A South American Story of Music Exile: Guillermo Graetzer (Wilhelm Grätzer):

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An area that remains totally under-researched is the fate of music-exiles in South and Latin America. Occasionally a wisp of a story pops up such as Hans Joachim Köllreuter who taught, amongst others, Antônio Carlos Jobim, the father of the bossa nova. We know a bit more about Mexico thanks to Hanns Eisler, Marcel Rubin, Ruth Schoenthal and others. South America’s largest and most European countries, such as Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Chile strangely remain under-investigated despite their obvious attraction to numerous fleeing European Jews desperate to procure a visa anywhere. All of the major South American cities took in huge numbers of refugees and many must have been musicians. Astonishing that so little about them is known.

The Port of Buenos Aires in the 1930s

The Port of Buenos Aires in the 1930s

For that reason I was intrigued to read about Guillermo Graetzer in the latest issue of Musica Reanimata’s monthly journal, written by one of his students, Carlos María Solare in recognition of what would have been his hundredth birthday. Surprisingly, he’s yet another Viennese-born musician and equally unsurprising, nobody in Vienna has ever heard of him. Yet he appears to have been instrumental in Argentinian musical life, especially in the field of music pedagogy, though his output as a composer was considerable. I trust neither Musica Reanimata nor Carlos María Solare will object to my pillaging their article in order to bring this fascinating musician to my modest circle of readers.

photo-of-young-graetzer

Photo of the young Grätzer/Graetzer

According to Solare’s intriguing introduction, Graetzer made the ‘largest contribution to local musical life of any of the countless European immigrants who arrived in the 1930s’. He initiated teaching institutions such as the Colegium Musicum de Buenos Aires which continues to play a central role in Argentinian musical life today.

Vienna gets ready to punish Serbia, 1914

Vienna gets ready to punish Serbia, 1914

He was born Wilhelm Grätzer in Vienna in September 1914, just after declaration of War on Serbia and the beginning of the end for ‘the world of yesterday’. From the age of sixteen to twenty, he studied in Berlin with Ernst Lothar von Knorr and Paul Hindemith. The situation in Berlin was both precarious and dangerous and in 1933, he managed to take private composition lessons with Hans Boettcher and Knorr along with private piano lessons from Boethcher’s wife Hilde. The Boettchers were severely penalised for taking on a Jewish pupil. In 1935, Nazi race laws compelled Graetzer, now aged twenty-one, to leave Berlin and return to Vienna where he was taken on by Paul Pisk, one of the very few composers to have studied both with Franz Schreker and Arnold Schoenberg. Solare informs us that Pisk started his concert series ‘Musik der Gegenwart’ (‘Music of Today’) in 1935, though I have a feeling that Pisk started it a good deal earlier. From April 1933, Austria had dissolved parliament, rolled all political parties into a single ‘Fatherland Front’ party and began to imprison and persecute Socialists, Communists and Nazis. Ernst Krenek, Gustav Mahler’s son-in-law and through his mother-in-law Alma, moving in circles of prominent Austro-Fascists, started his own concert series called ‘Austrian Studio’ in order to demonstrate that new music was not the sole initiative of ‘lefties and Jews’ – a peculiar assertion to make, as Nazi race laws would have meant that his wife Anna Mahler constituted at least half of this ‘traitorous’ combination. Paul Pisk, on the other hand was known to constitute both elements and his series of contemporary music concerts clearly demonstrates the need for further study of musical life during Austria’s five years of pre-Nazi Fascist government. In any case Pisk’s concert series allowed a number of Graetzer works to receive their first Performances.

Paul Pisk

Paul Pisk

Graetzer’s older sister had already been living in Argentina for a number of years, so that by the time Hitler subsumed Austria into his Nazi Reich, emigration to Buenos Aires was the obvious escape option. It was in Argentina, upon receipt of citizenship that he changed his name from ‘Wilhelm’ to ‘Guillermo’. Pisk provided Graetzer with a letter of introduction to Juan Carlos Paz, whom he would have known from the International Society for New Music, an organisation of which Pisk was a founding member. The introduction of Graetzer with Paz meant that the young Austrian was able to enter straight into the Argentina’s circle of avant-garde composers and within the year was taking part in one of Paz’s ‘Conciertos de Nueva Música’ as pianist.

Juan Carlos Paz

Juan Carlos Paz

In 1947, Graetzer was a founding member of the ‘Liga de Compositores de la Argentina’ along with Alberto Ginastera and Julián Bautista, Jacobo Ficher, Roberto García Morillo and many others. As might have been expected during the years of the populist government of Juan Domingo Perón, the initiatives of the ‘Liga’ were fairly modest and hardly extended beyond events around a visit by Aaron Copland and a short-lived association with the International Society of New Music.

The Peróns

The Peróns

Graetzer was more successful with his idea of a general admissions school such as found in his boyhood days in Vienna. It offered music instruction to children, amateurs and teachers at the highest possible calibre. He called his school Collegium Musicum de Buenos Aires and continuing in the inclusive spirit of inter-war Germany and Austria, great store was set in removing barriers between performers and public: the ultimate goal was that the public would act as participants in music making. Along with fellow Viennese émigré Erwin Leuchter and the Argentinian Ernsesto Epstein, they were able to persuade major touring artists to give moderated children’s concerts. These became highly didactic and enriching experiences for many budding musicians. Everything from seminars on music in the middle-ages to the ‘Schulwerk’ of Carl Orff were adapted for young Argentinians.

Vienna's 'Urania' - venue for one of ist many free Schools and universities for everyone

Vienna’s ‘Urania’ – venue for one of ist many free Schools and universities for everyone

It would also seem that Graetzer took an enormous interest in ethno-musicology, collecting and publishing the dances of the North, Central and South American Indians, presenting music from the Spanish ‘Golden Age’ and writing and collecting children’s folk songs. His publications offered a breadth of scholarship that would seem reckless in today’s more specialised environment. As such he was equally regarded for his book on ornamentation in performing the works of Bach as he was for his practical guide to new music.

collection of Songs from various regions of the Americas

collection of Songs from various regions of the Americas

From 1955 to 1962 he founded and directed the chorus ‘Asociatión Amigos de la Música’ while at the same time, elevating the choir of the Collegium to one of the best in Argentina. He continued to teach at and direct at the Collegium while also taking on a composition class as part of the Facultad de Bellas Artes at the University of La Plata.

Guillermo Graetzer in later years

Guillermo Graetzer in later years

From the 1960s, Graetzer dedicated himself more to music education, founding and becoming vice president of Sociedad Argentina de Educación Musical, allowing him to take part and influence music education throughout South America. From the 1970s, he started collecting what appear to have been an endless number of medals and honours, culminating in 1986 with the grand prize of the Association of Argentinian Authors and Composers, the same association that upon his death would initiate a composition competition in his memory.

Graetzer's guide to contemporary music

Graetzer’s guide to contemporary Music

So what is his music like? Searches on the internet don’t turn up much – only a youtube clip of a very fine children’s choir singing a lovely ‘folk-song’, much in the spirit of Hanns Eisler’s folk songs composed after the war for ‘a new Germany’.

Nevertheless, there are a number of Lieder from his years in Berlin set to texts by Klabund, Hans Bethge, Hermann Hesse, Rainer Maria Rilke, Peter Wille and Friedrich Nietzsche. In addition, there are some piano works including a sonata that lasts about twenty minutes as well as a sonatina for recorder and piano. In common with a number of other émigré composers, his post-war works reflect a coming to terms with Jewish confession, culture and traditions with settings of Biblical, Chassidic and Yiddish texts. His love of music of the Renaissance and Baroque is reflected in his ‘Old Dances from the Spanish Court’ and his Bach year arrangements in 1950 and 1985 of The Art of the Fugue for large and then chamber orchestra. Guillermo Graetzer’s son Carlos, also a composer, has described his father’s early works as being highly individual, yet showing clear Hindemithian and even Schoenbergian influences. His classically disciplined style continued until 1957 and the composition of his choral-work De la sabiduría. (on Wisdom). From the 1960s, he became progressively more inspired by Latin-American influences, setting many Argentinian and South American poets as well as developing a fascination with proto-Columbian culture. This would result in two works based on the Creation Myths of the Mayas: his 1962 choral work: Preámbulo al Popol Vuh de los mayas and from 1989, his ‘oratorio ballet’ La creación según el Popol Vuh maya. This last work is considered by Carlos and Solare to be his masterpiece.

Popol Vuh

Popol Vuh

He also composed a number of chamber and orchestral works commissioned by some of Argentina’s most noted musicians and institutions. His 1981 Concertino para XIV Cuerdas for Alberto Lysy’s chamber orchestra; his quintet for flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano from 1983 was a commission from the Society of Authors and Composers and his second Chamber Concerto (1988) was a commission from Camerata Bariloche. Carlos Graetzer describes his father’s music as moving between poly- and atonality, between ‘serial and complex textures that reflect his fascination with the mysteries of colour and instrumentation’. His technical skill allowed him great freedom and control of his material. ‘He could move from the strictest placement of each tone to a loose style with aleatoric elements, while all of his works were predetermined by an inner sensitivity for sound and colour’. Solare concludes his essay by postulating that Graetzer’s distance from the centres of western composition would mean that he would have greater freedom to write as he felt and remain true to his principal that ‘everything that’s composed needs also to be listenable’.

Since writing this post, a reader has kindly sent me the following link to further works by Graetzer. They’re remarkable!

Musica Reanimata’s journal offers a lengthy index of works by Graetzer, but I also found one on-line and in German:

  • Primer cuaderno de Lieder (Texte von Hermann Hesse, Rainer Maria Rilke, Klabund, Hans Bethge), 1935-37
  • Vöglein Schwermut für fünfstimmigen gemischten Chor (Text Christian Morgenstern), 1936
  • Variaciones fáciles für Klavier, 1936
  • Sonata en si bemol für Klavier, 1936.
  • Sonatina für Flöte und Klavier, 1937
  • Dos piezas für Klavier, 1937-38
  • Tres toccatas für Klavier, 1937-38
  • Salmo 44 für Solisten, Chor und Streichorchester, 1938
  • Concierto para orquesta, 1939
  • Segundo cuaderno de Lieder (Texte von Hans Bethge, Peter Wille, Friedrich Nietzsche, Rainer Maria Rilke), 1939-40.
  • Danzas antiguas de la corte española für Orchester, 1940
  • Siete princesas muy desdichadas, Ballett, 1940
  • 25 canciones hebreas, 1940
  • Variaciones y final sobre un tema de Salamone Rossi, 1941
  • Cuarteto de cuerdas en un movimiento, 1941
  • Adagio für Violine und Klavier, 1941
  • Rapsodia para violín y orquesta, 1941-43
  • Danza de la muerte y de la niña für Kammerorchester, 1942
  • Danzas populares yugoeslavas für Kammerorchester, 1942
  • Jerusalem eterna, Kantate für Solisten, gemischten Chor, Kinderchor und Gitarre, 1942
  • Dos baladas für Klavier, 1943
  • 5 bagatelas für Klavier, 1943
  • Dos coros sobre textos bíblicos für vierstimmigen gemischten Chor, 1943
  • Dios mio, (Psalmo XLII/6) für dreistimmigen Frauenchor (nach Hans Denk), 1943
  • Divertimento für Flöte, Oboe, Klarinette, Fagott und Horn, 1943-45
  • Bar Cojbah, Kantate für Solisten und Kammerorchester, 1944
  • Grave für Violine solo, 1945
  • Sonatina für Klavier, 1945
  • Amarás a tu prójimo für vierstimmigen gemischten Chor, 1945
  • Fantasía, variaciones y final für Orgel, 1945-46
  • Anah Adonai für vierstimmigen gemischten Chor, 1946
  • La Parábola für Orchester, 1946-47
  • Sinfonietta Nº 1 für Streichorchester, 1947
  • Rondó para niños für Klavier, 1947
  • Trio für Violine, Viola und Cello, 1948-51
  • Para Susana für Klavier, 1950
  • Ein Traum ist unser Leben für vierstimmigen gemischten Chor (Text von Friedrich Hebbel), 1950
  • Sinfonietta Nº 2 “Sinfonía breve” für Streichorchester, 1951
  • Concierto para fagot y orquesta, 1952-53
  • Concierto de cámara Nº1, 1953
  • Sonata para orquesta de cuerdas, 1953
  • Tres cantos de la eternidad für Quartett oder gemischten Chor und Klavier (Texte von Friedrich Nietzsche, Friedrich Hebbel), 1953
  • Los burgueses de Calais, “a los mártires de todos los tiempos” für Männerchor und Orchester 1954-55
  • Concierto para Violoncello y orquesta, 1955-57
  • Variaciones y final für zwei Klaviere, 1955
  • Duo für Flöte und Klarinette, 1956
  • De la Sabiduría für vierstimmigen gemischten Chor, 1957
  • Preámbulo para el Popol Vuh de los mayas für achtstimmigen gemischten Chor, 1962-63
  • Tres coros sobre rimas tradicionales, 1964
  • “Cosa y cosa ¿que será?”, Ciclo de coros infantiles basados en adivinanzas, 1964
  • El todo interno für vier Chöre (Text von Juan Ramón Jimenez), 1964
  • De sol a sol für Chor und Gitarre, (Texte von Rafael Alberti, Federico Garcia Lorca, Juan Ramón Jimenez), 1967
  • Huesped de las tinieblas für siebenstimmigen gemischten Chor (Text von Rafael Alberti), 1970-71
  • Elogio al canto, Kantate für gemischten Chor, Kinderchor, Solisten und Orchester, 1971
  • Dos coros für gemischten Chor (Text von Juana de Ibarbourou), 1971
  • Los rehenes für gemischten Chor (nach Max Frisch), 1972
  • Penélope für Flötenquintett, 1974
  • Quodlibet de canciones infantiles argentinas für Kinderchor, 1974
  • 16 canciones para coro de niños con o sin instrumentos, 1975
  • Cuatro invenciones para órgano, 1975-80
  • Sestina für Violine und Klavier, 1976
  • Santa es la tierra del Mayab, Kantate für Solisten, gemischten Chor und Orchester (Text von Antonio Mediz Bolio), 1977
  • Triludium für Streichorchester, 1978
  • Tankas für mittlere Stimme, Klarinette, Violine, Cello und Klavier (nach Gedichten von Jorge Luis Borges), 1978
  • Liberación für Orchester, 1978-79
  • Tres coros sobre poesías africanas für gemischten Chor, 1979
  • Creatio für gemischten Chor (nach Ovid), 1980
  • Piedras preciosas für Orgel, 1980
  • Concertino para XIV cuerdas, 1981
  • Epitafio para J. J. Castro für Klarinette und Klavier, 1982
  • Quinteto für Flöte, Klarinette, Violine, Cello und Klavier, 1983
  • Piedras preciosas für Orchester, 1986
  • Cuarteto para cuerdas Nº 2, 1986-87
  • Música para la juventud, 17 estudios orquestales de expresión, estilo y técnica para orquestas juveniles für Kammerorchester, 1987
  • Concierto de cámara Nº 2, 1988
  • La creación según el “Pop wuj maya”, Oratorium-Ballett für Solisten, Sprecher, gemischten Chor, Orchester und Tänzer, 1989
  • … Y el avión de la Panamerican vuela sobre la pirámide. . . für Sprecher und Kammerorchester (nach Gedichten von Ernesto Cardenal), 1992