The Third Year of exil.arte, and Second Year after its opening
With May 2019, exil.arte came into its third year, following its official public opening two years ago. I’ve already documented exil.arte with three previous article: The first was when we were given the go-ahead in 2016, the second was following our official opening in May 2017 and the third was a quick assessment of the first ten months, when we recognised the validity of what we were doing following the repatriation of much unexpected, but valuable material. The first year was spent laying out the ground work, modernising our storage facilities and creating exhibition, study and office space.
When I recall our official opening with the exhibition “Wenn ich komponiere bin ich wieder in Wien (When I compose, I’m back in Vienna) in 2017, we had acquired two musical estates: the composers Hans Gál and Julius Bürger. Since taking the decision that we would not refuse any estate of a composer or performer who was persecuted by the Third Reich, we have added to Gál and Bürger with the estates of the composers Walter Arlen*, Anita Bild, Walter Bricht, Robert Frey (aka Freistadtl)*, Richard Fuchs*, Robert Fürstenthal, (at present, and as with Walter Arlen, we hold a full digital collection), Wilhelm Grosz, Gustav Lewi, Egon Lustgarten, André Singer*, Georg Tintner, Jan Urban, Hans Winterberg* conductors Theo Buchwald and as already mentioned, Georg Tintner; the dancer and choreographer Maria Ley-Piscator, married since 1936 with the father of Political Theatre, Erwin Piscator; the singers Marta Eggerth and Jan Kiepura and the violinist David Grünschlag’s collection from Israel. (the asterisks denotes an estate that is only partially held by exil.arte)
The Piscator and Lustgarten estates are part of the Lahr von Leitis Archive, whose work in exile studies is reflected in von Leitis’s personal collection of programmes and documentation, “Elysium – Between Two Continents”. We also took the decision not to limit our centre to Austrians, with the result that we have several Germans (Erwin Piscator*, Richard Fuchs and Gustav Lewi) a Czech (Hans Winterberg); a Hungarian (Marta Eggerth) a Czech/Serbian (Jan Urban) and a Pole (Jan Kiepura). As countries occupied by the Nazis begin their own crucial self-examinations, we may anticipate further acquisitions coming from other parts of Europe.
Unlike other archives and libraries, we are primarily a centre – and as a centre, our main purpose is dissemination, rather than pure acquisition. Nevertheless, at this point in our historic relationship with the end of the Second World War and the fall of the Third Reich, acquisition is also crucial as we enter our fourth post-war generation. The great-grandchildren of those who fled, have little connection with former homelands. To those who belong to this generation of post-Hitler survivors, boxes kept in the attic mean so little that if a local antiquarian isn’t interested, they’re simply thrown away with the next house move. As a centre located within a Performing Arts’ university, we have access to some of the most talented next-generation artists and scholars and can pitch new repertoire towards those curious enough to explore beyond conventional boundaries.
Vienna’s University of Music and Performing Arts has been enormously supportive and beneficial to our centre, but what neither they nor we could anticipate was the sheer amount of material that would come to us in the first two years of opening.
We now have an impressive collection of original material in desperate need of reproduction. We can encourage young musicians and scholars to explore beyond their natural comfort zones, but it becomes much more difficult when all we have to show is scans of manuscripts on yellowed paper. We need financial help getting material into print, and indeed, we need financial help in having the material performed. It’s quite wonderful when talented, inquisitive students show an interest in “our” composers, but the truth remains, we need a young generation of professionals to champion the music. It’s already started with performances and recent CD recordings of Gál, Bricht and Winterberg as well as a recent recording of the piano music of Karol Rathaus, a collection we don’t hold, but with which we have closely worked.
The University has also offered me the possibility of depositing my own collection, consisting of many books and publications, CDs and above all, the files I started during my days as recording producer of Decca’s “Entartete Musik” series. These, together with the collection of publications and CDs held by my colleague and head of the centre, Prof. Gerold Gruber have given us a large multi-lingual, multi-media resource. Research requires more than Google, and our collections of publications, monographs and various histories stretching back over thirty years or more, offer an historic basis that goes beyond just music.
Gerold Gruber, professor of Music Analysis at Vienna’s University of Music and Performing Arts started exil.arte as a “society” based at the university in 2006. I was asked to join soon after its founding while working as music curator at Vienna’s Jewish Museum. With very little internal support and modest yet crucial grants from Austria’s Zukunfts- and Nartionalfonds (Future- and National Bursary), though without help from the City of Vienna’s municipal government, we were able to build the society to the point of creating a centre ten years later. Dr. Ulrike Anton joined us while exil.arte was still a society, joining as performing musician and musicologist. As a recognised specialist on “Exile Composers” she was featured as flute soloist with works by Hans Gál and Erwin Schulhoff.
In addition, we were also able to produce more or less the complete works of the composer Walter Arlen, covering some six-CDs in three two-CD volumes. During the years of the exil.arte society, Gerold Gruber managed to keep exil.arte’s profile high enough to win prizes from both Austrian and European organisations. We produced concerts, symposia, recordings and publications.
It was during my years at Vienna’s Jewish Museum that I recognised the crisis of European cultural legacies held in inappropriate archives in the new homelands of former Central European refugees. Worse than European legacies held in local libraries, was the realisation of how many were still kept privately under beds, in spare rooms or in garden sheds.
Gerold Gruber and I put together the concept of a centre that could evolve out of the exil.arte society. It was thanks to Gerold Gruber’s reputation within the university and not least with the support of the University’s indomitable president, Ms. Ulrike Sych, that the society was formerly changed to a centre in 2016 and opened to the public in 2017. As president of the University, she also took the decision to place the exil.arte Centre directly under her supervision and not to integrate it within one of the University’s 24 institutes. Ulrike Anton officially joined the team, and we acquired a first rate archivist in Katharina Reischl who had already built a specialist library up from nothing in another institution before joining us. Looking back, it seems quite incredible. We now need a second archivist and an army of volunteers. I can’t say if the next two years will be as dizzying, but I continue to be surprised at how much material is still hidden, or lost or kept privately until someone expresses an interest.
Since our opening, we have been challenged on several points, three of which I would like to address in this essay:
Oft Cited question no. 1: Why Vienna?
Why, it’s often asked, should anyone agree to handing over an artistic estate to the country that was criminally complicit in their original exclusion? This is a complex question and needs to be answered from the perspective of former perpetrators as well as from the perspective of former victims. It also needs to be addressed from the perspective of what I would call a “cultural community”. Every country has its cultural community and no amount of globalisation seems capable of changing certain key values and aspects of any given group, whether it’s how they breakfast, (different in every country on earth) or what broad aesthetic values they hold. This is neither racist nor nationalistic, but a reflection of reality. It’s easy to imagine, for example, the concept of a “French Beethoven”, but far more difficult to imagine Beethoven as French. Artistic output is nearly always a reflection of creative environments, so Vaughan Williams and other British “Pastoralists” were undoubtedly influenced by French Impressionism, but what they produced could hardly have been thought of as “French”.
As a result, victims and perpetrators are closely linked as springing from the same cultural community. One part of the community felt it was entitled to be there while the other part believed it wasn’t. It hardly matters today with the hindsight of 80+ years. The common community from which perpetrators and victims both came was more significant than the individuals. If we take this community together with its myriad perpetrators and victims, we see a common historic and cultural trajectory, offering a rather unified cultural narrative. By this, I mean the performing arts were part of this common narrative while at the same time, in some instances, radically departing from it. To give an example: Schoenberg, born in 1874 would radically depart from the common narrative in 1908 and again in 1923 with twelve-tone composition. Alexander Zemlinsky, born in 1871, Franz Schreker, born in 1878 and Karl Weigl, born in 1881 would continue along the common narrative, the direction of which they influenced through the individuality of their compositional voices. Thus, departure and continuity co-existed. Indeed, in 1904 Zemlinsky, Weigl and Schoenberg would found a fellowship of modernist composers called Vereinigung schaffender Tonkünstler in Wien, with Gustav Mahler as Honorary President.
Concepts such as “modern”, “new”, “contemporary” and “radical” are not synonyms. Nor did “modern” mean “revolutionary”. Even “new” could still be counted as “familiar”. Karl Weigl’s music was new, but it was also familiar. Hans Gál, born in 1890 was also incapable of radicalising his voice when the individuality of his music was distinguishing enough as it was. Evolution meant picking up from yesterday and moving into tomorrow with changes being accommodated for broadened tastes and manners.
Such was the common community that produced victims and perpetrators. Franz Schreker, Alexander Zemlinsky and Erich Wolfgang Korngold were banned in Hitler’s Europe, leaving the field of opera composer open for Richard Strauss and to a lesser extent, Hans Pfitzner. But the question arises if there was a context to Strauss’s creativity that somehow got lost along the way. Or did Strauss simply appear on the horizon like the Colossus of Rhodes? Tragically, even after the fall of the Third Reich, the composers who may have provided such a context, were banned by Hitler’s cultural arbiters and remained unheard after their fall. It comes as a surprise to learn that Korngold was more popular than Strauss and Pfitzner in 1920 with his opera die tote Stadt or that Schreker’s opera der Schatzgräber out-performed any of the operas of Strauss in 1922. Such was the perception of the day that it’s startling to learn that Paul Bekker, one of Germany’s most prominent music commentators declared in 1919, that Schreker as the only logical successor to Richard Wagner with possible competition by Richard Strauss dismissed. What these examples are meant to prove is that the community that produced Strauss, also produced Schreker, Zemlinsky, Korngold and hosts of others.
Of course there were composers lost to us today who weren’t banned by the Third Reich. But what makes Schreker, Korngold and Zemlinsky worth noting, is they carried music forward via the strength of their musical individuality. They represented “the others” within the plurality from which Strauss would eventually reign supreme. It would be welcomed to have operas by Emil von Reznicek, Julius Bittner, Max von Schillings and Wilhelm Kienzl return to today’s opera stages, but none actually enjoyed the wide prominence of Schreker and Korngold or even Hans Gál or Zemlinsky at their height. Removing them, and the many lesser, younger or less immediately recognisable lights from the pantheon of Central European music has left a hole in this common community. Today’s generation of young musicians and scholars cannot be held responsible for this void in what is essentially their own history. To put it more directly: Hitler stole the musical legacies of today’s young musicians as effectively as he stole the paintings of wealthy Jewish families.
These legacies were not just taken from today’s generation of young musicians and scholars, but also from the composers and musicians themselves. There is not one case of a successful composer fleeing Hitler and becoming even more successful in a new homeland. The two possible exceptions are Korngold in Hollywood and Kurt Weill on Broadway, though they both need to be seen more equivocally. Korngold left Warner Bros. as soon as he could after the war and considered his time spent writing film-music as a dozen years of of lost opportunities. Kurt Weill dropped dead at the age of 50 only five years after Hitler’s defeat. Stolen paintings could eventually be restored to their rightful owners, now living in distant lands. The legacies of musicians lying in basements in the Mid-West of the United States, Latin America, Canada or New Zealand are the stolen cultural treasures of today’s generation of European musicians. Documents in a language nobody speaks, written in a handwriting nobody can read remain meaningless to a university librarian in Des Moines, Bogata or Edmonton. The only thing such a university librarian would be interested in is what the relationship was between their institution and the person whose estate has landed in their possession. Even in prestigious collections held in Los Angeles, I’ve seen correspondence, or contracts with the names Klemperer, Furtwängler or Kleiber meaning little to local archivists. The return of musical estates to Central Europe is not handing back legacies to the enemy; it’s an act of cultural restitution to the common community from which it was unlawfully removed.
Oft cited question no. 2: Aren’t some of these, the estates of rather unimportant people?
One of the reasons some of these cultural estates did not find a home in more renowned libraries or archives in Vienna or Berlin was because they were considered legacies of lesser lights. National collections everywhere are full of boxes of brighter cultural lights that have yet to be sorted, indexed and archived, let alone digitised. The thought of taking on someone mostly mentioned on the back pages of a provincial radio listing magazine from the 1920s or 1930s simply did not come into consideration.
Even composers and performers with more important associations, and performances by prestigious ensembles were often dismissed as too insignificant to be taken on by a major national collection. Worse, and a situation exil.arte has already encountered, is that of families holding legacies and not daring to approach a major archive for fear of rejection. We decided very early on, that at this point in history – 85 years since Hitler’s appointment – there is precious little material left to salvage, and as a result, exil.arte would take everything that was offered, even if it was only the musical estate of cabaret singer who performed in venues frequented by refugees, or a composer of salon music or a composer of military music and operettas. We would even take the estate of a politically persecuted Slovakian accordion player who played in nightclubs if it were offered.
The fact is, every estate we’ve taken on is the result of fantastic encounters with destiny. These are not just near-death accounts by people who didn’t know if they would end up in Auschwitz or not, but estates that offer a far fuller representation of musical life in the first half of the 20th century than found in many other archives. After the first acquisitions of estates of composers who hardly registered in the history books, we suddenly realised we were not in a position to stand in judgement as to who was “great” and who wasn’t. Taste and fashion changes, and yesterday’s “kitsch” is today’s repertoire. We’ve already seen this transition take place with Korngold’s violin concerto, a work damned into near oblivion until a decade or so ago.
I wrote about the arrogance of judgements regarding “greatness” or “importance” in an earlier article that dealt with the loss of local music. Just because most composers wrote music to please local audiences with little thought of immortality doesn’t mean they didn’t make a contribution to cultural life. Indeed, the songs by the salon composer Gustav Lewi, dismissed by critics of the day and some of today’s historians, are exceptionally beautiful when heard with the objectivity offerd by the distance of time. The ballet dancer Anna Lelewer from Linz who only found work as a cabaret singer in British exile as Anita Bild showed a compositional brilliance when penning her own material for fellow refugees in London.
The operetta composer nobody had heard of named Robert Frey, was actually the composer of a work that ran for years in one of Vienna’s most important theatres before the Anschluss. Even the son of Theo Buchwald felt his father’s estate was too meagre to take seriously, yet it offered correspondence between Buchwald and fellow South American refugees Erich Kleiber and Fritz Busch.
Every estate represents a pebble in a greater mosaic. With each of our acquisitions, we’ve come a little bit further in discovering what cultural life was like before the cataclysm of the Second World War. For that reason, exil.arte takes everything that’s offered as long as it’s the legacy of a musician, composer or performer persecuted by the Nazis.
Oft cited question no. 3: What about persecuted performers and composers from the former Communist bloc, or from fascist Spain and South America?
The ambivalent legacies of such luminaries as Kurt Masur and Udo Zimmermann from the Former German Democratic Republic are examples of the difficulties one encounters when dealing with the suppression and manipulation of cultural life behind the iron curtain. These were two men who were held in high esteem by the East German Honecker government, yet overnight became beacons of democracy with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Similarly, there were (are) still important figure in Spain who benefited from the years of dictatorship, though now claim to have been victims.
When I launched Decca’s “Entartete Musik” series, I could not have known that the reason it would resonate was because it was an examination of cultural vandalism that had taken place nearly 60 years earlier with Hitler’s appointment as Reich Chancellor. The first release took place 45 years after the end of the war. It was easier to see who was really a victim and who was really a persecutor. Our credible witness from the time was the 90 year-old Berthold Goldschmidt who had been a young man when it all started. He gave us an objective picture of his life and time, exonerated many we believed to have been complicit and condemned others we believed to have been innocent.
He offered clarity to the distorted view offered through the prism of history. We could not have carried out the series with any degree of integrity without Goldschmidt by our side. The fall of the Iron Curtain took place 30 years ago. I believe we shall need a further decade or two before we can form a true picture of the reality that existed in the former Soviet Bloc. In any case, much of the strongest music, and probably the most lasting musical legacies to come out of the 20th century originate from the former Soviet Union. The situation was no doubt intolerable, and under Stalin, it was as criminal as anything the Nazis carried out. What the Soviet Bloc, Iberian and Latin American Fascism did not produce to the same degree, however, was a cultural diaspora with the same impact as that which resulted from the racist policies of National Socialism.
The Austrian Government has been supportive of exil.arte. The Foreign Office has remained unquestioning and willing to support our work by offering to transport estates from distant lands to our centre in Vienna via diplomatic post. Events of Remembrance held by the Austrian Government have continued in cooperation with the exil.arte centre. The University System in Austria is federally, rather than state funded, meaning it is the Republic of Austria that stands behind exil.arte’s work of restoring Europe’s lost musical legacies. These acts of support are hugely appreciated, while at the same time, we recognise that we need support from patrons as well. We need help to mount concerts that take this music to the next level and we need support to help us produce scores and orchestral material to a state that they can be placed on music stands in front of performers. In short, in order to be a centre with an archive, rather than an archive with a centre, we need to have the music in our collection heard.
With each acquisition, we not only come a step closer to offering a bit more clarity about the past, but we come a bit closer to offering something that might be understood as justice. Few can imagine the sensation of hearing a work performed for the first time since its blacklisting 80-odd years ago. The next stage is finding people to help us develop what we have, and to encourage research for the future.
Please check out the exil.arte homepage, and if you can, please make a donation: https://exilarte.org/