Music Restitution

opening

On February 3rd 2015, I was asked by the Holocaust Research Centre, headed by Prof. David Cesarani at Royal Holloway College, University of London to give their annual Holocaust Lecture. I Chose the subject of ‘Music Restitution’, the text, sound files and illustrations of which follow below.

(Introduction to Hans Gál’s opera ‘Die Heilige Ente’ or ‘The Sacred Duck’ (1923))

In 1923 an attractive opera by a young composer named Hans Gál was premiered in Düsseldorf, conducted by the composer’s friend from school days, an equally young George Szell. We’ve just heard an excerpt from Hans Gál’s opera die heilige Ente, or the Sacred Duck. Nobody would claim that this opera aspired to the same heights as say Parsifal. It was a clever musical farce offering no pretence at Weltschmerz or Zeitgeist. It was an entertainment, a diversion, an intentionally delightful yet clever amusement composed with enormous skill and ingenuity. It also offers a good deal of very attractive music. So how does this work help us understand the musical Atlantis that was submerged after January 30th 1933? And what might it have to say about the subject of Music Restitution?

'Die Heilige Ente' publicity

‘Die Heilige Ente’ publicity

These questions are the very things that brought me to this subject in the first place. Consider the following: after its premiere in 1923, it never left the stage until it had established itself in some dozen or so houses across Germany before being permanently removed by the NSDAP in 1933. That its run from 1923 to 1933 was unbroken was quite a feat. The composer Ernst Krenek writes in his memoirs that while he was Paul Bekker’s head of music at the opera in Kassel, there was continuous competition between opera houses during the inter-war years to premiere new works. He goes on to write that even the most successful of these only ran a couple of seasons before vanishing.

Playbill for 'Die Heilige Ente' in Chemnitz 1924

Playbill for ‘Die Heilige Ente’ in Chemnitz 1924

He knew of what he wrote, as this observation included his own astonishingly successful Jonny Spielt Auf. In the music publication Anbruch’s year-end edition of 1927, it reports that the opera had been performed more than 500 times – an all-time record for a new work – and had been taken up by Moscow, Leningrad and New York. Only three years later, there are just a dozen and a half performances to register and it left the repertoire permanently soon thereafter.

Poster created by Krenek's publishers showing all the cities in Germany where 'Jonny' had played

Poster created by Krenek’s publishers showing all the cities in Germany where ‘Jonny’ had played

Even Erich Korngold’s immensely popular Die tote Stadt, or Franz Schreker’s Der Schatzgräber would vanish from the repertoire for numerous seasons during these years. Korngold’s opera had in 1920 been the most performed work by what was referred to as a ‘living German’ composer (he was German-Austrian, meaning the reference was cultural rather than national). Schreker’s opera achieved the same position in 1922: All of this at a time when Richard Strauss reigned supreme as opera composer.

Hans Gál's 'Duck'

Hans Gál’s ‘Duck’

Yet Gál’s delightfully unchallenging Sacred Duck waddled and quacked its way from season to season with even Heinz Tietjen taking it to Berlin in 1929. The soprano role sung by Franz Schreker’s wife Maria in one of the few roles she performed not composed by her husband. The removal of Die heilige Ente in 1933 left holes in the schedules of several opera companies – not least a new production to be mounted in Mainz, Hans Gál’s home town, where he was director of the music academy. The work has not been heard in its original form since, and what I’ve just played for you is a computer reproduction made for a Hans Gál exhibition at Vienna’s Jewish Museum. With the opera’s departure – who, exactly, were the victims? And is there something that needs to be put right? These are the questions I hope to address – though I can offer only ideas and aspirations as possible solutions.

What is restitution

What is ‘Restitution’? In general, it means ‘restoration’ and a quick check in a legal dictionary offers the following definition: ‘that the offender is required, as a condition of his or her sentence, to repay money or donate services to the victim or society.’ Another condition, tricky in this instance, but I hope to try and address, is the need to identify clearly who the victim is.

Carla Shapreau, lecturer in the School of Law, and Senior Fellow in the Institute of European Studies, University of California, Berkeley has done a good deal of work on the restitution of musical objects: manuscripts, letters, correspondence, contracts, instruments. She has recently written on the Nazi looting of historic manuscripts including the 14th century Guillaume de Machaut Ferrell Vogüé.

In her 2014 paper  Austrian Marshall Plan Foundation Report – the Vienna Archives, Musical Expropriations During the Nazi Era and 21st Century Ramifications(http://www.marshallplan.at/images/papers_berkeley/Shapreau-014-updated-compressed.pdf) she offers the following sober assessment of the restitution of physical objects in public ownership in present-day Austria. It is primarily meant to explain the process of restitution of music instruments and manuscripts. As it is exemplary in presenting the legal history and situation of a guilty party-nation dealing with restitution to individual victims, I quote at length:

“With the 1998 passage of Austria’s Federal Law on Restitution of Art Objects, (Kunstrückgabegesetz), and its 2009 amendment, federal legislation was put into place making possible the restitution of Nazi-era looted cultural objects to original owners or their heirs housed in Austrian federal museums and collections. This legislation directly resulted, and continues to result, in the restitution of many works of culture, including musical works, that until its enactment had been retained under export prohibition legislation that placed national cultural heritage property rights above the personal property rights of Nazi-era victims. The 1998 Austrian federal restitution legislation and its 2009 amendment have remedied this legislative inequity for objects in Austrian public collections. These legislative enactments do not pertain to the restitution of looted property from private parties or private institutions. (This means, the Musikverein’s collection, or the Vienna Philharmonic Archive, both being private and therefore exempt.)

The Vienna Philharmonic in the Golden Hall of the Musik Verein - 2 important private institutions in Vienna

The Vienna Philharmonic in the Golden Hall of the Musik Verein – 2 important private institutions in Vienna

With the new 1998 Austrian restitution law came the formation of the Commission for Provenance Research (Kommission für Provenienzforschung), whose staff has engaged, and continues to engage, in a systematic examination and analysis of federal collections for evidence that may warrant Restitution.

The archival holdings accessible to the Commission for its research are from many sources, including the Federal Office for the Protection of Monuments (Bundesdenkmalamt). These records include materials during and after the war, individual name folders that often contain inventories, official communications, export documentation (export applications, permissions, and prohibitions), auction records, and other materials. [. . . . ]

The Commission has developed a vast internal database of information that it draws on in its analysis and the preparation of dossiers for regular review and consideration by the Austrian Advisory Board established in the Federal Chancellery[…] The Advisory Board issues regular recommendations after its review of the dossiers.

The Advisory Board publishes its recommendations in German and posts them online; these recommendations are provided to the Bundesminister für Kunst und Kultur, Verfassung und öffentlichen Dienst, who makes a final decision on the recommendation. According to Section 2(3) of the 1998 Austrian Art Restitution legislation, an annual obligation exits for the Bundesminister für Kunst und Kultur, Verfassung und öffentlichen Dienst to report to the National Assembly about the restitution decisions of the preceding year. These reports are published online in German.

The Commission works independently and generally does not conduct its investigations based on requests from claimants, although the staff does respond to queries from the public. The Commission has posted online a 2,340-page database that provides name, date, and box numbers involving restitution-related files.

The Museum of Art History, which houses the Collection of Historical Musical Instruments in Vienna, made many acquisitions during the NS-era. The museum’s director, Friedrich “Fritz” Dworschak, was a member of the NSDAP. The staff of the Commission for Provenance Research will systematically analyze the provenance of the instruments in the collection in the near future. […]

As a result of the 1998 Austrian art restitution legislation and the Commission’s systematic efforts, important musical works have been restituted, including the return in 1999 of Alphonse Rothschild’s significant collection of musical instruments, which had been housed in the Collection of Historical Musical Instruments, and had included nearly eighty rare instruments confiscated in 1938.

The City of Vienna and most of Austria’s federal provinces have passed corresponding legal provisions and have commissioned experts to carry out provenance research in their collections.”

She then goes on to pose the following important question:

“When is a private collecting institution truly ‘private’?  If it receives material public funding, should the disposition of Nazi-era looted cultural objects in such collections be covered by the…art restitution legislation?  Beyond legal requirements, should such institutions engage in a voluntary analysis of their holdings under ethical principles, and provide transparent access to archival records from the Nazi era to scholars researching such issues?” Her answer is a resounding “yes!” Though experience has shown, this is indeed a slow and often frustrating process with some of the city’s more prestigious, ‘private’ institutions.

Klimt's 'Goldene Adele' the portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer

Klimt’s ‘Goldene Adele’ the portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer

Randol Schoenberg, grandson of composers Arnold Schoenberg and Erich Zeisl, as well as the lawyer who won the case against the Austrian government for the restitution of Gustav Klimt’s Bloch-Bauer portraits to Maria Altmann (soon to be released as a Hollywood film starring Helen Mirren in the role of Altmann) sees the restitution of music as being totally dependent on the in-put of performers, and the cooperation of the music business apparatus. His grandfather Arnold Schoenberg – even in the 1920s was more discussed than performed, and he still sees this as being the case. Yet Schoenberg with the Schoenberg Center now established in the very middle of Viennese musical life, has at least integrated Schoenberg – even if only as an abstract phenomenon – back into Vienna’s 20th century intellectual history. The same cannot be said of his other grandfather, Erich Zeisl.

ZeislEricsmile

So who, exactly in the case of say, the removal of a popular opera such as Gál’s Die heilige Ente, is the victim? This answer is more complex. On one obvious level, it’s the composer who through the work’s removal has forfeited income. The publisher has lost far more through its heavy investment in production of material, promotion and licences. Singers, designers, directors and musicians lose out if they’ve prepared a work or a role that can no longer be performed. These are the physical financial losses that are the result of a work being removed from the repertoire, though it must be understood that the cancellation of performances by censors was not a Nazi invention. And what happened to Gál’s Duck is nothing compared to the countless popular operettas, works of jazz, dance numbers and Schlager (hit songs) that were suddenly banned. When vast arrays of popular and serious music are removed at a stroke, the most obvious victim is the public, and the public as victim is something I shall return to.

Das National Theater, or the Munich Opera, 1945

Das National Theater, or the Munich Opera, 1945

For the clarification of degrees of restitution, I have come up with five categories of music specifically banned by the III Reich. By categories, I do not mean genre or whether a work was the object of Jewish authorship, rather I have placed works in five different positions on the trajectories of 1933 and 1938. Within these categories, one can further subdivide between popular music, serious music and experimental music. Some categories by their nature may be dominated by a single genre, whereas others may split neatly between the three sub-divisions. The categories are divided in descending order and relate to prominence at the time of their removal.

A popular film with a score by Werner Richard Heymann - banned in 1934

A popular film with a score by Werner Richard Heymann – banned in 1934

The first group I call the music of the contemporary environment. This includes popular operettas, cabaret, Schlager, dance numbers and Kinoschnultzer – or songs from cinema as well as the most popular operas, orchestral and chamber works. Regardless of genre, these are works that were treated as largely disposable, or at least of interest only until something newer and better came to replace it. The life-span of contemporary environment works, even in inter-war Germany was rarely longer than a year or so and with the advent of radio, they could come and go at almost post-war rates of turnover. They made a lot of money in a short period, and if the composer was successful, he (and it was always a he) may have had any number of hits running on the wireless or in various theatres at any one time.

Leo Fall operetta 'Die Dollarprinzessin'

Leo Fall operetta ‘Die Dollarprinzessin’

The second category comprises yesterday’s musical environment. The hits from last year weren’t thrown into the bin, but simply put to one side for later revival. Nearly all the operettas by Leo Fall would come into this group. Indeed, an example of a thwarted Leo Fall revival can be seen in Erich Korngold’s completion of The Divorced Woman, put on at the Theater am Nollendorfplatz the week that Hitler was made Reichs Chancellor. It didn’t last long, and only spluttered by for another couple of weeks because one of the principals in the cast came from the Oppenheim bank Family.

Scene From Max Brand's 'Mechanic Hopkins' or 'Maschinist Hopkins'

Scene From Max Brand’s ‘Mechanic Hopkins’ or ‘Maschinist Hopkins’

But Max Brand’s Maschinist Hopkins would have presented a similar case. Like Krenek’s Jonny spielt auf, it stormed across Germany’s opera stages from 1930 before flickering out even before Hitler got around to banning it.

Gustav Mahler

Gustav Mahler

My third category I call the establishment. These are the heavyweight serious composers, some of whom though dead, were still in copyright. Karl Goldmark, Gustav Mahler are examples, but I would equally include Verklärte Nacht by Arnold Schoenberg, one of his most popular works and as Sabina Feist can show in her research, well established by every important American orchestra even before Schoenberg’s arrival in America in 1933. Indeed, the interwar years also offered a wealth of ‘establishment’ experimental composers who dominated new music festivals and to a considerable degree, concert halls and opera houses. These further included Ernst Toch, Kurt Weill, Egon Wellesz, Ernst Krenek and indeed Hans Gál who managed to have his violin concerto premiered in Dresden by Georg Kulenkampff, the Staatskapella and Fritz Busch in February 1933. Vienna’s Konzerthaus has an open source database of when each of these composers was performed and it’s surprising how frequently these establishment avant-gardist show up in what we all take to have been boring, conservative Vienna. Their presence in Berlin, Cologne and Frankfurt, we must assume, would have been even more pronounced.

Berthold Goldschmidt in 1930. His opera 'Der Gewaltige Hahnrei' was to have been performed in Berlin in 1933

Berthold Goldschmidt in 1930. His opera ‘Der Gewaltige Hahnrei’ was to have been performed in Berlin in 1933

The fourth category – crossing in many cases with previous categories – is The thwarted premiere. In a letter dated 23rd of January 1937 from Bruno Walter to Erich Korngold held uncatalogued in Vienna’s private archive at the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde at the Musikverein, mention is made of works, the premieres of which had been thwarted by the arrival of Hitler. Walter tries to make clear to a sceptical Korngold the scale of the problem by writing in one of the opening sentences about three works that he personally was to have premiered that had been cancelled due to the new cultural policies in the III Reich. Many, though by no means the majority of Thwarted premiere composers, were established. The very local composer Erich Zeisl shared the same fate as Erich Korngold when both of them had new operas cancelled following the Anschluss. Zeisl’s Leonce und Lena and Korngold’s Die Kathrin would experience later premieres in front of a public for which the works were not intended. Another unknown was the young Franz Schmidt pupil Walter Bricht, who lost the Vienna Philharmonic premiere of his Symphony. In 1938, there was little hope of finding alternative venues and opportunities, and when they did take place, it was often in front of an uncomprehending public. The list of thwarted premieres is far too lengthy to go into, but its litany of missed opportunities and lost work is vast and depressing. For a young composer on the brink of presumed success, such a fate was devastating.

Let’s listen to a short extract from Berthold Goldschmidt’s opera, premiered in Mannheim in 1932, but considered such a success that it was to be moved to Berlin in 1933 – a premiere that never took place. Der Gewaltige Hahnrei

(Extract from Goldschmidt’s opera ‘Der Gewaltige Hahnrei’)

Walter Aptowitzer, changed to Arlen. Chicago 1942

Walter Aptowitzer, changed to Arlen. Chicago 1942

The fifth category I call Lost Careers, Lost lives. These are the musicians and composers murdered in camps, or youngsters who found their dreams of becoming musicians or composers convulsed and rerouted. This category includes the now well-known list of Theresienstadt composers as well as the many composers such as Walter Bricht who ceased composing entirely upon his safe arrival in America. It includes the music of Walter Arlen, a composer whose works define the idea of ‘exile music’ – compositions that he would not have written had he remained in his native Vienna; nor could they have been written by an American composer of the same generation. They are the works of a composer dealing with the conflicts and confusion of transplantation. They were never meant for publication or even performance, and their context is that of lost life and lost opportunities. Like his best friend from school days, Paul Hamburger, he dreamt of a musical future – in Arlen’s case, he had no ambitions beyond composition while both boys were convinced of a gilded future guaranteed by abundant talent in an environment that valued music. Hamburger became a prominent accompanist and coach in Great Britain, whereas Arlen became a teacher and journalist. He needed to support his father following the suicide of his mother who was unable to cope with the changed circumstances of their lives. Composition became therapy rather than vocation.

(Island from his song cycle Poet in Exile with texts by Czeslaw Milosz with Danny Driver on piano and RHUL’s own Christian Immler, Baritone)

Nazi book burning, Berlin 1933

Nazi book burning, Berlin 1933

The loss of stolen opportunities and the break in the Austro-German musical narrative are crimes that produced two very clear victims: the composer and the public. At this point, it’s important to stress that the 20th century broke many cultural narratives, of which the Austro-German arc was but one. Yet it differentiates itself from the broken lines within Russian and Eastern European music by the anti-Semitic nature of Nazi policies. The trajectory of Jewish assimilation within Austro-German culture meant that banning music by Jews, or perceived as being of Jewish influence, removed composers who were uniquely central to contributing to the Austro-German cultural identity. Put simplistically, Jewish composers and musicians in Germany and Austria had largely stopped seeing themselves as Jews in Germany and Austria, and had long since seen themselves as German and Austrian Jews.

Young progressive Germans at the Bauhaus

Young progressive Germans at the Bauhaus

The financial loss imposed upon the hard-work of the exceptionally talented with cancellations, exile, internment, expropriation and worse, must be clear, though there is no financial sum that can ever go towards compensation. The ethical restitution to a composer’s intended public, however, is long overdue. Here the crucial word is ‘intended’ public. Korngold’s Kathrin was premiered in Stockholm following its Vienna cancellation. Its reception was tepid. Hans Gál’s Die beiden Klaas was performed in Yorkshire many decades following its cancellation at Dresden’s opera under Fritz Busch. The public was equally baffled and bemused. The continuity of the Austro-Germanic musical narrative was broken, and the only public that could follow it was itself Austro-Germanic. I cannot think of a single work with its premiere transplanted, that actually enjoyed the reception that was intended and expected. The number of new works that carried on with the Austro-Germanic narrative in exile presents an altogether different litany of disruption, incomprehension and dislocation. Brecht/Eisler’s Rundköpfe und Spitzköpfe in Copenhagen, or their later collaboration with Life of Galileo in America; Egon Wellesz’s Incognita, Berthold Goldschmidt’s Beatrice Cenci, Karl Rankl’s Dierdre of the Sorrows in the UK and Ernst Toch’s American opera, The Last Tale – and subjectively, I would argue that there is more Berlin than Broadway and Pigalle in Kurt Weill’s Johnny Johnson and Marie Galante though Weill was one of the few who eventually managed the switch from German to the musical environment of his new homeland in America. May I be allowed the suspicion that the stress of such a major transformation may have contributed to his early death at the age of 50?

Kurt Weill 1900 - 1950

Kurt Weill 1900 – 1950

The interrupted narrative was tragic for the composer, but I would argue, had greater consequences on the composer’s intended public. The cultural landscape, of which their public was part, supported and encouraged the continuity of its uniquely local richness. It was as tragic as if in the United Kingdom, Benjamin Britten and Michael Tippett had been removed by political decree in order to promote English pastoralism, the palm court, and Edward Elgar – a crazy politician’s view of an English ideal. And then, imagine if Britten or Tippett tried to transplant their musical identities to China or Brazil. Indeed, the self-imposed American exile of Britten and the baffled response to his work while in New York only underline how difficult it would have been to take refuge in a country where he didn’t speak the language or start to comprehend the ambient culture.

Britten and Pears in New York

Britten and Pears in New York

An example of the public as victim can be further deduced by study of such documentation as the Wilhelm Jerger Privatarchiv of the Vienna Philharmonic, (another private archive) which holds numerous records relating to subscription concerts. The names of Jewish subscribers were crossed out and it has yet to be established how quickly they were removed or not allowed to renew subscriptions following the Anschluss. The loss of Jewish public is as tragic as the loss of Jewish musicians and composers and is poignantly noted in Soma Morgenstern’s memoirs when he recalls the sold-out Mahler performances in Vienna in 1920 under Oskar Fried and later Mahler performances in Vienna in the 1950s as taking place in a near empty auditorium. But this was not unique to Vienna, where at least the Gustav Mahler Society was founded in 1955. Germany too had lost its Mahler public and a letter at the International Gustav Mahler Gesellschaft from the publishers Bote und Bock from 1957 dismisses the very idea of any possible future for the composer.

Vienna's 'Konzerthaus' 1950

Vienna’s ‘Konzerthaus’ 1950

The loss of a specifically open-minded and responsive public is as permanent as a bombed out cathedral. But like the bombed out cathedral, it can be rebuilt. It may look and feel different, but its purpose can be the same. Rebuilding this public is simply another element in the restitution of music.

Rebuilding Dresden's 'Frauenkirche'

Rebuilding Dresden’s ‘Frauenkirche’

One of the obvious tools for rebuilding this public is to bridge the gap in cultural narrative. This means at its most logical, a careful evaluation of works that were banned, the context in which they were banned based on the categories outlined and an intelligent re-instatement in concert, broadcast and recording planning. This sounds wonderfully logical and easy. So why hasn’t it happened and why doesn’t it happen?

Today’s Austro-Germanic public is clearly not the same public as a century ago. It is a public that has grown up cognisant of the atrocities committed by Hitler and the NSDAP. But its approach to coming to terms with its past is seen as medicinal rather than enriching and in a world of free capital, empowered individuals and a diminishing paternalistic state, it’s not easy to offer something the public suspects may be musical cod-liver oil. They simply don’t buy tickets, they cancel subscriptions, and they don’t come to concerts.

Working at Vienna’s Jewish Museum, I was constantly reminded not to overplay the ‘Holocaust’. Emotional and intellectual fatigue is such a danger in both Germany and Austria that it is in need of constant vigilance. One of the obvious casualties of ‘Holocaust fatigue’ is music. Yet immediately after the war, music was the area that progressive Germans promoted most, as active protest directed against their Nazi years. A galvanising and aggressive avant-garde distanced the concert public from the music of its past and alienated the public to anything that was perceived as kitsch. And ‘Kitsch’ was anything that was part of the Austro-German cultural experience pre-Hitler.

The Liberation of Mauthausen, May 1945

The Liberation of Mauthausen, May 1945

Dealing with ‘Holocaust fatigue’ is a significant challenge in Germany and Austria. But equally, another not unrelated challenge must be met: that of ignorance. While working at Vienna’s municipal music collection, the home of the musical estates of the entire Johann Strauss family; Hugo Wolf, Franz Schubert and nearly all of Vienna’s most noted operetta composers, I was shocked when they told me they had absolutely no idea how many important Austrian musician and composer estates there were abroad. The repatriation of this quantity of exile estates requires political action and exceeds the means of a single archive. Yet following publication of my book Forbidden Music, only the lowest of low hanging fruit could be located, as families got in touch without any active searching on my part or on the part of Austria’s cultural repositories. The same would surely apply to Germany, except that the number of prominent Jewish composers and musicians with German, as opposed to Austrian nationality, is significantly lower. Cultural and historic reasons made Vienna the primary meeting point for Jews and music in the years immediately following constitutional emancipation. To pick up the music narrative where it left off requires a painful confrontation with historic anti-Semitism. Today’s Germans and Austrians are not anti-Semitic, but confronting historic anti-Semitism is often taken as an accusation to the contrary.

Holocaust Fatigue?

Holocaust Fatigue?

Nevertheless, the picking up of pieces and the continuity of a national story that was interrupted are the very acts of restitution that the Austro-German public deserves. In the case of Austria, the narrative is even more complex and deserves greater attention. This is the result of two important differences between Austria and Germany and the shaping of their respective musical destinies: one was the mass exodus of Austrian talent to Berlin in the 1920s, leaving a rump of patriotic composers in Vienna to wage a battle of Austrian in opposition to a German/Prussian values. The second unique factor was the five year right-wing clerical dictatorship in Austria between 1933 and 1938. While this dictatorship did much to consolidate a uniquely Austrian identity in opposition to Germany, think of the von Trapp family as a text-book example, the greater harm to Austria was done following the war with the return of many of these Austro-Fascists in key positions. Austro-fascists had persecuted Nazis before the Anschluss and they in turn would be persecuted by the Nazis and driven into exile following the Anschluss. Unlike Germany, many returning Austrian refugees were conservatives and most were patriotically catholic at a time when the church was still systemically anti-Semitic. It would result in Austria becoming a bastion of reactionary values.

The Vienna Philharmonic and Wilhelm Furtwängler in 1950

The Vienna Philharmonic and Wilhelm Furtwängler in 1950

Yet vast quantities of the Austro-German cultural narrative remain in diasporic archives and private homes, unable to fill the gaps except indirectly. What good is digital technology if an archivist in Los Angeles can’t read German or decipher the handwriting thus remaining ignorant of correspondence, journals and other chronicles of music’s broken narrative? An estate of one of Austria’s most prominent composers lies in boxes in a Paris apartment, only coming into view when the owners sell items through Sotheby’s. Another important figure from the inter-war avant-garde lies mouldering in an archive where he’s recognised as a composer of horror movie soundtracks. That he was once considered the equal of Hindemith and Kurt Weill goes unacknowledged. The narrative, to which I keep referring, cannot be picked up while its constituent components remain hidden away. The public remains without restitution as long as these chronicles remain in exile. The music archives of Germany and Austria do what they can to retrieve as much of this past as possible, but like so many aspects of this complex story, nobody knows how much is out there or even where to look. This undertaking requires political will from an already exhausted and Holocaust fatigued public body, and so far, I have yet to find the means of accessing the necessary political will. All conversations with ministries of culture (a far easier task in tiny Austria than in Germany) are met with the answer that no decisions can be taken before the election and the election to which they inevitably refer is rarely imminent. Federal and state governments can also use each other as tools of procrastination.

Yet vast quantities of the Austro-German cultural narrative remain in diasporic archives

In conclusion, no amount of money can compensate for lost careers, lost opportunities or even lost lives. Just because music is too abstract for a restitution price tag, doesn’t mean it’s without value. Unlike the return of a painting by Klimt to an old lady in California, the restitution of music means picking up the cultural narrative where it was broken off. To do so is to restore it to the public that watched passively, and let’s be honest, powerlessly as it was removed. Is there a danger that recovering the broken, exiled and suppressed musical experiences of the Austro-German 20th century inevitably means confronting and placing some sort of value on the works composed and appreciated during the twelve years of Adolf Hitler? Inevitably it does, but distance should lend objectivity. Yet distance also brings genuine challenges.

Carla Shapreau brings up the question of statute of limitations in the restitution of musical objects, instruments and manuscripts. She writes:

“For those looted musical objects still in public collections, the administrative process discussed in my report provides little opportunity for claimant participation and no avenue for an appeal. For looted musical objects in public and private collections, the Austrian statute of limitations may be a barrier to recovery in court.  Germany has similar legislation and in light of the Gurlitt saga, Germany is reconsidering this legislative issue. Regarding transparency, unfettered access to archival records remains a significant challenge in some archives. Without it, the public’s access to its own history may be undermined. The whereabouts of a large quantity of still missing musical objects is yet to be discovered, and there is still a great deal of work to be accomplished.”

A statute of limitations is just as damaging for the restitution of works as it is for the restitution of objects. It’s time to stop being afraid. 82 years since Hitler’s assumption of power and 70 years since the end of the War mean that the broken trajectory of Austro-German music took place in the ever more distant past. Yet it’s delusional to believe that with the mere passage of time, a ‘statute of limitations’ if you will, it can be mended.