Jewish Music Identity and the Crisis of Exile: Part 2

los Angeles Times, October 2 1938

“The Prodigal Son”

In an article in the Los Angeles Times from October 2 1938,Rabbi Jacob Sonderling describes his meeting with Ernst Toch, Boris Morros, the actor Leopold Jessner and the story behind Toch’s setting of the Haggadah in his Cantata of the Bitter Herbs op. 65. Before this, however, Sonderling relates his desire to renew the music of the liturgy in a story that resonates with the idea of the prodigal son:

[This] relationship between the bible student and the composer of biblical musical texts dawned upon me while studying the composition by the grandfather of Friedrich Schorr, the famous Metropolitan baritone. The composition dealt with a prayer spoken on the Day of Atonement. The penitent sinner begs God to forgive, “Turn from Thy fierce wrath” comes in a heavy bass voice. And, then, suddenly the tempo changes from Andantino to Allegretto. A soprano takes up the melody and repeats these words in a startling Scherzo. The composer, a cantor in Poland and a thorough student of the Bible, sought to interpret in this melody the relationship between the Jew and God. It was to him the kinship of a father and an erring child. It is intensely human. The child, according to Schorr’s conception, is horrified because of his sins and so he approaches his father in a repentant mood. But fearing the request for forgiveness will not be granted, tries with all the winsome tricks of the child to make Him smile. Therefore, the female soprano voice comes tripplingly out as though to say, “You cannot punish me. See, I make you smile and since you smile, I know you will forgive.

Ernst Toch 1938

Toch’s mother had died the year before, and Toch, who was ordinarily non-observant went to the local synagogue because he knew this would have been the wish of his mother. There he met the local rabbi, a German who had lived in the area long before the arrival of Hitler. Rabbi Jacob (Jakob) Sonderling (1878 -1964) was based at the relatively small synagogue he had founded known as the Fairfax Temple, optimistically adding the sobriquet “Society for Jewish Culture”. In his article from the Los Angeles Times, he goes on to explain his vision of worship renewal in the synagogue. Sonderling was a native German speaker from the German-Silesian town of Lipiny (today Świętochłowice), a doctorate from Tübingen and a position as rabbi in Hamburg following a chaplaincy in the Kaiser’s army, before moving to the United States in 1923. His first two significant encounters with émigré composers were in 1938 with Ernst Toch and subsequently via an introduction through Joseph Achron, Arnold Schönberg.

Toch’s own account on the composition of Cantata of the Bitter Herbs

The oral history offered by Lilly Toch downplays the significance of Religion to her husband. This distance from Judaism is repeated in Constanze Stratz’s published dissertation on Toch’s American works. Yet Toch was perhaps not as secular as Lilly liked to believe. His family, like Erich Zeisl’s (see part 1), was observant without being Orthodox. Both composers left the “Matzos Island”, graduating into more elite circles: Zeisl into the group of artists and writers known as “Junge Kunst”, and Toch, following his marriage into the wealthy Zwack family, moved out of Austria altogether. Lilly (née Lili Zwack) came from a family of wealthy, assimilated and secular Jewish industrialists and bankers. In going through the documentation and listening to LilIy’s oral history, it soon becomes clear how far down the social ladder she had married.

Newly engages Lili Zwack and Ernst Toch (fresh from the Front, World War 1)

On the other hand, she was not what one might think of as “an exceptional beauty”, while Toch was unusually handsome and enormously talented. If she, as the daughter of wealthy Jews was going to marry a poor composer from the “Matzos Island”, she was determined to shape him into Zwack familial expectations. There appears to be a gulf between Toch’s own writings and observations, and Lilly’s oral history accounts. For example, Toch kept a dream diary during psychoanalysis in America in which he mentions encounters with Rabbi Reiss, his religious instructor in Vienna. Religion hung over Toch, like the sword of Damocles. It is reflected not only in his music, but also in his personal writing. In his own account of writing the Cantata of the Bitter Herbs, the first of Sonderling’s important commissions, Toch wrote in German inflected English the following:

It was a chain of happenings in my personal life which led me to write the Cantata of the Bitter Herbs. I learned about my mother’s sudden death in December 1937. My mother was a deeply religious being. She did not adhere to the full orthodoxy of the Jewish tradition but very strongly to some of its rites. The ordained prayers for the dead in the temple she would never miss. We were separated by 6000 miles when she died, all I could do was to dedicate myself to her way and spirit in reaction to my loss. I attended service and the prayers for the dead in a temple. After the service, I spoke to the Rabbi of the temple, Dr. Jacob Sonderling, who mentioned a pending Chanuka celebration for children in which they would take part playfully, and suggested that I bring my child. I did this, and between mother and child, for the sake of both of whom I had taken up religious exercise known to me from childhood, I remembered that, sometime, somewhere it had occurred to me that the Hagada, the scripture commemorating the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt and traditionally read at the family table at Passover addressing itself particularly to the children, might in an oratorio-like way well serve as a subject for music.[…] Obviously, it was implicitly assumed that I would turn to the store of existing, traditionally established music in the Passover services and integrate some into mine. Strangely enough that thought never occurred to me. My conception of the tale told in the Hagada was quite different, was non-denominational and broadly universal. It was the formula of a fate that men have inflicted on men time and again. Whenever it happens it causes sufferings told and untold and calls up powers of resistance, told and untold. It happened to the Jews and it has happened to others.

Cantata of the Bitter Herbs – opening movement, Czech Philharmonic Chorus and Orchestra; Conductor Gerard Schwarz (Milken Archive Recording)
Ernst Toch’s map of Santa Monica from 1938

The Exodus similarities to the situation of Jews escaping Hitler, or other biblical reprieves would continue to be referenced in Toch’s output. Musically it may have begun with the Cantata of the Bitter Herbs, but on a more subtle level, it is reflected in his choice of “the Covenant” in The Genesis Suite” and even his Folksongs of the New Palestine. Following a near fatal heart attack in 1948, he underwent something he referred to as “a religious epiphany”. This resulted in an outpouring of music full of symbolic, religious and Universalists’ references. His First Symphony carried the Luther quote “Although the World with Devils filled should threaten to undo us, we will not fear, for God has wiled his truth to triumph through us.” His Second Symphony was dedicated to Albert Schweitzer and carried the heading of Jacob fighting the angel: “I will not let thee go except thou bless me”. His Third symphony quotes from Goethe’s The Sorrow of Young Werther: “Indeed, I am a wanderer, a pilgrim on this earth – but what else are you?” Its oblique reference to “the wandering Jew” was unmistakable. His Fifth Symphony was given the title Jephtha, and even his one and only twelve-tone work, his string quartet no. 13, opus. 74 carries an epithet of hope by Rilke with obvious religious symbolism: “Verstehst du auch den Strahl der Sonne, bricht er durch Wolken grau und trüb? – Er ist ein Gruß – ein Gruß voll Wonne, ein süßer Gruß – vom fernen Lieb!”  (“It/he is a greeting – a greeting full of joy, a sweet greeting of distant love”) Toch was a copious writer of essays, some of which appear to have been written more for himself than for publication. In lectures with titles such as And Finally, One Word About the Attitude of the Jews, or On Racism, it becomes clear that his religious epiphany in 1948 was anticipated by his return to Judaism following the death of his mother and subsequent Sonderling commission.

The Covenant movement from “The Genesis Suite” RSO Berlin, Rundfunk Chor Berlin, Soloists, Cond. Gerard Schwarz
Toch’s honorary Doctorate from Hebrew Union College

The provenance of Schönberg’s Kol Nidre (which can be heard by clicking on this hyperlink to the Schönberg Center in Vienna) shares several elements with Toch’s Cantata of the Bitter Herbs. Schönberg was raised in an even more Orthodox household than Toch and Zeisl, but had converted to Protestantism only to reconvert in 1933 in Paris. His grasp on religious practice and Jewish dogma was scant, however, as related in Kenneth Marcus’s Schoenberg and Hollywood Modernism,he felt the traditional kol nidre prayer, releasing one from previous vows to be unethical. He was brought around by the fact that he himself had converted and reconverted, thus offering an insight into the release of previous vows. As perhaps a concession to Rabbi Sonderling and his congregation, Schönberg’s Kol Nidre is in G minor, in contrast to his atonal Jakobs Leiter and Moses und Aron. As with Toch’s collaboration with Jessner, Schönberg’s Kol Nidre also required collaboration. Schönberg claims in a letter to Lazare Saminsky that he persuaded Sonderling to re-wirte the kol Nidre prayer to bring it more in line with his own concept. This approach allowed Sonderling to pursue his own objectives of modernising the Jewish liturgy while offering Schönberg the ethical backbone to write the supporting music of a work that he could imagine in both Temple and concert hall.

Kol Nidre from the Shoyen Collection ms 5549

With its revised text, however, it was not taken up by other synagogues. Quite apart from the practical issues involved, (its premiere took place, not at Farifax Temple, but in the Cocoanut Grove at the Ambassador Hotel with members of a film studio orchestra) the text was too reformed for even the most reformed synagogues. It nonetheless focused Schönberg’s thoughts on both his Jewish heritage, his new life in America and initiated a new chapter in his output, followed most notably by one of the most powerful of all musical reactions to the Shoah, A Survivor from Warsaw.

Musical America article on composers working in Hollywood in 1942

Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s opera Die Kathrin had lost its promised performance at Vienna’s State Opera following Austria’s annexation by Nazi Germany. Its premiere was hurriedly rescheduled for Stockholm, but with the outbreak of war, Korngold was unable to attend. The Swedish reviews were largely political, anti-Semitic and anti-German. Korngold’s wife Luzi, organised a surprise performance of extracts of the opera with Warner Bros. Studio Orchestra in March 1941. It was at this performance that Rabbi Sonderling approached Korngold and requested a liturgical work. Unlike Schönberg, Toch and Zeisl, Korngold had not been raised in a religious household. Correspondence from his parents indicates they were more traditional in their religious beliefs, but had taken the decision not to impose their views on either of their two sons, Hans and Erich. It is doubtful that Erich Korngold was completely ignorant on the subject, as he likely received some form of mandatory religious instruction at school. Not to have received any religious instruction would have required a notarised statement that the family was “Konfessionslos”, or without religious confession. For the religiously indifferent, it was probably a bureaucratic step too far. Even if Korngold’s parents did not declare the family “Konfessionslos”, Erich Korngold and his wife Luzi did take this step, raising their two sons without any religious instruction at all. It’s still worth mentioning that in Rudolf Stephan Hoffmann’s 1922 biography of Korngold, written when Korngold was only twenty-five years old, he devotes an entire chapter on Korngold and Judaism. Korngold is only one of many who openly declared that they had not been Jewish until Hitler made them so. If anything, Korngold was much taken by the pageantry of the Catholic Church, which he incorporates in both of his major operas: overtly in Die tote Stadt and symbolically in Das Wunder der Heliane.  

Korngold and family en route to America 1936

The two works produced by Korngold for Sonderling were A Passover Psalm op. 30 for soprano soloist, mixed chorus, orchestra and organ and Prayer, op. 32 for tenor solo, harp, organ and women’s choir. Both works radiate an opulent devotional fervour, along with more than a passing acquaintance with music of the synagogue. The Psalm also reflects Korngold’s attraction to Catholic mysticism with its lush passages ascending ever upwards to the heavens, which subjectively at least, recalls the finale of his opera Das Wunder der Heliane. Its grandeur was meant for the concert hall, and it was subsequently dedicated to the “Society of Music Friends” at Vienna’s Musikverein following a performance April 1951. Sonderling compiled the Haggadah text for the Psalm, while Korngold chose Adonay Elauhenu by Franz Werfel in a version in both Hebrew and English for Prayer.

Passover Psalm premiere Hollywood Bowl, conducted by E.W. Korngold

The Psalm was premiered with Korngold conducting on 12. April 1941; Prayer followed on 1. October of the same year. He placed both works together with his Shakespeare Songs (op. 29 and op. 31) and presented them to his parents for their Golden Wedding Anniversary on September 27, 1941. In a humorous aside, he suggested these might be his “Four Last Songs”, or perhaps an optimistic glimpse into the future. Yet the fact that he chose the two religious works as a present to his parents, (albeit, accompanied by the very secular Shakespeare songs) at least shows an acknowledgement of the religion in which his parents were raised. From the extract of the letter quoted in part 1 from Korngold’s wife, there was also a greater awareness of solidarity within the exiled Jewish community.

Portrait of E.W. Korngold – Korngold private family collection

This awareness of being both Jewish and Viennese, while conveniently discarding any cumbersome religious adherence, is ever present in Korngold’s correspondence in which Yiddish abounds with many puns emanating from the mix of languages and culture. In her memoirs, Luzi Korngold neither denies nor draws undo attention to the family’s Jewishness. This is in itself interesting as her grandfather, Adolf von Sonnenthal was not only the most famous actor of the day and subsequent director of Vienna’s fabled Burgtheater, he was a founding board member of Vienna’s first Jewish Museum and in 1881, one of the first Jews to be ennobled by the Emperor Franz Joseph. With the composition of these two works and their presentation to his parents, there is at the very least a hint of the prodigal son.

Erich Zeisl’s Carte d’identité
Menuhim’s Song from the stage play Hiob by Joseph Roth. Daniel Hope Vln, Jacquae Ammon pno. DDG

Erich Zeisl’s Requiem ebriaco, as its ecumenical name implies, was arguably the most universalist of all of Sonderling’s commissions. Its premiere took place as part of an inter-faith forum concert in the First Methodist Church of Hollywood in a performance by the Santa Monica Symphony in 1945. Its ecumenical outreach is overtly expressed by the non-Jewish “requiem” in the title, inviting inclusivity. His setting of the 92nd Psalm, with its joyous and uplifting paean of thanks is also surprising in this context. Given Zeisl’s motivation to compose the work following confirmation of the murder of his father and stepmother in Treblinka, it seems very far from the traditional Kaddish setting. Its sorrowful opening transforms as it builds up before its impressive fugal finale. Karin Wagner, in her catalogue article for the 2005 Erich Zeisl exhibition at Vienna’s Jewish Museum describes the work as follows:

The expressive introductory theme, parts of which are in [a modal] ‘gypsy-minor’, is closely related to the theme of Menuhim’s Song in Hiob. Augmented seconds also play an important and style-defining role in the Requiem and song-like melodies used in the past become ornamental cantilenas, recitative sequences and melismas in psalmodic rhetoric. Modal structures are of harmonic significance while archaic-sounding parallel chord shifts and the 6/4 time-signature – Zeisl’s ‘prayer meter’ alongside 3/2 time – give the work its ‘Jewish colouration

Requiem Ebraico, Vienna Philharmonic; September 2009

Zeisl himself had the following to say about the work and its provenance:

At that time war in Europe had just ended and I received the first news of the death of my father and many friends. The sadness of my mood went into my composition which became a Requiem, though I had not intended to write one and scarcely would have chosen the 92nd psalm for it. Yet the completed Requiem thus received a deeper meaning than I could have achieved by planning it that way.

Park Avenue Synagogue NYC

Rabbi Sonderling’s commissions exemplify the concept of “return” to community, if not always a return to religious confession. It is striking that all of the composers had wished to expand their musical statements beyond the confines of faith and reach beyond Jewish religious circles. Also striking is the overwhelming presence of triumphant endings in the major, even including Schönberg’s Kol Nidre, final heroic G-Major conclusion. Sonderling was not unique in turning to non-liturgical composers for musical renewal. Initiatives had sprung up from San Francisco to New York.  The most significant of the New York initiatives was undertaken by Cantor David Putterman of Park Avenue Synagogue. Putterman approached secular and even non-Jewish composers such as Roy Harris and the Black American composer, William Grant Still for liturgical works. Sonderling’s willingness to move away from the confines of the religious service into more creative expressions contrasts with Putterman’s more conventional efforts towards liturgical renewal. Where Putterman and Sonderling’s aspirations coincide was their desire that commissioned works remain within the musical language of the commissioned composer. Given Weill’s epic musical treatment of his various Zionist pageants, including Weg der Verheißung – The Eternal Road, his Kiddush, composed for the Sabbath Eve, commissioned by Putterman in 1946, is almost conventional echoing only faintly its Berlin provenance. Kurt Weill’s Kiddush is perhaps more literally a prodigal return to the cantorial traditions of his father and a marked departure from the spit and sawdust soundtrack he concocted for Reinhardt and Werfel’s retelling of stories from the Hebrew Bible.

Order of Service at Park Avenue Synagogue with works by Ben Haim, Marc Lavry, Peter Gradenwitz and other former refugee composers

The premiere of Weill’s Kiddush was on May 10th, 1946 and featured alongside other liturgical works by fellow refugee composers Alexandre Tansman’s English version of the Ma Tovu prayer and a work called May the Words of my Mouth by Paul Pisk. Also performed that evening were earlier commissioned works by refugee composers Paul Dessau, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Heinrich Schalit.

Other “prodigal” composers who were even further from their Jewish roots also wrote works that in some way brought them closer to an identity they recognised as being under siege. This was quite literally the case with Viktor Ullmann, who was born to Christian-converts. Apart from his lost setting of Psalm 130, he left no indication of his Jewish heritage prior to internment in Theresienstadt. Over the course of his life, he had converted from parental Catholicism to Protestantism before finally settling with the Christian influences of Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophy and in 1936, reconverting to Catholicism. Whether as a commission, or out of solidarity, while interned in Theresienstadt, he composed a number of works with strong Zionist or Jewish folk elements.  He incorporated a set of variations on Rachel, a Zionist song by Yehuda Sharret in his last work, the Piano Sonata no. 7. Probably it was Rafael Schächter, or Siegmund Subak or one of the conductors of Terezín’s choruses who gave Ullmann a copy of Das jüdische Liederbuch, from which his arrangements are taken.

Variations on a Zionist Song – Rachel piano: Christophe Sirodeau

Prominent among Ullmann’s Terezín vocal works are his three Yiddish Folk Songs, called Březulinka  (a reference to the birch tree in the first song Berjoskele), op. 58. The individual  songs are entitled Berjoskele, Margarithelech and A Mejdel in den Johren, or The Birch tree Berjoskele; Daisies; A Girl, Who is no Longer Young, Ullmann took the basis for his arrangements from Menachem Kipnis’s published volume of Yiddish folksongs. In the Kipnis collection, the songs have a number of verses, though Ullmann only set the first verse of each. Possibly Ullmann intended to set all verses under the assumption that the inmates would have known them already. In any case, Ullmann took the songs and arranged them for voice and piano, very probably for a folk music concert held by Theresienstadt’s Durra Choir. The songs themselves carry a very specific modernist character unique to Ullmann’s own musical language. Ullmann did not resort to a literal transcription of folk music but created a synthesis of styles.His numerous settings in Hebrew and Yiddish for mixed a-cappella and children’s chorus composed while interned, suggests cultural re-identification via the means of reclaiming folk music. As David Bloch, founder and director of the Terezín Music Memorial Project  stated in his lecture on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of Ullmann’s murder in Auschwitz:

Thus Ullmann, born Jewish, practitioner of several modes of Christian faith, ultimately confronted, if only in a functional, albeit in very artful fashion, some vivid musical expressions of Jewishness in shaping arrangements and variations on material of genuinely Jewish and Zionist character.

It may be fatuous to suggest that arranging folk music was a means of tangential cultural re-identification when carried out by composers not born into Jewish traditions such as Viktor Ullmann. It becomes more intriguing, however, when even avowed, secular internationalists such as Hanns Eisler joined Ernst Toch, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Darius Milhaud to arrange “Palestine Dances and Songs” for the Zionist folk dancer, Corinne Chochem. If these were mere commissions, in what way were they any different from those of Rabbi Sonderling? Merely in accepting these commissions, one can surmise a degree of cultural solidarity. 

Two of only a number of LP recordings of arrangements made by a variety of composers, many of whom were former refugees

Works memorialising the brutality of Nazi anti-Semitism by Jewish composers who as adults lived through these events, such as Schönberg’s A Survivor from Warsaw¸ Eric Zeisl’s Requiem Ebraico, Viktor Ullmann’s Der Kaiser von Atlantis or Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s opera, The Passenger express a dignified lack of pathos. The generation of refugee Jewish composers born in the 1920s, with few exceptions, only addressed Jewish, or Holocaust subjects when commissioned, and rarely as an act of memory. This self-imposed musical silence by those who survived is telling when contrasted with the plethora of often, overwrought Holocaust works by largely American Jewish composers who had no direct experience of Nazi persecution. It recalls the final sentence of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus:  “Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muß man schweigen” – “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”

The Kindertransport, London 1938

The next generation of Jewish-born composers, two of whom we look at in more detail in part three of this extended essay, are less focused on specific questions of Jewish identity, though several of them wrote commissions memorialising those lost in the Shoah. This generation arrived in new homelands as children or teenagers. They grew up with complex experiences, sensing hatred and exclusion at impressionable ages. Their newly acquired identities were more important to them than the Jewish identity Hitler had forced upon their families. If their parents knew they could never fully become more than just émigrés of whatever country provided refuge, cursed to speak heavily accented new languages, their children grew up speaking local languages with the fluency and entitlement of the native-born. The composer Ursula Mamlok, (née Meyer: Berlin 1923 – 2016, Berlin) perhaps spoke for this entire generation when she mentioned that she only became aware of her Jewish heritage when she returned to Germany in 2006, where she found herself speaking at lecture recitals and taking part in the country’s “memory events”.

The young Ursula Mamlok in a photo booth

Ursula Mamlok and Ruth Schonthal (née Schönthal: 1924, Hamburg – 2006 Scarsdale NY) both ended up in the United States via Central and South America. Schonthal studied at Yale with Hindemith, while Mamlok studied with Roger Sessions, Stefan Wolpe and Eduard Steuermann. In numerous interviews, and publications, no mention is made of their Jewish sense of self. Nevertheless, both composers wrote commissioned works memorialising the victims of Nazi persecution: Schonthal’s Third String Quartet Holocaust in Memoriam and Mamlok’s Rückblick – In Erinnerung an die Reichspogromnacht vom 9. November for saxophone and piano. Both of these works were dated and premiered in 2002. Schonthal’s output has several themed references to Judaism: A bird Flew Over Jerusalem, for flute, prepared piano and electronic tape, (1987 – 1992) and her Fantasy Variations on Jewish Liturgical Theme for electric guitar (1993 – 1997).

Ruth Schonthal née Schönthal

Émigré Hollywood composers of this generation, such as André Previn (né Andreas Priwin, Berlin, 1929-2019, NYC) or Ernest Gold, (né Ernst Goldner, Vienna 1921-1999, Santa Monica) had become so assimilated, that with the exception of Gold’s score of the film adaptation of the Leon Uris novel, Exodus, no further reference to Jewish identity was made in their non-Hollywood film compositions.  

This was, however, not the case with the previous generation of Hollywood composers. Korngold, Zeisl and Toch left the movie industry as soon as they could with the end of the war. Hanns Eisler was deported from America in 1948 following House of Un-American Activities hearings. Franz Waxman, (né Franz Wachsmann, 1906 Upper Silesia – 1967, Los Angeles) fits somewhere in-between. Unlike Toch, Korngold or Zeisl, he was not a “classical” composer, but one of Berlin’s most successful Schlager (popular song) composers, as well as pianist with Berlin’s “Weintraub Syncopators”. The “Weintraub Syncopators”, according to the writer Yvan Goll in his scathing portrait of Berlin from 1930, Sodom Berlin, was the only jazz band to have if your event was to count for anything. He went on to find lasting fame as the orchestrator for the film The Blue Angel, with a newly discovered Marlene Dietrich singing Ich bin vom Kopf bis Fuß auf Liebe eingestellt – better known in English as Falling in Love Again. His Hollywood credits can easily stand with those of Korngold, Max Steiner, Alfred Newman, Miklós Rózsa and are too numerous to mention.

Franz Wachsmann / Waxman and the Weintraub Syncopators

Significant for this chapter is his realisation of what had happened in Germany during his years in Hollywood. He began writing serious concert works in the early 1950s. By the end of the decade, he had completed his oratorio Joshua for large orchestra, narrator and soloists. It was premiered to exceptional reviews by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Samuel Adler in Dallas’s Temple in May 1959. His “Holocaust” work from 1964/65, The Song of Terezín, based on the poems by children in the Theresienstadt ghetto moves even further from his Hollywood language towards Stravinskian model of mid-twentieth century modernism. Despite the tragic fate of the children in Theresienstadt, and the optimism of their poetry, Waxman maintains a rarefied seriousness that avoids gratuitous pathos.

Waxman in Hollywood

It would be wrong to miss out the Italian composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895 Florence – 1968, Beverly Hills) who like Toch, Zeisl, Korngold and Waxman ended up writing Hollywood film music, indeed he was involved in some 200 projects though most of his work was uncredited.

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco

Possibly his most famous film-score came when Rita Hayworth commissioned him for The Loves of Carmen (1948). His overall output is enormous with over 200 opus numbers, and half as many again without opus. Yet, unlike most of the other composers in this survey, he was continuously writing “Jewish music”. One of his earliest is a vocalise from 1928 Chant Hébraique. There followed a commission for men’s chorus from the Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam Lecha Dodi in 1936 (reworked in 1943 for cantor and mixed choir); a Sacred Service, (1943) the “small cantata” Naomi and Ruth (1947) a biblical oratorio, The Book of Ruth (1949); Song and Processional for a Jewish Wedding (1950); the oratorio, The Book of Jonah (1951). From this point on, he composed an oratorio based on Hebrew scripture at regular intervals until his death in 1968. (The last being The Book of Tobit “a Scenic Oratorio” was completed in 1965). For Castelnuovo-Tedesco, being Jewish was not something he returned to but a central and continuous feature of his creative life. 

Castelnuovo-Tedesco work commissioned by Park Avenue Synagogue

Lukas Foss (né Lukas Fuchs, Berlin 1922 – 2009, NYC) and Joseph Horovitz (1926 Vienna) are examples of composers who did not consider themselves to be “exile” composers or even German or Austrian composers. Horovitz remains a member of the British music establishment, with only a single work recalling his experiences as a refugee: his quartet no. 5, about which he wrote the following:

The emotional content of the music was deeply influenced by the fact that the commissioners, [The Amadeus Quartet, who premiered the work in 1969] the dedicatee, [Sir Ernst Gombricht, the noted art historian] three of the performers and I, the composer, were all Viennese refugees. We had made our home in England in 1938 after the surface Gemütlichkeit of Vienna cracked overnight from the pressure of the festering growth below. I was eleven then and this experience had not consciously influenced my music during the intervening thirty-one years. I believe that the long interval provided an essential perspective for a musical work to encompass extra-musical ideas; without such a digestive process, it might well become limited to mere reportage.

Just as Horovitz saw himself as a British composer born in Vienna, Lukas Foss saw himself as quintessentially an American composer born in Berlin. Unlike the above-mentioned composers, Foss did write a number of Jewish themed works, many of which have been recorded by the Milken Archive of Jewish Music (“The American Experience”).

Lukas Foss

Yet his own observation on the question of being a Jew was as follows:

I am very conscious of my place in this world as a Jew, but I never ask myself whether or not I write as a Jew.”  It is an observation that possibly stands for a generation of Jewish composers born in the 1920s, made to flee their homelands after 1933. New homelands defined their identity far more than the persecution of their Jewish parents.

Part 3 to follow: Song of Songs and Das hohe Lied – a comparison