Exilarte in the time of Covid-19
This post has been long overdue. It’s been several months since my last article, and over a year and a half since my up-date of Exilarte activities. Prof. Gerold Gruber, the founding head of Exilarte, myself as co-founder and Senior Researcher and our international team consisting of Dr Ulrike Anton, Katharina Reischl, Henriette Engelke, Renate Schiebel, Natalia Villanueva García, Nobuko Nakamura and Lucia Lajčáková have not been left without anything to do over the past year. We’ve kept busy by working remotely during lockdowns and otherwise keeping safe. The first thing one notices, since my previous up-date, is our new spelling. It is no longer written as exil.arte, but Exilarte. (The italics are my emphasis) As bizarre as things may seem, this was due to legal complaints from Arte Television. In any case, I was personally unenthusiastic with the lower-case spelling and the dot between exil and arte. It looked like a cool new-tech graphic that might soon become un-cool and old-tech. In any case, putting everything into lower case is only eye-catching in German. It’s been used to cause a stir since the age of Bauhaus. There are probably valid arguments for not spelling each noun in German in uppercase – but that argument doesn’t apply to proper-nouns, which include the names of organisations. Personally, I welcomed the new spelling – and it will look more intelligible on the banner that will soon (hopefully) be mounted on the front of our building.
The pandemic has kept me housebound in the English countryside. I haven’t returned to my office in Vienna since February 2020. Zoom and Skype have bridged the gap, and I was lucky enough to find someone stranded in Vienna in need of accommodation to move into my apartment. It hasn’t meant we’ve stopped working, despite the fact that the pandemic has put up barriers.
An important development was the request from Vienna’s University of Music and Performing Arts (mdw) to provide last year’s Christmas CD. Each year, a Christmas CD is made by a different institute of the Performing Arts’ University. We were able to go into the studio to record a number of works held in our collection and recorded by University students, or recent graduates. We’re happy to send the CD and DVD to anyone, anywhere in the world, who wishes to have them against a modest contribution. Please contact Natalia Villanueva García on: email@example.com. Contributions can be made on our website: http://www.exilarte.org. If you’re based in America, please make a contribution via the King Baudouin Foundation (marked KBFUS on the website). This allows you to deduct your contribution from tax. Please inform Ms Villanueva García of any contributions you make and she’ll happily forward a copy of the Exilarte CD and DVD to you.
Added to this was a DVD of the excellent documentary on Walter Arlen. You’ll have noticed that I’ve placed various tracks from the CD between sections of this posting so an idea can be formed of some of the material we hold. Already performers such as James Conlon, Marin Alsop and the baritone Christian Immler and the pianist Helmut Deutsch have come to view some of the works that we now house.
We opened an exhibition on the opera-star- movie-star dream couple of the 1930s and ‘40s, Jan Kiepura and Marta Eggerth – this video taking you through the exhibition is presented by Dr Ulrike Anton, a marvellous flutist with whom I’ve produced a number of recordings, a wonderful historian and musicologist and much valued colleague at our Exilarte Centre.
The acquisition of this estate is important not just because they were central to Viennese life pre-Hitler, but because it expands the discourse of what was lost. Yes, creative musical talent was lost, but then interpretive talent was lost as well. With the wealth of memorabilia from operas houses across the globe and from movie studios in Berlin, Vienna and Hollywood, it not only reminds us of a world in which the United States was not the principal cultural arbiter, it reminds us equally of a time when stars of opera could move seamlessly into film. These were not just glorious singers, but beautiful people portraying the romantic leads in the short-lived genre of movie-opera synthesis. It was the precursor to the musical-movie and rearranged the ratio of singing to acting to accommodate the different characteristics of the medium. These were fantastically charismatic performers of a bygone age.
They raise the question of how and when opera separated itself from drama and theatre and become costumed concerts until the emergence of Regietheater and the demise of the all-powerful recording star. As a producer of many opera recordings, I would like to allow myself a provocative digression. With modern recordings post-war, we were able to record singers with glorious, microphone friendly voices. It became apparent that personal stage charisma was no longer a prerequisite and in the studio, the voice was all that counted. In the post-war decades, successful recording artists were suddenly in demand in opera houses by paying audiences who had purchased recordings but wanted to hear these singers “live”. In America, opera houses were built to hold 4000 people whereas even the larger opera houses in Europe sat audiences of up to 2000. Big voices often came in big packages, and big packages were not always the most dramatically pliable. I grew up in an age of loving music and just accepting ungainly acting in “fancy-dress” on opera stages as the theatrical genre I believed it to be. Many opera singers were massive creatures – those with the most ringing tone were often older than the roles they played on stage. There was much talk about opera requiring a “suspension of imagination”; of accepting that we had been polluted by television and film and the aspirational perfection of youthful actors and so on and so on. I loved opera, but hardly ever viewed it as theatre, though there was scenery and singers moving gracelessly about in costumes – often, costumes they personally owned and took from one performance to another, oblivious to what design or direction might have been attempted. Certainly, in Vienna in the 1960s and ‘70s, there were as many different operas a month as days. It was wonderful as a music student and music lover was exposed to a vast variety of works. We accepted the unconvincing gesticulations of performers flown in the day before, in lieu of real acting. If the singers were lucky, they may have been walked through the role the morning prior to performance. It was a wonderful experience, hearing Vienna’s marvellous opera orchestra and incredible singers set on a stage with opulent scenery. But, was it actually theatre in the sense that we had grown accustomed to through our exposure to film and television? Of course not, and we accepted it as such.
It wasn’t until I became music curator at Vienna’s Jewish Museum and in the course of helping to mount an exhibition on “Fifty Years of the International Gustav Mahler Society” that I discovered that Mahler read libretti before looking at a score. As a recording producer, I learned the libretto of every opera I recorded (in as much as this was linguistically possible). I imagined the work as a play and organised my singers in appropriate relationships on the studio sound stage. I felt vindicated in discovering that Mahler had a similar approach. But with each exhibition I mounted, I discovered more and more photos and designs from pre-war performances. I had to listen to historic recordings and I was struck by several things: the singing itself was nowhere near as polished as we had become accustomed to hearing. This discrepancy must have been apparent in the lifetime of anyone who had the good fortune to hear Maria Callas, perhaps a relic from a by-gone age, and idolised because she was so utterly compelling in a theatrical genre that had grown static. To my surprise, the pre-war opera house in Vienna was home to a number of Callas-like performers, such as Maria Jeritza or Jarmila Novotná. Leading men were also of a different type – perhaps represented by Jan Kiepura, or the young Richard Tauber. A sobering revelation occurred to me: the recording industry had turned opera lovers into voice-freaks, and opera as theatre had vanished as a viable concept.
I’ve already touched on this subject in my article on the excellent biography of Frida Leider written by Eva Rieger. She may not have had the extraordinary technique of Wagnerian singers in the post-war era, but my goodness, at her best, she looked, acted and sang the roles of Brünnhilde and Isolde that brought these characters alive.
Of course, the new medium of film introduced its own variant of selectivity. The handsome tenor Joseph Schmidt was too short to make a dramatic impression on stage, but he came across as a moving representative in the genre of opera-movie, a respectable colleague to Jan Kiepura until his death at the age of 38, following internment as a Jewish refugee. Nevertheless, with the exhibition of Jan Kiepura and his beautiful wife, Marta Eggerth, we’re reminded of a bygone age when opera did not require the “suspension of imagination” demanded of audiences during the final decades of the twentieth century.
Nor has the virus halted our continuing acquisition of musical estates. As an exile music research centre, we take ALL genres and should it be offered to us, we welcome all documentation from every aspect of the music industry. If there are children and grandchildren of agents, promoters, critics, teachers or even personal secretaries, with boxes of memorabilia in the loft, please feel free to get in touch. (Haasfirstname.lastname@example.org) Every story is a unique tale of survival and thanks to Vienna’s University of Music and Performing Arts, we have the ability to preserve and digitise everything we receive.
Over the crisis period, we have received verbal and contractual agreements for an estate from Peru, an estate of an operetta composer who died in England, the estate of German composer who ended up in Australia and came to England in the 1960s and the estate of a composer who’s still with us at the age of 101, who wrote cabaret and revue hit songs for Vienna’s Theater an der Wien. Each estate is musically different and as we start to delve into them, I hope to write about the individual composers more comprehensibly. Unfortunately, one of the owners who was on the brink of handing over her grandfather’s musical estate died during the pandemic.
The centre has managed to stage a concert of music by Ruth Schoenthal, Alexandre Tansman, Elena Firsova, Ursula Mamlok, Helmut Jasbar and a commission by Gabriele Proy called Hommage an Ursula Mamlok. For Exilarte, however, the important work was Walter Bricht’s Variations on an Old German Children’s Song. Since acquiring the Bricht estate, the pandemic and other logistics have kept us from profiling him to the extent he deserves.
It’s worth recalling that Bricht is indirectly the reason Exilarte exists. When Vienna’s Municipal Library and Archive agreed to take the estate and then abruptly turned it down for lack of space and personnel, it was clear to me and to my colleague Prof. Gerold Gruber that we needed to set up a dedicated archive and study centre for the music lost during the Nazi years. Vienna’s excellent archives and libraries still break up estates with musical manuscripts going into one collection while letters, documentation and photos go elsewhere. It means any scholar trying to connect a work with accompanying documentation needs to request access to several collections. We keep everything together, meaning each estate becomes its own concentrated “centre”.
We were also managed to award the Exilarte Prize to young performers in the interpreters’ competition featuring music that was lost during the Nazi years. The competition is held in Schwerin and the winner or winners are given a performance in Vienna at our invitation. This year it went to the young German soprano Inga Balzer and her pianist Wolf Tilman for their performance of Korngold’s cycle Unvergänglichkeit.
And speaking of Korngold, Exilarte is also playing its part in the Korngold Critical Edition with Korngold correspondence being edited and referenced by Nobuko Nakamura. Those interested in reading a wide selection of Korngold correspondence, which I’ve translated into English and based on Lis Malina’s selection published in German, will have to wait until the compendium of letters along with my translation of Luzi Korngold’s memoirs is finally published by Toccata Press in a single volume. The start of the Korngold Critical Edition was brought by the family and publishers to Exilarte almost a decade ago and has now been expanded with Mainz and Berlin Academies of Science taking on the editorial work while Exilarte brings out the correspondence. This is a project predicted to last at least another twenty-five years.
Perhaps our most important mission is getting the music out of our archive and onto the music stands of performers. This is a lot more difficult than it sounds. It’s possible to scan manuscripts and hand them out, but orchestral works are more complicated. Rehearsal times are restricted and time is wasted when there are doubts about the material. We need edited notation or the orchestral work is simply not heard. For this reason, we’re in negotiation with music publishers in setting up a cooperative Exilarte editions.
Boosey & Hawkes has already expressed its intention of publishing the works of Hans Winterberg. The Winterberg story becomes ever more intriguing, with more questions than answers. If there was a composer who witnessed all of the horrors the twentieth century could throw at him, it was Winterberg. He was banned as a Jew with the fall of Prague in 1939, forced to divorce his non-Jewish wife in December 1944; he was interned in Theresienstadt the following month – an internment that only lasted a few months as the war ended in May 1945. His mother and first piano teacher had been shot in 1942 in Maly Trostenets. His father’s business had been Aryanised and his partner murdered in Dachau. Winterberg had hardly returned to his home in Prague before his ex-wife and daughter were deported to Germany as German-speaking Czechs under the draconian Beneš decrees. He wasn’t able to follow until two years later arriving in Germany on a Czech passport in 1947. Any plans to return to Prague were thwarted by the Communist coup in 1948, which meant Winterberg needed to find a means of remaining in Germany. He pulled off this feat by posing as a Sudeten German and claiming that he too had been deported. It worked with local officials, but the Sudeten Germans who had genuinely been deported under the Beneš decrees were more sceptical. His success as a composer hardly helped matters. Among the Czechs who had come to Germany under the Beneš decrees, he was the only one whose works received regular performances and broadcasts with Munich’s orchestras, top soloists and chamber groups along with regular broadcasts by Bavarian Radio. Following his death in 1991, the Sudeten German Music Institute managed to acquire the estate and instantly embargoed access to the scores, performances and denied any knowledge of the location of the material until January 1. 2031. Other provisions forbade any reference to Winterberg as a Jew and compelled all future performances to be noted as works by a Sudeten German composer. Winterberg was no more of a Sudeten German than other Prague Jews, such as Franz Kafka or Franz Werfel. Only when the Winterberg story appeared on this blog, which thanks to the lawyer Randol Schoenberg, resulted in me posting the contract with the Sudeten German Music Institute in its entirety, was the embargo lifted. German journalists wondered how a publicly supported institution could have struck a deal with such an obviously anti-Semitic condition attached. The posting on this blog was followed by the composer Daniel Asia mounting a Winterberg mini-Festival the following Autumn in Tucson Arizona. Since then, interest has increased thanks to the tireless work of Winterberg’s grandson, Peter Kreitmeir, who only stumbled on the blockade of his grandfather’s music by chance. He personally digitised every page held by the Sudeten German Music Institute and handed it over to the Exilarte Centre.
Every survivor tells a different story, but Winterberg’s is perhaps stranger and more twisted than most. The music is robust and engages the listener from the first note. Orchestral recordings are planned, and if this covid lockdown resulted in nothing else, it resulted in freeing up the music of Hans Winterberg.
Do visit our website and if you can, please make a donation towards setting manuscripts into notation so that we can make sure the music is presented to performers in a version they can use confidently. We’re grateful for the funding and support we have from Vienna’s University for Music and Performing Arts, and its president Ulrike Sych, along with the support of Austria’s Foreign Office, but we have to rely on outside support for converting manuscripts into print. Any help offered is gratefully accepted.