“Jewish Destiny” and the defiance of Richard Fuchs

Richard Fuchs, 1887 – 1947

“Jewish Destiny” is the English translation of “Jüdisches Schicksal”, which in turn was the title of a large oratorio written by Richard Fuchs. We’ll come to this work later, though I have already written about it briefly in the article on the Jewish Cultural League. This article is based on a talk I recently gave in Munich. “Defiant” is only one description of Richard Fuchs. Others that he would have preferred were “German”, “successful” and only latterly, perhaps as an afterthought, “Jewish”. Professionally, he was a successful architect, but beyond this he was a prodigiously gifted musician and composer; he was also a talented painter. Later he considered himself a refugee and ultimately, faute de mieux, as a New Zealander. Fuchs’s self-proclaimed, indeed, defiant designation of himself as “German” confronts us with his very specific idea of exactly what he understood under the concept of “German”. These were in equal measure, specific aesthetic and ethical qualities. They were serious, tasteful, no-nonsense and solid. These were qualities he imparted into his architecture:

… in his painting:

And in his music…

Rosemary Gordon sings Fuchs’s In der Fremde composed in 1937. Recording from 1965
Richard Fuchs as a young man

He was born in 1887, a year in the middle of a dynamic half decade that produced as many progressives as it did conservatives. Fuchs shared his birth-year with Max Trapp and Kurt Atterberg, two passionate supporters of the Nazi regime. 1887 is also the birth year of fellow Jewish exile composer Ernst Toch. It’s worth noting that Ernst Toch composed in a similar “Germanic” neo-Brahmsian manner as Fuchs until his major aesthetic shift towards the end of the First World War, eventually leading him to become a prominent new-music protagonist during the years of the Weimar Republic. During the final years of the First World War, Toch took the intellectual step of writing music that deliberately removed what he viewed as emotionally manipulative elements and in the early 1920s, he joined Hindemith as one of the initiators of the dominant movement of the age known as “New Objectivity”. If we add composers born between 1885 and 1890, we can start to see the provenance of the musical plurality that co-existed during the inter-war years. In addition to the already named composers, we have the two Schönberg pupils Alban Berg and Egon Wellesz born in 1885, Othmar Schoeck (1886) with Frank Martin, Bohuslav Martinů and Hans Gál all born in 1890. It appears to have been a half-decade that produced exponents of every stylistic development and from 1920 accorded them a degree of equality and legitimacy, despite the furious factions that surrounded both progressive and regressive trends. 

Alban Berg, Hans Gál and Ernst Toch
Alban Berg, Lulu Suite IV Variationen (1934) Antal Dorati and the London Symphony Orchestra
Hans Gál Sonata for violin and piano in D (1933) David Frühwirth vln, Henri Sigfridsson pno.
Ernst Toch, first movement, Symphony for Piano and Orchestra from 1933, Diane Andersen, Philharmonisches Staatsorchester Halle, Conductor: Hans Rotman

Symbolic of this remarkable half decade are the three composers: Hans Gál, Alban Berg and Ernst Toch who jointly served as executive committee members of the Allgemeiner deutscher Musikverein – the AdM or the General German Music Association founded by Franz Liszt in 1861 and closed by the Nazis in 1937 for its promotion and support of what they called “Cultural Bolshevism”. Hans Gál was a traditionalist developing organically out of the 19th century; Alban Berg was an Expressionist and exponent of Vienna’s Second School; while Toch, as mentioned, represented the dominant wave of “New Objectivity” from the early 1920s. This background is offered to provide a certain context to the aesthetic decisions made by Richard Fuchs. If Hans Gál saw music in the 20th century emerging organically out of the 19th century, Fuchs was quite happy to remain wedded to the earlier musical language of Brahms, Schumann and Bruckner.

First movment from Richard Fuchs’s D minor Quartet from 1932, Jade Quartet

It was to Fuchs a period that represented the best of everything German. This characteristic of “more German than the Germans” was an oft cited criticism of Jews as they began their long delayed integration into non-Jewish German society following the “emancipation” guaranteed in the constitution of the German Reich in 1871. Disdain of such efforts most forcibly came from Wagner notorious tract Judenthum in der Musik – Jewishness in Music.

The four Fuchs brothers: Richard, Sigmund, Walter and Gottfried

The emancipation of Germany’s Jews differed to some extent to that experienced by Ashkenazy Jews in the Habsburg realm. (Sephardic Jews from Turkey had already been granted full equality following the Karlowitz Treaty of 1699) The emancipation of German Jews was arguably less of a watershed. Many came from the Rhineland where they had lived since Roman times, unlike Habsburg Jews who were more likely to have come from isolated Eastern European Shtetls. The Emancipation Constitution of Austria-Hungary came about in December 1867. The emancipation of Germany’s Jews followed in 1871 with the unification of the German Confederation under Bismarck. Long before Prussia’s unification of the Confederation, however, individual German states had already granted Jewish emancipation. In Fuchs’s home state of Baden, Jews were granted full equality in 1862. This meant that a generation of emancipated Jews preceded Richard Fuchs’s birth and it would be left to Fuchs’s generation to assimilate. The First World War provided an excellent opportunity for this second generation of German Jews not only to assimilate but also to integrate. Fuchs, along with his three brothers joined up as soon as war was declared. He fought on the Western Front and was later awarded the Iron Cross. Richard was also celebrated as a war artist sending back impressions from the front.

Richard Fuchs: Paintings from the front

If Fuchs’s various brothers pursued occupations seen as “typical” of newly integrated and socially ambitious Jews, such as joining the professions or working in business and finance, their younger brother Gottfried would become the Fuchs family’s most representative and fêted German.

Gottfried Fuchs

He was a professional footballer between 1904 and 1920, playing for Düsseldorf and Karlsruhe. From 1911-1913, he was considered the best centre in the world and the first German to score four goals in a single match. During this time, he won 6 caps and 13 goals, a record that held until 2001.

German National Team 1910 with Fuchs circled in red

He’s remembered today for scoring 10 goals while playing for Germany against Russia in the 1912 Olympics. As a tragic postscript: in 1972, when Germany wished to celebrate the 60th anniversary of its victory, the German Football Association declined to invite Fuchs as a guest. Fuchs was living in England where he had fled following the Nazi takeover of Germany. The logic of such a decision was difficult to follow. The Football Association suggested inviting the only remaining Jewish member of the National Team for the event would “set a precedent”.

In any case, another brother, Sigmund, was a psychoanalyst while Walter was a successful businessman. The four brothers could escape the Shoah.

Hugo, Rolf, Beate and Senta

Their sister Senta, who was another musician, and her husband Hugo, did not. Their children Rolf and Beate made it safely to England. 

Dora (née Stern) and Richard Fuchs

Despite Fuchs’s aptitude as a musician and studies at Karlsruhe’s Musikhochschule, he went on to become a successful architect, first working in Berlin before the War, then relocating to his hometown of Karlsruhe afterwards, where he continued his studies, completed a doctorate and married Dora Stern. They went on to have two daughters, Eva and Soni. The buildings he designed that still stand are now landmark protected.

The last building Fuchs designed in Germany was a villa commissioned by his brother Gottfried

His Synagogue in Gernsbach was burnt down in the November pogroms of 1938 which preceded the arrest and deportation to Dachau of both Richard and Walter Fuchs.

Fuchs’s Synagogue in Gernsbach, destroyed November 9th and 10th, 1938

The visa for New Zealand had already been issued and it was through the efforts of Dora Fuchs, that Richard could be released and assured safe transport via England to New Zealand on December 26th 1939.

Fund raising letter for Richard Fuchs by Ralph Vaughan Williams

While in England, in addition to letters of recommendation already acquired in 1933 from Wilhelm Furtwängler and Felix Weingartner, Fuchs met Ralph Vaughan Williams who not only raised funds on his behalf, as shown in the slide, but gave him a letter of recommendation that read:

“I have heard and seen several compositions, including works for orchestra, for choir and solo songs by Dr. Fuchs and in my opinion he is a competent and well trained composer with an excellent technique in all branches of composition of which he has shown me examples.”

Richard Fuchs’s passport with the large red “J”
Piano Quintet in D Major – second subject of first movement

Works composed before 1931 were either lost or destroyed. The earliest existent work of Fuchs is his piano quintet in D major. Above is the opening of the second subject of the first movement. There followed a string quartet in D minor, a large symphony in C minor in 1932, along with a wind octet. In 1933, he composed Frühling, a song cycle for Soprano and orchestra.

Kulturbund programme with Lieder by Fuchs

Composing became more central to his life after the Nazi ban on his work as architect. As president of the local chapter of B’nai Brith, he founded the Jüdischen Kulturbund – the Jewish Cultural League in Karlsruhe

Kurt Singer and Joseph Rosenstock

In these early years of the Kulturbund, I imagine Fuchs held out the same optimism as expressed by the head of the entire Reich-German Kulturbund, Dr. Kurt Singer in Berlin. Fortunately for Fuchs he escaped Germany and never returned to Europe. Singer’s optimism and attempts to accommodate the Kulturbund’s activities within the restrictions of the Nazi Kulturkammer saw him return to Europe, despite having guest lectured at Harvard University and been offered a professorship in America. In 1938 he returned to Holland but in 1943 was deported first to Westerbork then Theresienstadt, where he died, age 59 in 1944. Both men initially saw the Kulturbund as providing an arena for Jewish creativity that could and should eclipse the institutions from which they had been excluded.

Kipnis sings Richard Fuchs’s Lieder at a Kulturbund concert

Fuchs certainly saw it as an opportunity to have his own compositions performed. His lieder were even performed by Alexander Kipnis with Willian Steinberg and Julius Prüwer conducting larger orchestral works.

Wilhelm Steinberg conducts “Frühling” by Richard Fuchs with Emmy Joseph as soprano in a concert in Karlsruhe in 1935

The idea of composing “Jewish” music was hotly debated at the time and for someone like Fuchs, there was no question of super-imposing an oriental modal aesthetic onto occidental music in order to make it more acceptable to the Nazis. His two large-scale “Jewish” works, such as Hymnus an Gott – subtitled Chasidic Song for orchestra and tenor is not modal. Neither is his larger work, Vom jüdischen Schicksal, lasting nearly 25 minutes with texts by Karl Wolfskehl and the 13th century minnesinger Susskind von Trimberg. If anything, it is even more defiantly German. Only his 1935 setting of Kaddisch references the synagogue.

Kaddisch unknown recording and singer: the only work in which Fuchs resorts to modal writing
Letter rejecting the Berlin performance of Vom jüdischen Schicksal

It won the Reich-German Cultural-league first prize, though the promised performance in Berlin was cancelled at the last moment by the Nazi in charge of the Jewish Cultural League, Hans Hinkel. No excuse was offered, but my personal suspicions are that Hinkel was appalled at Fuchs’s defiant refusal to make his music sound “oriental”. Hinkel had already complained that the Jewish composers in the Kulturbund were not developing “their own culture” but doggedly holding on to their German identity, “which must be foreign to them”. Worse, instead of incorporating Jewish modes, as other contemporary composers in the Cultural League, Fuchs appeared to have gone out of his way to make his music sound even more stridently monumentalist and German. Years later, and after the war, it would open him and other Jewish composers such as Korngold, Braunfels and Gál to charges of “composing in the language of the oppressor”, when in fact for Fuchs the dialectic of composing in the language of the oppressor allowed him to offer genuine defiance.  Such defiance, it must also be understood, offered genuine comfort and optimism to other German Jews. This is the opening of the work, though you can listen to the entire performance by Wellington’s Conservatory orchestra and chorus on the article: the Jewish Cultural League

Orchestral opening of Vom jüdischen Schicksal performed by Wellington’s Conservatory orchestra, soloist and chorus
At Sea, watercolour by Richard Fuchs

By the time Fuchs arrived in New Zealand on April 17. 1939, he had letters of recommendation from Furtwängler, Weingartner, Vaughan-Williams and Gordon Jacobs. The letters all take the tone of Vaughan Williams’s. Weingartner is astonished that Fuchs is not a professional musician. As the letters of recommendation were only written in 1933 and afterwards, it was inconceivable that German conductors would be able to perform anything at all by Fuchs.

Thee Fuchs family home in Wellington New Zealand

Wellington New Zealand confronted Fuchs and his family with an entirely different world. Colonial suspicions ran high and he was classified as an “enemy alien”, though unlike Jewish refugees in England, he was not interned but restricted to his home and unable to work or move outside of a 10-mile radius. In Germany he was prejudiced as a Jew and in New Zealand, he was prejudiced as a German. Wellington in 1939 was by German standards rather basic. Many rural roads were unpaved and most houses were plank bungalows similar to the Fuchs’s new home. After Fuchs’s death their daughter Eva committed suicide in common with many émigrés who simply found they could not adjust to changed circumstances. As with Mahler’s Kindertoten Lieder, Fuchs seems to have anticipated this tragedy with one of his most touching songs: On the Death of a Child, written in 1937. In due course, however, New Zealand would offer him opportunities as an architect.

Auf dem Tod eines Kindes Michael Guy, Tenor
Bay of Wellington, watercolour by Richard Fuchs

Once in New Zealand, he ceased setting German texts and intriguingly decided that he was perhaps best placed to initiate a New Zealand national school of composition. He composed a setting of I Vow to Thee My Country for the Royal New Zealand Air force marching band.

Brass Band competition – did Fuchs participate? The dates suggest he might have…

He was convinced that he was the most established composer at the time in his new homeland. Nevertheless, his works, such as his Piano Quintet in D minor from 1941, or his last work, a string quartet in E major from 1945 were dismissed by the local chamber music society as being “sentimental” and Fuchs himself was condescendingly referred to as “a clever fellow … who plays the piano rather well…”. Nevertheless, his New Zealand Christmas was sung by a Maori children’s choir for the Queen’s state visit in 1954, and afterwards picked up by other children choirs, including one mass chorus of more than 300. Such recognition came seven years after his death, and it was of course paradoxical that a New Zealand Christmas carol would be composed by a German Jew. The work received such publicity that Blandford Press from London attempted publication, though sadly without success. Fuchs was dead and his widow appears not to have answered, or even perhaps understood the enquiry. Fuchs’s dream of establishing a New Zealand “school” would go unfulfilled. He essentially saw New Zealand as European and failed to recognise how far from reality this was. His works from his New Zealand years continued to offer the Brucknerian references that characterised his compositions from Germany: many starting with a rhythmic pulse offering a platform for the opening principal subject.

Fuchs in the 1940s
The opening of his Symphony in F minor from 1944

Fuchs’s compositions are full of dramatic gesture and offer a robustly Germanic impression with a bold masculinity that would have resonated with the Teutonic obsessed Nazi overlords had Fuchs not been Jewish. I believe this was Fuchs’s intention. It was perhaps the same subconscious motivation as Gottfried Fuchs scoring more goals than any of the German football team’s non-Jewish players. To be a Jew in Germany at the time of Hitler was to show your hatred for National Socialism by being German to the point of self-parody. This disturbing paradox was even noticeable far earlier when in 1922 the Jewish musicologist Adolf Weißmann wrote of Gustav Mahler in his “Musik in der Weltkrise” the following:

Mahler is the consummation of the German into the Jew. Wagner’s words, ‘To be German means to do something because it must be done’, if applied to Mahler would be: ‘To be German is to do what must be done to the point of self-annihilation.’ “

There are obvious issues that must lurk behind such wilful decisiveness, not least the ever-awareness of exclusion. But returning to the New Zealand Chamber Music Society’s demeaning comments on Richard Fuchs’s music:  I have yet to hear anything that I would find overly sweet or sentimental, though he was capable of composing exquisitely beautiful melodies in his own Brahmsian style.

Festtag – Day of Celebration, from 1935, in a performance from Karlsruhe Musik Hochschule
Richard Fuchs in his vegetable garden shortly before his death in 1947

After the war, the New World was awash with enormously gifted European composers and musicians. The post-war years were meant to herald a new age and offer a new national identity. Attempts by European exiles to make the same contributions to their new homelands as they had made to their old ones were dismissed by post-war establishments as representative of the pre-war order. New Zealand, like Great Britain, Canada, Australia, South and North America looked for native born talent. The old world was welcomed as teachers, but never as representatives of their new homelands.             

The Fuchs family in 1947 with Soni and Eva

Fuchs didn’t compose anything during the last two years of his life. Perhaps he was too busy working as an architect in a country in desperate need of new buildings. Perhaps he had become too disillusioned with attempts to gain acceptance. According to his daughter Soni, he took no interest in his architectural work and was reduced to designing toilet roll holders. The news of the Nazi atrocities, including the murder of his sister and brother-in-law most likely crippled his creativity. That, along with the rejection of anything that reminded people of a past that had produced two World Wars, led him to believe that his music was the baby being thrown out with the bathwater.

Fuchs’s piano in Wellington

What is instructive is analysing Fuchs’ vision of German music in the 1930s through the prism of the 19th century. His attempts to maintain his German identity hold strong even when instructed by National Socialist to identify solely as a Jew. Nor was he able to adapt his supreme command of Germany’s 19th century musical language in his efforts to become a New Zealand composer. The lack of acknowledgment and sense of exclusion is reflected in Fuchs’s output, by demonstrating beyond any shadow of doubt, his sense of entitlement to belong: ultimately wishing to be acknowledged as a German, as a New Zealander and as a Jew. 

The last work by Richard Fuchs, his string quartet in E major, (first movement) Donald Armstrong (vln); Mabel Wong (vln2); Phillip Rose (vla); Brigid O Meeghan (cello)

For more music examples, photos and information on Richard Fuchs, please visit the website http://richardfuchs.nz/ In addition, the exil.arte Centre in Vienna also has a collection of Fuchs manuscripts and scores: https://exilarte.org/