioned. For the Nazis, the Jews were a 'race'. For the Nazis, in fact, Slavs or Mediterraneans were other races: even the concept of 'race', as used in the early part of the century, is so far from our understanding of it today that we cannot fully comprehend its misuse. Add to this misuse an unhealthy dose of pseudo-science, which believed that any exposure to works by 'inferior' races would somehow have a biologically degenerating effect on the listener, and one has an argument that provided an adequate basis for outlawing anything that does not accord with the personal prejudices of the ruling parties. In much the way that 'the fight against terrorism' is frequently used today to infringe basic liberties, so in the minds of people 70 years ago could preservation from racial degeneration justify the most culturally damaging of actions. At a stroke, Jewish composers, musicians and performers were banned, despite the fact that the vast majority used a relatively traditional musical language. Ironically, the atonal avant-garde was also banned because it suited conservative elements within the Nazi propaganda machine that people should believe it sounded 'Jewish'. But even the Nazis realised that it would be unreasonable to expect the larger part of the population to swallow so many illogical policies, all easily traceable to either medieval bigotry or personal artistic prejudice, and so a new 'scientific' term was sought: 'entartet', an obsolete word from nineteenth-century criminology. It was perfect. It meant degenerate in a progressive, biological sense. The music wasn't dangerous because of its Jewish authorship, or because it was atonal, it was dangerous because it was the result of 'biological degeneration', or 'Entartung'. It was as bad for the consumer as eating an egg which had passed its 'sell-by' date. Biological processes had taken place in art and music which made it dangerous to consume. It had to be banned and its practitioners, i.e., composers and performers, had to be banned along with it.
Music was the most quickly learned language of assimilation, says Leon Botstein, the eminent American musicologist and conductor. Herein lies the possible explanation of why so many popular composers were Jewish. Austrian Jews were granted full civil rights in 1867, German ones two years later. By this time, it was a pure formality since many Jewish citizens of the two empires had already started the assimilation process. By allowing Jews to study in universities, marry whom they liked, live where they wanted and take advantage of all of life's opportunities, the last barriers had been removed. What had already de facto started before 1867, gathered steam and surged forwards so that in a little over a generation, a majority of Vienna's lawyers and doctors were Jewish. Jews made up only approximately 12% of the population yet they represented a third of all students at Vienna's Conservatory. This environment was clearly not conducive to the development of cultural revolutionaries. Though most bourgeois Jews in Vienna tended to support left-of-centre political parties, it was because the others on the right were German nationalistic in an otherwise pluralistic state and anti-Semitic. The tools to prosperity had only recently been placed into the hands of central Europe's Jews. Most were happy to use them well and advance themselves as far as their natural talents would allow. Not only did they advance themselves, they brought a new philosophy and attitude towards support of the arts. Indeed, it could be argued that it was the liberation of this dynamic social sector that led to the flourishing of the arts at the turn of the twentieth century. Central Europe's newly enfranchised citizens would consume, support and disseminate the arts beyond anyone's expectations. The Jewish families who supported Klimt and Schiele, such as the Lederers, Wittgensteins, Bloch Bauers, Zuckerkandls and the Waerendorfers, or the musical 'salons' of the Wertheimers or the Wittgensteins give an idea of this new and dynamic haut bourgeoisie. Few held to ideas of destroying the very structures that had allowed them to do so well. This was as true of society, as it was of art.
If the list of atonal composers is notable for the absence of large numbers of Jewish composers, so the lists of popular and traditional genres are notable for the dominance of Jewish ones. Ralph Benatzky in his diaries wrote that he and Franz Lehár were the only non-Jewish operetta composers he could think of (he was conveniently, though not maliciously, forgetting Robert Stolz!). 'As far as librettists are concerned, I cannot think of a single one who isn't Jewish', he goes on to write. Jewish composers wrote countless hit songs, and dominated popular music to the extent that one wonders how the general population did not rebel at the removal of such popular stars as Jan Kiepura and Richard Tauber, The Weintraub Sychopators, The Comedian Harmonists and many others, or the banning of the most popular of Viennese chanson, such as Das Fiakerlied or Fein, fein schmeckt uns der Wein; or Berlin Schlager such as Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuss auf Liebe eingestellt, Durch Berlin Fließt immer noch die Spree or Allein in einer Großen Stadt.
It could be argued that two figures set the tone for much of this period. They were both Viennese, and both went to Berlin, where their composition classes would produce a string of brilliant young progressives who after 1933, found musical life under the new regime impossible: Franz Schreker and his friend Arnold Schönberg. Both men were culturally typical of the day: Schreker was the son of a Jewish photographer and a non-Jewish Hungarian minor aristocrat. In any case, typical of the day, religion had been discarded and Schreker most likely never set foot in a synagogue. Schönberg was a convert to Protestantism. Much of this sort of 'conversion' had been the result of pre-Nazi anti-Semitism, such as practised by the mayor of Vienna, Dr Karl Lueger, and his Social Christian Party at the turn of the century. As a devout Catholic, he and his party viewed Judaism solely as a religion. As soon as someone converted, they were allowed to hold municipal positions from which they had been previously banned. Though Mahler was the music director of the Imperial Opera, and the Emperor was a well-known philo-Semite (refusing on frequent occasions even to meet Karl Lueger) it would be in this environment that Mahler would also 'convert'.
With operatic successes such as Der ferne Klang, Die Gezeichneten and Der Schatzgräber playing on virtually every German and Austrian stage, Schreker was the most performed living composer in the German-speaking world between 1912 and 1922. His musical language was so much the essence of Klimt and the other Successionists that he was commissioned to write his ballet Der Geburtstag der Infantin for the opening of their startling new building next to the Imperial Academy of Art. Schönberg was the genius who decided things had to change suddenly and radically rather than organically. Egon Wellesz wrote in his Oxford lectures that Schönberg somehow sensed the explosion to come following the collapse of the Empire and the old order, and the urge to write in a new and abrasive language was a result of this. This speculation has been often repeated but there can be no doubt that progressives such as Schreker and Zemlinsky were suddenly left rather on the sidelines compared to Schönberg's radical departure from the hitherto accepted musical principle of functional tonality. His twelve-tone writing would not come until well after his experiments with free tonality and atonality. Wellesz also writes that, unlike other composers who were happy to experiment within tonality, he would incorporate huge intervallic leaps while at the same time, removing as much of the music's sense of natural pulse as possible. What pushed Schönberg was not the gradual transition into another language, but the use of a confrontational idiom which hardly anyone at the time could understand. If Schreker was the musical equivalent of Jugendstil, Schönberg was the equivalent of Expressionism. His total mastery in all compositional techniques meant that what he tried to say in this new language demanded to be heard. Though Mahler was perplexed, he too was impressed. Schreker, not only a colleague, but a close personal friend of Schönberg, was another master of all hitherto developed musical and compositional techniques. The students in their classes would nearly all be forced into exile. Yet these composition classes stood like two pillars supporting the emerging aesthetic of a new age.
However long the shadow as Schönberg cast over Berlin and Vienna between the Wars, he stood opposite another giant whose influence was arguably even stronger: Stravinsky. The classical clarity which gripped much of young Europe of the time would find its German voice not only in the likes of Paul Hindemith and Ernst Toch, but also amongst many of Franz Schreker's composition students, such as Berthold Goldschmidt and Karol Rathaus. Outside of German-speaking Europe, his influence was immense, and perhaps nowhere more so than amongst the younger generation of Czech composers. The music of Hans Krása, Gideon Klein, Pavel Haas and Erwin Schulhoff share characteristics that are not only typical of Czech surrealism but also display a clarity reminiscent of contemporary French music with an angular grotesquery that recognised Stravinsky as the leading new voice of the day. Yet, as different as each of the composers remained, there was something distinctively Czech about them. Their worlds moved seamlessly between dream and reality with extraordinary technical skill and clarity. And though many of the most important figures who came to prominence in Vienna, such as Alexander Zemlinsky, Gustav Mahler, Ernst Krenek and Erich Wolfgang Korngold were themselves Czechs, those who remained in Bohemia and Moravia developed a sound-world which would be denied the prominence of other distinctive musical developments of the same period. That is the result of a near-total extinguishing of all of Czechoslovakia's most talented composers by 1945.
Every country that would fall to the Reich of a Thousand Years would equally forfeit a generation of bright young composers: Holland and France as well as Poland, the Ukraine, Italy and Greece. But this music has now started to re-enter and enrich the repertoire after a long period of silence. Behind every composer lies a musical personality which demands to be heard, not only to learn and understand his or her distinctive and individual world, but also to understand the plurality of the musical world we live in today.
2. The New Jewish School - An Unknown Chapter in Music History
The topic of my essay is Jewish art-music and, specifically, a group of composers who, at the beginning of the twentieth century, created for the first time in music history a national Jewish style in the art music. This group is called sometimes 'the national Jewish school' or 'the Russian Jewish school' or 'young Jewish school' or even 'St Petersburg group' (this name is wrong because it wasn't confined to St Petersburg at all). I prefer the name 'New Jewish School'.
The New Jewish School can be compared to other national currents which have formed the European musical landscape since the middle of the nineteenth century. But whereas the Russian, Czech, Spanish or Norwegian national music was able to unfold and establish itself in the cultural conscience, the development of the Jewish school was violently terminated after only three decades by Stalinism and National Socialism.
Jewish art music is often confronted with a kind of mistrust: 'Is there such a thing?' Some time ago I participated in a festival project devoted to Jewish music with many concerts, film and theatre performances, a scientific conference and so on. But the title of the entire project - 'Jewish music? Portrayal and self-portrayal' appeared a bit strange. This question mark after the words 'Jewish music' irritated me, and during the conference one could see that this question mark reflected an attitude towards Jewish music which held it to be something questionable, something which had to prove its existence.
I asked myself then what the reason for this scepticism could be. In fact, I think there are several reasons. The first is a common ignorance: when you don't know about something, for you it doesn't exist. And who really knows Jewish art music even if you've been to a few klezmer concerts?
Another reason: Jewish art music is expected to be something rather exotic, completely unlike every other music; in other words, so to speak, every note is expected to be Jewish. When these expectations are not confirmed, one says there isn't any special Jewish music.
Reason three: many people still cannot accept the term 'national' in connection with the Jews. 'What is there in common between you and an Ethiopian Jew?', they ask. For them the Jews are not more than a religious community, as they were perceived in the nineteenth century. They fail to see the whole process of forming of the Jewish nation, Jewish national culture and Jewish national music as a part of it.
And finally a misunderstanding plays a role on the field of Jewish art music: the terms 'Jewish music' and 'Jewish composer' are often mixed up. The fact that most composers of Jewish origin didn't write Jewish music is used as an argument to prove that Jewish music doesn't exist.
The Origins of Jewish Art-Music
More than 5 millions Jews lived in Russia at that time. Most of them (about 95 per cent) were forced to stay in the so-called Pale of Settlement an area in the West of Russia that was the biggest ghetto in the world. They were not allowed to settle in other parts of the country and were separated from other groups of the Russian population. So they preserved not only their religious traditions but also their culture and among others their musical folklore. It became the musical basis of the national Jewish music.
Several young Jewish musicians, most of them students at the conservatory in St Petersburg, absorbed ideas the national rebirth. In 1908 in St Petersburg some of them founded a Society for Jewish Folk Music. It was the first explicitly Jewish musical institution in the world. At first it was not really clear for these young musicians what the goals of the Society should be and what music should be fostered as Jewish. Fortunately one of the members had already had some experience on this field. His name was Zusman Kiselgof and he was not a professional musician. Jewish musical folklore was his hobby. Beginning in 1902 he went to the Pale of Settlement and collected Jewish folksongs there. His wife came from the village Lubavichi, an important Chassidic centre, her relatives lived there and so Kiselgof went to Lubavichi and wrote down numerous Chassidic songs. After the Society for Jewish Folk Music was founded he put his materials at the disposal of the young composers. A short time later the first arrangements of these and other songs were written. They were published and performed in concerts not only in St Petersburg but throughout the country. The activities of the Society soon became an important part of the new Jewish culture in Russia. By 1913 it had already over 1,000 members and branches were opened in seven cities.
Soon some of the composers were no longer content with the materials they had obtained from Kiselgof and tried to find other areas of Jewish traditional music besides Chassidic tunes. Lazare Saminsky was the first to point out liturgical music as an important, probably the most important, part of Jewish music. He lived in the Caucasus, since he was then serving in the army and he had the opportunity to visit villages of the Georgian Jews in the mountains. There he heard for the first time the biblical cantillations: as these Jews lived in separation from the rest of Jewry, they had managed to preserve this music in a very pure way.
These cantillations, also called tropes, are the motifs for performing of the text of the Holy Script. The motifs are supposed to be very old: they probably derive from the time of the Second Temple in Jerusalem (the centre of Jewish spiritual and political life until the destruction by the Rome in the first century). So they sound very archaic, since they consist of a few tones within a small intervallic range. Every motif is noted down with a special mark called an accent. It is a very complicated, diversified system because one and the same mark stands in different texts for different motifs. Learning these cantillation motifs is a part of Jewish religious education.
After his return to St Petersburg Saminsky lectured to the Society about his discovery and made a considerable impression on the other composers. They began to study biblical cantillation and to integrate it in their works. Using the short cantillation motifs opened new possibilities for them. They were no longer forced to cite a complete song-melody and thus were now able to shape the musical form absolutely freely. This new source also brought about a considerable refreshment and renewal of their harmonic language.
Exile and Return
A few years later the economic crisis wiped both Juwal and Jibneh from the Berlin musical stage. Some of the composers went to Palestine and the USA, others went back to Russia where what seemed like a new liberal period had begun the New Economic Policy (NEP). This policy enabled again private business small factories and stores for example. Jewish private business provided the financial support for the establishment of a new Jewish musical institution the Society for Jewish Music in Moscow. The most important composers of this new Society were Mikhail Gnesin, the brothers Alexander and Grigori Krein and Alexander Veprik. Founded in 1923, the Society organised several dozens of concerts, mainly with works of the 'Hebraic' direction. A number of renowned Russian and Russian Jewish musicians took part in these concerts, among them the pianists Maria Yudina and Samuil Feinberg, the cellist Raya Garbuzova, the members of the Beethoven Quartet and many others. These concerts were regarded by the contemporaries as a valuable part of the Moscow cultural life. They encouraged also young Jewish composers to write music in Jewish style. Hundreds of pieces mainly chamber music and songs were created in those years under the influence of the Society.
The Suppression of Jewish Culture
This re-orientation was not enough to prevent the dissolution of the Society in 1931, along with many other Jewish cultural and educational institutions. The time known in Russia as 'the Great Break' brought about also the end of the Jewish art-music in this country. In the 1930s Jewish culture in Russia was reduced to a necessary minimum for representative use and was later completely destroyed.
But at that time the New Jewish School was no longer confined to Russia. It also had a considerable influence on international Jewish musical life. Just as its activities in Russia had almost come to a standstill, this music spread throughout Europe, with Vienna as the most outstanding centre. In 1928 a Society for the Promotion of Jewish Music was founded in Vienna. Its protagonists were Joachim Stutschewsky, Israel Brandmann and Juliusz Wolfsohn.
The cellist and composer Joachim Stutschewsky was the moving spirit of this institution. In the beginning of the 1920s he had belonged to the Arnold Schoenberg circle. As a co-founding member of the Kolisch Quartet (first called the Vienna Quartet) he participated in numerous performances of works by the Second Viennese School. After 1928 he devoted himself almost entirely to the new Jewish music. He organised the most concerts of the Society, performed as cellist at these concerts and wrote articles for Jewish press. He also composed in a very original Jewish style. Stutschewsky, moreover, had contacts with Jewish organisations in almost all European countries which were interested in organising concerts of modern Jewish music. He helped them in getting scores, shaping the programmes and engaging the musicians. In his archive in Tel Aviv one can find hundreds of letters to and from these organisations proving that the music by the New Jewish School was successfully performed not only in Vienna but almost everywhere in Europe at those time. For the most part it was the music by the Russian Jewish composers, but Jewish composers from other countries were also represented, like Stutschewsky and Brandmann in Austria, Aron Marco Rothmuller in Yugoslavia, Lazare Weiner in the USA, Vladimir Dyck in France and many others all over the world who were all contributing to this repertoire in the 1930s.
But this hopeful development was suddenly broken off by the Nazi invasion in Austria and then of other European countries. After the World War II the New Jewish School was completely forgotten. Only a few years ago performances again began to take place, and a number of recordings were made. The centre of musicological research about the New Jewish School is now the Potsdam University where a centre for Jewish music is being established. In May 2004 an international congress about 'The New Jewish School in Music' will be organised in Potsdam (cf. 'Academic Activities', below ).
3. Rediscovering Mieczyslaw Weinberg
The release of Mieczyslaw Weinberg's Fifth Symphony and First Sinfonietta from Chandos heralds the start of one of what ought to be one of the most important series of recordings in years, one which should reveal to a largely unsuspecting musical world the recent presence of a master symphonist, one of the most powerful, and powerfully affecting, composers of the second half of the twentieth century and also, one gratefully observes, one of its most prolific, so that even when this series has run its course, there will still be an immense amount of Weinberg awaiting discovery.
Mieczyslaw Weinberg is not, of course, an entirely unknown quantity. Olympia did him proud, from the early 1990s on, with a number of orchestral CDs licensed from Melodiya and several original recordings of chamber and instrumental music seventeen CDs to date (details at http://www.olympia-cd.com). Claves, too, came to the party a few years back with a fine disc of the Chamber Symphonies Nos. 1, 3 and 4 (CD 50-9811) and now again, just released in a mixed Russian programme (CD 50-9811), with the Three Palms (relatively modernist Lermontov settings from 1977) for soprano and string quartet; the performers are Elena Vassilieva, who sings with a caricature Russian wobble, and the Quatuor Sine Nomine (and Weinberg's name is misspelled 'Vainberg' more on that below). Naxos has just brought out (8.557194) a pairing of the Violin Concertos of Myaskovsky and Weinberg (spelt wrongly here, too), in a performance spoiled by the consistently poor intonation of the soloist, Ilya Grubert. BIS, too, has released the Weinberg Trio for flute, viola and harp (or piano), Op. 127, with Sharon Bezaly (flute), Nobuko Imai (viola) and Ronald Brautigam (piano) in a programme of Duruflé and Hahn (BIS-CD-1439). Of equal importance to the appearance of Weinberg's music on CD is the fact that it now has a western outlet, in the form of the publishers Peer Music and Sikorski, both based in Hamburg.
Weinberg's life has the makings of a film script rather a horrific one at times. He was born in Warsaw, on 8 December 1919, into a musical family: His father was a composer and violinist in a Jewish theatre there. He made his first public appearance as a pianist at the age of ten, and two years later became a student at the Warsaw Academy of Music, then under the direction of no lesser a figure than Karol Szymanowski, and there he took piano lessons from Josef Turczynski. But then, as for millions of others, years of hell descended. Weinberg's graduation in 1939 was soon followed by Hitler's invasion. He therefore fled eastwards, taking shelter first in Minsk, where he studied composition with Vassily Zolotarev (another composer whose work deserves re-evaluation). Soon after his flight, his entire family was killed, burned alive by the Nazis, although it wasn't until the mid-1960s that he was able to establish what had happened to them. Two years after the invasion of Poland, as Hitler now pushed into Russia, Weinberg again had to flee, this time finding work at the opera house in Tashkent, in Uzbekistan.
It was there, in 1943, that he took the action that was perhaps to be the most decisive for the future pattern of his life: he sent the manuscript of his newly completed First Symphony in the care of his father-in-law, the eminent Jewish actor Solomon Mikhoels to Shostakovich in Moscow. Shostakovich's response was typically helpful and immediate: Weinberg received an official invitation to travel to Moscow, where he was to spend the rest of his life, living largely by his compositions, though he also made many appearances as a pianist. One of the most prestigious was when in October 1967, with Vishnevskaya, Oistrakh, and Rostropovich he played in the first performance of Shostakovich's Seven Romances on Poems by Alexander Blok, replacing the ailing composer. And when Shostakovich presented his latest orchestral works to the Composers' Union and to the Soviet Ministry of Culture, it was generally in four-hand versions in which Weinberg was his habitual accompanist (in 1954, for example, they recorded the Tenth Symphony at the piano a document of immense importance).
Having only just escaped the Nazis with his life, Weinberg was not to find matters much easier under Stalin. During the night of 12 January 1948, Solomon Mikhoels was brutally murdered on Stalin's orders, an early victim of the anti-Semitic obsession that was to be a feature of his last years in power it was rumoured that Stalin had already ordered that four massive concentration camps be constructed in Kazakhstan, in preparation for his own version of the Final Solution. When, in February 1953, Weinberg himself was arrested, it seemed that he, too, might 'disappear'. Shostakovich immediately acted true to form, taking the step, one of almost foolhardy generosity and courage, of writing to Stalin's police chief Beria to protest Weinberg's innocence this when, only five years earlier, Shostakovich's music had been banned and he had been removed from all his official positions. The conventional reaction of a Soviet citizen when an acquaintance was arrested was to put as much distance as possible between oneself and the 'guilty' party and his family; far from such understandable self-preservation, Shostakovich also went to see Weinberg's wife, Natalya (née Vovsi-Mikhoels) and they agreed that, if she, too, were arrested, he and his wife would adopt their daughter. But fortune intervened: Stalin's death on 5 March removed the imminent danger; a month later Mikhoels was posthumously rehabilitated in the Soviet press, and soon after Weinberg himself was released, at which point Shostakovich and the Weinbergs joyfully tore up the adoption document.
Weinberg's association with Shostakovich was not based only on mutual personal esteem. Shostakovich often spoke very highly of Weinberg's music (calling him 'one of the most outstanding composers of the present day'); he dedicated his Tenth String Quartet to him; and in February/March 1975, although terminally ill (he was to die on 9 August), he found the energy to travel from Moscow to Leningrad to attend all the rehearsals for the premiere of Weinberg's opera The Madonna and the Soldier. Weinberg's identification with Shostakovich's musical language was such that to the innocent ear the best of his own music might also pass muster as very good Shostakovich. Weinberg was quite unabashed, stating with unsettling directness that 'I am a pupil of Shostakovich. Although I have never had lessons from him, I count myself as his pupil, as his flesh and blood'. But there is much more to Weinberg than these external similarities of style, although his music much of which achieves greatness has yet to have the exposure that will allow his individuality to be fully recognised. It also embraces folk idioms from his native Poland, as well as Jewish and Moldavian elements; and towards the end of his career he found room for dodecaphony, though usually set in a tonal framework. His evident taste for humor, from the light and deft to biting satire, was complemented by a natural feeling for the epic: The Twelfth Symphony, for instance, dedicated to the memory of Shostakovich, effortlessly sustains a structure almost an hour in length; and Symphonies Nos. 17, 18 and 19 form a vast trilogy entitled On the Threshold of War.
The list of Weinberg's compositions is enormous and deserves serious investigation both by musicians and record companies. There are no fewer than 22 symphonies (the last to be completed, Kaddish, is dedicated to the memory of the Jews who perished in the Warsaw Ghetto, Weinberg donating the manuscript to the Yad va-Shem memorial in Israel; the 22nd was finished in piano score though not fully orchestrated); four Chamber Symphonies; two sinfoniettas; seven concertos (variously for violin, cello, clarinet, flute and trumpet); seventeen string quartets; nineteen sonatas for piano solo or in combination with violin, viola, cello, double-bass or clarinet; more than 150 songs; a Requiem (to secular texts by Garcia Lorca and others: a Soviet composer couldn't write a real Requiem); and an astonishing amount of music for the stage seven operas, three operettas, two ballets, and incidental music for 65 films and cartoons, plays, radio productions and circus performances.
Weinberg was never a Party member, although he turned in his fair share of celebratory 'socialist realist' commissions. But the horrors he had lived through underlined his genuine antipathy to war, which was far from the empty harrumphing of the Soviet peace movement. It can be heard in (for example) his treatment of the theme of death in his passionately humanist Sixth Symphony (1963), where one of the three settings he sets for boys' voices, after a breakneck orchestral scherzo, harrowingly describes the mangled bodies of children murdered by the Nazis an image that, after the slaughter of his own family, would have been desperately real for him.
Weinberg died just too early on 26 February 1996 to benefit from the revival of interest in his music. He spent his last months in his Moscow flat, confined to bed by ill health, often in considerable pain and afflicted by a deep depression occasioned by the wholesale neglect of his music an unworthy end to a career the importance of which is now beginning to be recognised. Not before time.
It's worth adding a word on the spelling of Weinberg's surname. For years the first recordings of his music to appear in the west presented him as Vainberg and Moisei Vainberg, at that. But spelling his surname as Vainberg merely perpetuates an inaccurate transliteration of his surname back from the Cyrillic transliteration of Weinberg the original, Polish spelling of his family name, and the one he insisted later in life. And he became Moisei rather than Mieczyslaw as he fled into the Soviet Union, with the Nazis murderously hot on his tail. An anti-Semitic border-guard, establishing that Weinberg was Jewish, simply filled in 'Moisei' on his papers rather as the Nazis insisted that all Jews be called Israel or Sarah and that was it: you didn't argue with officialdom in Stalin's Russia.
Now, with a series of new recordings from Chandos that will take Weinberg's music to a major international audience, a monograph currently being written by Per Skans for Toccata Press, my own publishing imprint, and with two more Weinberg projects in store from my own label-to-be, Toccata Classics (more of that in a few months' time!), perhaps Weinberg will now be able to claim his rightful place in the pantheon of major twentieth-century composers.
There's a growing band of musicians standing up for Weinberg these days,
though it's still something of a pioneer corps. One of them is Gabriel
Chmura, born in Poland and raised in Israel, who has been Music Director
of the National Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra in Katowice since the
2001-2 season. I first met him when he was looking for a home for the
series of Weinberg recordings he was initiating with his orchestra and
he wondered if Toccata Classics might be interested. Well, it would indeed
have been, but now the project has found an admirable home chez Chandos
which will bring his music the kind of exposure that he has long deserved.
Was the Weinberg project something that Chmura had to force through institutional reluctance in Poland, or was it something that everyone embraced with enthusiasm? 'The orchestra likes it, especially after all the modern stuff they have to record. But it wasn't easy from the beginning, because in Poland nobody knew him. For them, it's Polish; it's not Polish, it's Russian; it's not Russian. And some of the works are very good, and some are a little Stalinist. It's not that I claimed that this is the greatest composer we ever had; I had really to find the best works. And I recorded the Fifth Symphony for the radio; otherwise, I wouldn't have been able to do it.' It's a bit strong to describe some of Weinberg's music as Stalinist when he would almost certainly have been killed if Stalin hadn't died in a timely manner. 'Well, in some of the things in Shostakovich you have this socialist realism everybody had to do it. And I always said that if only half of the music of Weinberg is good, that's enough to make him a great composer.'
The comparison was bound to come up: Weinberg's music does bear a superficial similarity to Shostakovich and he did make that claim himself but the better one knows Weinberg's works, the more one can hear that he is his own man. 'I think you are right. In the beginning it's like when you hear Ravel, you hear Debussy. You can put those guys together the orchestration is similar, the mood is similar but they are two different personalities. Weinberg is the more melodic one, the more epic one; he's telling you a story. Shostakovich is maybe the more Stalinist one! He's more cynical, more sarcastic. If Weinberg sometimes uses sarcasm, it's not in the same way that Shostakovich uses it. And there's also the Jewish aspect: Jewish folklore dominates in Weinberg's music much more, of course, than in Shostakovich.' Of course, the interest that Shostakovich developed in Jewish music in the 1940s must have helped bring them together as well. 'I've heard from Weinberg's biographer, Per Skans, that Shostakovich's From Jewish Folk Poetry was actually inspired by Weinberg, not vice versa, and also the Sixth Symphony which has a children's chorus talking about the Holocaust is Op. 79, the same opus number of From Jewish Folk Poetry. And it's not Shostakovich who has influenced Weinberg there are many musicologists who say just the opposite.' Weinberg, indeed, is a more spontaneous melodist and contrapuntist than Shostakovich: he writes far more fluently. 'Yes, yes: no doubt. And look, the fact that we are comparing both composers raises the level of Weinberg, of course. And we can do it without shame because it's not a sport, and we can discuss these things.' Well, there's testimony to the quality of Weinberg's music in the very fact that Shostakovich himself had such a high regard for it. 'And he was right.'
Chmura is very enthusiastic about the companion piece on the CD, the First Sinfonietta, which he thinks 'is a really great piece. It's a piece I would love to take on tour. We will have a UK tour in 2005 with my orchestra and one of the pieces I would like to put in the programme is the First Sinfonietta. But first I have to convince my manager, IMG, to propose it to the organisers. I hope they're going to listen to it, and some might maybe take it. It would be great just to let the public hear it not just on the record but in a live performance. Before it was released, I played it for some good friends of mine, many of them musicians, and they were all really thrilled and asked: "How is it we didn't know this piece?" My first reaction, when I studied the piece, was the second movement was the most Jewish piece I had come across, even taking all of Bloch together. It has a clarinet solo which when we rehearsed it was fine: It was a normal musician and he played the normal way forte was forte, piano was piano, phrasing was phrasing. But when I heard it, I said: "Look, this is not the way to play. It should be played sometimes out of tune, sometimes a little jazzy why don't you listen to some klezmer music?" In Poland, especially in Kraków, klezmer music is quite well known there are so many ensembles trying to imitate or reconstruct the klezmer ensembles. He came in the next day and played it with the famous Jewish clarinet vibrato and this is how it should be. We worked it a little bit through, and that's how you hear it on the recording. Weinberg knew why he put the clarinet there, and I like it this way.'
What are the plans for the next CD in the series? 'We are going to do the Fourth Symphony, the Rhapsody on Moldavian Themes and the Second Sinfonietta. Then I would like to do the Eighth Symphony, The Flowers of Poland, which has never been recorded. But I have to arrange for a choir and to see with Chandos who pays for what. That's going to be quite expensive.'
It will be money well spent.
First published in Fanfare, Vol. 28, No. 1, May/June 2004.
Kletzki Third Symphony and Flute Concerto forthcoming from BIS
Concerts apart, the CD is one of the first concrete results of Tim Jackson's 'Lost Composers' Project, which was described in detail in the following article, by Olin Chism, published in The Dallas Morning News of 10 March 2004; I am obliged to Olin Chism for his willingness to allow me to republish it here:
In the 1920s and '30s, a small group of composers in Germany some
Jewish, some not formed a band of artistic brothers. All were gifted,
and some were seen as budding geniuses. Then came the Nazi juggernaut
that smashed all of their careers.
Dr Jackson, 45, works out of a UNT office packed with the materials of musical creation. Boxes of scores, old programs and other papers reach toward the ceiling, CDs are scattered about, composers' pictures are on the wall. Less obvious but equally formidable are the uncounted megabytes of musical information in his computer.
'I'm trying through my own work and artistic endeavors to undo the damage', he says. 'To resurrect their work and to give them the recognition which was their due but which, because of circumstances, they were not in a position to benefit from.'
There's an even more personal reason for Dr Jackson's crusade. Many of his mother's relatives died in the Holocaust. Five of his grand-uncles were killed along with their wives and most of their children.
A UNT colleague, pianist Joseph Banowetz, describes him as 'a very idealistic person. He's not doing this for the quick buck; he's really involved on a very personal level'.
The most prominent of the lost composers was Paul Kletzki, music director of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra from 1958 to '61. Few here knew that when he was young, he was far better known as a composer, with performances by renowned orchestras such as the Berlin Philharmonic.
Other names are far less known. Men like Josef Knettel, Reinhard Oppel, Heinrich Schenker, Otto Vrieslander and Günter Raphael wouldn't get a glimmer of recognition today even from avid concertgoers.
John Norine, a graduate student at UNT, has orchestrated, edited and typeset some of the music. 'I would almost call them a lost generation', he says. 'We know what happened in music early in the 20th century and what happened in the second half, but there is a gap between the Wars. This project is providing fascinating insights into the progress of music.'
Dr Jackson's search for the lost composers' music has turned him into a detective. He says he's gone around 'like a vagabond, from library to library, especially in east Germany, looking for scores that had disappeared.'
His quest was helped because some German librarians, ordered by the Nazis to destroy the music of Jewish composers and other 'undesirables', simply took the material off the shelves and hid it.
'I found one of Kletzki's scores that his wife had looked for in vain for 30 years in a library in Berlin. It's an early work actually, his first large-scale orchestral piece, called Prologue to a Tragedy. Nobody knew where it was. Kletzki himself thought that the score was completely lost.'
Not every find was in Germany. 'I found the only copy of his Opus 10 songs in the Dallas Public Library', Dr Jackson says. 'I don't know what happened. I suspect that he had a copy of it and gave it to someone in Dallas who then gave it to the library. It's the only extant copy of that piece in the world.'
Dr Jackson also befriended descendants of the lost composers. One is Kurt Oppel, son of Reinhard Oppel. A Protestant minister in Germany, Kurt Oppel has given his father's music and material to the UNT music library. Some of it, like that of Mr Kletzki, was buried to hide it from the Nazis.
Dr Jackson's mission is paying off with performances. Mr Kletzki's Symphony No. 2 was performed by Andrew Litton and the DSO in 2002. UNT staged the world premiere of Hans Schaeuble's opera Dorian Gray in February. Though Swiss, Mr. Schaeuble studied in Germany, where he was connected with the German composers and suffered discrimination in part because he was gay.
A concert in the UNT College of Music Recital Hall at 8 p.m. Friday will feature Mr. Kletzki's Piano Trio in D minor and the finale of the two-piano version of his Piano Concerto. Songs by Mr Oppel, Mr Vrieslander and Mr Knettel also will be performed. The piano trio will be repeated Saturday at 2 p.m. in The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.
A number of recordings are in the works.
Mr Banowetz describes Mr Kletzki's music as 'extremely complex not atonal but highly chromatic. It's beautifully put together. He knew every trick in the book about composition technique. But more than that, it has strong emotional content. It's not like some music, which is wonderfully put together, looks good on paper but does nothing for you. This is certainly not that kind of music'.
The ties that bound the lost composers were a stylistic affinity and the influence of the music theorist Heinrich Schenker, whose analysis of tonal music put him at odds with the developing atonal school of Arnold Schoenberg.
Several of the composers were associated with the Mendelssohn Conservatory in Leipzig, a major center of music-making in Germany. Mr Oppel taught Schenkerian analysis there. Mr Kletzki was in Berlin, where he knew renowned conductor Wilhelm Fürtwängler, a Schenker friend and admirer.
All knew each other or had mutual friends. And all had bitter stories.
Mr Kletzki's early life was a saga of narrow escapes. Born in Poland in 1900, he was almost killed in combat between the Poles and the Russians during World War I. Barely out of his teens, he went to Germany to study composition and conducting, quickly becoming known for his music.
Mr Kletzki was Jewish, so when the Nazis came to power in 1933, he fled to Italy. From there he went to the Soviet Union, where he became the conductor of the Ukraine's Kharkov Philharmonic. But his tenure there, from 1936 to '39, coincided with Stalin's Great Terror. His musicians began to disappear and then Mr Kletzki himself came under suspicion. Ironically, the Soviets considered him to be a German alien.
He returned to Italy but found that Mussolini's regime offered scant refuge. His wife's Swiss citizenship saved his life. With war sweeping the rest of Europe, he fled to the neutral country.
The trauma of the '30s and '40s finished him as a composer. He went on to renown as a conductor but never again took up his pen.
Mr Knettel was not Jewish, but he was the organist of a Jewish Reform temple in Bingen, Germany, a post he held long after it became unsafe to do so. His grandson, Dieter Maass, told Dr Jackson that his grandfather was deeply distressed on Kristallnacht, in November 1938, when thugs smashed Jewish synagogues and businesses all over Germany. Mr Knettel had supervised the construction of an organ in his temple. It was destroyed two weeks after its completion.
Mr Knettel survived the war, but his decency cost him his career as a composer.
Reinhard Oppel was another Gentile composer who suffered. Outspoken and strongly anti-Nazi ('He hated their guts', Dr Jackson says), he found his composing career shut down. The fact that he had served in the German army during World War I, was wounded three times and was awarded the Iron Cross may have saved him from arrest. He died of natural causes in 1941.
Dr Jackson became interested in their stories through his academic studies. What he calls 'the most important day of my life" came in 1980, when he spent several hours with Felix Salzer, a student of Mr Schenker who had fled to the States from Germany.
'Schenker died in 1935, and then his wife was killed in a concentration camp, and many of his students perished in the Holocaust. But there were a few students who managed to get out in time and take some stuff with them, and one of them was Salzer', Dr Jackson says.
A native of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Dr Jackson is a specialist in Mr Schenker and Schenkerian analysis who spent a year in the mid-'90s teaching the system in Germany. After teaching in Connecticut, he came to UNT in 1998 as co-director of the Center for Schenkerian Studies. Stephen Slottow is the other co-director.
Robert Davidovici, who will play the violin part in Mr Kletzki's trio
in Denton and Fort Worth, finds Dr Jackson's project invaluable. 'The
whole thing is incredibly fascinating', the violinist says. 'I've heard
a tape of the Second Symphony, and I thought that if we didn't know who
the person was, we'd say "Wow! This composer should be heard more
of". I get the same kind of surprising, positive feeling in playing
Suppressed Composers in the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music
All proceeds from the sale of Milken Archive recordings will be directed back into the Milken Archive's non-profit programmes in furtherance of educational and cultural goals.
SAMUEL ADLER (CD #8.559415)
ERNST TOCH (CD #8.559417)
HERMAN BERLINSKI [8.559443]
MARVIN DAVID LEVY [8.559427]
DAVE BRUBECK: THE GATES OF JUSTICE [8.559414]
BRUCE ADOLPHE [8.559413]
DARIUS MILHAUD'S SERVICE SACRÉ [8.559409]
A HANUKKA CELEBRATION [8.559410]
JEWISH VOICES IN THE NEW WORLD [8.559411]
LEONARD BERNSTEIN: A JEWISH LEGACY [8.559407]
JOSEPH ACHRON [8.559408]
KURT WEILL'S THE ETERNAL ROAD (Highlights) [8.559402]
KLEZMER CONCERTOS AND ENCORES [8.559403]
MARIO CASTELNUOVO-TEDESCO [8.559404]
GREAT SONGS OF THE YIDDISH STAGE, VOL. I [8.559405]
AN INTRODUCTION TO AMERICAN JEWISH MUSIC [8.559406]
New Zemlinsky Lieder CD
Songs by ZEMLINSKY (1871-1942)
Three posthumous song-cycles (two songs are world first recordings); Waltz-Songs, Op. 6; Six mélodies d'après des poèmes de Maurice Maeterlinck, Op.13
More information at www.hermine-haselboeck.com
New Kaprálová Scores
For more information about these and other projects of the Society please
New Weinberg Scores
Jewish Museum, Vienna
In the context of the Gál-Wellesz exhibition at the Jewish Museum, the Music Department of the University of Vienna put on a three-day symposium on the two composers on 2325 March, organised by Professor Hartmund Krones and held at the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde and the Jewish Museum. The IFSM was well represented: Martin Anderson, Erik Levi and Jutta Raab-Hansen all gave papers; and Michael Haas was a part-time chairman. It is understood that the proceedings will be published in the fullness of time. A musical highlight during the symposium was the first performance since 1932 of Hans Gál's Violin Concerto.
The Suppressed Music mailing list a reminder
Braunfels in Wexford
Schreker's Irrelohe in Vienna
Shostakovich's The Nose in London
Mátyás Seiber Missa brevis, Cambridge, 21 April
Ullmann and Borodová in St John's, Smith Square, London, 5
Music from Terezín at Leamington Festival, 30 April9
Shostakovich Symphony No. 11, Barbican, London, 12 May
Ullmann and Ben-Haim in Glasgow, 18 May
Zemlinsky in the USA
Salzburg Festival: Korngold feature
Bard Festival: Shostakovich and his World
In its fifteenth season, the 2004 Bard Music Festival (1315 and 2022 August) will focus on the former Soviet Union's foremost composer, Dmitrii Shostakovich (1906-75). In two summer weekends of concerts, panel discussions and a symposium, co-artistic directors Leon Botstein, Christopher H. Gibbs and Robert Martin will appear along with a host of Shostakovich experts and musicians from the United States and abroad, including the American Symphony Orchestra, the Bard Festival String Quartet and other notable ensembles, along with contralto Ewa Podles, violist Kim Kashkashian, pianist Dénes Varjón, and many others.
Over the past fourteen seasons, the Bard Music Festival has set the trend in music-festival programming, combining diverse concert programs of well- and lesser-known works with panels, symposia and other special events, all designed to bring the musical world of a given composer vividly to life. With the recent opening of Bard's new Frank Gehry-designed Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, the Bard Music Festival is now part of the new Bard SummerScape Festival, the Hudson Valley's premier destination for summer performances of opera, music, theatre and more.
Shostakovich and his World will comprise nearly one third of SummerScape 2004's presentations: eleven concerts (including one of Soviet popular music), each preceded by an informative talk; panel discussions; and a symposium. Performances will range from solo piano compositions, songs, and chamber works through jazz and choral works, to several symphonies played by the resident American Symphony Orchestra and conducted by its music director, Leon Botstein. Many of the works included in the festival, by Shostakovich as well as his contemporaries, are rarely heard in concert either here or abroad.
Among Shostakovich's compositions on the festival programmes are his
First, Fourth, Tenth, and Fourteenth Symphonies, his orchestration of
Mussorgsky's Songs and Dances of Death, his cantata Sun over our
Homeland, the oratorio Song of the Forests, the Suite for Jazz Orchestra
No. 1, piano preludes and fugues from Op. 87, several string quartets,
and his satirical cantata Rayok. Works by such Shostakovich contemporaries
as Glazunov, Skriabin, Myaskovsky, Prokofiev, Gavriil Popov, Vissarion
Shebalin, Aram Khachaturian, Mikhail Gnesin and Maximilian Shteynberg
will also be performed. The more recent generation of composers will be
represented by Edison Denisov, Alfred Schnittke, Boris Tishchenko and
No cultural institution in the United States has undertaken such a wide-ranging examination of Dmitrii Shostakovich's legacy in the context not only of his music but also of his character, career, public and private personas, his position in music and the politics of the day, his public disgrace at the hands of his own colleagues and Josef Stalin, and his eventual elevation to public adoration and the posthumous role as a hero of artistic freedom. The examination of the composer in performance and discussion is enhanced by the BMF volume Shostakovich and his World, edited by Laurel E. Fay and published by Princeton University Press.
A third weekend of Shostakovich and his World will take place
on 57 November and will focus on the composer's life during and
after World War II and will include an examination of the close friendship
between Shostakovich and his English contemporary, Benjamin Britten (1913-76).
Performances will include a concert by the Emerson String Quartet.
Link to Press Release:
Prokofiev 2004: Five Films
Sunday 2 May 2.15pm
Shostakovich, Weinberg and Prokofiev in Oxford and London
Prokofiev and America
John Coffin Memorial Recital
Prokofiev biographies surveyed
Prokofiev re-wrote a number of his works repeatedly, either because of
personal dissatisfaction or objections from directors and bureaucrats.
The most galling of the latter sort again involved Romeo and Juliet,
where there was actual meddling and re-writing of some music by others.
This kind of outrage was unusual, but from the time of his early collaboration
with Diaghilev, who commissioned several ballets, he often rewrote on
request. Diaghilev considered him, if anything, too pliable. Prokofiev
actually liked to write some music to close general specifications, as
in the case of his film scores. He worked pleasurably with Eisenstein
and Meyerhold, until the latter came to a dreadful end in Stalin's purges.
Prokofiev's personal life, of course, included as much tragedy as his professional life. He left Russia during the Revolution, after he had completed his studies, and returned at the worst possible time, just before the great purges began in the late 1930s. He had been considered a foreigner in the West and when he returned to Russia after many years abroad he was considered a foreigner there, too, and envied his international success. Some of that success was based on his powerful pianism; an observer said he appeared to have fingers of steel. It did not help that personally, Prokofiev appeared to be arrogant, condescending, tactless, and even cruel sometimes. Yet he succeeded in maintaining the lifelong friendship of Myaskovsky and he promoted the works of that and other Russian composers in the West. Prokofiev gained the love of several women, one of whom was foiled in her attempt to elope with him, and two of whom married him. He abandoned his first wife, Lina, his nearly grown sons, and their luxurious apartment, after many years, to be with Mira, a woman half his age. Lina later disappeared into Stalin's Gulag, at a time Prokofiev himself was in trouble, and right when Sergey and Mira married (without a prior divorce, and avoiding bigamy only by the technicality that the first marriage was not recognised in the Soviet Union.) Mira stayed with him until his death, which followed several years of bad health following concussion, and which happened to occur on the same day as Stalin's, in 1953.
The most satisfying of these biographies, all of which include attention to life, works and times, is the oldest, Robinson's; and his edition of Prokofiev's correspondence adds much to one's understanding of the biographical use of these sources. Much of what I said above is based on Robinson's work. His biography is long enough to give a full narrative account, in addition to meaningful musical commentary, and is clearly written.
I really wish I could say the same about the initial volume of David Nice's which, although well researched, is not terribly well written and would have profited from another draft or two, or a really good editor. The book could also benefit from a bit of reorganisation, bringing together more of what is said about various works. Its outstanding stylistic fault is a frequent and maddening lack of clarity stemming from sentences and paragraphs crowded with reference to different persons or things which then are referred back to with pronouns rather than names. The reader must then wonder which one he is referring to, sometimes requiring an inference. I hope the second volume will read better. Certainly the second volume, on Prokofiev's Soviet years, is to be much looked forward to, since Robinson's biography was written before the end of the Soviet Union, and many more sources are presumably available now.
Among the things I learned about Prokofiev from Nice is detail about Prokofiev's initial dislike, or failure to appreciate if you will, of major works by his contemporaries, Debussy or Ravel, for instance, as well as Roussel and Stravinsky. Prokofiev told Stravinsky that the opening theme of The Firebird was original with Rimsky-Korsakov. No surprise that Prokofiev and Stravinsky never became close. Prokofiev did not like Stravinsky's Neo-classicism, despite having written, in a passing phase, the Sinfonietta and Classical Symphony about which, by the way, one will look in vain for an adequate discussion in any of these books, except for the brief Gavotte, which was the result of its composer's studies with Tcherepnin, who liked Haydn and Mozart, and whom Prokofiev held in the kind of regard he did not extend to Liadov or Glazounov. (His first tutor as a child in the countryside, incidentally, was the young Gliere.)
Nice includes a good deal of commentary about particular works, with extensive musical examples, which the other authors do not include. He discusses Prokofiev's songs and piano pieces, even the early ones, in detail. Much of his focus is on dissonant harmony, to a degree I find rather strange.
For anyone looking for a relatively brief book on Prokofiev's life and work, beautifully printed and lavishly illustrated, I can strongly recommend Daniel Jaffe's. It covers Prokofiev's whole life and career, with enough detail on the works and their composition to make it a useful reference in addition to being a good read. In fact, I bought it after reading it, not before.
Two new Shostakovich books
Summary for the Busy Executive: Wonderful.
Weinberg's The Golden Key inhabits an ambiguous space. Alexei Tolstoy, a writer who understandably never wanted to make waves in the Stalinist state, provided the libretto. But Weinberg's music takes the basic story to other places. For me, Weinberg is the third great Soviet composer, along with Prokofiev and Shostakovich. His musical idiom owes a lot to Shostakovich, and indeed he used to describe himself as a 'pupil' of the older composer, although he never formally apprenticed himself. In fact, Weinberg had an already fully formed creative personality by the time he met Shostakovich, and Shostakovich not only helped him earn a living, but probably (and at considerable personal risk) saved him from 'disappearance' during the anti-Semitic purges of Stalin's final years. Nevertheless, although Shostakovich and Weinberg share a certain musical language and iconography, miraculously neither becomes a trivial imitation of the other. Weinberg composes at Shostakovich's level, and over the years I've found him a less acidic artistic personality. There's something 'warmer' (but not fuzzier) about Weinberg's music, and I've come to regard the two in roughly the same relation as Brahms and Dvorák. Still, Weinberg's idiom carries with it a sharply satiric edge.
The story of The Golden Key mixes Pinocchio with Petrushka and a little bit of the beanstalk's Jack. As I say, the fairy-tale can be read many ways. The puppet-hero, Buratino, one can view either as a proletarian hero (he leads the other puppets in a revolt against the puppeteer) or as an anti-Soviet. He finds the golden key to the Country of Happiness, which implies that the Revolution isn't enough to make you happy. But who really wants to take a fairy-tale that seriously, if he doesn't have to?
For those who know Weinberg's symphonies, concerti and chamber music, this ballet may come as a surprise. Weinberg has unbuttoned his buttons and poured into the work some of the most suave and delightful tunes in all ballet. This is Poulenc-calibre. The heavy shadows that cling to the orchestration of his more serious-minded works disappear. Indeed, the ballet might be viewed as a gallery of the great Russian masters of orchestration. Those familiar with Weinberg, of course, expect the quick, 'grotesque' dances à la Shostakovich, but might be surprised by Tchaikovskian waltzes, Rimskian brass work, flashes of the Petrushka Stravinsky in the winds and in some of the dance-rhythms, and gorgeous adagios of the sort Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet taught Russian composers how to write. The ability to assume different characters and voices helps a story-teller vivify his tale. The uncanny thing is, none of these numbers merely imitates, any more than Thoreau imitates Emerson, even though both speak Transcendental Yankee. Weinberg has something of his own to say. But it's not just tunes. Weinberg the symphonist peeks out from backstage by giving the main characters motives that stick to them from one number to another.
Not that you can follow a story from this CD. Weinberg made four orchestral suites out of numbers from the ballet music, without the idea of keeping the armature of the plot. He positions the numbers according to the principle of effective contrast and climax within each suite. Furthermore, although Olympia gives us the first three suites entire, it excerpts the fourth. Nevertheless, this is a very generously filled CD. Ermler and the Bolshoi do well enough, even though here and there the playing becomes a bit raggedy. I really want to hear what a first-class London orchestra would make of it. The music of this ballet deserves Tchaikovskian popularity and de luxe treatment. At any rate, kudos to Olympia for the Weinberg series in toto and for this disc in particular.
Weinberg's Fifth Symphony dates from 1962, at the time of the first performance of the long-suppressed Fourth Symphony of Shostakovich and, as Alistair Wightman's booklet notes point out, Weinberg's work pays explicit tribute to his friend's score with some shared characteristics at the end of the last movement. But it also occupies a comparable soundworld, with undemonstrative thematic material extended over an epic canvas (the Weinberg Fifth is 45 minutes long). The similarities are there from the start, with a nervous bass figure over anxiously rocking violins (a semitonal element that runs through the entire movement) is answered by a trumpet; other instrumental strands join the dialogue, with Weinberg's instrumental virtuosity generating a symphonic argument that manages to be both assertive and elusive, and inhabiting what Wightman's notes understatingly call 'a hugely diverse range of moods and textures'. One of the most impressive things about Weinberg's orchestral writing is the sense that though he may have only one, two, three instrumental lines up out there at work his command of harmony is such that you immediately sense the vast reserves of power he very rarely calls up, and when he does, it surges forth, clears the air, and leaves the debate to more temperate discussants. The whole of the bleak Adagio sostenuto second movement works in this way, suggesting someone tiptoeing between corpses for fear of disturbing them. The scherzo is a brittle Jewish dance, sparkling with sardonic humor; at one point the contrapuntal argument disappears deep into the basses and you suddenly realize how important Weinberg's orchestral technique was for the young Rodion Shchedrin. The finale begins, like the second movement, as a view from the trenches over desolate battle-fields; slowly, elegiac string lines are joined by other instrumental colors, and an edgy humour begins to stretch its muscles. Instead, an angry symphonic argument is fought out, with contrapuntal figures from the brass choir answered by brusque chords from woodwind and percussion. The tension is swiftly dissolved, and Weinberg borrows a celesta from Shostakovich to introduce a lengthy coda that manages to be both devastated and witty at the same time. And in this mood of emotional ambiguity it slowly ebbs away.
The 22-minute First Sinfonietta could be a real crowd-puller, Weinberg's equivalent of Chabrier's España or Enescu's Romanian Rhapsodies. It's an unashamed orchestral showpiece instantly attractive, chockfull of blustery good humor, rhythmically buoyant, sparkling in its orchestration, and phenomenally well crafted. It's also explicitly Jewish in its material, which makes me instantly suspicious of Tikhon Khrennikov's recommendation of the work at a Party meeting in the last days of December 1948 although Khrennikov himself was probably unaware that Stalin's anti-Semitism was about to take on several further degrees of paranoid intensity. A knock-about Allegro risoluto is followed by a tenderly lyrical Lento, prophetic of all those slow Khachaturian ballet scenes and showcasing a number of solo lines; a bubbly, brief theme and variations, with some pop-eyed bassoons, is then capped with a jagged, helter-skelter Vivace.
Chmura gets knock-out performances from his Katowice players: they're rhythmically crisp, fizzing with life, completely secure from a technical point of view, and obviously committed to bringing Weinberg's music alive there's not a hint of routine in their playing. And their engineer colleagues have given them transparent, full-bodied sound. If you're interested in Russian music or the history of the symphony indeed, if you just like fine music this release is a must. I can hardly wait for the next in the series.
First published in Fanfare, Vol. 28, No. 1, May/June 2004.
German cabaret (or 'Kabarett' in German, with the final t's sounded) began roughly around the turn of the century, inspired largely by the French model. However, it didn't get going until just after the First World War, with the great director Max Reinhardt's groundbreaking production Schall und Rauch ('sound and smoke'). It turned the world of German popular entertainment, at that point dominated by operetta and vaudeville-revue, just about upside-down. The new cabaret was intellectually sophisticated, sharply satirical and socially critical, almost exclusively from the left, occasionally from the extreme wing. Mainly, it offered a liberal critique. Nazis or bourgeois conservatives, for example, didn't create cabaret.
At its best, cabaret subverted the conventions of popular song. Instead of endless variations on boy meets girl, for instance, very often its political content turned things on their head. We all know the genre of the femme fatale whom all the boys run after. In Alfred Lichtenstein and Friedrich Hollaender's Lene Levi, Lene runs trying to escape from a gang of rapists and finally commits suicide by jumping off a bridge. Those sensitive to names will realise that Lene Levi is a Jewish girl and her attackers are non-Jewish toughs, who at the end 'run clear out of the neighbourhood'. The issues that the newspapers won't talk about, cabaret will. In Julian Arendt and Otto Stransky's Ich steh auf dem Boden der Tatsachen, a man and his wife are accosted by a masher, who gives the man's wife the eye. The man asks the ruffian to move along, to little avail. 'He was bigger and stronger than me.' So the man himself walks off. He confides to the audience: 'A heavyweight is hard to deal with. After all, it's my own private affair. Right? I ask you'. It turns out that the wife resents the masher's attentions and breaks his nose. The little man runs up to his wife and taunts the retreating masher, 'You coward, you!' In spite of his protest that he's not at all political and prefers peace and quiet, the little man then proudly tells us how he was, in the days of the Kaiser, all for the Kaiser, at the rise of the Communists, a man of the left. With Il Duce, he turned fascist, and now of course he's all for the Third Reich. 'After all, it's my own private affair. Right? I ask you.'
From the beginning, actors, not singers, were its stars. It never produced a voice on a par with Sinatra or Clooney, although occasionally you could find a good voice like Trude Hesterberg ('The Wild Trudy') or Lea Seidl. The stars not only knew their way around a stage, they could also, like Groucho Marx or Maurice Chevalier, act with their singing voices.
A lot of composers wrote for cabaret, but its Schubert and Mozart all in one has to be Friedrich Hollaender, who enjoyed a run of popular Schlager ('hits') unparalleled in German popular music. People outside Germany probably know him best as the screen composer of The Blue Angel and The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, but he has a far more complex history. At any rate, cabaret songs were such the rage that they inspired hard-core classical composers like Weill, Eisler, Grosz and even Schoenberg to try their hand at the genre. This is where, among other works and down to the present day, The Threepenny Opera and Blitzstein's The Cradle Will Rock come from. The artsy side of things took the vitality of cabaret and also gave the genre a second wind, and you get here such stalwarts as Ernst Busch, Lotte Lenya, and Marlene Dietrich. The Nazis, of course, closed all this down, since they often received and deserved the satirical scorn of cabaret. Some of the bright lights managed to escape. Many perished in concentration camps.
This wonderfully generous collection (44 tracks) nevertheless is aimed at hard-core, German-capable fans. Neither the terrific liner notes (uncredited, but probably by producer Volker Kuehn) nor the lyrics come in translation, and there's a lot of Berliner slang and dialect besides. If you can get around that, you're in for a huge treat, including Paul Graetz doing Hollaender's Wenn der alte Motor wieder takt and Heimat Berlin, Blandine Ebinger with Hollaender's Oh Mond, Willi Prager in Spoliansky's scathing Ich weiss, das ist nicht so, Lenya with Weill and Brecht's hair-raising Seeräuber Jenny, Dietrich with Hollaender's Jonny and Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuss, Trude Hesterberg in Heymann's Das Leibregiment, and Ernst Busch with Eisler's Lied der Arbeitslosen (Stempellied). Most of these people have a large dramatic range. Even Blandine Ebinger, known for her character of the naive shopgirl, can also play much grittier in Hollaender's Die Trommlerin als Schiessbudenfigur. Those who know only Lenya's later nicotine croak might be surprised by her youthful chirp, but not by the depth of her performance. Nevertheless, one also comes across the occasional 'one-note', or pure pop artist. Dietrich is probably the best-known, the naughty, knowing sex goddess, but Dietrich, even at this early date, is obviously a star with a product that doesn't outstay its welcome. Her performances leap out at you. At the beginning of her career, she's nevertheless a classic.
For original shellac, this stuff is in amazing shape. One does hear a more or less constant crackle, but one also hears these voices very close to what they might have been like in life. And, of course, the performances are generally stellar.
When you think about it, the United States has produced or nurtured a remarkable number of composers with Jewish backgrounds. There's Bernstein and Copland, of course, but also Foss, Diamond, Reich, Glass, Shapero, Lees, Irving Fine, Gershwin, Schiff, Kernis, and so on, only some of whom found their way to this disc. Lowell Milken founded the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music to document, save, and promote this work. The Archive doesn't confine itself to classical composers or composers who intend their music for the concert hall. There's Yiddish musical and vaudeville, traditional liturgical music arranged for worship or for recording, and new music intended for worship services. Of course, one soon encounters these two vexing questions: what is American music, and what is Jewish music? I have little idea of Dave Brubeck's family background, but I do know he converted to Roman Catholicism. Toch, Milhaud, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, and Weill all come from Jewish families, but (with the exception of Weill) their American music doesn't differ all that much from the music they wrote in Europe. Is Britten an American composer because he wrote his Paul Bunyan in the United States? Pursuing the answers to such questions doesn't normally take up much of my time, but then again I'm not the Milken Archive, which (in the case of Brubeck especially) seems to keep its definitions loose. On the other hand, can one really think of Jewish composers living in America and not come up with Ernest Bloch or Aaron Copland? Neither of the two show up on the sampler.
At any rate, this is a glorious project. So much of this music is too good to lose, written by Americans or Jews or anybody else, for that matter. Already the Archive has validated its worth by staging Kurt Weill's most ambitious piece, The Eternal Road. And now we have a recording, and this is just one of the Archive's many good deeds. Allied with Naxos' 'American Classics' series, they've opened up a new area of musical exploration for the rest of us, not just scholars and those people lucky enough to live in the cities where these performances have taken place. Naxos has released about a dozen of these CDs so far. In the weeks to come, I'll be reporting on at least some of them. At any rate, this sampler provides a number of 'heads-up' to a listener inclined to wander off well-worn paths.
This recording belongs to the collaborative recording series of Naxos and the Milken Archives of American Jewish Music. So far, every disc I've heard has been at least interesting some wonderful, plugging the holes with works for which many collectors have been clamouring for years.
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco came from a family of Italian Jews going back to Roman times. In spite of the Tedesco part of his last name, there was no German or Central European ancestor: his grandfather added the name as a condition of inheritance from a childless couple. The composer studied with Ildebrando Pizzetti and by the 1920s had made a name for himself as a neo-classical composer. The anti-Jewish laws under Mussolini persuaded him to emigrate to the United States, where he established himself in Los Angeles, becoming part of an illustrious refugee community that included Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Toch, Eisler and Mann. Today, he's probably best known for the guitar music he wrote for Segovia, including the concerto of 1939, and record collectors will probably remember the violin concerto, I Profeti, for Heifetz. He also worked for Hollywood mostly C-pictures, stock music, and uncredited but did manage to score the Spencer Tracy Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and (with Rozsa) Time Out of Mind. Along with Zador, Toch and Elmer Bernstein, he managed to teach many film composers their craft.
Castelnuovo-Tedesco's music exhibits a good deal of craft, but in general little inspiration. The music can be beautiful, but seldom strongly memorable. He settled on no one style, preferring to let the subject or the genre dictate the manner. I tend to prefer the neo-classical works. Naomi and Ruth, a cantata on the Bible story for solo soprano and chorus, in my judgment demonstrates the composer's strengths and weaknesses. The soprano takes the part of Naomi, while the chorus handles narration and the words of Ruth. Unfortunately, the music for chorus far exceeds the music for soprano. The soprano part doesn't sound like much of anything, frankly, except possibly Carrie Jacobs-Bond, but the choral passages are quite fine. The Sacred Service also shows the composer's unevenness, some sections so much better than others that I wondered whether he wrote it to deadline (he didn't).
For me, the best works on the disc are the organ preludes from the set Prayers My Grandfather Wrote, where Castelnuovo-Tedesco takes a melodic theme (or figured bass line) written by his maternal grandfather and makes variations, and the excerpts from the Memorial Service for the Departed. In both works, the composer seems to find stronger ideas than usual and from them creates music that matters to a listener, rather than something pretty enough for the passing moment.
The performances are mostly top-drawer. Neville Marriner, Ana Martinez and the ASMF do an outstanding job on Naomi and Ruth clear attacks, beautiful tone from soloist, choir and orchestra, and diction so good you don't need the text in front of you. More than once, the performance struck me as far better than the little cantata deserves. Indeed, Marriner's account is so good that you may legitimately wonder whether the pleasure you take comes from the work or from the players. Ronald Corp's reading of the Sacred Service is duller and fuzzier in comparison. Marriner can get you to glide over the weak parts of Naomi and Ruth. No such luck with Corp: the interesting sections and the not-so-interesting sections come as they are. Furthermore, the baritone soloist (who has most of the solo work), Ted Christopher, sounds at times vocally tired, I suspect due to where they were in the recording session. Organist Barbara Harbach delivers an intense account of the Prayers. Neil Levin (director of the Milken Archives) does the same for the Memorial Service. He's helped greatly by Cantor Simon Spiro. Spiro doesn't have the finest tenor voice in the world, although he avoids the usual cantorial traps of wheezy or constricted tone, but he is indeed a wonderful singer who finds his way to the heart of a listener. He communicates as well as a great pop star.
How can music as good as this go unknown for so long? Egon Wellesz has been one of those names at the fringes of musical culture, one that unless you're particularly interested in pre-World War II musical life in Vienna, British musical life after it, or Byzantine church music you come across only occasionally, usually in some throwaway reference than rather an acknowledgement of an individual and powerful composing voice. James H. North gave an outline of Wellesz's career in Fanfare Vol. 26, No. 5, as part of an enthusiastic review of his opera Die Bakchantinnen ('much genuinely beautiful music here [; ] climactic moments are invariably potent [; ] quite magnificent'), so I won't rehearse it again here; enough to say that we seem to be on the point of rediscovering a major figure.
Like many of the Hitlerflüchtling composers who came to Britain, Wellesz initially found it impossible to write music; Hans Gál was another whose creative urge dried up, and only slowly recovered. (Incidentally, the overall effect on British culture of the mass influx of talent triggered by Nazi anti-Semitism has recently been assessed in Daniel Snowman's excellent The Hitler Emigrés: The Cultural Impact on Britain of Refugees from Nazism, Chatto and Windus, London, 2002. Snowman quotes Walter Cook of the New York Institute of Art: 'Hitler is my best friend: he shakes the tree and I collect the apples'.) When Wellesz got the wind back in his compositional sails, he changed track: primarily an opera composer before the War, at the age of sixty he became a symphonist, also writing 'canonical nine', as North puts it. These three give a neat summary of Wellesz's composing profile, tracing his evolving style through a gritty Bruckner epigonism in No. 4, written in 1951-53, to the near-atonality of the Seventh, of 1967.
The Fourth Symphony, subtitled Sinfonia austriaca, is tonal, but the lines often take turns that avoid allying themselves to a single key, or the tonal implications of one melodic strand will be undermined by another elsewhere in the contrapuntal weft. The work begins with an imposing Maestoso, broad and dignified, which is followed by a folky, jokey Allegro vivace with a quasi-Ländler trio danced in boots several sizes too big. The opening string line of the third-movement Adagio instantly proclaims its descent from Bruckner, but this is not the soppy, late-Romantic, would-be monumentalism of some of the post-Bruckner composers who have been emerging on CD recently: Wellesz is unsentimental and angular toughly argued but deeply felt. We're not long into the finale before a heart-swelling passage on the horns is shoved aside by a muscular fugato; the horn theme surges back, more fully orchestrated, and the return of the material from the opening of the Symphony brings it to a grandiose close.
Wellesz was eighty when he sketches No. 6, in an amazing three weeks, in April 1965; the orchestration followed in July. It has much in common with another composer active as an octogenarian symphonist, Havergal Brian a fondness for march rhythms, brusque and brittle melodic shapes, a sense of angry energy barely contained, a tendency to think from the bottom upwards, with the result that the bass instruments have unusually extended thematic material (Prokofiev, Langgaard and Schnittke are three other composers who work this way, treating the tuba, for example, as a melody instrument). Wellesz's last three symphonies are all in three movements apiece. After the angry funeral march that opens No. 6, a spiky, Puckish scherzo darts loutishly around the orchestra, pausing in its merry stomping for a Schoenbergian central passage for strings that very nearly manages to cast off tonality. The finale opens with another long, Brucknerian string line which unfolds through textures that are somehow luminous and fragile at the same time; the bass instruments threaten increasing anger, but gradually the power ebbs away in long-held violins over slowly stuttering basses. A tremendous work, a score of astonishing mastery.
Two years later, the Seventh Symphony showed Wellesz even freer in his use of the orchestra. The lines are fractured, with an Elgarian tendency to fly from one sonority to another had he labelled the work a concerto for orchestra, no one would have raised an eyebrow. The music itself is nothing like Elgar's, of course, and Wellesz's sense of narrative, of the importance of disquisition, means that the sheer compactness of his teacher Schoenberg was not for him, either; in other respects, the first movement, in its mix of contrapuntal freedom and expressive, even expressionist, dissonant bluntness does bring Schoenberg to mind. The ellipsis of the second movement, a trio-less scherzo, suggests Webern though Webern never wrote anything as gutsy as this. The closing movement, a feisty Adagio, is difficult to pin down: It seems as if material is presented for discussion within the orchestra phrases are presented, tasted, pushed aside by the next idea; a Hartmann-like passage with punchy ostinatos stirs up the passions until the Adagio tempo reimposes sobriety, and the strings introduce an extensive closing paragraph, with brass and timps swelling to fill the closing pages.
With no point of comparison, I guess that the performances Gottfried Rabl obtains from his Viennese players are excellent; they're certainly entirely convincing. The Austrian Radio engineers have given them transparent sound (particularly important with these translucent scores), and Hannes Heher than whom no one on the planet knows more about Wellesz supplies top-rank booklet notes. Rabl adds on the practical difficulties of bringing a project like this to fruition, not least when dodgy parts gobble up recording time precious enough in any event, let alone when the musicians are faced with an entirely unfamiliar style. Mind you, Rabl's dedication is evident from the performances themselves even without his revealing how much time he spent getting the material right before the sessions.
No doubt about it in my book: this is a major release, pointing to one of the last century's outstanding symphonists, a figure as important as Gerhard (with whom he has much in common), Ives (points of contact here, too), Brian, of course, Valen, Ruggles, Tubin in fact, there's a Varèse-like life-force here which is nothing less than thrilling. My roll-call of major, if marginal, figures will indicate something of what you can expect, but you really need to hear this yourself. Urgently recommended! And this is only the first volume of a complete cycle. Best news I've had in a long time.
First published in Fanfare, Vol. 27, No. 2, November/December 2003
Schoenberg's Moses und Aron, Staatsoper, Berlin, Opening night 4 April
Daniel Barenboim opened the 2004 Festtage of the Berlin State Opera with Schoenberg's Moses und Aron, on Sunday, 4 April. It was the first time he had conducted the work. Those in the vicinity of Berlin, or who have the chance to be, when the production returns in June and July should not hesitate. The first performance was excellent in every respect.
My judgement may have been clouded (enhanced?) by the fact that this was my first opportunity to see the work in the theatre indeed, to hear it live. But what must have been a far more daunting 'first' for Barenboim seemed to hold little fears for him. He had the measure not only of the score but of its dramatic impact, his reading proving commendably precise, though never lacking in warmth or tonal lustre. His orchestra, the Staatskapelle Berlin, confirmed that it was a truly great ensemble, sounding every inch the equal of the Berlin Philharmonic - and several inches more traditionally 'German': very much closer to the sound one might imagine Schoenberg expecting from a Berlin orchestra of the 1930s. Equally to the point, it sounded every inch the equal of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Boulez's second recording, a daunting precedent indeed.
The production, by Intendant Peter Mussbach, was well considered, playing on the connected themes of blindness and light and dark (analogues for the difficulties of representation and expression which lie at the very heart of the work). Something which ought to be a matter of course, but which rarely is, was the producer's consideration of and response to the music and its structure, as well as to the text. A small point but a telling one, was the coincidence of light-stick manoeuvring (finding one's way in the political and religious dark) with the col legno of the strings passages during the Second Act. The political issues central to the opera were confronted, but they never threatened to become over-didactic. Dictatorship, political persuasion, personal integrity, the mood of the crowd or mob: all were present, musically and visually.
The roles of the two antagonists brought some very fine singing from Willard White and Thomas Moser. Moser achieved the feat, extraordinary but an absolute dramatic necessity, of making Aron's bel canto appear as if it were slipping off his tongue with all the ease in the world. The ideal audience has to believe in Aron, to be seduced by him, but also to hold on to its suspicions. Here it could. The strength and conviction of White's portrayal of Moses were equally remarkable, if anything even more so. This really was Moses: implacable, infuriating, but possessed of a burning integrity that could ultimately brook no response.
And caught between the brothers, of course, was the chorus. It would be difficult, perhaps impossible, to conceive of finer choral singing: a tremendous full sound, sometimes overwhelming, yet commanding a precision on the verge of implausibility for a group of that size. Every member of the chorus was called on to act, individually and corporately; every member appeared to do just that. The choral sound perfectly complemented that of the orchestra and brought home to the listener just how much Schoenberg owed to Brahms and to Bach, above all to the Bach of the Passions.
For this performance showed Moses to be a great drama, not a theoretical work. Twelve-note technique was not incidental; nor was it the defining feature. Schoenberg's method was part of the drama, without being the point of the drama. The composer's manipulation of the series was shown, rightly, to be as important as, but not more important than, the developmental variation in the work of his great predecessors. Theodor Adorno once wrote admiringly of Schoenberg's music for an imaginary film-scene as constituting a primer in twelve-note technique; even Adorno might have blanched at ascribing that role to Moses und Aron. Yet, in this case, one was tempted to do so after the event, perhaps, since the drama was all that mattered at the time.
If, as I occasionally do, one despairs of Schoenberg being granted his due this side of Jacob's Ladder, herein lay a performance truly to impart hope.
Later performances: 26 and 29 June, 1 July 2004;
Reviews of Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of the Mtsenk District at
the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden:
Two reviews of CDs of music by Vladimir Vogel have been posted on
Music on the Web:
Peter Gellhorn, conductor, teacher and composer: born Breslau, Germany 24 October 1912; Musical Director, Toynbee Hall 1935-39; Assistant Conductor, Sadler's Wells Opera 1941-43; Conductor, Royal Carl Rosa Opera 1945-46; Conductor and Head of Music Staff, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden 1946-53; Conductor and Chorus Master, Glyndebourne Festival Opera 1954-61, 1974-75; Director, BBC Chorus 1961-72; Conductor, Elizabethan Singers 1976-80; Professor, Guildhall School of Music and Drama 1981-92; married 1943 Olive Layton (two sons, two daughters); died Kingston upon Thames, Surrey 13 February 2004.
Peter Gellhorn was one of the many Jewish or part-Jewish Hitlerflüchtlinge whose presence immeasurably enriched Britain's cultural life. Music was especially blessed: Hans Keller, Berthold Goldschmidt, Hans Gál, Peter Stadlen, Otto Erich Deutsch, Erwin Stein these men and many like them transformed the parochial outlook of pre-Second World War British music-making, laying the foundation for the unparalleled richness of musical life in the UK today. Though a less public figure than, say, Keller, in Gellhorn's area of expertise vocal music in general and opera in particular he was as influential as any of them.
Gellhorn was born in Breslau (which these days is Wrocláw, in Poland) in 1912, into a comfortable family where music was part of the fabric of daily life his father was an architect, who was also to flee to Britain from the Nazis. His parents moved to Berlin in 1923 and divorced soon afterwards: Peter had been born illegitimately and was then brought up by his mother alone. He attended the Schiller Realgymnasium before going on to the Berlin Hochschule für Musik in 1932, where he gained a number of prizes, for both piano and conducting. His main teachers were Richard Rössler (piano), Leo Schrattenholz (composition) and Julius Prüwer and Clemens Schmalstich (conducting). Franz Schreker had been the director of the Hochschule on Gellhorn's arrival, but with the Nazi accession to power he was replaced by Fritz Stein, generally remembered as a supporter of the new regime. But Gellhorn, reminiscing almost 70 years later, was quick to defend him against a black-and-white interpretation of the times:
Stein was quite helpful he behaved very well indeed, and I have only very pleasant memories of him and of Schmalstich. One could hardly refuse the jobs they were offered, but they didn't approve of what was going on.
Leaving the Hochschule in 1934, Gellhorn then studied music history (with Arnold Schering) and art history at Berlin University.
In 1935 he escaped to Britain, coming to London after a few months in Ascot and, at the end of the year, moving to Toynbee Hall (a settlement of the universities of Oxford and Cambridge) in the East End of London. There, until 1939, he lectured on opera, conducted the chorus and presented chamber concerts and piano recitals. It was at Toynbee Hall that he made his début as an operatic conductor, presenting Gluck's Orfeo, in a translation by Edward Dent (who was present); the décor was by Lotte Reininger, for whom Gellhorn had written film scores in Germany as he did again in England.
In the first months of the war he toured a concert programme with two
singers, before returning to London where, in 1940, he was interned, like
all 'enemy aliens' (Hans Gál observed, 'It was a very curious policy,
to lock up Hitler's best enemies'). His first internment camp was at Warth
Mills, near Bury in Lancashire ('an awful place'), before he was moved
to the Isle of Man, where his fellow internees included Hans Keller and
three members of what would become the Amadeus Quartet. 'I never did more
music than in that camp,' he recalled: although he was not allowed access
to scores (printed material was forbidden), he called on his memory to
give piano recitals, and taught harmony, the piano, singing and so on.
It was through Vic-Wells that Gellhorn met his wife, Olive (daughter of the economist Lord Layton), who was an actress with the Old Vic. On the evening of their wedding Gellhorn conducted his first Traviata, with the whole company present at the reception (Joan Cross sang Violetta, and Peter Pears, as Alfredo, was making his first appearance in opera). In 1943, after a year at Sadler's Wells, Gellhorn was called up for industrial war service and spent the remainder of the conflict working in a factory that made aircraft components.
With the return of peace he joined the Carl Rosa opera company (1945-46), tucking over a hundred performances under his belt before Karl Rankl, a fellow refugee a few years earlier and now music director at the Royal Opera House, Covert Garden, appointed him conductor and head of music staff there. He was to remain for seven years, conducting some 270 performances, most of which he had prepared from their early stages, also working as répétiteur and coach for productions conducted by others.
The next seven years (1954-61) were spent as conductor and chorus director at Glyndebourne Festival Opera; here, too, he conducted a generous number of operas. He then moved to the BBC, where for 11 years (1961-72) he was director of the BBC Chorus, taking over from Leslie Woodgate and conducting them at several Proms. When in 1974 he reached the BBC's compulsory retirement age and was shown the door, he returned to Glyndebourne, staying for two more years. In his 'retirement' he was active as a freelance pianist, vocal coach and conductor, leading his own choir in Barnes from 1973 until 2000.
Peter Gellhorn was associated with many other music groups. He was co-founder and music director of Opera Barga in Tuscany (1967-69), conductor of the Morley College Opera Group (1973-79) and the Elizabethan Singers (1976-80), music director of London Opera Players (1960-2000), a member of the opera-school staff at the Royal College of Music (1980-88) and professor at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (1981-92). He also lectured and adjudicated widely, in Britain and abroad.
For all the relentless activity of his life, Gellhorn was devoid of personal
ambition. Typically both of his modesty and his perfectionism, he once
turned down an opportunity to conduct The Threepenny Opera in the
West End: he didn't think the sanitised translation, by the American composer
Marc Blitzstein, was good enough, even though Kurt Weill himself was consulted
and approved of it.
Gellhorn's music provided a startling illustration of his continued mental powers, well into what was supposed to be old age. Two years ago, when he was 89, I went to see him to discuss which of his compositions the International Forum for Suppressed Music should present in two concerts of composers who had taken refuge from Hitler in Britain. He provided the illustrations at the piano, from memory (I had the scores at the other end of the instrument), including such works as the Piano Sonata he had written in January 1936, almost seven decades earlier, dipping into others in mid-movement to play passages he was especially fond of all of it note-perfect.
Peter Gellhorn's memory will also live on among the singers whom he found
time to coach privately, helping what must now be many hundreds. One of
them, the contralto Phillida Bannister, who studied with him from the
mid-1980s, found that the quiet manner, gently piquant humour and diminutive
frame hid a demanding teacher:
* * *
May I just comment on his private-public performances late in life? Hiring, or having hired for him, a venue, he would present evenings when he would demonstrate his understandings of composer's intentions, speaking of and playing through them. Memorable, for example, was his singing, playing and talking through the Ring Cycle and Mozart's operas.
These performances in very old age were informed and driven by a freshness and directness that amounted to the very breath of originality. His perceptions drove his aging being into totally unexpected spheres of expression, demonstrating the true importance of art in the living of life.
First published in The Independent on 21 February 2004
PETER GELLHORN: Chronological List of Compositions by Genre
Dialogue, for violin, viola and strings
Chorus with Orchestra
Cf. also The Star of Bethlehem under INCIDENTAL MUSIC
String Quartet No. 2
Capriccio, for violin and piano
Polonaise, for flute, horn and four violins
Dead of the Dead, for two pianos
Sonata for Two Pianos
Intermezzo for violin and piano
Trio Suite, for two violins and viola
Piece for cello and two pianos
, for piano
Sonata for piano
I Want to Sing a Song (Gellhorn)
Aedh Wishes for the Cloth of Heaven
Romeo and Juliet
Le Malade imaginaire
The Star of Bethlehem
Vilém Tauský, conductor and composer: born Prerov, Austro-Hungarian Empire, 20 July 1910; Musical Director, Carl Rosa Opera 1945-49; Associate Conductor, BBC Northern Orchestra 1952-56; Chief Conductor, BBC Concert Orchestra 1956-66; Director of Opera, Guildhall School of Music 1966-92; Artistic Director, Phoenix Opera Company 1967-75; CBE 1981; married 1948 Peggy Mallett (née Powell, died 1982; two stepsons); died London 16 March 2004.
The life of the conductor and composer Vilém Tauský spanned virtually a whole century; he was part of a musical world that has already passed into history in both his native Czech lands and his adopted country of Great Britain.
Born in Prerov, Moravia, in 1910, eight years before the setting up of the Czechoslovak nation, he was proud of coming from the Haná region, often referring to himself as a Hanák. His father was a doctor and his mother a soprano who had been a member of the Vienna Court Opera under Gustav Mahler. A close colleague of his father was Karel Santrucek, whose wife was Magdalena, fifth daughter of Antonín Dvorák and herself a professional mezzo-soprano. The young Tauský's early keyboard talents were pressed into service by the age of six, when he accompanied his mother and Magda Dvoráková in public performances of Dvorák's Moravské dvojzpevy (Moravian Duets). From this time he had many memories of Anna Dvoráková, the composer's widow, as well as most of the Dvorák children.
From 1919 he went to the old provincial capital of Olomouc for lessons. Thanks to his precocious talent and early teachers, serious music study began when he entered university in Brno in 1927, at the same time commencing studies in law to satisfy his parents. On his own initiative he also submitted his Violoncello Sonata to the Conservatoire there, where Leos Janácek reigned supreme, being successful in gaining a place in the composition class. Coming under the weekly supervision of Janácek, Tausky was probably the last surviving musician to have known the composer.
As well as composition with Vilém Petrelka, his studies also included conducting with Zdenek Chalabala, then chief conductor of the opera in Brno. In addition, his musical education was enhanced by his uncle, the operetta composer Leo Fall, who cemented Tauský's lifelong love of opera and operetta begun at the age of seven when he first heard Bizet's Carmen with the Olomouc company in Prerov. The success of his composition studies gained him a place also in the masterclass in Prague with Josef Suk, whom he had met already with the Dvorák family on visits to Prerov.
Before he completed his studies in Brno in 1931, Vilém Tauský's abilities were recognised by Chalabala, who, in his second year as a student, took him on as a répétiteur. After graduation, Tauský was offered a contract on the music staff of the opera house and that year found himself conducting Puccini's Turandot when Chalabala fell ill. The following year he was given Roussel's Le Festin de l'araignée to conduct in his own right and soon found himself standing in again for an ill Chalabala, this time faced with Chaliapin as the guest in Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov and Gounod's Faust.
From then until 1939 his work in the Brno opera house grew, including involvement with the complete cycle of Janácek operas given there in 1938 to mark the tenth anniversary of the composer's death, as well as early editorial work on Príhodý liský Bystrouký (The Cunning Little Vixen) and Z mrtvého domu (From the House of the Dead), being chorus-master also for the premiere of the latter work.
At this time also began his friendships with other Brno musicians who were to achieve international recognition, including the composers Bohuslav Martinu, Jaromír Weinberger and Vítezslava Kaprálová plus the pianist Rudolf Firkuný. In 1938 he was entrusted with a new production of Dvorák's Rusalka, the producer being Jaroslav Kvapil who had written the libretto for Dvorák.
With the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1938, life became increasingly difficult for Tauský, who was Jewish. It was thanks to the director of the Brno opera, Václav Jirikovsky, that Tauský was smuggled out of the country accompanying the costumes of Janácek's Jenufa to Paris in April 1939.
Through his friendship with the composer Alexander Tcherepnin, in June he obtained a job with the de Basil ballet in Monte Carlo but in the following month he heard that his countrymen were forming a Czech army in exile at Agde and so he made his way there to enlist. Here he was ordered to form a Czech army band and found himself with a curious assortment of instrumentalists but no instruments. Martinu found him abandoned instruments of the Paris police band and at end of the year wrote his Field Mass for Tausky and his strange ensemble.
With the fall of France in 1940, by June the Czech forces were ordered to retreat and escape to Britain. Tauský, with a group of 36, made his way to the coast, heading for Bordeaux, and eventually boarded a ship at Arcachon which landed him in Newport, Monmouthshire. For his part in the evacuation he was awarded the Czech Military Cross. The Czech forces regrouped at Cholmondeley Park in Cheshire and later became based in Leamington Spa. By this time Tauský had formed a fine choir from his fellow soldiers, whose concerts became well known throughout the country. Hearing them as a boy in the War, I little thought that their conductor would eventually become a good friend.
It was while at Leamington that the Czech forces were sent to Coventry to help on the night of the great air-raid in 1940. Such was the impact of the devastation on Tauský that he immediately wrote his Coventry Meditation for string quartet, which is still played by Czech quartets today. At the end of the war he received the Czechoslovak Order of Merit.
After the War Vilém Tauský was encouraged by President Edvard Bene to remain in Britain and promote Czech music. He had lost many of his family during the occupation and had met his future wife in Britain in 1940 (although they did not marry until 1948) so the decision was not difficult for him. Opera was his natural target and he became music director of the Carl Rosa Opera Company from 1945 to 1949 while also becoming a guest conductor with many of the BBC regional symphony orchestras. From 1951 to 1956 he was music director of Welsh National Opera and it was during this period that he made his début at Covent Garden in 1951 conducting Tchaikovsky's The Queen of Spades.
While the music of his homeland remained central to his life, he set about championing many of the contemporary composers of his adopted country, working with Sadler's Wells Opera, the Aldeburgh and Edinburgh Festivals, performing operas by William Alwyn, Lennox Berkeley, Rutland Boughton, Benjamin Britten, Geoffrey Bush, Thea Musgrave and Malcolm Williamson. He had a long association with the BBC Northern Orchestra (now the BBC Philharmonic) and was chief conductor of the BBC Concert Orchestra from 1956 to 1966. This latter post made his name synonymous with BBC radio's Friday Night is Music Night and light music, giving an erroneous impression of the man and musician for whom 'music was music' and whose contribution to the 'serious' end was far more significant.
From 1952 to 1967 he was associated with the National Opera School and with Phoenix Opera from 1967 to 1975. His years as director of opera at the Guildhall School of Music from 1966 to 1992 are remembered with gratitude and pleasure by the many singers, instrumentalists and budding conductors who came under his care. For his services to British music he was appointed CBE in 1981. His long association with the Guildhall School of Music was recognised earlier with his being made a Freeman of the City of London in 1979.
While the Communist years kept him in exile from his native land, his advocacy of Czech music was always to the fore in his programmes. He gave the first British performances of Janácek's operas Osud in 1972 and Pocátek románu (The Beginning of a Romance) in 1974. Smetana operas were always favourites with him, notably The Bartered Bride, Dalibor, The Kiss, The Secret and The Two Widows, while The Brandenburgers in Bohemia was the last work he conducted, in 1994.
Orchestrally his record was equally impressive, giving the first British concert performance of the complete Smetana Má vlast cycle in 1942 with the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1954 he gave the British premiere of Suk's Asrael Symphony with the BBC Northern Orchestra and in that year, marking the 50th anniversary of the death of Dvorák, he gave a complete cycle of Dvorák's Symphonies. To mark the 65th birthday of his friend Bohuslav Martinu in 1955 he conducted the first cycle ever of all of Martinu's symphonies, with the BBC Symphony and London Philharmonic Orchestras, broadcast by the BBC together with a television programme on the composer presented by Tauský.
In addition to his conducting career, Tauský continued to compose, writing operetta, an Oboe Concerto for Evelyn Rothwell and an Harmonica Concerto for Tommy Reilly, symphonic and chamber music, as well as film scores. His literary works include an autobiography, Vilém Tauský tells his Story (1979) and Leos Janácek: Leaves from his Life (1982), co-edited with his wife.
After the 'Velvet Revolution' of 1989, Tauský was eventually persuaded to return to visit his homeland in 1999, although he feared no one would remember him. Although it is true that his name was expunged from Czech musical records by the Communists, news quickly spread and he was awarded the Gold Medal of the Academy of Music in Prague. On that occasion staff and students showered him with questions about pre-war music life and the people he had known. In 2000 he was given the Jan Masaryk Award for his services to Czech music abroad and only last month was awarded the Janácek Medal.
To the end of his life he remained interested in the careers of his former students and was an active Vice- President of the British Dvorák Society for Czech and Slovak Music. While regularly still attending concerts up to recent weeks, he was supported throughout his later years by the devotion of his companion Brenda Rayson. The many who came to know him during his long and active life cannot fail to have been touched by this gentle, talented and remarkable man.
First published in The Independent on 20 March 2004
Two further obituaries of Vilém Tauský can be found
Compositions by Vilém Tauský
Irmgard Spoliansky, actress: born Berlin 5 September 1923; married 1944 Tony Kelly (died 1953; one son), 1956 Major Paul Mills (died 1997; one son); died London 11 March 2004.
Spoli Mills was a one-time actress, a confidante and friend to such diverse celebrities as Marlene Dietrich, Ava Gardner and Dame Edna Everage, and the eldest daughter of the distinguished composer Mischa Spoliansky.
In her later life, Mills devoted much of her time to creating the definitive indexed catalogue of her father's work. Many of his original film scores, including North West Frontier (1959) and Otto Preminger's Saint Joan (1957), she donated to the music department at York University. Other material was given to the Berlin Academy of Arts. She was instrumental in reviving Spoliansky's 1931 musical comedy Send for Mr Plim at the Battersea Arts Centre in 1999; it was warmly received and has since been restaged at theatres throughout Europe, including a production at the Covent Garden Festival in 2000 and a broadcast in 2001 on BBC Radio 3. But Mills' proudest moment was in unearthing and editing Spoliansky's autobiography, which he had haphazardly been writing in fits and starts for some 20 years. Shortly before her death, she learned that a German publisher will bring the book out this summer and an English translation is set to follow.
She was born Irmgard Spoliansky in Berlin in 1924 she hated the name Irmgard, and would answer only to 'Spoli'. With the rise of Hitler Mischa Spoliansky, who had already been forced to flee his native Russia, had to take refuge yet again and in 1933 the family moved to England. Almost immediately he was taken up by the flamboyant film-maker Alexander Korda and commissioned to write the scores of Sanders of the River and The Ghost Goes West (both 1935) for London Films.
While still a schoolgirl at Sarum Hall in north-west London, Spoli would accompany her father to the studios where her pretty blonde looks resulted in walk-on parts in several films. The Hungarian-born Korda decided that the German-born teenager was a 'typical English rose'. This slightly bemused her family and they were even more perplexed when she was given her first role in The Thief of Bagdad (1940). 'I think it was the first time I heard the phrase "identity crisis"', she said later.
A brief period followed as a nurse during the early years of the Second World War, a calling she managed to double up with appearances in amateur stage productions. 'As a nurse I was an unmitigated disaster', she admitted. 'I passed out when I assisted at my first operation. And the poor chap was only in for an impacted wisdom tooth.'
Her imperfect English proved a blessing when she landed a major role with the Viennese actor and fellow refugee Anton Walbrook in a West End production of Lillian Hellman's Watch on the Rhine in 1942. The piece ran for many years at the Aldwych Theatre. It was during this time that Spoli met Tony Kelly, a dashing RAF bomber pilot who was to become her first husband.
Their courtship was cut short when Kelly was posted to India. Communication would have been all but impossible had it not been for General Bernard Montgomery, later Field Marshal Montgomery of Alamein, who went backstage at the Aldwych one evening to meet the cast. He revealed he was going to India and was there anything he could take there for anyone? Spoli gave him a letter, which was duly delivered. 'I am convinced this is what clinched the marriage', she said later. 'Tony must have reasoned if I could get field marshals to run errands for me then he was on to a good thing.'
Tony Kelly returned from the war a squadron leader and Spoli now devoted
her life to being wife and mother; their son Christopher was born in 1947.
This idyllically happy marriage ended tragically when Kelly, working as
an assistant director on the Dana Andrews film Duel in the Jungle (1954),
disappeared while shooting second-unit footage along the Zambesi in Rhodesia.
When the boat overturned, the other two crew members were able to swim
to safety but Kelly, although the strongest swimmer of them all, disappeared
in the water. It is thought he was trying to save the camera equipment
and many theories were offered for the disappearance the most fearful
being that he had been taken by crocodiles. No body was ever found.
One of the most frequent visitors was the actress Marlene Dietrich, who had begun her career as a violinist accompanied by Spoliansky in the early days of Berlin cabaret. He had written several of her songs. As her health and fortunes declined, she was unable to leave her Paris home so, every other week, Spoli Mills would fly out to her house on the Avenue Montaigne bearing food, gifts and what Dietrich prized most news from the outside world.
A great friend to the end was Barry Humphries, creator of Dame Edna Everage and a long-time admirer of her father. So was the actor Roger Lloyd Pack, whose mother had been a fellow refugee.
In 1955 Paul Mills went to India to work on the George Cukor film Bhowani Junction and a new name was added to their guest list Ava Gardner. The Hollywood star and Spoli became particularly close friends and confidantes. 'So confidante,' Spoli said, 'it was bloody alarming on occasions.' Among her possessions was a box of letters from Gardner, which would have any tabloid journalist foaming at the mouth, particularly the letters covering the Sinatra years. Spoli's younger son, Gregory, remembers Ava Gardner with affection. When she stayed overnight unexpectedly, she would regularly share his bed. Though he was only four at the time, this gave him a certain notoriety among the kindergarten chattering classes.
One of Spoli Mills' favourite anecdotes concerned the day she was returning home and found her eccentric father standing, rather sheepishly, in the subway at Hyde Park Corner. On the ground beside him was a flat cap containing a few coins. When she asked what he thought he was doing, he explained that the harmonica player who usually stood there had gone for a drink and he was keeping an eye on the pitch. 'But why you?' his daughter pressed.
'He's a fellow musician', her father replied.
First published in The Independent on 7 April 2004.
Patrick Bade adds a personal reminiscence of Spoli:
We were certainly destined to meet. It is only surprising that it took so long. I was aware of her father's music from my teens in the 1960s. We ought to have met in the 1970s when her niece Babsi was the best friend of a close friend of mine. We finally did meet when I bounced up to her at the end of a concert given at St John's, Smith Sq., by Cantabile at which Spoli was the guest of honour. From the very first moment I was utterly charmed by her warm and twinkling smile. The friendship that developed so rapidly was based on my admiration for the music of her father Mischa Spoliansky. (There was certainly no quicker way to her heart than through her father's music)
Anyone of Spoli's generation and of continental Jewish origin necessarily had interesting lives Spoli more than most because her father was the Russian-Jewish composer Spoliansky who embodied the spirit of Weimar Berlin rather as the German Jewish Offenbach did that of Second Empire Paris. Spoli was not in the least religious (or political for that matter). She would not have been recognised as Jewish by the strictly orthodox as her Jewish descent was on her father's side, but although she became in many ways very English, she retained a strong sense of her European identity and her rich heritage in which there was a very important Jewish element.
Everyone who spoke about Spoli at and after her funeral emphasised the fun and laughter that always surrounded her. For a lady of advanced years, she had a surprisingly earthy sense of humour, but then, as everyone also said, age was simply irrelevant as far as Spoli was concerned. There was always something of the young girl about her.
Inevitably when someone dies suddenly while still living and loving life to the full, the sense of loss is all the more acute. At the moment we all have the painful sense of being robbed of what should have been many more years of her joyful company. But I suppose that we should also be grateful that Spoli had the kind of dignified and relatively rapid end that we would all want for ourselves.
In Spoli's capacious heart that was open and welcoming to so many people, there was a very special area reserved for her father and her sons Chris and Greg. Her devotion to her father and her pride in her sons shone through in everything she said. Apart from her sheer appetite for life, what motivated her more than anything else, was the desire to promote her father's music. There is still a good deal of work to be done and much to be re-discovered, including his unpublished and unperformed symphony. The best tribute we could make to this wonderful woman would be to carry on with task and to bring Spoliansky's music to a wider audience.
Call for Papers
Throughout the twentieth century the different German states, from the Weimar Republic to contemporary Germany, occupied a unique position at the border between Eastern and Western Europe and could thus provide discursive spaces for negotiating Jewish identities between Westjuden and Ostjuden and between Jews and Gentiles.
The conference will focus on the two periods most significant for Russian-Jewish
immigration to Germany:
Please send abstracts (of maximally 500 words) by the end of March 2004
[apologies -ED.] to:
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The editorial board includes:
James Conlon on Zemlinsky and Schulhoff
The Armenian Genocide of 1915
VIII. JMI IFSM
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