Ernst Toch’s essays

Researching Toch at the UCLA Performing Arts Archive, one cannot help but be astonished at the number of essays, statements, letters and thoughts that he composed and compiled. Few have an indication of where or when or even if they were published – indeed, even if they were meant for publication. Many are longer papers written first in German then translated. Possibly they were simply meant as a means of learning English. His desk was full of notebooks consisting of lists of English synonyms – all self-compiled. It is not unusual when trawling through the estate of a refugee to find notebooks of words and their German translations, but I have never found notebooks of words and their synonyms. This indicates his need to employ words in order to extract their most penetrating effectiveness – even in a language that was not his own. Some papers, such as the enclosed essay (letter to an unknown editor?), offer a wormhole into the past by holding up a mirror to Americans and others of the thinking encountered by émigrés fleeing Hitler’s murderous anti-Semitism. As I sifted through these personal documents, more revealing and enlightening than any blog, I was struck by the suffering, frustration and impotence of his situation. Yet he always comes across as reasoned and immensely human. A far longer essay – a talk, or speech or paper – not published as far as I could see – reflects extensively on how Nazism came to dominate Germany and is more perceptive in his first-hand assessment than any history book could offer. The compilation that would be welcomed – by far too few I fear – would be a publication of his best essays and letters. Perhaps it was his age of ‘New Objectivity’ that gave him such perception. The very characteristics that often make his music seem cool and impersonal allowed him to assess the world around him with greater detachment. It obviously did not stem his frustration and anger – anger at the stupidity of hatred and prejudice.

First page of a letter Ernst Toch wrote to an unknown US editor

Second page of a letter Ernst Toch wrote to an unknown US editor