It is very hard to believe, but the first post-war performance of the Lyrische Symphonie dates from the late 1970s. This absolute masterpiece was composed between 1922-23 and premiered in Prague on 4 June 1924. Like Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, it is a kind of cross between an orchestral song cycle and a symphony.
Zemlinsky wrote the work on the text of the Bengal poet Rabindranath Tagore ‘The Gardener’, in a German translation by Hans Effenberger. The seven love poems are cast in the form of a dialogue between a prince (baritone) and a girl in love (soprano). Many musicologists consider the work to be autobiographical and there is certainly an element of truth in that.
Or was it the (still?) raw break with Alma Schindler, as some critics would have us believe? I don’t think so, I’m much more inclined to believe Antony Beaumont (the Zemlinsky connoisseur and biographer) that the work was about his relationship with Louise Sachsel, which had just begun at the time.
Alban Berg and Hanna Fuchs
Seen in this context, it is perhaps interesting to know that Alban Berg quoted the third movement of the symphony (‘Du bist mein Eigen’) in the ‘Adagio Apassionato’ of his Lyrical Suite for string quartet. As you know, Berg had a secret love affair at the time with Hanna Fuchs, for whom he composed the work.
Below is the Adagio appassionato performed by the Galimir String Quartet. The recording dates from 1935:
There are quite a few performances of Zemlinsky’s once so mercilessly forgotten but now best-known and most frequently performed work. Two by James Conlon and Riccardo Chailly immediately stand out.
Chailly wins, mainly because of the unparalleled sound of the RCO, but in the fourth movement Conlon manages to elicit such sweet tones from the orchestra that I am totally won over by his performance.
Recording under Riccardo Chaillly:
The soloists are also better for Conlon. Bo Skovhus convinces me much more than Håkan Hagegård. The latter has a warm, round baritone with something soothing in his timbre and I find that a disadvantage here. The restlessness in the voice of Skovhus gives his words more impact.
I also find Skovhus’s interpretation more transparent and his pronunciation better. Listen how he sings the words “Du bist mein Eigen, mein Eigen, du, die meinen endlosen Träumen wohnt”… !
Soile Isokoski is also preferable to Chailly’s soprano, Alexandra Marc, however beautifully she sings.
Recording with James Conlon:
Bo Skovhus has always been an artist with a more than warm heart for ‘Entartete Musik’. He showed this by, among other things, the choices he made for the works he sang.
Lyrische Symphonie was often featured in his concert programmes all over the world, including in Amsterdam (March 2007, with Hillevi Martinpelto and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Donald Runnicles). In addition to the EMI recording with Conlon, Skovhus recorded the work also for RCA, this time with the incredibly beautiful lyrical soprano Luba Orgonasova.
The conducting of Claus Peter Flor is a bit unbalanced, but the six extra songs, sung by Skovhus and beautifully accompanied on the piano by Helmut Deutsch, make up for a lot.
Below is a recording with Bo Skovhus, Maria Bengtsson and the Staatskapelle Berlin conducted by Kirill Petrenko, recorded in the Berlin Philharmonic on 30 December 2011:
In the recording on BBC Classics from 1996 the vocal parts are sung with great understanding and even more nuances by Thomas Allen and Elisabeth Söderström. Michael Gielen shows an enormous affinity for the score.
I regularly hear cellists complain that the repertoire for their instrument is not that large, which is why they (have to) play and/or record more or less the same pieces over and over again. But is this really true?
Well, only if you limit yourself to the more or less well-known composers. And certainly if you still ‘forget’ to look back at the black period in history, when books went up in flames and art, including their creators, was declared ‘entartet’. Fortunately, we still have enough musicians who do everything in their power to ensure that the once forbidden works are not forgotten.
In 2016, Raphael Wallfisch, one of the greatest advocates of the ‘forgotten repertoire’, recorded two previously unknown cello concertos: those by Hans Gál, originally from Austria-Hungary, and the Italian Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. Both composers survived the war: Castelnuovo-Tedesco in Hollywood and Gál in Scotland. Both are barely being played, although it is impossible for a serious guitarist to ignore the Italian’s oeuvre.
Things are worse with Hans Gál’s compositions, which are still rare on concert stages. His cello concerto, composed in 1944, is not easy to dissect. Or, in other words: you don’t get it automatically ‘under your skin’. I had to listen to it a few times before I surrendered to it. Gál’s language seems rigid and even though the work is not atonal anywhere, you really have to make an effort. But maybe that’s the way it should be? Because you don’t forget it easily!
No greater contrast than with Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s predominantly virtuoso composition! The composer wrote his cello concerto for the great cellist Gregor Piatigorsky, the premiere took place in 1935, Arturo Toscanini conducted the New York Philharmonic. And that was it. Since then, the concerto has been totally forgotten for eighty years. Until Raphael Wallfisch took care of it.
Raphael Wallfisch gives an excellent interpretation of both concertos, with sufficient attention to the various writing styles of the composers. Gál’s concerto sounds almost classicistic in his hands; for Castelnuoco-Tedesco he has enough virtuosity and romance to enthuse the listener.
Hans Gál: Cello concerto in b, op. 67
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco: Cello concerto in F
Raphael Wallfisch (cello), Konzerthausorchester Berlin conducted by Nicholas Milton
CPO 555 074-2
On the 11th of February 1900, during the world premiere of the Frühlingsbegräbnis, a cantata in memory of Brahms, Alexander Zemlinsky and Alma Schindler met for the first time.
She thought his appearance was terrible (in her autobiography she talks about a ‘hideous gnome’), but as a future composer she was only too eager to meet him: Zemlinsky was not only admired for his compositions, he also had the reputation of being the best composition and harmony teacher. By the end of that year Schindler was not only his pupil but also his lover.
It was not an obvious choice, as Zemlinsky was not really what we could call an attractive man. He himself felt quite badly about it: “Short and skinny (weak points: inadequate). Face and nose: impossible; every other part of the face: ditto. Hair too long, but something can be done about that. I looked more closely at myself in the bath ( with your permission!!): no excesses or deformities, muscles not too weak, amazingly well developed potential! Everything else as mentioned above. Hence the conclusion: hideous.”*
Does the description remind you of Der Zwerg, the ugly, deformed person from the opera of the same name who does not recognise his own reflection?
And yet Zemlinsky had the reputation of a real womaniser and his many mistresses cannot be counted. In 1907 he married Ida Guttmann, the younger sister of his former fiancée Melanie. It was not a happy marriage, Zemlinsky was a passionate philanderer.
Around 1914 he met the then fourteen-year-old Louise Sachsel. A twenty-nine year younger girl, who was not only an aspiring singer but also a gifted painter, came to him to take singing lessons. Six years later they became lovers and in 1930, one year after Ida’s death, they got married.
Alexander Zemlinsky was born in Vienna in 1871 into a highly multicultural family. His Slovakian grandfather and the Austrian grandmother on his father’s side were both Roman Catholics. His other grandmother was a Bosnian Muslim and his grandfather a Sephardic Jew. When his parents married the whole family converted to the Jewish faith. Alexander was born as a Jew and was raised as such, he also played the organ in his synagogue. In 1884 he started his studies at the Conservatory of Vienna. He studied piano with Anton Door, music theory with Robert Fuchs and composition with Johann Nepomuk Fuchs and Anton Bruckner. It was also at that time that he began to compose.
In addition to being a composer, Zemlinsky was also appreciated as one of the best conductors of his time, and his remarkable interpretations of Mozart were widely praised.
Zemlinski conducts the overture from Don Giovanni. The recording probably dates from 1926:
He was a great advocate of the compositions of Gustav Mahler and his brother-in-law Arnold Schoenberg, and was regarded as a champion of contemporary music. His compositions can best be regarded as a kind of bridge between late romanticism and modernism.
Philharmonic Chorus in 1912 in Praag tijdens de uitvoering van de achtste symfonie van Mahler. Zemlinsky, Schönberg en Schreker staan vooraan links op de foto
Zemlinsky was also a great lover and connoisseur of literature. That his origins and upbringing influenced him in this is quite obvious: both his grandfather and his father were journalists and his mother’s family counted several publishers. His father had written the history of the Sephardic community in Vienna. Zemlinsky based many of his compositions on literary works, which resulted in Der König Kandaules after André Gide and in Eine florentinische Tragödie and Der Zwerg after Oscar Wilde.
After the rise of the Nazis in 1933, Alexander Zemlinsky was declared ‘Entartet’ and his works were banned and forbidden. In 1936 he fled Berlin: first to Vienna and after the Anschluss in 1938 on to the United States, where he had great difficulty assimilating. He died on March 15, 1942 near New York, and no one paid any attention to his death.
Zemlinsky’s Memorial at the Zentralfriedhof in Vienna
And then he was forgotten, a fate he shared with most of the Jewish composers who were banned by the Nazis. His music disappeared from the concert and opera programs, and his name dissolved in the fog, as if he had never existed. It was only at the end of the 1980s that it became clear that Korngold was more than a composer of Hollywood scores; that without Schreker and Zemlinski there would probably not have been a Strauss either, and that Boulez and Stockhausen were not the first to experiment with serialism.
After a brief renaissance in the nineties, mainly thanks to James Conlon and Riccardo Chailly, things have become a little quiet around one of the greatest Jugendstil composers of the fin de siècle. Just ask the average music lover: he won’t get any further than the Lyrical Symphony. If he knows the name Zemlinsky at all.
But: who knows? His brother-in-law, friend and colleague Arnold Schönberg already said “Zemlinsky can wait.” In recent years, it seems as if Schönberg is gradually starting to prove himself right in this assertion.
*This quote is taken from the article by Ronald Van Kerckhoven in Erfgoedklassiek.
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (Florence, 3 April 1895 – Beverly Hills, 16 March 1968) was born into a Jewish family of Sephardic origin (Jews who were expelled from Spain in 1492). He was extraordinarily creative, and has numerous compositions to his name: piano works, concerts, opera’s…. His compositions were played by the greatest: Gieseking, Piatigorski, Heifetz, Casella. Nowadays we mainly know him from his guitar works, almost a hundred in total, mostly written for Andres Segovia.
In the early 1930s, the composer began to discover his ‘Jewish roots’, something that was reinforced by the rise of fascism and racial laws. His music was no longer performed. With the help of Arturo Toscanini, Castelnuovo-Tedesco and his family managed to leave Italy just before the outbreak of the Second World War.
Like most of the Jewish composers who fled Europe, Castelnuovo-Tedesco ended up in Hollywood. Thanks to Jascha Heifetz he was hired by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer as a composer of film music. At that time he also composed new opera’s and vocal works inspired by American poetry, Jewish liturgy and the Bible.
Castelnuovo-Tedesco: “In my life I have written many melodies for the voice and published 150 of them (many remained in my drawer) on texts in all the languages I know: Italian, French, English, German, Spanish and Latin. My ambition and indeed, my deep motivation has always been to unite my music with poetic texts that stimulated my interest and feelings, to express their lyricism”.
In 1966 he composed The Divan of Moses Ibn Ezra. It is a setting of nineteen poems by, Rabbi Moses ben Jacob ibn Ezra also known as Ha-Sallaḥ (‘writer of penitential prayers’). Ibn Ezra was born in Granada around 1055 – 1060, and died after 1138 and is considered one of the greatest poets in Spain. He also had an enormous influence on Arabic literature. Castelnuovo-Tedesco composed the ‘divan’ (poems) on the modern English translation.
I very much regret that the duo Channa Malkin (soprano) and Izhar Elias only recorded six songs of the cycle. Not only because they have almost no competition (I only know two complete recordings of the songs myself), but also because their performance is really beautiful. Malkin’s lyrical soprano: girlish yet very focused fits the songs like a glove. She was born in Amsterdam, but her Jewish roots lie in Moldova, Russia and the Ukraine.
The guitarist Izhar Elias was also born in the Netherlands, but his roots lie in Iraq and India. And in Israel. What they have in common is the restlessness and the strong urge to do something with their own past. And you can hear that. You can hear that in the thirteen Sephardic folk songs that are presented here in arrangements by Joaquin Rodrigo and Daniel Akiva, among others.
What makes the CD stand out is the really excellent booklet with lots of information and all the lyrics.
Songs of Love & Exile – A Sephardic Journey
Channa Malkin (soprano), Izhar Elias (guitar)
Brilliant Classics 95652
Mario Castelnuovo–Tedesco (Florence, 3 april 1895 – Beverly Hills, 16 maart 1968) werd geboren in de Joodse familie van Sefardische afkomst (Joden die in 1492 werden verdreven uit Spanje). Hij was buitengewoon creatief, op zijn naam staat van alles: pianowerken, concerten, opera’s…. Zijn composities werden gespeeld door de grootsten: Gieseking, Piatigorski, Heifetz, Casella. Tegenwoordig kennen we hem voornamelijk van zijn gitaarwerken, bijna honderd in totaal, veelal geschreven voor Andres Segovia.
Begin jaren dertig is de componist zijn ‘Joodse roots’ gaan ontdekken, iets wat versterkt werd door het opkomend fascisme en de rassenwetten. Zijn muziek werd niet meer uitgevoerd. Geholpen door Arturo Toscanini heeft Castelnuovo-Tedesco, samen met zijn gezin vlak voor het uitbreken van de tweede wereldoorlog Italië weten te verlaten
Zoals de meeste Joodse componisten die Europa ontvluchtten belandde ook Castelnuovo-Tedesco in Hollywood. Waar hij dankzij Jascha Heifetz door Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer werd aangesteld als componist van filmmuziek. In die tijd componeerde hij ook nieuwe opera’s en vocale werken geïnspireerd door Amerikaanse poëzie, Joodse liturgie en de Bijbel.
Castelnuovo-Tedesco: “Ik heb in mijn leven veel melodieën voor zangstem geschreven en er 150 van uitgegeven (in mijn la bleef veel liggen) op teksten in alle talen die ik ken: Italiaans, Frans, Engels, Duits, Spaans en Latijn. Mijn ambitie en sterker nog, mijn diepe drijfveer is altijd geweest om mijn muziek te verenigen met poëtische teksten die mijn belangstelling en gevoel prikkelden, om de lyriek ervan tot uitdrukking te brengen”.
In 1966 componeerde hij The Divan of Moses Ibn Ezra. Het is een setting van negentien gedichten van Rabbi Moses ben Jacob Jacob ibn Ezra, ook bekend als Ha-Sallaḥ (‘schrijver van boetvaardige gebeden’). Ibn Ezra werd geboren in Granada rond 1055 – 1060, en overleed na 1138 en hij wordt beschouwd als één van de grootste dichters van Spanje. Die ook nog eens een enorme invloed op de Arabische literatuur heeft gehad. Castelnuovo-Tedesco componeerde de ‘divans’ (gedichten) op de moderne Engelse vertaling.
Ik betreur het zeer dat het duo Channa Malkin (sopraan) en Izhar Elias maar zes liederen van de cyclus hebben opgenomen. Want niet alleen dat ze bijna geen concurrentie hebben (zelf ken ik maar twee complete opnamen van de liederen), maar ook omdat hun uitvoering werkelijk prachtig is. Malkins lyrische sopraan: meisjesachtig maar toch zeer kernachtig past de liederen als een handschoen. Zij is in Amsterdam geboren maar haar Joodse roots liggen in Moldavië, Rusland en Oekraïne.
Ook de gitarist Izhar Elias is in Nederland geboren maar zijn roots liggen in Irak en in India. En in Israël. Wat ze gemeen hebben is de rusteloosheid en de sterke drang om iets met hun eigen verleden te doen. En dat hoor je. Dat hoor je ook in de dertien Sefardische volksliedjes die hier gepresenteerd worden in bewerkingen van o.a. Joaquin Rodrigo en Daniel Akiva.
Wat de cd dat ene extra geeft is de werkelijk voortreffelijke booklet met veel informatie en alle liedteksten
The songs Anne Sofie von Otter, assisted by baritone Christian Gerhaher, sings on the CD Terezín – Theresienstadt, released in 2008 on Deutsche Gramophon (DG 4776546), belong to a variety of music genres. They have one thing in common: all of them were composed in the Terezín concentration camp and their creators who were deported there were later murdered in Auschwitz.
The initiative came from von Otter herself: for the Holocaust commemoration in Stockholm she collected a wide selection of the ‘Terezín songs’ and compiled a recital of them. This programme was then recorded for CD, ” because we must never forget. “
It is a CD you really need to listen to from start to finish even though many of the songs come from the lighter genre. Most moving are the songs by Ilse Weber.
Try to keep a dry eye when listening to ‘Wiegala,’ the lullaby that Weber sang to the children in the gas chambers. Or the terrifying words “I want to go home so badly” from Weber’s ‘Ich wandre durch Theresienstadt.’
Below ‘Wiegala’ by Ilse Weber, sung by Anne Sofie von Otter:
The beautiful violin solo sonata by Erwin Schulhoff does not really belong here, Schulhoff has never been to Terezín. He was arrested in Prague on 23 June 1941 and deported to the Würzburg concentration camp, where he died of tuberculosis in 1942. You can hear that Daniel Hope has been devoted to Schulhoff’s music for many years, as he interprets the work in an inimitable way.
Below Daniel Hope plays ‘Andante Cantabile’, the second movement of Schulhoff’s sonata. It is a recording from the CD ‘Forbidden Music’, released by Nimbus:
Ilse Weber, Hans Krása, Viktor Ullmann, Pavel Haas, Karel Svenk, Erwin Schulhoff
Terezín – Theresienstadt
Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo-soprano), Christian Gerhaher (baritone), Daniel Hope (violin), Bengt Forsberg (piano), Bebe Risengf (accordion, guitar and double bass) and others.
The Jerusalem String Quartet never disappoints. Never. Whatever they play. It’s not just about perfection, but also, or perhaps mainly, about their attention to the story behind the notes. For their involvement in the pieces they play. And their search for the truth that may not even exist. But with this album they have gone far above themselves and their own standards. Something that might have to do with the fact that they were allowed to choose the works themselves, none of which are commonplace?
With their choice they have also made a statement. Something we all know but still don’t want to admit out loud because we feel uncomfortable about it? About the influence of Jews and their contribution to our Western culture?
These days, Schulhoff and certainly Korngold are no longer curiosities, although of the latter mostly his operas are performed these days. Yet his chamber music compositions are not to be sneezed at. Listen his second string quartet, for example! At the first notes you get the nostalgic feeling of an unattainable lover and an intense desire. Beautiful and painful at the same time. Not only are the notes divinely beautiful, it is also the performance. Yearning and full of desire.
The five pieces for Erwin Schulhoff’s string quartet are a link to the title of the album: the Jewish Cabaret. Leonid Desyatnikov composed his ‘Yiddish’ in 2018. These five songs are based on the Yiddish songs from the Polish interbellum, the period between the two world wars, which were sung in the cabarets in Warsaw and Lódz. The soprano Hila Baggio manages to strike the right tone in the songs. Light-footed. Think of the very young Lotte Lenya.
The album is dedicated to the grandparents of the members of the quartet. I allow myself to include my own grandparents that I have never known.
The Yiddish Cabaret
Erich Wolfgang Korngold: String quartet no. 2 on. 26
Erwin Schulhoff: 5 Pieces for string quartet
Leonid Desyatnikov: Yiddish – 5 Lieder for Stem and Stem Quarter (2018)
Hila Baggio (soprano), Jerusalem Quartet
Harmonia Mundi HMM 902631