The Ominous Case of the Hans Winterberg Puzzle
As of today – that is to say 17th of July, 2015, I have heard that the embargo on the life, work and musical estate of Hans Winterberg has been lifted. I shall leave the article as a reminder of the issues that are still recurrent in today’s Germany, but express enormous gratitude for the help and perseverance of his grandson Peter Kreitmeir who was able to convince his uncle Christoph Winterberg to lift the bar on access. I hope this now allows an opportunity for this very important composer to be heard again.
(opening: Arena 20. Jahrhundert für Sinfonieorchester (1979); Symphonieorchester Graunke (1981))
This is a truly extraordinary story: When I wrote in Forbidden Music about the British government taking the decision to classify refugees fleeing the Sudetenland following the Munich Agreement in 1938 (between Hitler, Britain and France, but excluding Czechoslovakia), I had no composer I could cite as an example of how such supranational decisions would play out in the lives of ordinary musicians. I quoted Louise London’s excellent Whitehall and the Jews, (Cambridge University Press, 2003) in which she tells us that German speaking political opponents to Hitler in the Sudetenland were seen as the principal ‘collateral damage’. The Czech government had revoked their citizenship and the Nazis would have been ruthless in the persecution of all political opposition. These high-priority asylum-seekers could have included Jews, assuming they could prove that they were active in their political opposition to Hitler. The second category was made up of refugees who were Austrian political opponents to Hitler, having fled to Czechoslovakia following the annexation of Austria only a few months earlier. The last category of refugees was Jews, seen as what today would be referred to as ‘economic migrants’. They would have lost their jobs following the Nazi take-over and their prospects, even in the years before the ‘final solution’, were bleak.
(opening Symphony no. 1 (1936) Karl List conducts the Munich Philharmonic 1955)
Last month (May, 2015) Randol Schoenberg forwarded an extraordinary document to me, held by an organisation called the SMI or Sudetendeutsches Musikinstitut. The website of the SMI offers generous words about ‘bridge building’ between German and Czech communities, while keeping alive the memory of specifically German speaking musicians originally from Bohemia and Moravia. I’ll return to this document in a moment, but first let’s try to place ‘Sudetenland’ on a map, or even within a national-idea. It’s not as straight forward as one may think.
If one looks at a map of Czechoslovakia, (and as with all photos on this site, click on them to enlarge), it can be easily seen that Bohemia and Moravia reached far into German speaking Europe. Understandably, the border regions of these provinces (all of which were originally part of Austria) were themselves predominantly German speaking and all of these border regions were previously referred to as ‘Sudetenland’. It was the northern section, however, that consisted of Austrian Silesia, Northern Bohemia and Northern Moravia, that declared itself ‘Sudentenland province’ in 1918.
(Second movement from the Sudeten Suite, Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello (1964) ‘Rund um den Plöckenstein’: Gerhard Seitz (Violine); Walter Nothas (Violoncello); Günter Louegk (Klavier))
It, along with other German speaking parts of Bohemia and Moravia, unilaterally pronounced themselves as being part of ‘German-Austria’ (as it was still called in 1918). Their unilateral declaration was not accepted by the victorious French, Americans or British allies. Even if the districts of Southern Bohemia and Southern Moravia assumed they would be folded into the pre-existing Austrian States of Upper- and Lower-Austria (cognisant of the allies folding Western, German-speaking Hungary into ‘German-Austria’), the treaty of Saint Germain, insisted that all of Bohemia and Moravia, regardless of language or cultural differences, become part of the new state of Czechoslovakia. This disregard of the wishes of local communities would lead to the catch-22 injustice represented by the composer Hans Winterberg.
(Concerto for piano no. 2 opening movement (1948) Agi Brand-Setterl (piano) Munich Philharmonic (1950) conductor Fritz Rieger)
The document forwarded to me by Randol Schoenberg was a contract that stated that upon payment of 6000 Deutschmarks to Christoph Winterberg, the son of Hans Winterberg’s fourth wife and adopted by Hans at the age of twenty, the SMI would receive the Winterberg musical estate under the conditions that it not be made available for investigation, performance or scholarship until January 1st 2031.
A striking condition of the agreement is that under no circumstance was Hans Winterberg to be referred to as a ‘Jewish composer’. In addition to barring any mention of Winterberg as a Jew, he could not be performed in future unless specifically featured as a ‘Sudeten-German’ composer. The agreement between Christoph Winterberg and the SMI becomes progressively more and more disturbing: the SMI is not allowed so much as to acknowledge the existence of the Hans Winterberg estate, let alone its housing with the SMI. There is to be no index of works or any index of the estate in its entirety, which we must assume means no list of correspondence, broadcast information, publishing contracts, commissioning contracts and so on. That the estate was in the possession of the SMI was not to be made known until January 1st 2031. Any and all inquiries regarding living relatives were to be – ‘without exception’ – answered ‘in the negative’.
(Quartet 1936-1942; 1st Mov. Köckert Quartet 1951)
This reference to ‘living relatives’ is revealing as indeed, there was a living relative who only through a sequence of events realised what his blood-relationship with Hans Winterberg signified. He was Peter Kreitmeir, the son of Hans Winterberg’s only child, his daughter Ruth.
To an outsider, the family appears to be dysfunctional, venal, or insensitive. How could his wife Maria divorce Hans Winterberg in 1944 knowing full well what would happen to her husband? The ‘final solution’ was underway, as was Hitler’s ‘Total War’. There could be no misunderstanding: divorce was effectively a death sentence. What happened between Ruth Winterberg and her husband, Peter Kreitmeir’s father that resulted in her having to abandon her infant son Peter? And what warped reasoning went through the mind of the adopted son, not formerly adopted until he was twenty years old, to lock away the life and work of his adopted-father, while embargoing any mention of his Judaism?
(Ballade um Pandora. Eine choreographische Vision, no date of comp. perf. 1959, Munich Phil. Cond. Rudolf Alberth)
Peter explains it as follows: “It was fear. I’ve carried out research and discovered that in 1944 over a thousand women were made to divorce their Jewish husbands in Prague. Hans Winterberg simply thought life would be easier for her and the child if they were no longer together.” Peter was raised by his father and would not meet his mother Ruth, until fifty years later. Ruth, by Peter’s account, came away from her relationships with her parents and her ex-husband, a deeply damaged individual. And even Christoph Winterberg, Hans Winterberg’s adopted son, seems remarkably similar to the art hoarder, Cornelius Gurlitt, an individual riddled by fear and insecurities; a loner without wife or family and living in a home that resembles a fortress. These are desperately complex questions and with enormous determination and sympathy for all the individuals, along with a refusal to be fobbed off by various public institutions, Peter Kreitmeir has been able to piece together a story of his grandfather, Hans Winterberg: a most remarkable and unjustly forgotten composer. In addition, the story of Hans Winterberg is also the story of a central European tragedy that reveals much about the time and place he lived and worked.
(‘Stationen (opening) 1975/75’ Bamberger Symphoniker 1975, Cond. Rainder Miedel)
His biography is as follows: born in 1901 in Prague to Rudolf and Olga Winterberg. By the age of nine, he was already studying piano with Therèse Wallerstein, and at Prague’s Music Academy, he studied conducting with Alexander Zemlinsky and Fidelio Finke and composition with Alois Haba; one of his fellow conservatory students at the time was Gideon Klein.
In the German Theatre Yearbook of 1929, he’s listed as a rehearsal pianist at the opera in Brno, though he was apparently not exclusively bound to the house and worked with a number of ensembles.
(Concerto for piano and orchestra 1948, 1st Mov. Pianist: Agi Brand-Setterl, conductor: Fritz Rieger; Munich Philharmonic 1950)
He also composed. In the Czech census of 1929, he lists himself as culturally and linguistically ‘German’. The following year, he married the Roman Catholic Maria Maschat and their daughter Ruth was born in Prague in 1935. Only months following the annexation of the Sudetenland in 1938, the rest of Czechoslovakia was classified by Nazi Germany as the ‘Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia’. Despite the misleading language, by 1939 it was essentially an annexation of most of Czechoslovakia. The country was one of the new ‘concepts’ set up following the end of the First World War and had only been in existence for twenty years. Broken down into its constituent states of Bohemia and Moravia, it was folded into the ever expanding Nazi empire. Slovakia was partially returned to Nazi compliant Hungary, from where it had been removed by the allies in 1918.
(First mov. Symphony no 2 (1943) Munich Philharmonic, cond. Jan Koetsier 1952)
It left Winterberg highly exposed. As a Jew, Hitler’s government would not have allowed him automatic German citizenship, though his marriage to a non-Jew accorded him a so-called privileged status. How ‘privileged’ this status was, is highly debateable, as the journals of Victor Klemperer confirm. The composer Edmund Eysler was also accorded a ‘privileged’ status, and like Klemperer, dreaded leaving the house for fear of being arrested during recurrent Nazi round-ups. Any Jew found on the streets was arrested and deported. Afterwards, even ‘privileged’ Jews were lost. With his divorce in 1944, Winterberg was instantly arrested and sent to Theresienstadt, where his mother Olga had earlier been deported before her murder in Maly Trostinez.
(Concerto for piano and orchestra 1948, 3rd Mov. Pianist: Agi Brand-Setterl, conductor: Fritz Rieger; Munich Philharmonic 1950)
With the liberation of Czechoslovakia, Winterberg found himself again without citizenship. The president of newly liberated and reconstituted Czechoslovakia, Bohuš Beneš, used Winterberg’s 1929 affirmation of German-Culture and language to deprive him of Czech citizenship. He remained interned in Theresienstadt until forcibly marched out of the country with other German-Czechs in 1947. I recall recording operas by Pavel Haas and Hans Krasa and meeting Pavel Eckstein in Prague who had also been imprisoned at Theresienstadt. He told me about composers being held in concentration camps as Jews, but remaining imprisoned as ‘Germans’ following the defeat of Hitler. He mentioned names to me, and I’m quite certain that Winterberg would have been one of them.
He was lucky: 12,000,000 ethnic Germans were forcibly marched out of Eastern Europe with the German cities of Danzig, Breslau and Königsberg completely emptied before being repopulated by Poles and Russians. ‘Retributions’ of the most horrible kind imaginable were carried out on men, women and even small children. None of the perpetrators was punished.
250,000 ethnic-Germans died on the forced march from their former homelands in what was now Eastern Europe. If someone fell behind, they were simply shot by Czech or Polish escorts. Countless others, as young as children, were tried by kangaroo courts and summarily executed. George Orwell called it an ‘enormous crime’ – and in fact, it was the largest and most savage ethnic cleansing to befall Europe in its entire history. A full quarter of today’s German population is made up of former German-Czechs and Poles.
(Piano concerto no. 3, (1968) Piano Gitti Pirner, Cond. Jan Koetsier; Munich Philharmonic 1970)
Overnight, Breslau became Wrocław; Danzig became Gdansk and Königsberg became Kaliningrad. The world looked away. The forests of Lithuania were full of small children from East Prussia living as savages, who had either lost, or become separated from their parents. After the horrors of the Nazi Germany were revealed, who was prepared to shed a tear for the German speakers of Eastern Europe? That virtually all Czech Jews were German speakers only added to the confusion. In 1945, everyone, Czechs, Poles, Ukrainians, not just Jews—was a victim.
Slavic Czechs had suffered at the chauvinistic hands of German Czechs throughout the 19th century. From 1918 until 1938, they attempted an awkward co-existence. With the Munich Accord, Slavic Czechs felt betrayed by their German-speaking fellow citizens. In truth, however, many Slavic-Czechs, in both local and central government, had attempted to enact restrictions on German-Czechs, making the Sudeten plea for ‘rescue’ by Hitler all the more plausible. The coexistence since 1918 was not happy and after the bloodshed ended in 1945, the leaders at the Potsdam Conference looked away as more bloodshed ensued. Churchill, Truman and Stalin had decided tidying up the continent was best carried out with Europe’s German speakers kept firmly west of the Oder and Neiße Rivers and out of Czechoslovakia altogether. It was a practical, if messy solution.
(String Trio 1960 (2nd movement); Angelika Rümann (vln), Franz Schessl (vla), Wilhelm Schneller (Cello), perf. 1960)
Winterberg landed initially in Riederau am Ammersee before relocating to Munich where he became a writer and editor for Bayrischer Rundfunk and a teacher at the Richard Strauss Conservatory.
He married his much younger student Heidi Ehrengut , an apparently passionate but short-lived affair.
The marriage to Heidi was followed by a third and then fourth marriage, which included the young boy Christoph, carried by his mother in her womb during the forced march from their home in the Sudetenland. It is presumably this connection with the Sudetenland that has resulted in Hans Winterberg’s estate residing with the SMI. Winterberg’s own connections with the Sudetenland are at best tenuous. His father Rudolf was partial owner of a factory located in Rumburg in the Sudetenland, called ‘Fröhlich und Winterberg’. Hugo Fröhlich, Rudolf’s brother-in-law and co-factory-owner was murdered in Dachau. Rudolf Winterberg died in Prague in 1932, six years before the Munich Accord. The factory was aryanised by local Sudeten Germans and restitution has to date, never been made. The helpful and recent change, however, is that the present administration of the SMI realises the implications of the agreement between the former administration and Christoph Winterberg, and is supporting Peter Kreitmeir in his efforts to free the estate from its present ban.
(Symphonic Epilogue 1952, Radio Symphony Orchestra Stuttgart, cond. Hans Müller-Kray, perf. 1966)
After retirement, he moved to Bad Tölz and dedicated himself to composition. His final years were spent in Upper-Bavaria, though he was buried in Bad Tölz. Obituaries mention his Talent as artist and painter; they also note that he saw himself as a ‘Universalist’ rather than ‘German chauvinist’.
The estate lands us with a number of extraordinary conflicts. The mother of the adopted son was from the Sudetenland, and his biological father is thought possibly to have been in the SS. Why would the estate be closed – not only closed, but locked away with severe instructions that its very existence be denied until January 1st 2031? What is the reasoning behind Winterberg’s classification as a Sudeten-German composer when in fact he was born in Prague, where he spent most of his life prior to Hiter? How could a cultural archive, funded by the Bavarian State Government allow such apparently anti-Semitic contract conditions? As noted above, the new administration is trying to untangle the ramifications of the contract between the SMI and Christoph Winterberg.
(Extract from opening of ‘Reiseballade’ (Travel Ballade) 1958, Bamberger Symphoniker, cond. Joseph Strobl, 1963)
Of course, the displacement of German speakers after the Second World War is rarely written about or discussed outside of Germany and Austria. Most Czech German speakers saw themselves as ‘Austrians’ at a time when Austria was not an exclusively German speaking country – indeed, what today is called ‘Austria’ was for years referred to as ‘German-Austria’ in order to differentiate it from its many non-German speaking regions that today, make up the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Italy, Poland, Ukraine, and so on. German, in pre-1918 ‘Greater-Austria’, was the minority language of administration, much as English is in present-day South Africa. But Czech nationalism was not just a question of language: many German Czech Jews became passionately Czech in their self-identity, speaking and writing Czech with near-native fluency as was the case with Pavel Haas and Erwin Schulhoff. Mahler described himself as a ‘Jew from Moravia’ quite specifically eschewing the designation ‘Austrian’; and even the Czech nationalist composer Bedřich Smetana (1824-1884) was born Friedrich Smetana, a German-speaking Czech, who didn’t learn Czech until he was in his 40s.
The idea of ‘return to the homeland’ is not easily switched-off by political realities. We see that in the present situation between Israel and Palestine. And as we see in the Middle East, it can be used by the unscrupulous wishing to build power-bases and undermine new orders by appealing to the outrage of the very obvious injustice that occurred.
But let’s leave these questions to one side and examine the music itself. Winterberg’s compositions represent a legacy of some twenty or so CDs in length made up of BR broadcasts and at present residing in the vaults of Bavarian Radio. These appear mostly to be recordings of post-war compositions. Yet, his output was enormous with orchestral works alone including two symphonies, four piano concerti, three ballets, massive quantities of chamber music and works for solo piano – and that’s simply the merest sketch of an oeuvre that must compare with far better-known and more established German post-war contemporaries.
(String Quartet 1957 (reworked 1970), Final mov. Sonnleiter Quartet 1971)
The musical language is officially described by Albrecht Dümling as ‘individual, with strong emphasis on the polyrhythmic, with individual rhythmic concepts synthesised into a unifying entity.’ (My translation from the Wikipedia page on Hans Winterberg) What is not clearly mentioned, but comes across as strongly as the pure exuberance and energy of his music, is the melodic and harmonic inventiveness. We are not dealing with atonality, 12-tone, or even with alienating degrees of poly-tonality. In this respect, Winterberg was not a creature of Germany’s post-war musical establishment. There is enormous atmosphere and beauty brought together in a highly expressive language that speaks boldly and openly to the listener. In short, this is music we cannot afford to ignore.