THE MUSIC OF INNER-RETURN: PART 2

Vienna Philharmonic c. 1920

There is another important element that illustrates “inner return”: it’s the concept of “return”, when composers prominent as pre-war modernists return to old-fashioned concepts such as symphonies, sonatas and string quartets. Of these developments in exile, a return to composing symphonies is telling. The most revealing aspect of these exile-symphonies is that few of the composers had considered writing symphonies before. The most obvious examples are Egon Wellesz and Ernst Toch, both of whom relate near identical impulses to re-connect either to a place or a culture. With Wellesz, it was the former, with Toch, the latter. Toch provides us with dense Germanic counterpoint while Wellesz offers undisguised Mahlerian melancholy. Crucially, these symphonies were composed after the war when, in theory, exiled composers could have considered returning to their original homelands. This was even true of Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s only symphony, his Symphony in F#, which premiered in Vienna upon what was supposed to have been his return. The lack of sympathy he felt emanating from the orchestra only confirmed to him how impossible “return” was.

First Movement of Toch’s First Symphony: Alun Francis and the Berlin Radio Symphony
Final movement of Wellesz’s First Symphony: Gottfried Rabl and the RSO Vienna
Drawing of Hans Gál by A. Paulsen in Isle of Man internment camp

The Symphony was something that Hans Gál also turned to in exile, though he had written symphonies prior to immigration – indeed, he’d won Austria’s first State Prize with a symphony – only to withdraw it to be “set aside”. His symphony no. 1 from 1927 was originally called Sinfonietta. Of all the inter-war composers, Gál was the most Mendelssohnian, and inclined to remain loyal to traditional models. He had already composed three of his six string quartets prior to exile, along with his violin concerto. If anyone was going to adhere to form determining content, it would have been Hans Gál, whose entire early training had focused on and around Johannes Brahms. Indeed, he was so sensitive to the provenance of his influence that he “set aside” countless works he judged lacking individuality. His view appears to have been that classical models should never be constraints to imagination and individuality. Nevertheless, he was 48 years old when he fled Austria, and 43 when forced out of his position in Germany. It’s notable that by this time, he had written only one symphony, one concerto and one sonata for piano and one sonata for piano and violin. A second violin sonata composed in the wake of his dismissal from his position as director of Mainz’s Music College in 1933 is not even accorded an opus number, though mercifully, it wasn’t “set aside”.

Opening Movement of Gál’s Second Symphony written in 1942: Thomas Zehetmair, Northern Sinfonia
Ernst Krenek, Karol Rathaus and Walter Bricht

The symphony appeared as good as dead to the generation of interwar composers, which is peculiar when one takes account of their collective admiration of Gustav Mahler. Perhaps, it was Mahler who inhibited symphonic ambitions in the following generation. The only progressives to do so were Ernst Krenek and Karol Rathaus who both wrote strikingly similar single-movement first symphonies before composing larger scale second symphonies, which appear to suggest a Mahlerian influence. Nevertheless, it’s telling that Zemlinsky’s “symphonies” are from the 1890s and there are no symphonies by Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, Anton Webern or Franz Schreker, with only Franz Schmidt representing any attempt to keep the Austro-German Symphonic tradition alive. His young protégé, Walter Bricht, however, would write a youthful symphony largely following in the stylistic footsteps of his teacher while striking a distinctive, somewhat gentler note.

Jascha Horenstein conducts the First Movement of Rathaus’s Third Symphony with the London Symphony Orchestra

It is my opinion that there is an entire musical genre classifiable as the “Exile Symphony”. More precisely, it is the inner cultural return of exiled composers to the safety of familiar musical order, even if the adherence to classical models is often missing. Toch and Wellesz have already been mentioned; Korngold’s only symphony has also been noted. Karol Rathaus composed a Third Symphony in American exile that is far more traditional in structure and musical narrative than his previous two. Karl Weigl who had written four rather traditional symphonies prior to exile does the opposite of Rathaus with his fifth symphony from 1945 which he calls The Apocalyptic. His sixth symphony from 1947 also breaks with models of the past.

Karl Rankl and Kurt Weill

Notable is the Austrian Karl Rankl who composed eight symphonies following exile. Indeed, the reviews of his first symphony premiered in Liverpool were extremely favourable, suggesting he had departed from earlier dogmas driving Austro-German music so that he could appeal to his new homeland. Other refugee composers were less fortunate at the hands of England’s music press. Kurt Weill fled Britain with as much opprobrium being thrown at him as was the case in Nazi Germany.  Ernst Toch’s Second Piano Concerto performed at Henry Wood’s Prom Concerts fared no better.  

Bohuslav Martinů and Hans Winterberg

The other composer who returned to the symphonic format, but from a very different starting point and motivation was Bohuslav Martinů with his six American symphonies. They’re often presented as “American” works in the meaning of sounding American. In fact, when placed next to the symphonies of his compatriot Hans Winterberg, nothing could sound more defiantly Czech. Both Winterberg and Martinů returned to their Czech homelands writing symphonies with the jagged melodies, complex rhythms that demonstrate the provenance of Leoš Janáček. Martinů’s symphony no. 1 dates from 1942 whereas Winterberg’s second symphony was composed in Prague, in the confinement of a “mixed-race” marriage in 1943. It’s more of a work of exclusion than exile. Two years later, he would be liberated from Theresienstadt. Had Pavel Haas, Erwin Schulhoff and Hans Krása not been murdered, a dynamic rival to Berlin’s “New Objectivity” and Vienna’s “Second School” would have emerged from Prague and Brno.

First Movement of Martinů’s First Symphony: Václav Neuman and the Czech Philharmonic
First Movement of Hans Winterberg’s Second Symphony: Jan Koetsier with the Munich Philharmonic
Egon Wellesz in Oxford

What I find fascinating about the “exile symphony” within the specific element of “inner-return”, is the translation of the symphonic concept per se. Wellesz’s first four symphonies are scaled down classically structured movements recalling Bruckner and Mahler. The following symphonies are varied in musical language and structure, while remaining atonal. What is striking is that with repeated listening symphonies 5-9 plus his Symphonic Epilogue, offer clear and logical construction. At no point does the lack of traditional tonality leave the listener feeling lost within the musical narrative. For Wellesz, the “return” element in these often awkward works is structure. The symphony, regardless if conceived as a stream of expressive consciousness, as in the case of Ernst Toch, or more classical, as with Hans Gál, their common factor remains a discipline of structure that constrains material into a form, which facilitates coherency within the narrative arch. During the inter-war years, the dominant view was that content or even “utility” determined form. Gebrauchsmusik or Eisler’s “Lehrstücke” (Politically didactic works) were utilitarian. This utility determined the outward simplicity of structure, even if the music itself was more complex. Conservative composers built on the Liszt/Straussian basis of the tone poem while progressives moved in any number of directions including synthesis of contrary genres or reduction of musical material. Only after the physical and political exclusion from their homelands, does one note a return to Leipzig’s “Old School” values whereby form shaped the message. In the midst of chaos, structure in whatever manner, became a place of refuge.

Wellesz’s Symphonischer Epilog: Gottfried Radl and the RSO Vienna
Richard Fuchs

Richard Fuchs is a composer I shall return to in a separate post. I’ve already mentioned him in my article on the Jewish Cultural League. His first symphony in C minor coincides with Hitler’s appointment as Reich Chancellor in 1933. The Symphony in A minor was composed in 1936, the same year as his monumental Vom Jüdischen Schicksal – of Jewish Destiny. Most of Fuchs’s compositions were carried out in the context of the Cultural league, and can be counted as “exile”, even if in fact, they were works of exclusion. The last symphony in F minor was composed in 1943/44 in New Zealand. These are works that belong to the same degree of cultural identity as Robert Fürstenthal (see part 1) composing 35 years after Fuchs’s death. Both Fürstenthal in the last decades of the 20th century, and Fuchs after the arrival of Hitler, followed by exile in New Zealand, found comfort in defiantly returning to a world of German music that reflected the opposite of the country that had expelled them. Indeed, their music expressed a return to a Germany that existed before Fürstenthal had been born, and which was conspicuously on the way out by the time Fuchs was a teenager.

First Movement of Richard Fuchs’s Symphony in F minor: Kenneth Young, New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Well-known image of Otto Klemperer (left) walking through the Californian hills with Hubertus von Löwenstein, Arnold Schönberg and Ernst Toch

If composers felt compelled to express themselves in the musical aesthetic of pre-pre-Hitler Germany, either by returning to classical forms or reviving Romanticism, it’s not surprising that performing artists would do the same. At no point did it occur to the pianists Artur Schnabel or Rudolf Serkin to stop performing Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert and Schumann or any of the other great Austro-German masters simply because Hitler’s criminal gang had claimed them exclusively for themselves. Refugees were more aware than we are today, (pace Daniel Goldhagen), that though nearly all Nazis were German, it was by no means the case that all Germans were Nazis. This shift to another, earlier and presumably better Germany in exile even happened with conductors associated with contemporary trends such as Otto Klemperer, William Steinberg, Maurice Abravanel, Georg Szell, Fritz Stiedry and Erich Kleiber. Some of this “return” undoubtedly was yielding to commercial imperatives, since it was clear that few host-lands were interested in contemporary music coming out of Berlin, Prague or Vienna. Nevertheless, even offered the opportunity, these conductors rarely championed the new music of their adopted homelands. Of course, this transformation from musical progressive to traditionalist didn’t occur the minute they left Europe: Klemperer put considerable efforts into presenting new European music in Los Angeles before becoming the Classical authority we know from post-war programming and recordings. Yielding to commercial realities, Klemperer, along with other former refugee conductors settled down with new orchestras and became “exponents” of the Austro-German 19th century – an ambition that had never occurred to them prior to immigration. By the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s, any sympathy for European modernism they might have harboured had largely vanished: Karl Rankl led the desperately conventional Royal Opera House Covent Garden immediately after the war, despite being politically close to Hanns Eisler and having studied with Arnold Schoenberg. Fritz Stiedry and Erich Leinsdorf, once happy to premiere new works by Kurt Weill or Béla Bartók now conducted Wagner, Beethoven and Mozart at New York’s Metropolitan.

Artur Schnabel and Rudolf Serkin

Schnabel and Serkin went on to establish the central Viennese classics to the point that after the war, they were re-imported back to Austria and Germany with supreme authority and credibility by their New World students. String quartets sprung up where their existence outside of Central Europe had been a curious rarity. Felix Galimir of the once world famous Galimir Quartet, taught at Marlboro along with Rudolf Serkin. A younger generation of American string quartets gained enough authority to be signed by German recording labels. The Amadeus Quartet, an ensemble made up of three Austro-German teenagers exiled to England, along with the British cellist Martin Lovett, established themselves at Deutsche Gramophone as THE authorities on Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven and Brahms. They too would ignite an interest in quartet performance in their adapted homeland, which hitherto had little tradition of “Hausmusik”.  The same post-war evolution applied for Lieder recitals. Even though pre-war, there were American, British and even Australian musical salons, they were mostly viewed as exotic “continental” affectations. Their offerings were normally more “palm-court” than Schönberg. Schönberg’s Association for Private Performances, which ran in Vienna and Prague with its aim of promoting and helping audiences become acquainted with new music, would not find its American equal until Los Angeles’s “Evenings on the Roof” series. The benefactress for chamber music in America, Elisabeth Sprague Coolidge, fought a lonely battle until the arrival European refugees such as Béla Bartók and Ernst Toch. What these effects of “inner-return” achieved was establishing old-world traditions so firmly in exile that after the war, they could be re-introduced as Austro-German traditions untainted by the compromises forced on those who remained in Hitler’s Germany.

A quote of Wilhelm Furtwänger from 1947 that Ernst Toch typed out and kept among his papers: “It needs to be noted that, regardless of their reasons for leaving their country, we encounter our own German culture with Hindemith, and also with Krenek, Weill, Toch – not to mention Kreisler, Walter, Klemperer. Ultimately Mahler and Schönberg, no less than Mendelssohn in earlier times, belong within the canon of German music. That German music, not just here, but also abroad has continued to develop over the past twelve years, (today, it seems a long time ago), is also something we need to acknowledge as a fact.”  

Over the last decades, it’s been an exercise in Schadenfreude for countries that saw themselves as benefitting from Hitler’s policies of racism and political intolerance. The benefits have been beyond dispute. America and Great Britain have traditions that would not have taken hold without refugees. Confidence and authority grew in musicians and scholars who were trained by Hitler’s exiled. Musicology as a serious science also began to be taken up in new host-lands: Schenkerian analysis was for decades more widely studied in Anglo-American institutions than in Vienna or Berlin. Music historians such as Egon Wellesz may have been the great-grandfather of Britain’s “early music” fascination. He along with a generation of fellow Guido Adler students brought comparative musicology to countries which had previously seen little point in such disciplines. Books have been written about the cultural prizes gained at Hitler’s expense. What has been missing, however, has been an examination of why, or how, these gains took place. Perhaps something as prosaic as homesickness was one reason. More likely, refugees found they simply couldn’t stop doing what they had always done and sought every opportunity to keep on as before. What has been missing in examinations of the gains of host-countries by Hitler’s émigrés has been the brutal recognition that for established composers, exile was always a downward trajectory. The suggestions that Hitler gave the world the gift of German culture take little account of the costs to those made to flee: Germany’s loss was the gain to the rest of the world. Only, the loss was not just to Germany, but to every performing artist forced into exile.

Korngold working in Warner Bros. Sound Studio 1939

Korngold saw his Hollywood years as a necessary, and hopefully, short-term diversion from his central task of composing long-lasting music for the classical canon. It became a necessary intrusion, exploiting his considerable talent while to his dismay, establishing him as “the father of the Hollywood Sound”. It was not the legacy he intended. Yet it was undoubtedly worse for others. It’s hardly possible to understand the mental gymnastics that were necessary for composers such Karol Rathaus, Walter Bricht or Hans Gál to come to terms with their sudden lack of relevance, having once been regulars on the greatest music-platforms in Germany and Austria. Fame from the past was sublimated into teaching, which they carried out with supreme authority and over time, with great personal satisfaction. It was their good fortune that scholarly scrutiny had been a central part of their own education. In exile, it became another leg to stand on when their creative opportunities were reduced. “Inner Return” was more than just continuing traditions in a new environment; it was also a means of spiritual return. With audiences and institution irreparably purged and discredited in former homelands, physical return, as Korngold and Toch discovered, was simply no longer possible.