exil.arte: 2018 and what we’ve learned:
As the old year closes and a new one starts, I look back at the progress that our exil.arte Centre has made and find myself acknowledging that having come a long way, we still have a way to go before we can state that comprehending the damage done to music in the 20th century has even been marginally assessed, much less understood. I admit that to imply exil.arte is capable of assessing the damage is an arrogant position to take. Indeed, how does one even define “damage”? It’s like trying to establish the seriousness of a wound based on resultant scar-tissue. Post-war, Western music spent fifty years in convulsions in an attempt to heal and immunize itself from future damage. To an entire generation of musicians, this reflex away from emotional coherency was not seen as damage but as meaningful progress, healing and indeed enlightenment.
The paths music was taking in the run-up to the mid-century apocalypse have yet to be fully understood, though it was presumably some of these paths that the post-war enlightenment was addressing. It was an era of music-making that pre-dated today’s mass-media and market glut of recordings, streaming and download services. With limited means of recording and dissemination, music was a transitory experience much like last year’s Oscar winning films: enjoyed and forgotten except in the rarest of cases, and paradoxically, more valued as a bench-mark of modernity and progress. This inability to assimilate new sounds and ideas prior to an age of mass recording was the driving force behind Schoenberg’s Society for Private Performances, when works were performed two or three times in succession with performers taking a purely functional role: no bows, no applause and no acknowledgment of the artistic and intellectual input required in mastering such unfamiliar terrain. The creative energy was not to come from the musician, but from the listener. At the same time, the greatest live music experience, be it in the opera house or the concert hall was transitory. There was no hope of holding on to it longer than memory would allow. It’s why people would write of coming out of a performance in a stupor that lasted for days. Music could become a willful obsession. Just think of Hitler describing his first encounters with the music of Wagner.
Music consumption has been a journey of ever increasing convenience at the price of ever less personal involvement. This too is part of the story of music in the 20th century. It has gone from the near sacred ritual of attending or participating in a live performance, to enjoying individually what was previously a group experience in the privacy of the home or on personal headphones. Thanks to recordings, the post-war years of the 1960s, ‘70s, ‘80s and 90s’ left us with ‘music as identity’: you were the music you consumed. Being en vogue or ‘cool’ has always been a social priority: for the first time, music became the definitive marker of varying degrees of “coolness”. With the Internet, music consumption became personalized and the advent of headphones saw a return to music as private passions. Every step of the way has been the progression of music evolving into a convenient addition to our daily ambiance; it’s become our personal soundtrack. This journey of personalized soundtracks has come at the cost of interaction between listener and performer: a gramophone recording could never compete with a live performance just as a sound file can no longer compete with a gramophone recording. As a result, not just our relationship with music changed; the entire raison d’être of music changed.
I’ve made these observations for a very specific reason: recovering music from oblivion often means identifying its original purpose and evaluating the needs it addressed at the time. Very often, these were needs that today are no longer relevant. A previous article on this blog has looked at the purpose of “local” music, or music to be performed in the privacy of the drawing room rather than in concert halls. Our changing interaction with music has also changed the fundamentals of music itself. It was formerly meant to communicate on a communal rather than individual level. This change alone makes it challenging to assess music of the past, written for different audiences with different expectations.
One very notable expectation of music in the past was social aspiration. As the Industrial Revolution broke the monopoly of aristocratic wealth and factory owners could match the magnificence of even the richest and most powerful duke or earl, an accompanying sector of educated professions expanded with discerning tastes and self-defining rules on every aspect of life. Music became central to this self-identity as a member of the educated professional establishment. It would remain a bourgeois social accessory until the 1960s, antagonizing a younger, anti-establishment generation as well as irritating genuine music lovers who objected to an art form being strong-armed into a social adornment.
This disparity of where music belonged within the early 20th century avant-garde promoted and propagated by the bourgeoisie would remain ambiguous, even at the height of Modernity’s fin de siècle rise. The salonnière Berta Zuckerkandl, the mother of Secessionism didn’t really know what to make of it, the satirist Karl Kraus was dismissive of music except for the contrariness of Offenbach, which he performed in one-man shows, and Robert Musil in his Mann ohne Eigenschaften – Man without Qualities, portrays the music loving friends of the central protagonist as violently unhinged. Music appeared to be strange narcotic that didn’t have the same effect on everyone. Those who were untouched by this exotic acoustical drug were left bemused, tending to chalk it up as a typical middle-class affliction, comparable with, and probably akin to Freudian sexual anxiety.
Music’s role is important as a prominent cultural marker of our social and political history. It was only a couple of hundred years ago that music was limited to places of worship, the court and the town, or market square. Its purpose in each of those venues was specific. Its slow progress beyond these venues into a wider world only began in the middle of the 19th century. At no point would a bishop, a king or a ballade singer assume music would become the ambient noise of daily existence. So music has changed – changed as a product, a consumer good, a past-time, a profession… In addition, it has sub-divided into innumerable genres ranging from the ethnic to the urban, from pop and disco to experimental and improvisatory. What we are recovering at exil.arte is not the music, or even the idea of the music we “utilize” today.
This progress as cultural marker is what is becoming progressively more apparent as exil.arte acquires its collection of estates from around the world. The phenomenon of “inner exile” has been used to refer to the composer who remains in Nazi Europe but withdraws and does not participate in it. Yet within the music of composer estates held at exil.arte, such as Robert Fürstenthal, Walter Arlen, Julius Bürger, Richard Fuchs and even Robert Freistadtl, we have the phenomenon of “inner-return”. A good example, and now quite well-known, is Hanns Eisler’s “Hollywooder Liederbuch”: this is composition as self-gratification. A wider public for gratification didn’t exist, so we are left with the inner mechanizations of the musical brain in the isolation of exile. It tells us important things. On a superficial level, nearly all of these works are tonal with much of these “inner-return” works being retrospective to times that predate even the birth of the composer. It suggests a willful yearning to kinder times. The superficial characteristics continue with obvious disregard to posterity: many works composed in isolation lack performance instructions without tempo markings or indications of expression. Phrasing and articulation is missing, with the implication being the music, if performed at all, is performed by the composer for himself, friends and family.
It offers an equally penetrating examination of a composer’s relationship with a new homeland. The reduction in output from a composer such as Walter Bricht speaks volumes. Official explanations range from “unhappy divorce”, “difficult life-circumstances”, “need to earn a living”, “learn a language” etc. Nothing quite satisfies the question of how a prolific and immensely promising voice could be halted in its creative tracks once he fled his native country. Writers rarely stopped writing in exile and almost never wrote in any language other than their own. Equally, composers retreated into private spheres. Julius Bürger was a hybrid: he composed when commissioned, but he also composed for himself, while going through lengthy periods of silence, probably also the result of changed life-circumstances. The stretches of silence in a composer’s output are often as significant as the quartet found post-mortem in a desk drawer.
The question of “survival” – simply providing food and shelter for a family, is also responsible for distinctive compositional developments once cut off from one’s homeland. Wilhelm Grosz, (another composer estate held at exil.arte), perhaps as much as Kurt Weill, did not see conflicts between serious and popular music and in his own manner attempted to build bridges between the two, even attempting to form a synthesis in the manner of Gershwin or Weill. Beyond this aspiration, however, he also focused on composing works in both genres independently. His cycle of cabaret like songs Bänkel und Balladen are presented in a format that was suitable for classical Lieder recitals. His pantomime Baby in der Bar – Baby at the Bar and his one-act Achtung! Aufnahme! (Standby! Recording!) were as timely as the jazzy one-act operas by Weill, Toch and Hindemith at the Baden-Baden festivals in the late 1920s. His popular songs from the 1930s, such as Red Sails in the Sunset, Isle of Capri, Harbor Lights, Along the Santa Fe. Trail, are still heard today in any number of Muzak arrangements with no pretense of classical fusion. Prior to arrival in British exile, he ran a recording label in Berlin and was one of the first recording producers. Up until 1927, while still living in Vienna, he was seen by some as following in the footsteps of Mahler and one of Franz Schreker’s most promising pupils. His opera Sganarell was performed at Vienna’s State Opera and the cream of the city’s soloists performed his chamber works. The dance numbers from the 1930s were all composed with Jimmy Kennedy in London’s “Tin-pan Alley”. At the point of his London exile, all attempts to synthesize genres and build bridges had been put aside in the interest of providing for his family. An offer to supply music for the film Along the Santa Fe Trail seems to have brought him to the United States where he died shortly after arrival in New York. War broke out with his family still in London and there can be little doubt that stress and worry would have been the reason for his death at the age of forty-five.
Another estate held by exil.arte is that of Hans Gál who presents us with a different situation altogether. Perhaps he was one of Austria’s most successful exports to Germany. His opera, Die heilige Ente – the Sacred Duck, ran from its Düsseldorf premiere in 1923 until it was removed by Hitler in 1933, by which time, it had established itself into the repertoire of numerous opera houses, including Berlin. His brilliance as an opera composer was recently reconfirmed with the Osnabruck revival of Das Lied der Nacht, – the Song of the Night, his opera following die heilige Ente. This has now been recorded by CPO confirming a voice that is more consistent with Zemlinsky’s opera Der Zwerg from 1921 than Wozzeck, by Gál’s colleague and friend Alban Berg from 1925. Gál’s opera, composed in 1924 falls between them Its Breslau premiere was in 1926. He made his name as an opera composer and with the Nazi cancellation of the premiere of his opera, Die beiden Klaas – Rich Claus, Poor Claus in Dresden under Fritz Busch, his career and fame came to an abrupt end. A trajectory of exile can be followed in his subsequent works. Fired from his position as Director of Mainz’s music academy, he composed a violin sonata without opus with a slow movement of extraordinary poignancy. As the new reality dawns, works grow increasingly somber, some referencing the 30 Years War: Night Music in 1933 and De Profundis in 1936 (an extract of which is at the start of this article). A hiatus is seemingly achieved following his return to Vienna in 1933, but with exile in Great Britain and continued personal tragedy, he composes some of his darkest works: the Second Symphony in 1942 and the Cello Concerto in 1944. Between these colossal works run a myriad of lighter works that appear escapist or merely functional such as arrangements and one-off commissions. Operas have no chance of being heard, and his irrepressible creativity is channeled into works for small(er) ensembles and solo instruments. His music world is ordered, neat and classical recalling a twentieth-century Mendelssohn. Tonality is as natural to him ‘as gravity’ and as he once mentioned in an interview, though knowing it possible to exist without gravity, he couldn’t imagine it for himself. There is, however, no doubt in my view that the music of his British years is a definite retreat. Nothing in his output is less than exquisitely crafted, but there is the frequent suggestion that his mastery of craft has itself become the ends rather than the means. Could it have been otherwise detached from his natural audience? It’s music that is worth careful excavation and it’s fascinating to see how many musicians today have turned to Gál as a welcome port in the twentieth-century’s aesthetic storms. At the time of writing, nearly all of his larger orchestral works have been recorded – in some cases, twice or even more often. Much of his chamber music and all of his piano works have also been committed to CD. Nevertheless, Gál, as other composers in our exil.arte archive, tells us as much by his silences as he does by his works. Often, I would suggest, his silences can be found in his sheer mastery of craftsmanship. For Gál, his skill and imagination were also representative of “inner-return”.
With Hans/Hanuš Winterberg and Jan Urban (spool down the linked article to read about Urban in more detail), we have two estates that demonstrate actively, rather than passively that persecution lasted long after 1945. By passive demonstrations of persecution, I mean the decline or abrupt change in creative output. Active persecution on the other hand is the continued post-war persecution experienced after 1933. Winterberg’s musical estate lay locked away under embargo at the Sudeten German Music Institute and was not to be accessed or revived until 2031. In addition, it was made a contractual condition in 2002 (!) that it never be made public that Winterberg was Jewish. The estate was sold to the Sudeten German Music Institute by his adopted son, whose biological father had been a member of the SS. The embargo was placed on Winterberg’s estate following his death in 1991 by common agreement between the Sudeten German Music Institute and his forty-six year old adopted son. The estate was locked away despite Winterberg having been a popular and frequently performed composer during his lifetime. Jan Urban’s post-war persecution came forty years after his death in 1951. During the Yugoslavian civil war Croatia and Serbia saw him as a Czech composer who culturally represented the enemy. Urban had taken Serbian citizenship yet made his principal career in Croatia. The result was a rejection of Urban by both Yugoslavian nations.
Over the last 12 months, we acquired the estates of composers as well as other performing artists: Theo Buchwald, a conductor and pianist from Vienna who ended up founding what would become the National Orchestra of Peru, yet was originally an orchestra made up of European refugees. His correspondence with Fritz Busch and Erich Kleiber forms the most important elements of his estate. We’ve also acquired the estate of Anita Bild, a dancer from Linz who turned to composing and performing cabaret in London’s refugee venues in order to survive. Recently arrived is the estate of another dancer, Maria Ley-Piscator who in 1937 married the stage director Erwin Piscator, a proponent of Brecht’s ‘epic theatre’. As a result, much of Erwin Piscators estate will also be housed in the exil.arte Center. Along with the estates of the Piscators comes the estate of Egon Lustgarten, a composer, commentator and teacher of some importance during the inter-war years. Both Piscator and Lustgarten come as part of the much larger Lahr von Leitis collection. I hope to post more about these acquisitions in the coming months.
The past year has also seen important collaborations, such as the recovery of Karol Rathaus at Queens College, City University of New York. This has come about largely as a result of Lev Deych, a physics professor at Queens who was astonished when he noted the neglect of Rathaus’s estate, still uncatalogued and in the state of disorganization that had existed since his death in 1954. Unable to engage Queens own music department, he managed to organize a Rathaus retrospective with the input of Leon Botstein from Bard College.
Rathaus has only highlighted one difficulty in trying to liaise and form collaborations with other music archives. My colleagues Prof. Gerold Gruber and Dr. Ulrike Anton have been spending a good deal of time researching exile in China and above all, the influence of the Austrian Schoenberg disciple Wolfgang Fraenkel, who taught Schoenbergian ideas to a generation of Chinese composition students. His own works remained until recently under an altogether different type of embargo. Held at Munich’s Bavarian State Library, access could only be granted to the estate with the written permission of Fraenkel’s nearest living relative. It’s a situation we’ve encountered before, most recently in the case of Otto Jokl (another Schoenberg pupil). It seems incredible that a victim of a regime that systematically murdered entire families would end with an archival legacy requiring scholars and musicians to locate whoever may have survived the Shoah in order to gain access. In some cases, the relatives are so distant as to have no knowledge of the composer at all. This has created a number of additional problems, with such relatives, once located worrying what their legal position may be if in good faith, a “closer” relative suddenly comes forward. (Such was actually the case with Hans Winterberg). As a result, composers who are still in copyright are having any chance of performances thwarted by such stipulations. It’s not just German archives making these conditions. I heard of an identical situation concerning the estate of Jerzy Fitelberg whose estate is held at the New York City Public Library. Achieving justice or even a hearing of these composers demands pro-active consensus, acting in the best interests of the composer.
Our agenda has widened beyond anything we could have known or expected. We continue with our work in preparing the critical edition of Erich Wolfgang Korngold and look forward to a conference we shall be co-chairing with Graz’s Karl-Franzens University called Imagining Immigration. Yet no book, previous study or music historian could have prepared us for the situations of Hans Winterberg, Karol Rathaus, Walter Arlen or the phenomenon of music’s changing role in society resulting in a number of musical voices being suppressed who would be dismissed as “unworthy” of revival and study today. Colleagues in Germany informed me that they had no place for profiling a composer of salon music, while ignoring the importance of salon music in pre-war life. In other words, Gustav Lewi, another estate held by exil.arte, was important as a composer of a music genre that no longer exists today, so apparently has no relevance. Can we retroactively dictate who is deserving and who isn’t? I see it as the duty of scholars and indeed musicians to re-create lost worlds so that elements that are recovered can be better understood. This is the point made ever clearer with each acquisition we take on.