The Winterberg Puzzle’s Darker and Lighter Shades

Hans Winterberg: 1901-1991
No. 4 (Vivacissimo) of Hans Winterberg’s Seven Neo-Impressionistic in Twelve Tone (1973) Piano: Brigitte Helbig, Toccata Classics

Perhaps one of the single most important achievements of this blog has been to highlight the story of the composer Hans Winterberg. Since the initial Winterberg posting in 2015, there has been a festival that placed Winterberg together with Kurt Weill and Arnold Schoenberg in Tucson Arizona, organised by the composer Daniel Asia. There have been recordings of Winterberg’s chamber music, his piano works and a double-CD re-release of the historic orchestral recordings made by Bavarian Radio. A recording of his songs is on the verge of release, and orchestral recordings are scheduled in Berlin this summer. Most significantly, Winterberg has been taken by the publisher Boosey & Hawkes, confirming his legitimacy within the twentieth century canon.  My previous blog entry, called The Ominous Hans Winterberg Puzzle has now been replaced by this entry. The previous entry has been overtaken by events and the emergence of new information. The blanks in the Winterberg puzzle highlighted in the previous article were filled with speculation and supposition. Binary situations were put forward that now appear far more complex. There are still gaps, holes and contradictions within the Winterberg story, but in his attempts to survive and compose, even these lacunas appear to form an intelligible pattern.

Boxes of Winterberg manuscripts clearly marked as embargoed until January 1, 2031. His music was not to be heard or any information on Winterberg made available until 40 years after his death

For those coming to Winterberg for the first time, there follows a chronology of dates and events. Contradictions and confusion still inhabit certain periods of his life, but as mentioned above, even these are now forming a pattern that leads to a more coherent understanding of Winterberg and the means by which he managed to survive.

Opening of Stationen – Stations (1974), Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, cond. Rainer Miedel (rec. 1974) Pierien Records

Hans Winterberg was born on 23. March, 1901 in Prague. Though he was known as “Hanuš Winterberg” in Czech circles and signed his earliest publicity photos as “Hanuš”, his family and friends knew him as “Hans”. His father was Rudolf Winterberg and his mother was Olga (née) Popper. The family was Jewish, counted important Rabbis as ancestors and had lived in Prague for some three centuries. As a precociously musical child, Winterberg studied piano at Prague’s Conservatory with Terezie Goldschmidtova (née. Thèrese Wallerstein), who was also the teacher of the composer Hans Krása (1899 – 1944), to whom we shall return later. Both Winterberg’s mother and piano teacher were shot in Maly Trostinez in 1942. His father Rudolf, who owned a textile factory in Rumburg (today Rumburk) in the Suedetenland with his brother- in-law, Hugo Fröhlich, died in 1932. The factory was expropriated in 1939 and Hugo died a few months later in Dachau.  Hans’s younger brother Franz, (1903 – 1988) died near Cologne frustrated by any attempt to gain restitution for expropriated property, which assuming it was still operational post 1945, had passed into the hands of the Communist Czech government.

Aryanisation papers of Winterberg factory

From what little we can glean from his early years, it’s clear Winterberg was musically precocious as a child, having been taken by Wallerstein as a pupil at the age of nine. Another thing that surprises are the professionally made publicity photos, signed “Hanuš Winterberg” made when he was only twenty. He clearly had potential to grow into an important figure in Prague’s musical life. He later studied conducting with Alexander Zemlinsky, (also Krása’s composition teacher) and composition with Fidelio F. Finke at Prague’s German Music Academy.

Publicity Photo of Winterberg from 1921, signed “Hanuš Winterberg”

The composers Hans Krása, Viktor Ullmann and Pavel Haas were all born within five years of each other.  Erwin Schulhoff was born five years before Ullmann and Haas in 1894. Gideon Klein, who with Hans Winterberg would later become a pupil of Alois Hába in 1939 and 1940 at Prague’s Czech Music Conservatory, was nearly a generation younger, born in 1919, while Bohuslav Martinů was the elder statesman, born in 1890. Together, this group would have made up a representation of Czech individuality as distinctive as any collective musical aesthetic in Europe in the early twentieth century. Czech cultural bridges appear to have been extended across Germany and Austria into France where elements of Impressionism, neo-classicism, jazz and folklore were fractured through a uniquely Bohemian prism.   

A generation of Czech composers exiled or killed during the Second World War: Brohuslav Martinů 1890-1959; Viktor Ullmann 1898-1944; Erwin Schulhoff 1894-1942; Lower row: Pavel Haas 1899-1944; Hans Krása 1899-1944; Gideon Klein 1919-1945

In fact, all of the composers mentioned above, with the exception of Klein, were born Austrian. Viktor Ullmann never bothered to take up Czech citizenship post-1918 and remained Austrian until 1938 when Austria ceased to exist. The Austria these composers were born into, however, had little to do with the Austria of today. Until 1918, the majority of Austrians were not native German-speakers. Most people born into the Austria pre-First World War spoke a Slavic language with large numbers of citizens speaking Hungarian, Romanian or Italian. Equally, there were communities that spoke Yiddish.  The regions within this pre-1918 Austria that spoke German, more or less represent today’s Austria, with a crescent of German speakers extending along the Bohemian, Moravian borders with Germany and reaching into the Italian South Tyrol. As can be seen in the map, German was spoken in various outlying communities, but like English in South Africa and India, German was the common language for intercommunication. The German speaking regions of Greater Austria were referred to as “German-Austria” to differentiate itself from all of the other regions and languages in “Greater Austria”. The Czechs had a strong sense of national identity, but had no national state to go along with it. The German and Czech cultures and identities were so intermingled that the greatest of Czech nationalist composers, Bedřich Smetana, was German speaking and born Friedrich Smetana, He only learned Czech as an adult. One’s native language and sense of national identity were not the same.  It was equally true of Franz Liszt who barely spoke Hungarian, with German his native language. The critic Eduard Hanslick complained that Liszt even preferred speaking French to other German speakers. None of this stopped Liszt from strongly identifying as Hungarian.

Habsburg Austria-Hungary, 1910 with German speaking regions marked in red

Among the generation of Czech composers born from 1890 until 1920, Krása, Ullmann, Schulhoff and Winterberg were raised in German speaking homes. Haas, Klein and Martinů were Czech speakers, yet also spoke German, the language of high and middle schools in the Habsburg empire.  23% of the population in Moravia and Bohemia were German speakers. Max Brod described Prague as a city that was 100% Czech, German and Jewish. Of the above-mentioned Czech composers, only Martinů was not Jewish. All of them were musically related to Leoš Janáček, offering a synthesis of folklore, polyrhythms and polytonality, fractured melodic lines and translucent orchestrations evoking landscapes and atmosphere.

Ballade um Pandora (1957) Opening movements of “Moderato” and “Poco Misterioso”; Munich Philharmonic, cond. Rudolf Alberth (rec. 1959) Pierian Records

Prior to 1918, native Czech speakers were looked down upon by German speakers. They were disadvantaged professionally and treated as second-class citizens. It inflamed a sense of Czech nationalism that with the emergence of Janáček broke with the Germanic template of previous nationalist composers such as Dvořák and Smetana.

With the defeat of Austria in the First World War, the various components that had previously made up “Greater Austria” were parcelled out into individual nation states with Czechoslovakia and Poland being the principal beneficiaries. Czechoslovakia, however, inherited the multi-ethnic legacy of the Habsburg. In 1930, a census was taken to establish the ethnic and linguistic make-up of Czechoslovakia. Those filling out the census forms needed to confirm if they were culturally and linguistically Czech, German, Hungarian, Slovakian, Polish or Ruthenian. This census is important because those who marked themselves as “German” were later expelled by Edvard Beneš’s government in 1945, following Hitler’s defeat. Yet, equally worth noting was the change in status of the German speaking minority after 1918. If Germans had treated Czech speakers as second-class citizens prior to 1918, the shoe was now firmly on the other foot. Recognition of this changed status may have been Rudolf Winterberg’s motivation in filling out the 1930 census on behalf of the whole family and marking everyone as “Czech”.  It’s plausible that the family textile factory in the German-speaking Sudetenland Province might have been disadvantaged with public contracts had the owners been “German”. It’s equally possible that like many German speaking Czechs, loyalty to the new Czech Republic was stronger than fealty to German identity. We really cannot know for sure what Rudolf Winterberg’s motivation was in marking everyone as linguistically Czech. By the time of the census, Hans Winterberg was already established as a working professional musician based in Brno and Jablonec nad Nisou as pianist, accompanist and repetiteur. He would later protest that his father marked him as “Czech” against his will and specific instruction. As we shall see, this apparently minor infraction, based in all probability on opportunistic expedience, or patriotic idealism would have enormous repercussions within the Winterberg story.

The Czech Census of 1930 with the Winterberg family clearly marked as Czech

In the same year as the census, Winterberg married the pianist, composer and former pianistic child prodigy, the Roman Catholic Maria Maschat, born in 1906 in Teplitz (today Teplice) in what after 1918, became part of the district known as the Sudetenland. In 1935 their daughter Ruth was born. Political reality would soon up-end all of the private circumstances of this young and talented family.

Maria Maschat and Ruth Winterberg

The Sudetenland was a largely German-speaking region of the newly formed Czechoslovakian Republic. It straddled the Sudetes Mountains of Southern Poland and the Northern tips of Czechoslovakian Moravia, Bohemia and former “Austrian Silesia”. In fact, all of Czechoslovakia’s border regions with Germany and Austria were largely German speaking with only islands of German speakers dotted throughout the rest of the country. One of these northern border regions established itself into a self-contained political entity upon the founding of the Republic of Czechoslovakia and called itself the “Sudetenland”. Soon, and as a matter of linguistic convenience, all of the German speakers living in the Czech border regions were also referred to as Sudeten Germans, though most lived far from the Sudetes Mountains. It was easier than referring to German-Bohemians or German-Moravians as these individual states had in any case been united into the single Czechoslovakian nation state.

The Province of ‘Sudetenland’ 1918
Second Movement of the Sudetensuite, a trio for piano violin and cello composed in 1964, presumably after meeting his fourth wife Luise Maria Pfeifer who came from the Sudetenland; Vln: Gerhard Seitz; Vcl: Walter Nothas, Pno: Günter Louegk (recorded 1966)

With Hitler’s assumption of total power in Berlin, German nationalism began to flourish and the German speaking communities in former Austria that now found themselves in the newly founded republics of Czechoslovakia and Poland remembered the desire of “German Austria” to be folded into the German Weimar Republic after the First World War. According to the post-war peace treaties or Versailles and Saint-German-en-Laye, each of the many peoples who were former citizens of Habsburg Austria deserved the self-determination of a dedicated nation state, defined primarily by language and culture. To German-Austrians and other German speakers in Eastern Europe, now citizens within these new nation states, and sensitive to their minority status in countries where previously they had made up the ruling elite, it seemed national identity was being afforded to Eastern Europeans at the expense of German aspirations for the same thing. More specifically, Konrad Henlein, head of the Nazi party in the Sudetenland began a diplomatic campaign that was meant to draw attention to the plight of German speakers at the hands of the Czech majority. With Hitler bristling with indignation and announcing his attempt to march into Czechoslovakia, the British, French and Italians met in Munich, having dis-invited Czech representatives and agreed to hand the state of the Sudetenland over to Nazi Germany, a deal that was declared as “peace in our time”. As far as Hitler was concerned, all of the German speaking border regions needed annexing and announcing that Czechoslovakia was breaking apart along ethnic lines, his troops marched into Prague in March 1939,  a year after the annexation of Austria, and declared the Bohemian and Moravian “Protectorate”.  In reality, both of these majority Czech speaking states had been subsumed into Greater Germany with the intention of exploiting Bohemia’s advanced industrial base.

The Nazi High Command in Prague,1939

Winterberg and his wife found themselves in what Nazi laws called a “mixed-race marriage”, and for reasons not yet established, they were even elevated to the status of “privileged mixed-race marriage”, probably because they had a child and the non-Jewish spouse was a native German-speaker, originally from the Sudetenland. Indeed, she and her daughter, who under Nazi-race laws would have been designated “half-Jewish” were accorded German citizenship in 1941. Pavel Haas, a Czech speaker who was married to a non-Jewish Czech speaker, also had a daughter, but their marriage was not designated as “privileged”. Haas’s wife, a medical doctor was not allowed to work until the marriage was forcibly ended by divorce. Haas was not allowed to work at all and in 1942, he was taken to Theresienstadt Ghetto. 

Series of Photographs of Hans Winterberg hiking with his daughter Ruth in 1937

We also know that in 1940, Winterberg was studying composition with Alois Hába, a microtone composer and ardent Czech nationalist at Prague’s Czech language Conservatory. Winterberg’s classmate was Gideon Klein, who only a year later would also be sent to Theresienstadt, before joining Haas, Viktor Ullmann, Hans Krása on the fatal death-transport to Auschwitz in October 1944.

Student Register – Gideon Klein is no. 3; Winterberg no. 7

As already mentioned, Winterberg’s mother had also been sent to Theresienstadt before her murder in Maly Trostinec in 1942. Matters appear to have become even more precarious for Winterberg when a year after acquiring German citizenship, Maria, Ruth and Hans began to live apart, further exposing Winterberg to the Nazi policy of removing Jews from civil society. 1942 appears nonetheless to have been reasonably productive for Winterberg, composing his second string quartet and a suite for piano and violin. Possibly, he had even began work on his Second Symphony, which was completed the following year in 1943. From 1943 until his deportation in 1945, Winterberg was made a slave labourer, thereby sparing him from earlier deportation to Theresienstadt, and saving him from the fatal transport in October 1944.

Symphony no. 2, Munich Philharmonic, cond. Jan Koetsier – Bavarian Radio broadcast from 1959
Deportation orders to Terezín (Theresienstadt) Above for Hans in 1945 and below for his mother Olga in 1942

After the war, in 1956, Winterberg applied for restitution from the German government for his two years of “forced labour”, ending in 1945; yet as noted in Winterberg’s own register of works, his Second Symphony was completed in 1943. In 1944 he only managed to complete a suite for piano and clarinet, and in 1945, he composed what became his First Suite for Trumpet and Piano. It suggests that someone was able to hold a protective hand over Hans Winterberg during the years of Nazi occupation. We don’t know what the “forced labour” was that Winterberg carried out, but whatever it was, it kept him safe until his luck ran out in January 1945, following divorce from Maria in December 1944. Possibly, they were already estranged by this point, or the situation had made their marriage impossible to manage. In any case, the Nazis were eager to enforce divorce among those in mixed-race marriages, and where coupled refused to divorce, they were already making plans to deport and exterminate the Jewish spouses. In many cases, both partners in the marriage were murdered. Indeed, this policy had already begun as recounted in Viktor Klemperer’s diaries.  

Hans Winterberg in Theresienstadt 1945
Theresienstadt Suite 1. Mov. Präludium; Pno. Brigitte Helbig; Toccata Classics

Winterberg was only interned in Theresienstadt from January to June 1945. During this time, he composed his Theresienstadt Suite for piano and built himself a chessboard.

Winterberg’s chess board, rescued from Theresienstadt

The Ghetto was liberated in May 1945 by Soviet troops, but Winterberg was not cleared to return to his home until June. It seems likely that Maria and Ruth were not living in the same accommodation, but again, we can only speculate.  The Potsdam Conference in August 1945 agreed that much of Eastern Europe, and all of its Slavic speakers should remain within the Soviet Union’s security sphere, and allow Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary to proceed with the expulsion of all German speakers, whom, rightly-or-wrongly, were seen as provoking German expansionism. Estimates vary, but between twelve and fourteen million German speaking East Europeans were put into cattle cars or force-marched out of the country. They were often given only a few hours’ notice before having their property expropriated and told to leave. Many people died, and huge numbers of children were separated from families.  In Early December 1945, Maria and Ruth Winterberg were also forced to leave and settled in Ammerland on Bavaria’s Starnberg Lake.

Application for a Czech passport follow restitution of Czech citizenship in 1946

On 20 June 1945, Winterberg had his Czech nationality re-instated. As a Jew, he had lost his nationality under Nazi law. German speaking Jews in Czechoslovakia were not enthusiastic about the prospect of being deported to a country that had only recently been forced to abandon its policy of Jewish genocide. Defeat did not remove Germany’s anti-Semitism. In this context, it is not at all curious that despite what Winterberg later claimed, he went on to apply for the reinstatement of his former Czech citizenship. When Maria and Ruth were deported in December 1945, he applied for a Czech passport in 1946 saying he had handed his musical manuscripts to friends in Europe for safekeeping. Again, the timeline doesn’t necessarily stack-up: the Beneš Decrees resulting in the enforced deportation of German speaking Czechs took place in July to October 1945. Manuscripts that Winterberg might have handed to friends could have been retrieved. In all likelihood, he handed his most valuable material to his ex-wife Maria, but again, there is a period of nearly six months, during which the material could have been returned. In any case, we can surmise that Winterberg was a recognised and respected young composer, which would explain the Czech officials’ positive and sympathetic response to his request. He was issued with a passport in 1947, following which he arrived in Riederau in Ammersee, close to his ex-wife and daughter. Ruth, in fact, was damaged through her various war and deportation experiences and attended a special school for children suffering from trauma. The only work Winterberg appears to have composed in 1947 was the Third Piano Sonata.

Ammersee as painted by Hans Winterberg

We don’t know if Winterberg never had any intention of returning to Prague. When we arrive at the crucial year of 1948, we know that Maria found a low-level editorial position at Bavarian Radio for Hans Winterberg, along with a teaching position at Munich’s Richard Strauss Conservatory. Winterberg had only arrived in Germany the previous year. He arrived on a Czech passport as a Czech citizen. In February 1948, a Communist coup d’état toppled the democratic government of Edvard Beneš, who remained as president until June before resigning in favour of the Communist Party Leader Klement Gottwald. With Czechoslovakia now locked into the Stalinist bloc, being a Czech citizen in what was soon to become, “West Germany” would have exposed Winterberg to possible deportation against his will back to Czechoslovakia.  Winterberg was as far as we know, not politically engaged. It may not have occurred to him to present himself as an opponent of Communism in order to remain in Germany. Possibly, he didn’t even know himself if he was an opponent. Whatever the reasons, it was around this time that he decided not to return to Prague.

Concerto for piano and orchestra 1948, 1st Mov. Pianist: Agi Brand-Setterl, conductor: Fritz Rieger; Munich Philharmonic 1950

The assumption that Winterberg may have been passing himself off as a German victim of the Beneš Decrees presented a different array of problems given the large number of Czech-Germans who knew Winterberg from Prague or from his time working in various Czech provincial cities. One of the most sceptical of these former acquaintances was the musicologist and composer Heinrich Simbriger. From a copy of a letter we have of Winterberg replying to charges made by Simbriger, we can see he was asked to clarify a number of accusations presented as questions. Simbriger clearly did not “buy” Winterberg’s account and when asked if Winterberg spoke Czech, Winterberg replies to Simbriger “have you ever heard me speak Czech?” When asked about his registration as “Czech” on the census of 1930, Winterberg maintains he argued with his father who had filled in the form on his behalf, marking him “Czech” against his will. Winterberg’s story appears to have washed. We have further correspondence from various German offices dealing with his application for German citizenship or residency, in which bureaucrats believe he was held in Theresienstadt until 1947.

Heinrich Simbriger 1903-1976

One Sudeten German who very much believed in Winterberg as a composer was Fritz Rieger, the conductor of the Munich Philharmonic, and a former member of the Nazi Party. Winterberg and Rieger had both studied composition with Finke and though Rieger was a bit younger, he appears to have known Winterberg and held him in the highest esteem.

Fritz Rieger 1910-1978

Thanks to Rieger’s intervention, Bavarian Radio made recordings and broadcasts of a number of Winterberg’s compositions: his symphonies, three of his four piano concertos, several ballets and pantomimes and a number of orchestral and chamber works. Munich’s top soloists and orchestras participated in the performances and recordings and there can be no doubt that of all the Beneš Decree “Sudeten Germans”, Winterberg was the most successful among composers.  He was of course no more of a “Sudeten German” than Franz Kafka, Gustav Mahler, Erich Korngold, Franz Werfel or Rainer Maria Rilke. Like Winterberg, Rilke, Werfel and Kafka hailed from Prague.  Mahler died before the concept of “Sudeten German” had been called into existence and Korngold only thought of himself as Austrian. Moreover, unlike the other “Beneš Decree” German-Czechs, he had actually entered Germany on a Czech passport as a Czech citizen.

Second wife, Heidi Ehrengut and Hans Winterberg
Heidi Ehrengut as sketched by Hans Winterberg

Winterberg, who was an accomplished artist, went on to marry another three times. His fourth wife, Luise Maria Pfeifer was also from the Sudetenland and had been marched into Germany while heavily pregnant with the son of a former SS man. 

fourth wife, Luise Maria Pfeifer

By the time she and Winterberg married, her son Christoph was a student in Munich and already in his early twenties. He and Winterberg did not have a close relationship, but the relationship with the erratic and difficult daughter Ruth appears to have convinced Winterberg to adopt Christoph. What he could not have known was that Christoph was just as damaged as Ruth. He never married, lived in total isolation without contact to the outside world, was a compulsive hoarder and made something of a living by buying and selling posters of old German movies to collectors. When Winterberg and Luise Maria died within a couple of weeks of each other, Christoph rather than Ruth inherited the musical estate. Heinrich Simbriger, despite lacking all understanding of Winterberg’s music and disapproving of him as a person, appears to have convinced Winterberg to leave his musical estate to Simbriger’s archive at the “Künstlergilde Esslinger” (Esslinger Artists’ Guild), an archive subsequently taken over by the Sudeten German Music Institute (SMI) in Regensburg.

Christoph Winterberg

The following is the full text in German of the contract between Christoph Winterberg and SMI (Sudeten German Music Institute, signed in 2002. A brief summary follows below in English.

Presumably, mindful of his adopted father’s wishes, Christoph Winterberg approached the SMI in 2002 who bought the estate for the sum of DM 6000, or approximately $3,000. The contract contained disturbing conditions. For German readers, I’ve included a scan of the contract in its entirety above, but for those who don’t read German, it’s worth highlighting the following points:

  1. The Winterberg estate was to be embargoed until January 1. 2031. (forty years after Winterberg’s death, leaving only thirty years of remaining copyright)
  2. The SMI was to deny holding the estate and refuse to offer any information about Winterberg or his family until the embargo was lifted.
  3. Upon lifting the embargo, Winterberg was only to be performed as a “Sudeten German composer”. It not allowed to reference Winterberg as a Jew. The ban on referencing Winterberg as a Jew was to be enforced with a penalty of DM 10,000 – a condition that was subsequently scratched out of the contract (though not initialled) and remains clearly visible.
opening: Arena 20. Jahrhundert für Sinfonieorchester (1979);  Symphonieorchester Graunke (1981)
Photo signed “Hanuš”

In short, Winterberg’s Czech and Jewish heritage was to be replaced with that of a Sudeten German. The problem with this is that Winterberg’s music is audibly Czech in character. The Winterberg generation of composers were building bridges to Paris rather than to Vienna or Berlin. Sudeten Germans, such as Simbriger, were conscience of musically identifying with non-Czech traditions. Simbriger was himself much influenced by the Austrian composer Josef Matthias Hauer. Winterberg, on the other hand, is a child of Janáček, a close relative to Martinů, a musical brother to Hans Krása, Erwin Schulhoff and Pavel Haas. The polyrhythms and inner rhythmic tension reminds listeners more of Bartók than Hindemith, Berg or Schönberg. His use of folksongs and ability to evoke landscapes through Czech impressionism has nothing German about it. Polyrhythms, polytonality, broken melodic lines, abrupt musical turns, unrelenting forward movement and total lack of musical stasis mark Winterberg out as the only survivor of Czech musical developments in the early twentieth century.  In a letter from 1967 to the composer Wolfgang Fortner, Winterberg wrote:

As a composer, I’ve got to know, so to speak, all of the music-developments of our century and have worked within each of them, starting with Impressionism or Expressionism from the 1920s, during a period when serial and atonal compositions from Schoenberg and his followers were also current. Later, and since my emigration from Prague (after the Second World War), I’ve intensively followed new music developments, which have taken place specifically here in Germany. Nevertheless, after many long decades of musical roundabouts, I’ve finally found for myself, even if only in my more advanced years, a personal style that not just in my own opinion, represents something akin to a free variation of serialism

Hans Winterberg

He refused to conform to Germanic musical norms or yield to new ideas coming out of Darmstadt or Cologne. His music was Czech and audibly so from the first bars. Simbriger knew it and the question remains as to who initiated the ban on Winterberg upon the SMI’s acquisition of his estate. Simbriger had in any case been dead since 1976, so obviously could not influence the decision of Widmar Hader, director of the SMI in 2002. It seems doubtful that the adopted son would have insisted on banning all acknowledgment of Winterberg’s existence until forty years after his death.

The opening and the final minute of Winterberg’s String Quartet 1957; Sonnleiter Quartet 1971
Death notice, with fourth wife Louise Maria’s death following only weeks later

In 2015, I received an email from Randol Schoenberg, the lawyer who was responsible for having the Klimt portraits of Adele Bloch-Bauer restored to Bloch-Bauer’s niece Maria Altmann. He is also the grandson of two notable composers: Arnold Schönberg and Erich Zeisl. The email contained only an attached copy of the contract with the reference line: “Something for your blog?”

Ruth Kreitmeir née Winterberg and son Peter 1955

Subsequent correspondence confirmed that Winterberg’s daughter Ruth had married, and in 1955, given birth to Peter Kreitmeir. Only a few months later, Ruth abandoned both son and husband; the Bavarian courts accorded parentage rights exclusively to Peter’s father, something very uncommon in Catholic Bavaria. Peter grew up, married and became a goldsmith in Murnau, high in the Bavarian Alps. When his own marriage collapsed, he decided to find Ruth, his biological mother. It was not a happy reunion. She was unwell, hospitalised and wanted nothing to do with Peter, dying shortly after their one and only meeting. Peter persisted in his search and eventually stumbled on his grandfather and his adopted “uncle”, Christoph. 

Extract from opening of ‘Reiseballade’ (Travel Ballade) 1958, Bamberger Symphoniker, cond. Joseph Strobl, 1963

I decided to post the contract in its entirety on my blog, and write what we all assumed to be the correct account of Hans Winterberg. At the time, Peter and I believed that Winterberg was indeed a Sudeten German who had remained in Theresienstadt until released by the Czech authorities in 1947. Months later, this version was discarded as more and more information emerged. Peter had not only procured a copy of the contract, he had managed to acquire copies of Bavarian Radio broadcasts of his grandfather’s music. I decided to accompany my article with extracts from these historic recordings. (many of which still accompany this entry) Within days of posting, German journalists contacted me and asked how a publicly funded institution such as the SMI could have drawn up such a contract. When confronted by journalists, Christoph panicked and without further ado, handed the rights and responsibility of Winterberg’s estate to Peter Kreitmeir, Winterberg’s biological grandson. Peter’s first act was to lift the embargo.

Grandson Peter Kreitmeir after removing the cross from Hans Winterberg’s grave

The composer Daniel Asia decided to mount a Winterberg Festival in Tucson Arizona, where he heads the music department at the University of Arizona. The chamber music performances were Winterberg’s first performances in the United States and resulted in the first modern studio recording of his works.  There soon followed further performances and recordings of piano works by Christophe Sirodeau and Brigitte Helbig; Winterberg songs (still to come out), and a release of two-CDs’ worth of a selection of Bavarian Radio’s historic recordings.

Currently available recordings of Winterberg

As Peter procured further documentation and information from the Czech government, it became apparent that Hans Winterberg had never been a Sudeten German and all appearances to the contrary were mere survival tactics. The reasons for embargoing performances of his music or access to the estate began to look increasingly suspicious. Attempts to remove the estate from the SMI were thwarted to the point that Kreitmeir had no choice but to make scans of every page held by the SMI in the highest resolution possible, which he then deposited with our Exilarte Center in Vienna. A court decision to release the original material to Vienna was further thwarted by the SMI, though by this point, access to the manuscripts as high resolution digital scans were now available to musicians from our Exilarte Center. Frank Harders of Boosey & Hawkes in Berlin also noticed Winterberg and recognised his place in the lost canon of twentieth century Czech music. With the editorial assistance of the Exilarte Center, Boosey & Hawkes will soon start publication of Winterberg’s output. The first studio recording of Winterberg’s orchestral music, consisting of his first symphony, his first piano concerto and a work called Rhythmophonie is now scheduled for June 2021. Johannes Kalitze will be conducting the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra with pianist Jonathan Powell. Further recordings are planned to cover the rest of the symphonies, piano concertos and a selection of orchestral works, including ballets and pantomimes.

Quartet 1936-1942; Köckert Quartet 1951

Looking at the manuscripts, hearing the music and noticing the reactions of musicians and public, it’s chilling to remember that this was a composer who having been banned by Hitler, would still have been banned by the Sudeten German Music Institute without the intervention of Peter Kreitmeir. Such attempts to re-write history, suppress biographies and impose false identities are all the more depressing as Hans Winterberg is with Bohuslav Martinů the sole survivor of a generation of Czech composers, whose musical voice, individually and collectively, was as distinctive as any in Europe or America.

The last two minutes of Piano concerto no. 3, (1968) Piano Gitti Pirner, Cond. Jan Koetsier; Munich Philharmonic 1970