The ‘Geographical’ Journey of Dr. Ernst Toch

„Toch! Sie sind ein Wahnsinniger! Aber Hindemith, was bilden Sie sich ein mit solchen Werken? Sie sind doch ein aufrichtiger Bürger!“ (‘Toch! You’re a madman! But Hindemith, what could you be thinking of, composing such things? You’re an upstanding citizen!’) Quote Richard Strauss in conversation to Toch and Hindemith)

Toch - the madman in the 1920s

Toch – the madman in the 1920s

The German music historian Carl Dahlhaus would probably take issue with my tendency to place composers in the context of painters and writers who responded to the same ambient stimuli. Ernst Krenek described his teacher Franz Schreker as the ‘musical pendant to Gustav Klimt’. With that, I feel a certain qualified precedent has been set. It’s not always easy to pull off, and it’s impossible to find an absolute one-to-one. Few composers mirror their painting and writing contemporaries for more than a few years at most, and in addition, there will always be periods that overlap with other developments. But where they do come together, these are often the crucial years where a difference has been made and their contributions to music’s development is beyond dispute. So I feel slightly more confident in suggesting that Hindemith (1895-1963) may be the Max Beckmann (1884-1950) pendant in music, while Ernst Toch (1887-1964) represents Otto Dix (1891-1969).

Beckmann: 'Party in Paris' 1931

Beckmann: ‘Party in Paris’ 1931

Otto Dix: 'Metropolis' 1928

Otto Dix: ‘Metropolis’ 1928

In the first, the technique is extrovert, naughty and deliberately outrageous, the other is intriguingly similar, but commands a cleaner representation that allows expression to be conveyed through his subject matter and not his technique. One notices in Beckmann’s party painting his technique before registering his subject – with Dix, it’s the other way around. If Beckmann used cartoon outlines, anticipating comic books, Dix was smooth and amplified his technical assurance to convey a realism that that was both stark and distressing. Beckmann seems an optimist compared with Dix, and Hindemith is surely the most ebullient composer to come out of Berlin’s roaring ‘20s. Toch was perhaps more concerned with technical polish and his works, even at their most energetic, can often convey a dead-eyed sobriety. Hindemith, like Beckmann, was not afraid to use the technique of Expressionism in the service of Objectivity. Toch, like Dix lets Objectivity stand on its own. He eschews added darkness as the world that emerged after the war was dark enough already. Beckmann, like Hindemith, amplifies both the darkness and the energy that came out of Berlin’s new position. Ultimately there is more that is similar than different. They both reflect an age that rejected the past with a vehemence not known since the French Revolution. Women not only showed off their legs, all of society ‘got naked’ with an abandon unimagined only decades before. The cult of golden youth replaced podgy respectability and a Spring clear-out of attitudes and etiquette took on a ferocity that could only end with murderous reaction. ‘Neusachlichkeit’ or ‘New Objectivity’ dominated the creative aesthetic of Germany after the First World War. Objectivity replaced Expressionism just as Expressionism had replaced the bourgeois comfort-zone of Impressionism. Like androgyny, short hair and skirts, it brought a sexually explicit realism to the arts.

Toch at one of the Music Festivals in the 1920s

Toch at one of Germany’s many Music Festivals in the 1920s

If today we value both Beckmann and Dix, we’ve forgotten Toch while still keeping Hindemith the flag-bearer of Germany’s ‘dance on the volcano’ of the 1920s’. Yet at the time, the two were virtually seen as twins; they both studied in Frankfurt and from 1922 onwards, were developing along very similar lines. But if Hindemith grew out of Expressionism, Toch’s journey to musical Objectivity was more of a leapfrog from Brahmsian late Romanticism, bypassing Expressionism altogether until after the war when he returned to it in his symphonies. Both Toch and his wife Lili, (or Lilly) created a degree of mythology that intended to leave an impression of Toch that was decidedly less nuanced and complicated. As so often, the truth is far more fascinating.

NY Times article on Hindemith and Toch 1930

NY Times article on Hindemith and Toch 1930

Toch in an interview on Hindemith: “…we were two young men of a period. We held some general aesthetic ideas in common. This showed in our compositions. We have since diverged widely.”

The Toch Family around the time that Toch decided to become a composer: 1897

The Toch Family around the time that Toch decided to become a composer: 1897

Toch, like Erich Zeisl, was born in Vienna’s Second District. The family came from Nikolsburg (today’s Mikulov) on the border between Czech-Moravia and Austria. The name Toch dominates the still perfectly preserved Jewish cemetery and the city with some five synagogues remains a monument of earlier Jewish life in rural Austria. It escaped the destruction of the Kristalnacht pogroms by being just on the other side of the Czech border. Only months later, it too would be absorbed by Nazi Germany. Moritz Toch dealt in leather goods and had built the business over the years with dreams of his eldest son Ernst taken over. Ernst had apparently shown early musical promise and according to his nurse, while still an infant, sung the melody of the Austrian national anthem. Certainly in childhood, sounds fascinated him and he would ‘perform’ on pots, pans, bells and wooden slats. He began piano lessons with a neighbourhood teacher, Ilse Mikolasch and seems to have developed an infatuation with her daughter Stella, later presenting her with all of his compositions up to his first quartet, op. 12. She, her family and Toch’s early works would later vanish in a Nazi camp.

Nikoslburg - or Mikulov, the Moravian origin of the Toch family

Nikoslburg – or Mikulov, the Moravian origin of the Toch family

Toch decided to become a composer upon hearing a newspaper hawker in 1897 announcing the death of ‘the composer Johannes Brahms’. As he later recalled, ‘I had not realised until that point that being a composer was even a career possibility’. In 1902, (at the age of 15), he was accepted by Robert Fuchs, Vienna’s preeminent composition teacher, whose pupils included Gustav Mahler, Hugo Wolf, Alexander Zemlinsky, Franz Schreker, Franz Schmidt and virtually every other composer up to and including Erich Korngold. He completed his studies with Fuchs in 1905. His father’s death meant there was no money left for music or indeed, to maintain the family home and a new, smaller accommodation was sought. His mother accused Ernst of ‘killing his father’ with his pursuit of music and disinterest in the family business.

Extra-edition to announce the death of Johannes Brahms

Extra-edition to announce the death of Johannes Brahms

Despite his studies with Fuchs, Toch maintained that the only composition teacher he had was Mozart. He purchased Mozart quartets in pocket editions and copied out the expositions while composing for himself the developments, recapitulations and codas. He would then return to the original and compare his efforts, with the remark that Mozart was always far better. The score to his first quartet (op. 12) was ‘borrowed’ by a schoolmate named Joseph Fuchs (no relation to Robert Fuchs), who surreptitiously passed it on to Arnold Rosé, the leader of the Vienna Philharmonic and first violin in the Rosé Quartet. In 1907, the Rosé Quartet included it in one of the concerts though the Toch family still objected to Ernst’s desire to study music and refused to attend the performance. Lilly, in a later interview, speculated that they probably felt uncomfortable as to how to behave at such an event. The social insecurities that came from his family background plagued Toch throughout his life and frequently found reference in a dream-journal kept in the early 1950s. 1907, the year of Toch’s first public performance, was paradoxically the year that Mahler left Vienna with 1897, the year that Toch decided to become a composer, the year of Mahler’s arrival. Yet perhaps the greatest paradox of all is that Toch seemed untouched by Vienna’s unique brand of modernism and was as unaware of Mahler as he was of Schoenberg and his circle.

(String Quartet op. 12, A Maj.)

Following the performance of his first quartet, he signed an agreement with the music publishers Pabst, having initially been rejected by his future publisher, Schotts. Pabst in turn brought Toch together with Max Reger with whom Toch remained in contact until Reger’s death in 1916. Reger was seen by Toch and Hindemith as the spiritual godfather of Germany’s post-war New Objective aesthetic.

Max Reger

Max Reger

Toch had long begun to move in socially higher circles than his family and it was at a gathering of the home of the Viennese Amelinger family that he met his future wife Alice (Lili) Zwack, the daughter of bankers and industrialists.

Lili Zwack (lower left) with her sister and a friend. Marianne Zwack would be murdered in a Nazi camp. 1916

Lili Zwack (lower left) with her sister and a friend. Marianne Zwack would be murdered in a Nazi camp. 1916

Another of his early friendships was with Toni and Gustav Stolper prominent economists and friends of Theodor Heuss, Toch’s future neighbour in pre-war Berlin, and from 1949, Germany’s first post-war president.

Wikipedia articles on Toch mention that during these early years, he won the Austrian State Prize five years in row. This comes from a mistranslation or perhaps misunderstanding of Lilly’s (as she became known in America) oral history, speaking in ropey English and wishing to convey the significance of Toch to her young American interlocker. There is no record of Toch ever winning the Austria State Prize – the first one to be awarded went to Hans Gál in 1915. What was probably meant was that Toch won scholarships that allowed him to study in Frankfurt. In fact, it was the award of a composition prize, that allowed him to leave his medical studies in Vienna’s University and transfer to Frankfurt’s Hoch’sche Academy of Music in 1909, the same year as his younger colleague Paul Hindemith. He studied piano with Willi Rehberg and composition with Iwan Knorr.

(Toch’s Sinfonietta from 1906)

Toch’s piano studies with Willi Rehberg at the Hoch’sche Conservatory would have exposed him to an international crowd. Indeed, previous students included Edward MacDowell, Walter Braunfels, Hans Pfitzner, Ernest Bloch and Percy Grainger. Even Richard Tauber was a student until 1910, one year after Toch’s arrival. Most significant however is the fact that Toch and Hindemith both arrived at the conservatory in the same year. They studied with different teachers, but there is evidence that Rebner’s quartet, in which Hindemith played from 1914, performed some of Toch works. Also significant was Bernard Sekles, a faculty member who was enormously influential as a propagator of new musical ideas. Indeed, in 1928, he opened the first department of Jazz at a music academy in Germany and probably the first in Europe. This implies that far from leaving the new-music metropolis and isolating himself in the provinces, Toch was exposed to different ideas and developments than those taking place in Vienna.

Toch's Composition Teacher Iwan Knorr

Toch’s Composition Teacher Iwan Knorr

Upon completion of his studies, he moved to Mannheim where he taught composition until the outbreak of war in 1914. Toch was a patriotic Austria and left Germany to fight in the Austrian army, returning on leave in 1916 to marry Lili. The Zwack family were well connected and managed to have Toch removed from the front. The String Quartet would be a form that would follow Toch throughout his life and offer a mirror to his development as a composer. Yet it was during these war years that he composed a string trio, called the ‘Spitzweg Trio’ that after its deceptively tranquil opening, offers the first hint of a change in direction.

The Tochs as newly-weds

The Tochs as newly-weds

(Toch’s Spitzweg Trio from 1916)

Lili and Ernst Toch during the war years

Lili and Ernst Toch during the war years

Following the war, and at the age of 32, Toch returned to teach and compose in Mannheim. From this point, chromaticism and unresolved dissonance began an edgy co-existence with the late Classical language of his youth. He completed his dissertation on the Structure of Melody. By 1919, his quartet op. 26 was showing even stronger signs of departure from his earlier puritanism. It also brought him back into contact with his younger colleague Paul Hindemith as they began to work jointly on a project regarding ‘Music for the Radio’.

Toch in the 1920s

Toch in the 1920s

Around 1920, the novelist Hermann Hesse and Ernst Toch became acquainted and decided to collaborate on an opera with an orientalist subject. The partnership was unsuccessful but nevertheless resulted in Hesse’s Siddhartha and Toch’s exotic song-cycle The Chinese Flute, for which he used texts by Hans Bethge.

Early Recording Cover for 'The Chinese Flute' from 1922

Early Recording Cover for ‘The Chinese Flute’ from 1922

By 1922, his Chinese Flute offered a detached reaction to the expressive music that had gone previously, and in ist place, brings an atmospheric, contained exoticism.

(Die Chinesische Flöte, Op. 29: Mov. 1 “Die Geheimnisvolle Flöte“: Dresden Staatskapelle, Sop. Elfriede Trötschel cond. Hans Löwlein)

(Die Chinesische Flöte, Op. 29: Mov. 2 “Die Ratte“: Dresden Staatskapelle, Sop. Elfriede Trötschel cond. Hans Löwlein)

(Die Chinesische Flöte, Op. 29: Mov. 3 “ Das los Des Menschen“: Dresden Staatskapelle, Sop. Elfriede Trötschel cond. Hans Löwlein)

This development had its parallel in other cultural disciplines and from 1925 would be referred to as ‘post-Expressionism’ or ‘New Objectivity’. In fact, it was in Mannheim that Toch’s friend Friedrich Hartlaub, director of Mannheim’s Art Museum, mounted an exhibition with the title: ‘Post Expressionism: New Objectivity’ thus according a name to a new artistic credo.

Poster for Mannheim Exhibition 'Neue Sachlichkeit' 1925

Poster for Mannheim Exhibition ‘Neue Sachlichkeit’ 1925

This passage from Expressionism to New Objectivity can be easily seen in the two works by the painter George Grosz: ‘Metropolis’ from 1916 and ‘Without Title’ from 1920.

George Grosz: 'Metropolis' 1916

George Grosz: ‘Metropolis’ 1916

George Grosz: 'Without Title' from 1920

George Grosz: ‘Without Title’ from 1920

War introduced impersonal mechanisation into day-to-day life. The individual was only small cog in a wheel, faceless and part of a larger machine, driven by technology and science. The war had left the intellectual and creative world fearing that things could only get worse – there was no God and no eternity. Aspiration was pointless. Attempts to appeal to such abstract concepts through the means of higher, motivational art, were delusional. New Objectivity believed it was holding up a mirror to a dark and ultimately dangerous reality. One either danced on the volcano, or burned alive. It was existence without redemption.

Toch with Count von Fürstenberg at the Doneschingen music festival 1922

Toch with Count von Fürstenberg at the Doneschingen music festival 1922

The emotional antidote to The Chinese Flute would be his ‘3 Burlesques’ op. 31 from 1923. The Burlesque entitled The Juggler characterized Toch’s piano writing: high-energy and demanding the brilliance of a high-precision machine. He re-worked it later for player-piano, yet in its original form, it became a firm favourite with pupils and virtuosos alike. His technically brilliant performances of his own works netted him an exclusive contract with Blüthner pianos.

(Der Jongleur)

Emanuel Feuermann

Emanuel Feuermann

(Cello concerto, first movement op. 35)

With the Cello Concerto, premiered by Emanuel Feuermann with Hans Richter at the Deutsches Tonkünstlerfest in July 1925, Toch was confirmed as the darling of German new music. He was awarded both the Prize of Germany’s collected music societies and Schott’s own composition prize. The work, like the Chinese Flute, is scored for chamber orchestra. Its expressive range, in keeping with the trend towards ‘New Objectivity’ is deliberately sparse and angular.

Programme of piano concerto 1926: Elly Ney as soloist with Furtwängler

Programme of piano concerto 1926: Elly Ney as soloist with Furtwängler

With the piano concerto, Toch became an international name. After its premiere at the Donaueschingen Festival in 1926, it was swiftly taken up by many of the most important pianists of the day, particularly two who would later become ardent Hitler supporters and ostentatiously distance themselves from their earlier admiration of Toch: Walter Gieseking and Elly Ney, who 1926 to 1933 would frequently perform the work under the baton of Wilhelm Furtwängler or Hermann Scherchen. Toch finally took on the piano part himself and toured the USA as soloist as the first German composer to be invited by America’s Pro Musica Association.

(Toch first piano concerto, third movement)

1936 New York Performance of 'The Princess and the Pea' conducted by Hugo Strelitzer

1936 New York Performance of ‘The Princess and the Pea’ conducted by Hugo Strelitzer

The Baden-Baden Festival premiered a series of one act operas from 1927 onwards, starting with Toch’s Princess and the Pea, Paul Hindemith’s palindrome-opera There-and-Back, Kurt Weill’s Mahagonny Songspiel and Darius Milhaud’s Rape of Europa. The brilliance and wit of Toch’s working of the well known fairy-tale even resulted in successful runs ‘off Broadway’ in NY and Chicago. Toch’s operatic values were considered a welcome relief from the heightened world of post-Wagnerian composers. The Princess and the Pea offers both high-energy and grotesque humour.

Ernst Toch and Kurt Weill in Baden Baden

Ernst Toch and Kurt Weill in Baden Baden

Toch was successful enough to leave his teaching post and live as a full-time composer from 1924 onwards. He became friendly with Egon Wellesz, whose opera Alkestis, premiered in Mannheim, Toch much admired. Toch also launched his ‘Society for New Music’ in Mannheim, assuring its position as one of Germany’s most progressive cities. Nevertheless, in 1929, the Tochs left Mannheim for a leafy villa in Berlin’s Dahlem district, where their neighbour was Theodor Heuss.

Friends and neighbours of the Tochs: Hermann Hesse and Theodor Heuss

Friends and neighbours of the Tochs: Hermann Hesse and Theodor Heuss

With the trend towards objectivity came a hyper-realism that Toch – along with others – translated into ‘spoken music’. But few works, either by Toch or any of the others, matched the sheer audacity of this perfectly constructed fugue based on geographical place-names, spoken by a polyphonic chorus and resulting in cascades of consonants and startling acoustic effects. In 1935 the young John Cage and Henry Cowell met with Toch and created an English version. Nevertheless, it’s worth hearing the work in its context as the third movement of the Spoken Music Suite. The first two movements involve the chorus making acoustical noises and isolated vowel and consonant sounds, all culminating with the chaotic noise eliding into Geographical names in the form of a fugue. It was premiered in Berlin’s New Music Festival 1930.

Toch at the time of his 'Spoken Music' 1930

Toch at the time of his ‘Spoken Music’ 1930

(Spoken Music – First Part: ‘O-a’)

(Spoken Music, Part 2: ‘Ta-Tam’)

(Spoken Music: Part 3: Fugue of Geographical Names)

Der Fächer (the Fan) Toch's Shanghai jazzy Zeitoper

Der Fächer (the Fan) Toch’s Shanghai jazzy Zeitoper

Premiered in Königsberg in 1930, “the Fan” with text by Ferdinand Lion was Toch’s answer to the trend in ultra-contemporary opera called Zeitopern. Typical of Zeitopern was jazz, modern sounds such as traffic, electric bells or telephones along with very up-to-date protagonists. The Fan takes place in modern day China (or more accurately, sometime in the 1920s), and tells the story of a widow who promises to remain faithful to her husband until the “earth covering his body is dry”. At the cemetery, she meets a dazzling movie director from Shanghai, with whom she falls in love. He takes her to the jazz clubs of Shanghai – allowing the opera to move beyond its orientalist setting with the addition of tangos, dancebands and such. Dazzled by the city and its nightlife as well as the excitement of her young lover, she returns to the grave of her husband and frantically uses a fan to dry the still moist earth on his grave.

He composed his second piano concerto, which he called Symphony for Piano and Orchestra along with his Music for Baritone and Orchestra from 1932 with texts by Rilke. The latter is sombre and seems to reflect a sense of foreboding:

(Musik für Bariton und Orchester: 1: Langsam und sehr zart; Baritone: Christian Immler & RSI Lugano; Cond: Graziella Contratto)

(Musik für Bariton und Orchester: 2: Ruhig, etwas Frei; Baritone: Christian Immler & RSI Lugano; Cond: Graziella Contratto)

(Musik für Bariton und Orchester: 3: Andante: Christian Immler & RSI Lugano; Cond: Graziella Contratto)

(Musik für Bariton und Orchester: 4: Allegro incalzato; Baritone: Christian Immler & RSI Lugano; Cond: Graziella Contratto)

The piano concerto is, despite its title, less dynamic and more intimate than his first. It still requires the technically mechanical perfection that won such wide admiration among enthusiasts of the day – one writing in Melos Schott’s monthly new-music magazine – found the piano music of Toch to be the most important for the instrument in a generation as it was so impersonal, there could be no third party interfering with the music as it was conveyed from the instrument to the listener. He even thought the works would be more effective if pianos were outfitted with rubber hammers. It seems an eccentric view today, but clearly demonstrates the inter-war disenchantment with humanity and the hopes that were placed in technology. Fritz Lang’s Metropolis or Max Brand’s opera The Mechanic Hopkins were frightening representations of how such a dehumanised society would function and Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor in 1933 seemed almost the fulfilment of such dystopian visionsRehearsals for performances of The Fan were prevented in 1933 when Nazis in Cologne forcibly removed the baton from the hand of conductor William Steinberg. Toch was not as politically naïve as his image may have suggested. He wasted no time in getting out of Germany following Hitler’s appointment as Reich Chancellor in 1933.

(Toch: Concerto For Piano And Orchestra No. 2 Op. 61: 1st Movement: Allegro; Pno: Diane Andersen, Philharmonisches Staatsorchester Halle, cond. Hans Rotman)

With the end of the First World War, Toch, like Hans Gál, lost all sense of being Austrian. The Austria to which he had previously felt patriotic no longer existed, reduced to an insignificant mini-state of German speakers permanently denied full participation within the greater German nation. This was in decided contrast to other Austrian composers, such as Ernst Krenek, Ralph Benatzky and Erich Korngold, who felt a deep and profound sense of Austrian identity. Toch, however, felt nothing but indifference and even disdain for his former homeland. It never occurred to him to follow the example of Alexander Zemlinsky or Hans Gál and return to Vienna in 1933. His first port of exile was Florence from where he telegraphed his wife ‘I have my pencil’ – code for ‘I’m safe, join me in Paris’. From Paris, where he fell-in and fell-out with fellow Arnold Schoenberg (a frequent occurrence in the lives of the two men), they oversaw the sale of the family villa in Dahlem. Though his works were performed in Frankfurt’s Jüdischer Kulturbund, and Lili even briefly visited Berlin to finalise the sale of the family home, Toch did not return again until after the war.

One of several Kulturbund programmes featuring works by Ernst Toch

One of several Kulturbund programmes featuring works by Ernst Toch

The Austrian poet and stage director Berthold Viertel found Toch work in London where he scored films for Viertel and Alexander Korda. Toch must have felt that he was blessed with every possible advantage for life outside of Germany. He was widely recognised as one of the most established composers of his generation. He sat on the panel, along with fellow Austrians Alban Berg and Hans Gál, of the Allgemeiner Deutscher Musikverein, one of Germany’s most prestigious organisations founded by Franz Liszt in 1861. His works were performed by the leading artists and orchestras of the day and he had a profile that went beyond Germany’s borders. Before 1933, he had contracts with Blüthner as a pianist and Schott publishers as a composer; August Sander, one of Germany’s most important photographers had used Toch as the subject of his genre photo-series, featuring him simply as ‘The Composer’ – Furtwängler had been the model for Sander’s photo ‘The Conductor’. Toch even had the academic title of Doctor of Music. He did not need to fear the future – as a musician, he was better armed than most against whatever the future might throw at him. His profile was even such that he performed his Symphony for Piano and Orchestra during one of the Proms Concerts with Sir Henry Wood conducting.

Prom Concert Programme

Prom Concert Programme

Peter Ibbetson allowed Toch to provide the quintessential ‘Hollywood’ film-score for a film that paradoxically was not made in Hollywood. It received an Oscar nomination for the music and the film itself was praised by the likes of Luis Buñuel and André Breton) Alvin Johnson invited Toch to join the faculty of the New School of Social Research, and even if his German publisher Schott could not extend his contract, he was taken up by their American arm, American Music Publishers (AMP). His friend George Gershwin secured, against all rules and regulations, membership to ASCAP, so that he could profit from any performances of his works in America.

'In friendship' George Gershwin to Ernst Toch

‘In friendship’ George Gershwin to Ernst Toch

In fact, he was already known from having been on tour only the year before performing his ‘Second’ piano concerto, or ‘Symphony for Piano and Orchestra’. He did not need to fear the ban on performances of his works in Germany. What Toch had not counted on, however, was the suppression of music that resulted from America’s unique brand of dog-eat-dog capitalism. Broadcast Music Incorporated, (BMI) was ASCAP’s largest competitor and bought Toch’s American publisher AMP in order to silence all ASCAP. When Hindemith, another Schott émigré composer arrived in America in 1940, he joined BMI. But Toch was a Jew and was slowly recognising the potential catastrophe in his homeland. By 1939, he recognised the fact that he had to get as many family members and friends out of Austria as possible. Though he received commissions from the likes of Elizabeth Sprague Coolridge, such as his piano quintet, he realised he would need to earn much more money if he was serious about getting his friends and family out of Germany. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NUoHPEo6vXw He moved to Los Angeles and took up a teaching position at USC as well as working at various studios. The family possessions had been shipped from Berlin to LA in an enormous packing crate that Toch turned into ‘atelier’ on Malibu Beach. He called it ‘Villa Majestic’ and kept a guest book of all who came to visit.

Opening page of the guest book of 'Villa Majestic' - constructed from shipping crates

Opening page of the guest book of ‘Villa Majestic’ – constructed from shipping crates

With Americans fearing a Japanese invasion, the Tochs were even able to acquire an exposed hillside where they engaged the Austrian architect Liana Zimbler to build a mini-Bauhaus villa, which upon completion would feature in design and architecture magazines.

The Toch home as featured in Architectural Forum

The Toch home as featured in Architectural Forum

To outsiders, such a life must have seemed glamorous, but for the Tochs, it was profoundly stressful. He managed to save a large number of family members, many of whom he had to continue to support until they could establish themselves. Lilly’s sister was murdered in a camp, along with countless other friends, relatives and most of the people with whom he had grown up in Vienna’s Second District. Rabbi Jakob (Jacob) Sonderling, the local rabbi for the central European refugees of Los Angeles, commissioned works by a number of Austrian refugee composers: Arnold Schoenberg’s Kol Nidre; Korngold’s Passover Psalm and Erich Zeisl’s Requiem Ebraico. Like Zeisl, Toch wanted to compose a work with a Universalist message and departed from strict liturgical Hebrew. His mother had died in 1937, mercifully before the Nazi annexation of Austria. He had been unable to join the family and wished to express his sorrow in the work he offered to Sonderling. His Cantata of the Bitter Herbs is more than just music for Passover; the Hagada is the story of the Israelis’ flight from persecution from ancient Egypt. It had particular significance for Europe’s Jews fleeing Hitler. It is a strange reaffirmation of Jewish destiny rather than Jewish faith.

Los Angeles Times article on Jakob Sonderlin with Toch and Schoenberg

Los Angeles Times article on Jacob Sonderling with Toch and Schoenberg

(Cantata of the Bitter Herbs, Op. 65: Psalm 126)

Toch’s account of the work is worth reading: “…it was implicitly assumed that I would turn to the store of existing, traditionally established music in the Passover services and integrate some of it into mine. Strangely enough that thought never occurred to me. My conception of the tale told in the Hagada was quite different, was non-denominational and broadly universal. It is the formula of a fate that men have inflicted on men time and again. Whenever it happens it causes sufferings told and untold and calls up powers of resistance, told and untold. It happened to the Jews and it has happened to others.” With only one additional exception, Toch composed film music during the war years. The other exception was his 1942 Poems to Martha written to texts by a young husband who had lost his wife. Toch was so moved by the young man’s grief that he took his poems and set them for baritone and string quartet. The choice of quartet was significant. String quartets cover every period of his creative life. With an enormous compositional hole from 1939-1945 it’s fascinating that Poems for Martha bridges this gap as well.

Casual Snap of Ernst and Lilly around 1940

Casual Snap of Ernst and Lilly around 1940

(‘Eventide’ The opening of Poems to Martha)

It’s difficult to assess Toch’s film music. Peter Ibbetson is full of typical Hollywood lushness, Little friend and Catherine the Great, his other British film scores, are fairly utilitarian and hardly do more than mere referencing of the visual. His arrival in Hollywood was initially met with some trepidation. He was a composer of ‘modern music’ and soon carved out a genre of comic-horror films, some of the best of which featured a young Bob Hope.

'The Ghost Breakers' poster; Music by Dr. Ernest Toch

‘The Ghost Breakers’ poster; Music by Dr. Ernest Toch

His ‘chase music’ composed by the yard was used for car chases in gangster films or for the sleigh-chase scene in Heidi with Shirley Temple. He hated the thought of losing credibility and insisted on being billed as Dr Ernst Toch, though the studios changed his name to ‘Ernest’.

(Dr. Cyclops- 1939 – Overture” from Film scores by Dr Ernest Toch)

In 1944, Toch was invited to give a series of lectures at Harvard University, which were later published as The Shaping Forces of Music – a fascinating attempt to explain dissonance within diatonic music. Schoenberg neither approved of The Shaping Forces of Music, nor more specifically, of Toch’s dissertation on the Structure of Melody, Melodielehre which many placed as a companion to Schoenberg’s book on Harmony. Their relationship in Los Angeles appears to have been civil, though Schoenberg found a means of falling out with nearly every one of his Central European neighbours. Toch, however, probably irritated him more than most, and Schoneberg’s signed copy of The Shaping Forces of Music elicited a testy thank-you note along with copious catty remarks in the margins. Toch’s own views of Schoenberg were as follows: “…he is the strongest, the firmest, the most consistent, yet the richest in ideas of them all. He has the greatest musical morality. His path forward has not deviated once, to the right or the left, from his objective. He owes his development not to others but purely to himself. He stands in a certain definite relation to J.S. Bach. I consider these two men to have stood each at the cross-roads of great musical periods of the past and future. Like Bach, Schönberg is a culmination of one age and the forerunner of another.”

Otto Klemperer, Prinz Hubertus von Loewenstein, Arnold Schoenberg walking in the Canyons of LA

Otto Klemperer, Prinz Hubertus von Loewenstein, Arnold Schoenberg walking in the Canyons of LA

There is much in Toch’s life that seems symbolic and when Nathaniel Shilkret approach a number of composer to write a movement of what would become ‘The Genesis Suite’, Toch chose to set ‘The Covenant’ or God’s promise never to unleash a catastrophic deluge again. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Km67re59wMY (‘The Covenant’ Toch’s contribution to the ‘Genesis Suite’) He returned to composing quartets and his ‘entry’ back into the normal life of a composer. His daughter Franzi married another Austrian émigré named Irving Weschler. In 1948, he suffered a massive heart attack and decided that the only thing that now mattered was to compose. He left the studios and USC and renewed his acquaintance with Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, who had been both a patron (having commission his piano quintet op. 64) and supporter of his chamber music. Much to his relief, he had not suffered a loss of credibility, such as experienced by Erich Korngold, and continued to be featured by long-standing friends such as Georg Szell, Otto Klemperer, Wilhelm (now William) Steinberg, Erich Leinsdorf and other former refugees, now ‘upgraded’ to the status of émigrés.

Various composers involved with 'Genesis Suite' Charles Wakefield Cadman, Mario Castelnuova-Tedesco, Henri Temianka, Toch, Miklos Rosa

with LA friends and colleagues: Charles Wakefield Cadman, Mario Castelnuova-Tedesco, Henri Temianka, Toch, Miklos Rosa

The loss of income from film work and teaching compelled the Tochs to return to Europe where life was less expensive. Alternatively, Ernst would abandon Lilly for longer periods of the year to live in various artistic retreats sponsored by George Huntington-Hartford or the MacDowell Colony. In the summer, he headed the composition courses at the Tanglewood Festival while taking on additional teaching duties in Oregon and Minnesota. Despite these duties, he caused a scandal when he admitted that it was impossible ‘to teach’ composition. The debate this comment unleashed only demonstrated how post-war composition teaching in America had become formulaic with many taking up Schoenberg’s system of 12 tone composition. Toch himself employed 12 tone composition in his 1953 quartet op. 74 – in fact, it’s one of his most beautiful late works with far greater care and craftsmanship than could be the case with his larger orchestral works. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T-ReoepZYtk

Toch at the MacDowell Colony

Toch at the MacDowell Colony

Freed from the studios, music poured out of him. Yet the works bore little relationship to what he composed previously. If his inter-war works had been intricately structured, demonstrating astonishing craftsmanship, his post-war works leapt back into an Expressionistic past. At the same time, he called his new orchestral compositions ‘Symphonies’ – less in reference to the strict idiom that was classically Austro-German, but as Mahlerian tone-poems strung together with little that kept them from dissolving into chaos beyond transcendential ideas that drove Toch to write. By his own admission, it was now important that he put pencil to paper: ‘someone else could edit them later’. The works show a mixture of brilliance and desperation, some offering shafts of real beauty while others crush with the power of an orchestral steamroller. Yet listening to his first symphony, one hears more of Hollywood’s influence than Toch would have acknowledged. Perhaps it was Toch’s influence on future Hollywood composers. Notwithstanding, the lush romanticism of Korngold and Steiner may be missing, but his symphonies remain full of musical evocation, each capable of drawing up missing images from un-made films. His first two symphonies were premiered by the Vienna Symphony, with the First dedicated to his young school colleague Joseph Fuchs and the Second Symphony dedicated to Albert Schweitzer. His Third Symphony takes a Goethe quote as his inspiration and his fourth, dedicated to Marian MacDowell included maudlin excerpts of spoken dialogue – which Antal Dorati removed against his will.

Marian MacDowell - widow of Edward MacDowell and patron of the MacDowell Colony - Toch's favourite retreat

Marian MacDowell – widow of Edward MacDowell and patron of the MacDowell Colony – Toch’s favourite retreat

His Fifth Symphony is premiered by Erich Leinsdorf in 1964 only months before Toch’s death in October. He would not live to hear the premiers of his 6th and 7th Symphonies, though in truth, following his death, performances became ever rarer and following the passing of Toch’s generation of performers, they stopped altogether.

(Opening of Toch’s First Symphony – premiered in Vienna 1950 by the Vienna Symphony Orchestra and Herbert Häfner)

The Tochs being interviewed in Germany

The Tochs being interviewed in Germany

(Toch German Interview Radio Bremen December 1959) The house in Los Angeles was often sub-let while the Tochs shifted between Vienna and Zurich. Germany was too devastated and it was still difficult for Austrians and Americans to gain visas. A revealing letter from Lilly, however, informs us that despite problems of post-war scarcity, food in Vienna remained better than in Switzerland. There was no need to send food parcels. Despite premieres of his first two symphonies, the relationship between Vienna and the Tochs remained cool. Even in his private correspondence, he shows little affection for the city or for Austria, and of course, nobody in Austria thought to offer him a position. Unlike Egon Wellesz or Hanns Eisler, he was not identified with any of Austria’s specific political factions. He was ignored.

Toch on one of his many retreats

Toch on one of his many escapes

Toch’s symphonies, despite their clear rejections of Hollywood Romanticism, were nonetheless influenced by years of film work – even if the influence is felt in attempts to place distance between himself and an American movie aesthetic. His string quartets remains far more autobiographical if only because they are less public in their statements. Angular dissonance seems integral rather than gratuitous and much of the writing is intimately beautiful.

(quartet no. 13, op. 74, first movement)

Anna Mahler bust of Toch

For the rest of his life, Toch continued to flirt with Jewish ideas. His fifth symphony was called Jephta and his op. 79 entitled Vanity of Vanity, scored for soprano, tenor and chamber ensemble, and commissioned by the Los Angeles University of Judaism. Lilly remained aloof from the religious yearning felt by her husband and in her oral history, she draws a very distinct emotional line between herself and Ernst on the subject of Judaism.

Toch's Prayer Book from childhood

Toch’s Prayer Book from childhood

Lilly is also sceptical of Ernst’s belief in himself as an opera composer. She thought Der Fächer (The Fan) a piece of nonsense and dismissed his decision to set Scheherazade, the last Tale as unrealistic. It would not be performed until decades after Toch’s death in the provincial German city of Bautzen. It was in effect Toch’s last tale as well. Just as Scheherazade would be felled by the vividness of her imagination, Toch would not be able to write another large work before his death two years later in October 1964 of Stomach Cancer.

One of the last photos of Toch

One of the last photos of Toch

Toch had not forgotten how to achieve musical brilliance. He composed a Cocktail Party Waltz as a companion work to his ‘Spoken Music’ of 1930. The text was small talk. Then there was a pot-boiler he dashed off for Andre Kostelanetz called Circus Overture that perfectly evokes all of the performing animals with an aural vividness that is nothing short of technical genius. As far as Toch was concerned, however, it was a commission and not what he was meant to be composing. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YW7rMLKQ3_Q The symphonies demand patience, though his third symphony conducted by William Steinberg would win a Pulitzer Prize and following its recording, a Grammy.

The Graves of Ernst and Lilly Toch in Los Angeles

The Graves of Ernst and Lilly Toch in Los Angeles

Much of the true Toch – away from music – is found in his countless notebooks and essays. Many seem to have been written only for himself with more than several versions in both English and German, as if trying to express himself with equal fluency in both languages. There are piles of notebooks full of English and German synonyms, and other books where he recorded his dreams. His Credo of a Composer was just such a bilingual essay tucked away amongst his papers. It appears to call into question all of the ideas that defined the aesthetics of ‘Neue Sachlichkeit’ – or ‘New Objectivity’. It demonstrates that Toch’s journey was not merely ‘geographical’: “While romanticism in music repelled us almost to the point of nausea, we cannot deny that music in itself, the very conception of music, is romantic. And while sentimentality has no place in true art, we must not confuse sentimentality with sentiment. […]If music of our century has, so far, failed to compel general devotion, as in the past, the reasons for it should not be sought in technicalities. They most probably lie in the spiritual sphere.”