The Music of Inner Return: Part 1

Rudolf Alfred Höger’s “Beim Heurigen” – “At the Wine House”

Apologies are due for having neglected this blog for so many months.  There has been an inordinate amount of activity at the exil.arte Centre with acquisitions of several important estates, a symposium which we hosted the first week of April (“Imagine Emigration”) and a festival in NY focused on the music and life of the composer Karol Rathaus. Prior to flying to NY last month, I appeared on a panel hosted by Bavarian Radio and was subsequently approached to submit an article for a Sociological Publication. I took as a subject the idea of “inner return” as an opposing concept to the much debated “Inner-exile” of composers who remained in Nazi Germany but ceased writing music for performance. The concept of “inner-exile” has highlighted a number of extremely high-minded idealists who were unable or unwilling to leave Nazi Germany and chose artistic silence as the price to pay. The most celebrated of these is Karl Amadeus Hartmann, who was in the fortunate position of being supported by his father-in-law. The article has yet to be published, and it was written in German. For English readers, however, I would like to take some of the ideas of the article (not everything) and use them as material for this blog.

Victor and Eva Klemperer

To be clear, the concept of “inner exile” is double-sided. Some composers had no choice: Walter Braunfels lived in what was regarded as a privileged marriage with a non-Jew. How “privileged” such marriages were, is debatable. Victor Klemperer chronicled his own “privileged marriage” in his diaries. We know from others, such as Edmund Eysler, that they never left the house for fear of round-ups by Nazi gangs. They would have ended in concentration camps until bribes were paid. By the mid-1940s, the non-Jewish partner in such “privileged” arrangements was submitted to the same terror and discrimination as their Jewish spouse. They were denied the right to work, they had to wear the yellow “Judenstern” (Jew Star), and they were forced to leave their homes and live with other families in so-called “Jew-houses”.  We also know that by 1945, fanatical anti-Semites had decreed that “mixed-race” marriages were not only forbidden but that Jewish spouses were to be deported for extermination. Victor Klemperer only managed to survive because the day of his deportation was coincidentally the day of the Dresden bombing, (February 14. 1945). Hans Winterberg, as one can read elsewhere on this blog, was forced into divorcing his non-Jewish wife before his deportation to Theresienstadt.

Karl Amadeus Hartmann (1905 – 1963)

There were other examples that were often cited of “inner exile” such as Günter Raphael, or Boris Blacher. Raphael was half-Jewish and married to a non-Jew, while Blacher was dismissed from his teaching post in Dresden after promoting an anti-NSDAP aesthetic in his “Tonsatz” (Composition) classes. Despite having enjoyed enormous success as one of Nazi Germany’s most promising young talents, he was denounced as a “cultural Bolshevik” and his works removed from further programming. Others, such as Max Butting, Eduard Erdmann or Heinz Tiessen were composers who had no Nazi sympathies, but needed to teach or continue as performers in order to earn a living. Every affidavit handed out to a musician who didn’t agree with Nazi policies was one affidavit less for a musician who would otherwise end up in a Nazi gas chamber. Leaving your city, your home and your job with a family to support and without outside funds, foreign bank-accounts or international contacts to vouch for you, condemned many musicians who had no time for Nazi ideology to remain in situ and and keep their heads down. Some continued to compose for the desk drawer while waiting for the post-Hitler age still to come.

Hermann Heiss Darmstadt 1962 and Hugo Hermann with leading Nazis

The problem with many historians who examine the question of inner-exile is their too eager attempt to equate inner-exile with political resistance. It was this ambiguity that was exploited by the likes of Hermann Heiß, Hugo Hermann and Wolfgang Fortner who were able to “magic up” 12 tone compositions during various de-nazification hearings and absolve themselves with the argument that composing with Schönbergian principals was anti-fascist in spirit and intent. It would be judgmental to denounce them. Indeed, it would be more justifiable to denounce the naïveté of de-nazification hearings that bought into the idea that even members of the NSDAP could be absolved if they composed music considered “culturally Bolshevistic”. Others, such as Eduard Erdmann and Felix Petyrek joined the party simply in order to continue teaching or performing. Their compositions were not performed – either they weren’t put forward by the composers themselves, or committees in control of Nazi dogma simply dismissed their works as un-German. In any case, keeping heads beneath the parapet is not the same thing as cultural resistance and the reality was that few had the luxury of offering any meaningful resistance to Hitler’s totalitarianism.  

Boris Blacher (1903 -1975)

3rd Mov. “Concertante Musik” op. 1 Boris Blacher, premiered by Carl Schurich and the Berlin Philharmonic in 1937; this is a recording made by Herbert Kegel and the Dresden Philharmonic

Thought provoking for me is not just the question of inner-exile, and its implication of resistance, but its mirror image of “inner-return”, which is the response of exiled composers and performers who in strange and unfamiliar surroundings resorted to composing music that somehow brought them back to their lost homelands.  And just as there is the implication of resistance in the works of inner-exile, there is the suggestion of resignation in works of inner-return.  This strange dialectic was brought home when my colleague at the exil.arte Centre hit upon a quote made to me in conversation with Robert Fürstenthal. When I asked Fürstenthal why he composed in the manner of Strauss, Mahler and Hugo Wolf in the 1980s and 1990s, he replied “Wenn ich komponiere, bin ich wieder in Wien” – “When I compose, I’m back in Vienna”.   The English idea of Fürstenthal’s statement is more accurately translated as “I return to Vienna when I sit down to compose”. My colleague Gerold Gruber took this quote as the title of the exhibition we opened in 2017, and its implications of inner-return have only now begun to be assessed. Robert Fürstenthal was born in 1920, yet the Vienna he “returned” to, was the Vienna of 1900, a generation before he was born. It was a Vienna that still had time to avoid the disasters that resulted in the Third Reich and his own persecution and exile.

Robert Fürstenthal (1920 – 2016)

Intriguingly, Fürstenthal frequently turned to the poetry of Josef Weinheber, a poet who was popular during the Nazi years and who made no secret of his own Nazi sympathies. Yet Weinheber was the quintessential Austrian poet despite whatever pan-German dreams he may have harboured. The words still resonate with echoes of Habsburg-German rather than Bismarck-Prussian. Take for example his setting of Weinheber’s Liebeslied – Love Song

“Liebeslied” by Robert Fürstenthal, sund by Baritone Rafael Fingerlos, with Sascha El Mouissi

Wenn nie mehr die Sonne wär
Und nie mehr Frühling und nie,
nie Mond mehr über bleichen Dächern,
wenn alle Farben tot und alles Helle;
Ich würde trauern, aber nicht verderben […]

The text basically states that if there were no sun, no Spring, no moon “to shine over pale roofs” and everything were to turn monochrome, “I would be sad, but I wouldn’t perish”…  Could anyone have expressed the joke about Habsburg Austria: “The situation is fatal but not serious” (as opposed to the Prussian “Situation serious but not fatal”), more eloquently?

Walter Arlen (b. 1920)

Another Viennese composer born in 1920, Walter Arlen, offered a different approach, that nevertheless took on the characteristics of “return”.  Arlen, who was born Aptowitzer had managed to acquire a thorough musical education after his arrival in the United States. Fürstenthal was self-taught, which arguably offered him more expressive freedom to choose which Vienna he returned to. Arlen’s music shares few central European characteristics in his musical language, which stands very much in the line of other American composers such as Samuel Barber, Aaron Copland or even fellow émigré Andre Previn.  Yet his choice of texts results in a contrasting synthesis of both “here” and “there”. The hard diatonic corners of American tonality sit oddly with the words of Czesław Miłosz:

Certainly we have much in common,
We who grew up in the baroque cities
Without asking what king has founded a church
We passed every day, what princesses lived
In the Palace, what were the name of architects, sculptors,
Where they came from and when, what made them famous.
We preferred to play football in front of ornate porticoes […]

“For JL” from the cycle “Poet in Exile” by Walter Arlen: Baritone Christian Immler; Piano Danny Driver

What unites both Fürstenthal and Arlen was their determination that the music they wrote remain in their desk-drawers. Listening to both composers, this seems an incredible suggestion – indeed, selfish given the beauty of their respective output. Yet as the producer of recordings of works by both men, I was met with the same phenomenon: a total lack of performance indications, with no mention even of tempo or dynamic. Phrases and slurs were missing as was any indication of articulation. We were lucky enough to have Walter Arlen present during our recordings, who insisted that “any good musician should know what it is I want”. We had some wonderful musicians on our recordings, and it soon became very clear that leaving such fundamentals open could result in any number of interpretative variations – all of which were legitimate. Fürstenthal could only hear the results of our recording while lying on his death bed. His widow made no secret of the fact that the interpretative decisions made by our young artists, were not always what he intended. If the works had been performed in the past, he was the person performing and the idea that a different tempo or dynamic might have been expressed by another musician simply never occurred to him.

The Austrian poet Josef Weinheber, (1892 – 1945)

Perhaps the most intriguing similarity between these two Austrian composers who never met, yet were born in the same year and both ending  up in Southern California, is the fact they individually set The Song of Songs  from the Old Testament. Where Arlen takes an English translation of the Bible, Fürstenthal takes Weinheber’s adaptation from 1916, a work that was meant to offer some sort of biblical substance to Austria’s war-efforts. The names of the characters remain the same yet the texts are divided differently and the musical expression progresses along a different route at a different pace. Arlen originally orchestrated his work but then extracted individual numbers. Fürstenthal always saw his cycle as being for two voices and piano accompaniment. Neither composer was a religious Jew, yet both were drawn to this most sensual of Old Testament verses. This evasive, yet unmistakable declaration of Jewish provenance is simply another demonstration of “inner-return”.

Das Hohe Lied: Sulameth’s “Ich schlafe, schlafe, aber mein Herz wacht …” by Robert Fürstenthal, (piano) and unidentified Mezzo Soprano
Song of Songs: Sulameth’s “As an Apple Tree” by Walter Arlen with Rebecca Nelsen soprano and Danny Driver piano

Works of “inner-return” were also works of “coming to terms”: Arlen’s homosexuality would only result in further isolation in a strange country, forcing rapid assimilation upon a young refugee whose sexuality stood as a barrier to full American acceptance. He chose the ambiguous texts of the converted Spanish Jew known as St. John of the Cross:

Ah, who can cure me?
For sick with love am I –
The creatures all around
Speak of your thousand beauties –
O come I beg of you send no messenger to me –
For what I yearn to know they cannot tell me […]

St. John of the Cross
“Ah! Who can cure me?” from Walter Arlen’s cycle “Songs of Love and Yearning”; Rebecca Nelsen soprano; Danny Driver piano

As you can hear, we recorded it with a soprano, but his original intention was for a tenor – a male voice. He took the title of the cycle as “Songs of Love and Yearning”, and the texts were presented to him by his long-term male companion Howard Myers.  In fact, it was Myer’s presentation of these texts that broke a thirty year compositional silence.

Recording of Songs of Robert Fürstenthal released by Toccata Classics with Rafael Fingerlos and Sascha El Mouissi

Fürstenthal’s silence would last a bit longer: from 1938 to 1974, he stopped composing altogether as he worked his way up an American ladder, gaining prosperity and success as an accounts auditor, landing as head of the auditing department of the American Navy in San Diego. The re-acquaintance and subsequent marriage with his earliest girlfriend (and love of his life) from pre-Anschluss Viennese days culminated in a creative explosion, resulting in hundreds of songs and many hours of chamber music. Unlike Arlen, Fürstenthal returned to a Vienna in his mind that he couldn’t have known, but envisioned as being perfect before the plague of Nazism. Arlen is more torn and remains wedded to his time and place while translocating with texts and musical expression. Even his Rilke settings are in English for the reason, as he states, of Rilke not being available in German at the time he was composing in Los Angeles. Arlen only set texts in German at the very start of his creative life, immediately after the Anschluss and the arrest and deportation of his father to Buchenwald Concentration Camp. He set Eichendorff’s poem Es geht wohl anders – Things Turn out Differently.

Es geht wohl anders, als du meinst,
Derweil du rot und fröhlich scheinst,
Ist Lenz und Sonnenschein verflogen,
Die liebe Gegend schwarz umzogen.

Und kaum hast du dich ausgeweint
Lacht alles wieder, die Sonne scheint,
Es geht wohl anders, anders, anders!
Es geht wohl anders als man meint.

“Es geht wohl anders …” by Walter Arlen; Baritone: Christian Immler; piano: Danny Driver
Freshly arrived in America, Walter Arlen in 1939

The poem conveys hope that no matter how bad things may appear, the sun always comes out from behind a cloud and shines again. Things turn out differently than what you feared. He would not return to the German language again until the suicide of his favourite cousin Michi, with whom he had grown up and spent happy summers in the family villa on the Hungarian border. He takes the text of a lullaby by the German poet Paul Heyse (1830-1914)

Singet leise, leise, leise,
Singt ein flüsternd Wiegenlied,
Von dem Monde lernt die Weise,
Der so still am Himmel zieht.

Singt ein Lied so süß gelinde,
Wie die Quellen, auf den Kieseln,
Wie die Bienen, um die Linde,
Summen, murmeln, flüstern, rieseln

“Wiegenlied (für Michi)” by Walter Alren; Soprano: Rebecca Nelsen; piano: Danny Driver
The Lindenbaum

Here too, we confront Central European imagery, or at least imagery that would be hard to imagine in Southern California: “as the spring flows over stones, like the bees on lime tree blossom…”  Nothing defines the smell of Central Europe as lime trees in spring and summer.  Fürstenthal, on the other hand, only sets English when attempting new musical directions and then chooses James Joyce. The utter strangeness of both language and musical idiom stands in contrast to most of his other work.

“Sleep” by Robert Fürstenthal; Baritone: Rafael Fingerlos; piano Sascha El Mouiss
Bertolt Brecht and Hanns Eisler

Probably the best known example of “inner-return” is Hanns Eisler’s collection of songs that latterly became known as “das Hollywooder Liederbuch”  – the “Hollywood Songbook” . As with Arlen and Fürstenthal, these songs too seem to have been destined for the desk-drawer. Eisler mentioned his ability to write while unemployed, (or under-employed), in America by stating that “boredom was the greatest motivator to creativity”. His collection of songs are mostly taken from Brecht, though this is not by any means exclusively the case. There are songs with texts also by Eisler, as well as Hölderlin, Mörike, Pascal, Rimbaud, the Bible and even Berthold Viertel, an Austrian poet who would have been well known to Eisler and was the husband of the famous Hollywood Salonnière Salka Viertel, where Eisler was a frequent guest. The impression that thes songs were meant for coming to terms with his situation and not for general dissemination comes less from his lack of performance instructions and more from his cavalier reworking of texts – even the texts of close friends Brecht and Viertel. The songs were never conceived as cyclical and there is no obvious narrative thread. They bounce along varying wildly in length, expression, style and language. Some songs are surreal, others the personification of exile and desperation, while others are perfect mirrors of working in Hollywood – a strange city that lived only in the present, betting on the future and without memory of the past. It was a factory producing entertainment for a relatively young nation, largely cut free from its European cultural moorings.

Hollywood 1940

I¬ “Unter den grünen Pfefferbäumen”
Unter den grünen Pfefferbäumen
Gehen die Musiker auf den Strich,
zwei und zwei
Mit den Schreibern. Bach
Hat ein Strichquartett in Täschen.
Dante schwenkt
Den dürren Hintern.

Elegy 1: Baritone Matthias Goerne; PIanist Eric Schneider

II¬ “Die Stadt ist nach den Engeln genannt”
Die Stadt ist nach den Engeln genannt
Und man begegnet allenthalben Engeln
Sie riechen nach Öl und tragen goldene Pessare
Und mit blauen Ringen um die Augen
Füttern sie allmorgendlich die Schreiber
In ihren Schwimmpfühlen.

Elegy 2: Baritone Matthias Goerne; Pianist Eric Schneider

III¬ “Jeden Morgen, mein Brot zu verdienen” Jeden Morgen, mein Brot zu verdienen
Gehe ich auf den Markt,
Hoffnungsvoll
Reihe ich mich ein zwischen die Verkäufer.

Elegy 3: Baritone Matthias Goerne; Pianist Eric Schneider

IV¬ “Diese Stadt hat mich belehrt”
Diese Stadt hat mich belehrt,
Paradies und Hölle können eine Stadt sein
Für die Mittellosen
Ist das Paradies die Hölle.

Elegy 4: Baritone Matthias Goerne; Pianist Eric Schneider

V¬ “In den Hügeln wird Gold gefunden”
In den Hügeln wird Gold gefunden
An der Küste findet man Öl
Größere Vermögen
Bringen die Träume vom Glück
Die man hier auf Zelluloid schreibt.

Elegy 5: Baritone Matthias Goerne; Pianist Eric Schneider

These texts are almost Haiku-like with a single image per poem: the first refers to having to whore his writing along with everyone else standing on the street: “Bach with a rent-boy’s quartet in his back-pocket while Dante flashes his aging arse”. The second refers to the benevolence of “angels”, glittering with oil, lounging by the pool and deciding if you can work or not. The third is another thought on selling words and music like goods at the market. The fourth states that LA is both paradise and hell, with paradise becoming a hell for those who fail, and the last elegy mentions that oil from the hills finances the film industry.

Louise and Hanns Eisler in Los Angeles

This dialectic of contrasting values is also a form of return and a recognition that the world is now operating on the basis of unfamiliar values. By highlighting the vulgarity of the commercialisation of great art, (unapologetically comparing themselves to Bach and Dante) the writer and composer are both transported back to their roots. But Eisler does not just pillory the hardships of providing commercial fodder for the ever-hungry movie-industry monster, he also returns to images of childhood and family and an unbreakable line of European generations. Eisler’s choice of texts, even when dealing with the hardships of his situation are a yearning for a return to a saner and better world. He rages against the injustices he experiences while setting other songs, such as the Der Kirschdieb, The Cheery Thief that feel pastoral, or Brecht’s setting of Frühling, Springtime – in which European pastoralism is soberly juxtaposed with the realities of the refugee.  Another example of Eisler’s “inner return” is his return to Bach’s cantata models which he interpolates into his Deutsche Sinfonie. In fact, the entire work has the feel of a secular “Passion Oratorio” about it. Humanity had become the sacrificial lamb in its fight against fascism. We can leave for another time the question of whether Eisler’s cultural battle against the totalitarian right led him into the camp of the totalitarian left. His works, whether seen as private exercises or as political propaganda reached out for the security of familiar models.

Manuscript for “Über die Dauer des Exils”

The “inner return” of works that landed in the desk drawer, to which we can include his Deutsche Sinfonie, a work that only emerged long enough for a single performance in his chosen home-country of East Germany, presupposed an audience that no longer existed. The return was not to the defiled homeland, but to the homeland that was now so far gone that a composer’s works could only resonate like the proverbial falling tree in a forest where nobody could hear. It was for this reason, so much fundamental information was missing regarding tempo and expression, though as can be seen, Eisler who felt confident that the desk drawer would not be the final resting place of his exile musings, added more performance indications than Arlen and Fürstenthal.

Manuscript for “Zufluchtsstätte”

The means by which a composer could transport him- or herself back to an imaginary place, a place that until recently had not been remotely imaginary, took many forms. It gave composers freedom to liberate themselves from dominant musical developments.

Similar to Fürstenthal’s retreat to an age he couldn’t have known, is the retreat of Robert Freistadtl (1889 – 1948) to an Austrian milieu that must have been very different from his Jewish bourgeois upbringing. Freistadtl came from Vienna’s circle of wealthy Jewish families, having inherited a successful textile factory and business that specialised in tailoring supplies. His wife, Charlotte Elisabeth Cohn was from a similar background with her father, Paul Cohn, Austria’s General Consul in Peru. The couple had two children, Georg born in 1918 and Jolan in 1923 and divided their time between Vienna’s VIII district and a large estate in Altmünster on the Alpine Lake of Traunsee. At present, little is known about Freistadl’s biography or his musical education, beyond the fact that wealth and free time allowed him to compose operettas and occasional pieces at leisure. He appears to have enjoyed earlier successes in London and as a result, composed under the name of Robert Frey. The Max Reinhardt Berlin opening of his operetta Die Wirtin von Venedig – the Landlady of Venice, a reworking of Goldoni Mirandolina, was foiled by the appointment of Adolf Hitler in 1933, though it enjoyed a successful opening and run at Vienna’s Raimund Theater in 1934. His operetta, Der Schneider Wippel followed in 1936. The annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany in 1938 was catastrophic for the family, who managed to escape to Great Britain, where from 1940, Freistadl, along with thousands of refugees was interned as an “enemy alien”. After the war, Freistadl/Frey lived in Putney, a London district on the Thames. His marches are a scrupulous recreation of the provincial Austrian market square. They seem far from the life he enjoyed as a wealthy Viennese. Mahler would take such marches and treat them as a certain type of Central European prop, almost like a diegetic stage set. Freistadtl, however, recreates these folk-marches in intricate detail. Indeed, their “oom-pah-pah” character is almost over-played as if by exaggerating their vulgarity, he’s brought closer to the homeland he so clearly missed. It seems less puzzling that this was the music he was writing when taking into account the near penury he suffered while living in Great Britain. This was perhaps music that was less “inner return” than “outer escape”.  

Freistadtl’s “Heimat Erde”
Robert Freistadtl in London