Two Decades Since the Death of Berthold Goldschmidt
This posting follows an interview conducted with me at the Bregenz Festival in July 2018 where they presented Berthold Goldschmidt’s opera Beatrice Cenci.
The close relationship I enjoyed with Bertold Goldschmidt has been something I’ve been reluctant to write about. I was not the first person to get to know Berthold, or even to express an interest in his music. Others got there long before and many resented the credit I appeared to claim for myself. It came across as if their own efforts – much of which was considerable – had somehow been diminished. At the time I first met Goldschmidt, I had the advantage of being producer of a major label with a budget large enough to record his principal works. I was lucky that at Decca, we had a team of individuals who were intelligent, highly cultivated and belied the stereotypical view of “record executive” we’re made to think of today. This team of colleagues, many of them musicians and musicologists, gave enormously of time and input to support the recordings we made. They all recognized the importance of our CDs having the imprimatur of the composer, and they moved heaven and earth to record while we still had him with us.
(Goldschmidt conducts his “Passacaglia”, the work that won him the Mendelssohn Prize and was premiered in 1925 by Erich Kleiber in Berlin)
The fact was, having recorded his opera Der gewaltige Hahnrei, (The Magnificent Cuckold) resulting in Harry Kupfer instantly taking the opera on for Berlin’s Komische Oper, any proprietorial claims I may have harboured, quickly disappeared as others, more powerful and influential moved in. I simply suffered the same fate as those who thought they had been displaced in Goldschmidt’s orbit by me, the pushy recording producer: Documentary films followed, numerous television programmes, award ceremonies, medals from various countries while famous conductors queued up to meet the great man.
(Goldschmidt’s genius for melody and as he told me, for knowing when to incorporate it into the musical narrative)
The Manderling Quartet, a young quartet from Lübeck, which had commissioned what became Goldschmidt’s Third String Quartet, and thereby breaking Goldschmidt’s years of silence must have understandably been miffed that their important recording had gone unnoticed.
(First movement of Goldschmidt’s Third String Quartet, as performed and commissioned by the Manderling Quartet)
Historians and individual musicians who had been courting Goldschmidt for years took badly to relationships they had built up over the years appearing to pale in comparison with his new “best friend” from Decca. They never realised that I had been shoved to one side by others with greater access to profile building. It was awkward and remained awkward. What I was able to achieve was thanks to the label I represented and not to years invested in friendship. Nevertheless, we enjoyed a friendship that went beyond my chance ability to facilitate high-profile recordings.
Goldschmidt was always grateful to all of his loyal friends and never failed to help or use his new-found influence wherever possible. Nevertheless, I admit to feeling slightly overlooked when the press referred to Goldschmidt’s discovery by “a major recording label”, a short hand reference repeated on television and subsequent documentaries. The artist is always more important than the person who stumbled over him (or her). Every recording producer knows that. In any case, it was the hapless Manderlings who had “discovered” Berthold after his quarter century of silence. Nevertheless, it made me wince a little to read such references because behind “major recording labels” are people, and for a number of years, one of those people was me, and Berthold Goldschmidt was fortunate that the label that I was working for could offer a team of support that I can barely imagine today at any label, and only at a few opera houses, orchestras or institutions.
Berthold Goldschmidt has long needed representation on these pages. To my surprise, there wasn’t much documentary material I could offer – a lack of photos, scores, was compensated by numerous people who had known Berthold far longer and sat perched, ready to dismember anything I wrote. One German musicologist, writing a dissertation on Karol Rathaus, even questioned why Berthold Goldschmidt was included in a series of recordings called “Entartete Musik” since he was not only too young and unknown to have appeared in the 1938 exhibition that appeared under this title, but by 1935 had already left Germany for England. In fact, Goldschmidt with his perfect command of English, German and French, was able to explain the dialectic of the recording series’ title to a cynical press with just the right amount of emphasis and total lack of bitterness. “I was a Jewish composer. As far as the Nazis were concerned, I was Entartet” Only a blushing silence could follow such a statement, and as such, he established the integrity of the undertaking.
(Manderling Quartet play the Finale of Goldschmidt’s Quartet no. 2, from 1936)
It wasn’t just the German press that was resentful of a British label selling CDs using Nazi terminology. The British press was also starting to show a good deal of equivocation. I recall much being made of the fact that Berthold Goldschmidt was “an old man” and while his value as a witness of a horrible period of history was valuable, this in itself was not sufficient reason to value the music.
By the time Goldschmidt died at the age of 93 in 1996, all of his major works had been recorded, many by the most famous musicians of the day. My two-year stint at Sony, I felt had only been worthwhile because I was able to record his second opera Beatrice Cenci, the one work Decca didn’t feel it could take having already released his opera Der gewaltige Hahnrei.
(Sabine Meyer performs Goldschmidt’s Clarinet Concerto with the Orchestra of the Komische Oper under Jakov Kreizberg)
After we had traversed nearly the entire output of Goldschmidt, there followed a chilling silence. Artists who had come forward to record Goldschmidt didn’t go the next step and carry on with performances. The Komische Oper didn’t revive Hahnrei, and Magdeburg, which had been the first to mount a production of Beatrice Cenci in 1994 did not revive it the following year. Goldschmidt waited to die, and seemingly having noticed that nothing more could be done, he left us. The recordings just seemed to hang in the air and with PolyGram’s purchase by Universal Music, the entire series of “Entartete Musik” was discontinued and the CDs withdrawn from publication.
(Goldschmidt’s “Fantasy for Harp, Oboe and Cello”, (1990) recording with members of Frankfurt’s “Ensemble Modern”)
My relationship could not compare with the relationship he had enjoyed with others, but it was an important relationship nonetheless. Having officially started Decca’s “Entartete Musik” series off with Korngold’s Das Wunder der Heliane and Krenek’s Jonny Spielt Auf!,two works known to most 20th century music historians, I wanted something different as a third opera. David Drew of Boosey & Hawkes approached me with a piano score of Der gewaltige Hahnrei, which I read through at home. It didn’t strike me as conventional “German” music of the period, but struck me as sounding more Soviet: closer to Shostakovich somehow. There was plenty of the clang and dissonance of Berlin in the early 1930s, but there were also meltingly beautiful moments that suddenly leapt off the page at unexpected times. The opera is best described as a “grotesque” with its portrayal of pathological male jealously, only assuaged by watching his wife being gangbanged by all the men in the village.
(Lothar Zagrosek conduct’s the Overture to “Der gewaltige Hahnrei” with the Deutschesinfonie Orchester Berlin)
It was material that was meant to be feminist by sending up misogyny, based on the play le Cocu Magnifique by the Belgian Fernand Crommelynck. Goldschmidt saw a performance by Mayakovsky’s ensemble visiting from Moscow and decided it would be perfect material for an opera. The flavour of music from the Soviet Union in the 1930s was hardly more than a whiff, but it was a work that anyone familiar with Hindemith or Weill would not have expected.
When I got back to David Drew and mentioned that I had decided to take the work on for my next recording project, he suggested meeting the composer. I was flabbergasted the composer was still with us. Indeed, he was not only “with us”, but lived only a few blocks from my office in the same tiny flat he had first rented in 1935 upon arrival in Britain. I was given a phone number, called and was answered by a soft-spoken gentleman with a slight accent. Meeting him later that week I recall a tiny man, scrupulous with his use of English, never saying a word more than necessary and never using a word with less precision than the mot juste. He had honed his language skills to perfection and I would soon discover that he could do this with equal understated virtuosity in both French and German.
It would be folly for me to think that Berthold saw more in me at this point than the recording label. In all of his subsequent interviews, he never mentioned me by name and only referred to “Decca”. Over the following years, the relationship became personal and friendly, but his professional distance from Michael Haas the person, and closeness to Decca the label offered a reality check, which I took on board. It would prove useful when a decade later, I became Michael Haas without the Siamese twin of Decca. This resulted in Berthold managing a double relationship: a public relationship with Decca, and over the years, a private one with Michael Haas. Berthold kept them very separate, as scrupulous with his relationships as he was with his English. Ultimately, we had many private moments and would discuss everything from music to sex. He felt close enough to reveal much of his biography that can never be made public. At one of our first meetings, I remember mentioning to him that our family was related by marriage to Goldschmidts from Hamburg, to which he replied, “Oh! How lovely! Then we can say “Du” to one another!” Until then, we had used the “Sie” form of address. He showed me his apartment, his books, his piano, his tape collection and his radio, which was still from the 1940s: large and brown with a fabric inner-lining but obviously top of the range when purchased. As we spoke, it suddenly occurred to me that Berthold had been a witness to nearly everything I wished to document musically.
Over the months and in preparation of the recording series taking place, I had compiled a list of about 100 names of people who had appeared in new music festivals or cropped up in various composer biographies. For our next meeting, and somewhat selfishly, I brought a microphone and a DAT (digital audio tape) machine, handed him the list and asked that he tell me everything he knew, using my list as a script. At the time, the Theresienstadt composers had yet to come to prominence, so it was a list of German, and Austrian names. The dramaturgy of Decca’s “Entartete Musik” series goes back to these meetings, which ran for at least a couple of weeks. He advised which of Schreker’s operas he considered best, which operas by other composers he recalled making a strong impression, encouraging me to record Braunfel’s Die Vögel, but keeping a critical distance to Milhaud’s Christophe Colomb.
One revealing instance was when we came to the name of fellow UK exile, Egon Wellesz. Berthold told me that he didn’t know Wellesz as a composer. At the time, neither did I, but I’d heard from the publishers UE that he might be considered “academic”. Berthold’s response was a rather dry, “perhaps” and we passed on to the next name on the list. Only years later while researching my exhibition on Egon Wellesz for Vienna’s Jewish Museum did I discover extensive correspondence between Goldschmidt and Wellesz. Deryck Cooke and Goldschmidt had appealed to Wellesz to help them win the approval of Alma Mahler-Werfel for their version of Mahler’s X Symphony. The Wellesz collection at the Austrian National Library holds Wellesz’s enthusiastic report to Alma on the completion of the Symphony carried out by Goldschmidt and Cooke, resulting in her agreement. She mentions in her own memoirs that it was Harald Byrnes who convinced her – a conductor Goldschmidt later claimed “ruined” the premiere of his cello concerto. In any case, I also found enthusiastic letters from Wellesz to Erwin Ratz at the International Gustav Mahler Society, stating that Goldschmidt’s conducting of one of the Mahler symphonies was the finest since the great maestro himself. The next letter in the file was a damning verdict informing Ratz that he had been totally misled in his assessment of Goldschmidt and advised Ratz to forget everything he had previously written. It was all very mysterious, and by the time I had stumbled onto these exchanges, the only two people who could shed any light on what might have happened were long gone.
Eventually, we came to his opera and I wandered in lugging the enormous scores of the work we began calling simply Hahnrei. First, he pointed out the tesaturas of each role and advised as to which sort of singers he believed to be best. We then went through the score, bar by bar marking each leading voice in the orchestra while he explained some of his orchestration ideas, for example, a shimmering cymbal under a text describing “eyes bleached by the sea”. It was an extraordinary experience and though he must have noticed that my inner ear was incapable of picking up every subtlety, he was generous and pointed out harmonies and progressions he wanted me to be aware of. These were moments I took with me into every future opera recording I was still to make.
The cast we had for the recording was exactly as he wanted. We were lucky as every role seemed perfectly suited to the character and of all the opera recordings I’ve made, this was one where I couldn’t fault a single role. We recorded the opera in five days and Berthold was delighted with the results. We were able to rehearse several days before, allowing time for Berthold to know each singer and explain what he wanted. A few months later, we recorded his Mediterranean Songs in Leipzig with the tenor John Mark Ainsley. It was intended as the filler to the recording Der gewaltige Hahnrei and it proved an interesting stylistic counterpoint to the opera. It’s very difficult to say whether his softened tone was a result of living in England or merely a natural development of the composer. Certainly, there are British elements that remind one of Benjamin Britten and Michael Tippett, but equally strong is Goldschmidt’s effective use of dissonance, frequently modulating to unexpected keys and nearly always with a sense of resolution. Mediterranean Songs come across as a synthesis of styles almost perfectly balanced between the Continent and England.
(“Old Ships” from Goldschmidt’s cycle “Mediterranean Songs”, Tenor John Mark Ainsely, Gewandhaus Leipzig and conductor Lothar Zagrosek)
Berthold Goldschmidt was a professed atheist, though oddly, he refused to believe in coincidence. His was less atheism in the normal sense and more of a certain spiritual scepticism. Berthold was intelligent, and more than intelligent, he was wise. Nothing was dismissed, and nothing discounted, yet he remained objective in what life and his personal experience had shown.
(“Stanzas written in Dejection near Naples” from “Mediterranean Songs”)
An experience in Leipzig as we began our recording of Mediterranean Songs has stayed with me, inexplicable and mysterious. The recording session took place in the evening in a church on the outskirts of Leipzig. It was so far out of the centre of town, there was little chance that visitors to its many trade fairs would have seen it. The church was in a small wooded grove surrounded by shells of buildings still charred from the bombing 45 years earlier. The lighting in the church was utilitarian, yellowish and only bright enough for the musicians to read their parts. Berthold clambered onto the conductor’s rostrum to speak to the Gewandhaus Orchestra before the start of the recording and began by saying he hadn’t been to Leipzig since January 1930 for the premiere of Ernst Krenek’s Leben des Orest. He spoke very quietly and slowly to the orchestra when suddenly, he looked up, eyes wide with surprise, let out a shout and fell off the rostrum. The first desks of the strings, tenor and the conductor Lothar Zagrosek, raced to the rescue, and mercifully, no harm was done. Berthold brushed off the incident as foolish and apologised. Later, he admitted to me that as he was speaking, he suddenly saw his cousin from Leipzig standing in front of him, a relative murdered in the war. The Mediterranean Songs was the last work he composed before his twenty-five years of silence.
Shortly after recording in Leipzig, I left for Sony in Hamburg, where I’d been asked to take on the Berlin Philharmonic and Claudio Abbado recordings. I continued to stay in touch with the “Entarete Musik” series at Decca, but instantly recognised an opportunity of recording his second opera, a work he had set even greater store by than Der gewaltige Hahnrei. The history of his opera Beatrice Cenci is related in my book Forbidden Music, but in short, Goldschmidt entered his opera anonymously in a competition run by the Arts’ Council of England. The purpose of the competition was to generate new operas in English with the best being staged (as was suggested, but never explicitly stated) for the 1951 Festival of Britain. The number of operas submitted was surprisingly large and featured nearly every well-known composer of the time. As all entries were anonymous, the choice was based on qualities established by the panel. To the dismay of the Arts’ Council, 3 of the 4 winning entries were by non-native born Britons with the two favourites being by Austro-German refugees: Berthold Goldschmidt’s Beatrice Cenci, and Karl Rankl’s Deirdre of the Sorrows. Arthur Benjamin was Australian and Alan Bush, the only native-born composer, was an outspoken member of the Communist Party. The competition was extended in order to agree on a work by a native born composer of less contentious political persuasion, an extension that arguably led to all staging plans being abandoned. Embarrassing excuses were offered, pointing out Goldschmidt would have been disqualified as he worked for the BBC, and Rankl as music director of the Royal Opera House, must also not have realised he too was “disqualified” from competing. The excuses were embarrassing, and for the composers in question, insulting. Rankl simply placed a ban on his works being performed in the UK. Goldschmidt opted for a radio broadcast of extracts, but only after undergoing humiliating criticism from the BBC’s “Third Programme”, its classical music station. The opera ultimately chosen for closing the Festival was Benjamin Britten’s Billy Budd.
The origins of Goldschmidt’s opera Beatrice Cenci were as incidental music to a BBC broadcast of Percy Bysshe Shelly’s verse drama. The Austrian academic and theatre scholar, Martin Esslin, best known as author of The Theatre of the Absurd, agreed to shape Shelly’s drama into an opera libretto. Mysteriously, Esslin and Goldschmidt fell out, and equally mysteriously, a German text was partially written into the score in Goldschmidt’s hand.
The Festival of Berlin instantly agreed to record the work for Sony and perform it as the gala opening concert in 1994. As with Hahnrei, we had a generous period of rehearsal followed by five days of recording, a couple of days’ rest and a concert performance at the Berlin Philharmonie. The success of the performance was followed by a staging of the opera in Magdeburg the same year. Berthold was very happy with the results of our recording and the performance at the Philharmonie. I felt the recording had only been a success in as much as it had taken place at all. I was not keen on several of the principal male roles and felt terribly let down by the bass we engaged for the role of Count Cenci. In fact, after completion of the recording, I couldn’t bring myself to listen to it again. I was resigned to having carried out the promise I had made to myself to record by hook or crook Berthold’s second opera – the opera he valued more than any other work. He was happy with the results and that was all that really mattered.
More than two decades after Goldschmidt’s death, the Bregenz Festival on the shores of Austria’s Lake Constance mounted Beatrice Cenci. I could hardly recognise it as the opera we had recorded a quarter of a century earlier. They addressed what now only retrospectively I can see was its principal weakness: they performed the work in German using the partial translation inserted by Goldschmidt, while filling in missing texts to produce a new and ultimately, stronger libretto. Listening to the work in German, I suddenly realised why I had been unhappy with the results of our recording. It was less the perceived inadequacies of the bass and more the awkwardness of Esslin’s libretto. At the end of the day, both Goldschmidt and Esslin were German speaking refugees, desperate to prove their anglophile credentials. The reality was the opera in English resonated with a sense of derivativeness – an attempt to sound like Goldschmidt’s idea of a contemporary British composer.
(Nocturne from Act 3 of “Beatrice Cenci”, Lothar Zagrosek and the Deutschesinfonie Orchester Berlin)
Dr. Barbara Busch writes in the programme notes that Goldschmidt’s attraction to the material was in relation to his own sense of powerlessness in the face of Nazi authority. In fact, I disagree and see in Beatrice Cenci the same theme as in Der gewaltige Hahnrei. This isn’t even my personal opinion, but the view of Goldschmidt himself. The historic figure of Beatrice Cenci was the much abused, raped daughter of the sadistic Count Cenci in Renaissance Rome. Having murdered his sons, he paid such enormous sums of hush-money to the Pope as to make him untouchable and place him above laws and moral codes. Beatrice denounces her father’s crimes, including her own rape at one of her father’s lavish balls whereupon Count Cenci has her arrested and decides to execute her publicly. On the evening prior to her execution, she along with her step mother Lucrezia hire killers to murder Cenci in his sleep. They’re found out with the Pope, now deprived of funds demanding their execution. The Requiem for the executed women concludes the opera. What is common to both the characters of Beatrice and Stella, the hapless multiple rape victim in Hahnrei, is the dialectical portrayal of misogyny. Goldschmidt loved women, respected and encouraged them whenever possible. His representation of strong women being victims of abuse before emerging heroically afterwards, either publicly leaving an abusive husband (Stella), or fearlessly walking towards the executioner’s block (Beatrice), was the common factor in both works. Hahnrei was not so much a comic opera as a grotesque. Harry Kupfer in his staging of the work at Berlin’s Komische Oper has all the male characters dressed as condoms in the multiple-rape scene. Beatrice Cenci is grand opera, serious in both narrative and its innate ethical intention. It’s only a further irony that when attempting to have the opera mounted following its aborted Festival of Britain staging, the Lord Chamberlain refused permission to put it on anywhere in Britain, citing its gratuitously lascivious portrayals of incest. Billy Budd must have come across to him merely as an all male opera about saliors.
(Excerpt from the Final scene and Requiem from “Beatrice Cenci”)
Beautiful, intelligent women seemed to gravitate towards Goldschmidt, and as Abbado’s producer, I became a conduit for several attractive, intelligent young women, all of a certain type and all in an unhappy, indeed abusive relationship with Abbado. Initially I took no notice of the tall blonds with long legs and intelligent faces, all speaking fluent Italian. Abbado and I didn’t exactly “hit it off”. He complained that he couldn’t work with a gay producer and begged to have his producer from Deutsche Gramophon, a request that was consistently refused by my boss Günter Breest, always quick to reject Abbado’s homophobia; but as an openly gay man, I suspect these women felt they could approach me as I witnessed their near daily humiliations. One of the most attracitve and talented was the German writer, film maker and designer Cordelia Dvorak, whom I introduced to Goldschmidt. The relationship was beneficial to both. Cordelia soon managed to free herself from Abbado’s misogyny and her fascination with Berthold would ultimately lead to a moving documentary, recently re-shown in Bregenz as part of their Goldschmidt focus. Goldschmidt composed his “Dialogue with Cordelia” for cello and clarinet. But other women, all talented and attractive were also drawn to Goldschmidt’s warmth, intelligence and humanity. The violinist Chantal Juillet enjoyed a deep and fruitful relationship with Goldschmidt resulting in a marvellous recording of his violin concerto and his Rue du Rocher, which he dedicated to her. Through Juillet, Goldschmidt met Charles Dutoit who would also become an important supporter of his music.
(the third movement from Goldschmidt’s violin concerto with Dutoit, Juillet and the Montreal Symphony)
By the time I returned to Decca, I had spend two years working closely with Abbado, (a conductor I admired enormously as a musician, while remaining appalled by his personal relationships), along with a few months as Vice President of Sony based in New York with Peter Gelb as my boss, another Sony relationship I didn’t find easy. I was delighted when Decca’s new head of A&R, Evans Mirageas invited me to return to my musical home at Decca. In theory, I was to take up where I had left off with Sir Georg Solti, but sadly only managed one or two recordings before his unexpected death in 1997.
When we were in England, Berthold and I spoke English, when we were in Germany, Switzerland or Austria, we spoke German. As he explained, “I feel I can communicate perfectly in both languages, but the older I get, the less able I am at switching from one to the other.” Goldschmidt died in 1996, shortly before my birthday. I was asked to speak at his funeral. The occasion was difficult and though only a few close friends and family were present, including Sir Simon Rattle, I simply broke down, hardly able to continue. Bernard Keeffe, one of Berthold’s oldest and most devoted friends managed to finish the job with the consummate skills of delivery learned after years with the BBC. I broke down again at the end of Beatrice Cenci in Bregenz, certainly the finer of his two operas, despite my earlier doubts. It was perfectly cast and wonderfully performed by both the Vienna Symphony and conductor Johannes Debus. The music was stronger than I recalled, but perhaps it was the change from English to German that made the difference. It was, after all Berthold’s native language, with his own translation of the libretto. I was also made painfully aware of the inadequacies of our recording. Perhaps it wasn’t as poor as I remembered. When I spoke to Elisabeth Sobotka, the director of the Bregenz Festival, she told me she had been won over by the beautiful singing, and the “belcanto” nature of the work. It was her dramaturg Olaf Schmitt who had alerted her, and somehow, the recording and their belief in the opera’s musical and dramatic merits convinced them to risk a staging twenty-odd years after Berthold’s passing
My concluding personal account of my years with Berthold Goldschmidt is meant to underline his personality and his views on life. While living in Germany in the mid-1990s, it was clear I needed an EU passport, having travelled and lived in Europe for decades with an American one. I turned to the German Ministry for immigration and explained that I had Jewish German grandparents who had left Germany, though prior to 1933. Had even a single grandparent left after 1933, I would have been handed a German passport over the table. To acquire one under my circumstances required a letter of recommendation from Hamburg’s local synagogue and another letter of recommendation from a prominent local citizen.
Berthold wrote a letter of recommendation that is one of my most valuable possessions. At precisely the same time, I was invited by Decca to return to London. I decided that it was better to apply for a UK passport, not because I was an Anglophile, but because I needed an EU passport to continue working and travelling in the EU. I was disappointed that Berthold Goldschmidt’s letter had not been used, but had it framed and placed in my office. I filed my application for UK citizenship with the Home Office and waited with low expectations. I had already applied three times previously and had been turned down on minor points such as being out of the country too many days, or out of the country on the day the application was processed by the Home Office. They had an entire repertoire of bureaucratic issues with which to refuse applications, and mine, with most of my time spent out of the country, was an easy one to reject. To my surprise, I received a call from a nice young man who informed me that he was dealing with my citizenship request. We talked about this and that, when he suddenly burst out with “aren’t you the person who made all of those Berthold Goldschmidt recordings for Decca?” With that, my application went through. His letter hadn’t helped with my UK application, yet the connection with Berthold had made all of the difference. As he always said, “there are no such things as coincidences”.