Entartete Musik

Chamber works by Paul Ben-Haim


Slowly, much too slowly and actually much too late, but the music world is waking up.
One gap after another is finally being filled and the (consciously or unconsciously) ‘forgotten’ composers are at long last coming to our CD players.

Paul Ben-Haim's Evocation: what a discovery | Basia con fuoco
Paul Ben-Haim

Who among you has ever heard of Paul Ben-Haim? If not, why not?
The composer was born as Paul Frankenburger in Munich in 1897 and died in Tel Aviv almost 90 years later. And he left behind a really spectacular oeuvre.

Many vocal works, orchestral pieces, chamber music…. What not, actually?
Most of his works are influenced and inspired by Jewish, Israeli and Arab melodies, so you may call his music “nationalistic”. Nothing wrong with that word.

Just take the opening of his 1941 clarinet quintet! The dancing clarinet part reminds one of swinging klezmer, but in a Brahmsian way.

The ARC Ensemble perform the opening movement of Paul Ben-Haim’s Clarinet Quintet at the Enav Center, Tel Aviv:

This is even more pronounced in his “Two Landscapes” for viola and piano, in which he sings the praises of his new homeland’s beauty.

Steven Dann and Dianne Werner prepare to record The Landscapes for viola and piano:

The “Improvisation and Dance”, dedicated to Zino Francescati, betrays influences from Yemeni folklore and only his oldest work on the CD, the Piano Quartet from 1920, does not yet have its own “face”.

The (very infectious playing!) members of the Canadian ARC Ensemble all work at the Glenn Gould Conservatory in daily life. A CD to cherish.

Paul Ben-Haim
Clarinet Quintet, Two Lanscapes, Canzonetta, Improvisation and Dance,
Piano Quartet
ARC Ensemble
Chandos CHAN 10769

Erwin Schulhoff: genres and music crossing borders

Schulhoff box

“Music should primarily bring physical pleasure, even ecstasy, to the listener. It is not philosophy, its origin lies in ecstatic situations and its expression in rhythm”  Erwin Schulhoff wrote in 1919.

From his earliest youth, Schulhoff was fascinated by everything new. His music transcended borders and genres – sometimes even those of ‘good decency’. He was a man of extremes, heartily embracing dada and jazz, and he also had a particular liking for the grotesque. No wonder that the synthesis of jazz and classical music, of everything in fact, became for him not only a challenge, but ultimately his artistic credo.

Schulhoff Lockenhaus

My first acquaintance with the composer and his music was thirty years ago, at the Lockenhaus chamber music festival, led by Gidon Kremer. It was mainly his string sextet, with its strong Janaček influences, that made me gasp for air. Since that day I was hooked. It took a long time, but in the meantime Schulhoff has found his way to the concert stages and recording studios. Especially the latter, because he is still too rarely programmed at concerts.

Schulhoff etersen

My very first record encounter with the composer was the recording of his complete string quartets by the Petersen Quartet, in 1992. To my delight, the string quartets are also in the six-CD box set recently released by the Capriccio label. These are recordings of many of his works (dear Capriccio: there is more!) made by Deutschlandfunk Kultur between 1992 and 2007. Most of these recordings have already appeared on Capriccio (but also on other, often no longer existing labels).

The 2007 recording of the Double Concerto for flute and piano, with Dutch flutist Jacques Zoon as soloist, is new to me. And it is so beautiful! Also new to me is the recording of the Second and Fifth Symphonies, in which the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks is conducted by the greatest advocate of ‘entartete composers’, James Conlon.

Symphonies no. 2 & 5, Piano Concerto op. 34, Concerto Doppio, Concert for string quartet and winds, String quartets no. 1 & 2, String sextet, Sonata for violin solo, Duo for violin and cello, Piano sonatas no. 1 & 3, Piano works
Jacques Zoon (flute); Frank-Immo Zichner, Margarete Babinsky (piano); Petersen Quartet; Leipzicher Streichquartett; Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks conducted by James Conlon; Deutscher Symphonie-Orchester Berlin conducted by Roland Kluttig
Capriccio C7297

War… there is no word more cruel

Weinberg 18

Mieczyslaw Weinberg, or at least his music, is making an accelerated catch-up. After years of being completely ignored, his works are being programmed more and more often, and one composition after another by the great master (for that is what he undoubtedly was,) is being recorded and released on CD.

Many of his compositions are strongly influenced by his teacher and intimate friend, Dmitri Shostakovich, but never before have I perceived this influence so strongly as in his trumpet concerto composed in 1966. Of course, this is also due to the choice of instrument. Like no other, the trumpet is perfectly suited to express irony, the favourite form of expression of both composers. No wonder that Shostakovich’s Concerto for Piano, Trumpet and Strings comes to mind.

The orchestration is also ‘des Sjostakovichs’: think of his Lady Macbeth of Mstsensk. The essential difference lies in its overall refinement and in the development and solution of the main theme. Where the teacher still set his own limit, the pupil takes it a step further, into the wide world.

Part two, Episodes, strongly reminds me of Ives and in the third part, the Fanfares, Weinberg explores atonality. In doing so, he freely makes use of improvisations and free jazz.

Andrew Balio is, I think (I do not know him), one of the greatest virtuosos among trumpet players. His melancholic sound in the second movement contrasts sharply with his fantastic improvisations in the third.

The 18th symphony is, as the title suggests, nothing less than a major indictment of war. Composed for the Soviet Union in the turbulent 1980s, it does not fail to impress with its unconventional division of the movements. It starts with an adagio and it also ends with an adagio; the pianissimo poem by Aleksandr Tvardovsky sung by the choir:

“War – there is no word more cruel.
War – there is no word more sad.
War – there is no word more holy
In the sorrow and the glory of these years.
There is and there could not be
Any other word on our lips.”

Very impressive.

About music that was banned

The term “entartet” (degenerate) was already in use in criminology in the 19th century, it meant something like “biologically degenerate”. The Nazis made grateful use of this idea; that it was something to be wary of, a bad influence that had to be banned. Modernism, Expressionism, jazz … and Jews of course, they were degenerated from the start, they could make Aryan souls sick. They all had to be banned.

What had started as prohibition soon developed into exclusion and resulted in murder. Those who managed to flee to America or England usually survived the war, but at what cost?

Those who stayed in Europe were doomed. Many composers were deported via Theresienstadt to the concentration and extermination camps, many ended up there directly. After the war they were totally forgotten and thus murdered a second time. Those who survived were called hopelessly old-fashioned and therefore their works were not performed. The turnaround finally came in the 1990s, too late for most.

Michael Haas, then a very efficient producer for Decca, started an unsurpassed series called ‘Entartete Musik’. Unfortunately, it did not last: it did not sell. Haas was fired and most of those CDs are now out of the catalogue.

Michael Haas at Tonzauber Studios Vienna, photo Georg Burdicek

In 2004, Michael Haas was back, in Amsterdam of all places: together with Jan Zekveld and Mauricio Fernandez (respectively artistic director and head of casting of the Matinee) he put together a beautiful series for the Saturday Matinee in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, starting with a magnificent performance of Schreker’s Die Ferne Klang.

But the small German firms CPO, Cappricio and Orfeo assiduously continued to record special treasures of forgotten works. Orfeo even devoted a special series to that music, called ‘Musica Rediviva’. This included the opera Die Bakchantinen by Egon Wellesz (Orfeo C136 012H), which was also performed at the Matinee.

Schulhoff’s vocal symphonies (Orfeo C056031 A) are not to be despised either. Composed in the years 1918/19, they breathe the unadulterated atmosphere of the fin de siècle: dark and heavily melancholic they show us another Schulhoff, the romantic pur sang. The warm, dark timbre of Doris Soffel fits the melancholic melodies like a glove.

An absolute must is the DVD entitled ‘Verbotene Klange. Komponisten in Exil’ (Capriccio 93506). It is a documentary on German and Austrian composers who, as the commentator puts it, “instead of being revered, were despised”. And who, thanks to emigration, survived. With interviews with, among others, Ernst Krenek and Berthold Goldschmidt: the latter we meet at the very first recording (after 50 years!) of his string quartets. And the almost centenarian Krenek says something that could be called typical for that generation: “I am caught between continents. In America I don’t really feel ‘heimisch’, but I would never consider going back to Europe. There is no home for me anywhere. Not anymore.

Over muziek die verboden werd

De term ‘entartet’ (ontaard) werd al in de negentiende eeuw gebruikt in de criminologie, het betekende zoiets als ‘biologisch gedegenereerd’. Daar hebben de nazi’s dankbaar gebruik van gemaakt, want daar moest men voor oppassen, daar ging een slechte invloed van af, dat moest verboden worden. Modernisme, expressionisme, jazz … en Joden natuurlijk, die waren bij voorbaat al gedegenereerd, daar konden Arische zieltjes ziek van worden

Wat als verbod was begonnen ontwikkelde zich algauw tot uitsluiting, en resulteerde in moord. Degenen die het gelukt was om naar Amerika of Engeland te vluchten, hebben de oorlog meestal overleefd, maar tot welke prijs?

Wie in Europa was gebleven werd gedoemd. Vele componisten werden via Theresienstadt naar de concentratie- en vernietigingskampen gedeporteerd, velen belandden daar rechtstreeks. Na de oorlog werden ze totaal vergeten en zo voor de tweede keer vermoord. Wie het overleefde werd voor hopeloos ouderwets uitgemaakt en dus niet gespeeld. De kentering kwam pas in de jaren negentig, voor de meesten te laat.

Michael Haas, een toen zeer verdienstelijke producer van Decca, startte een onvolprezen serie de ‘Entartete Musik’ op. Helaas, lang heeft het niet geduurd: het verkocht niet. Haas werd ontslagen en de meeste van die cd’s zijn inmiddels uit de catalogus.

Michael Haas at Tonzauber Studios Vienna, photo Georg Burdicek

In 2004 was Michael Haas terug, in Amsterdam nota bene: samen met Jan Zekveld en Mauricio Fernandez (resp. artistiek leider en hoofd casting van de Matinee) heeft hij prachtige series voor de ZaterdagMatinee in het Amsterdamse Concertgebouw samengesteld, die met een schitterende uitvoering van Die Ferne Klang van Schreker was aangevangen.

Maar de kleine Duitse firma’s CPO, Cappricio en Orfeo gingen onvermijdelijk door met het opnemen van bijzondere schatten aan vergeten werken. Orfeo heeft zelfs een speciale serie aan die muziek gewijd, genaamd ‘Musica Rediviva’. Met o.a. de opera Die Bakchantinen van Egon Wellesz (Orfeo C136 012H), die ook tijdens de Matinee werd uitgevoerd.

Ook de Vocale symfonieën van Schulhoff (Orfeo C056031 A) zijn niet te versmaden. Gecomponeerd in de jaren 1918/19 ademen ze onvervalste sfeer van het fin de siècle: donker en zwaar melancholisch tonen ons een andere Schulhoff, de romanticus pur sang. Het warme, donkere timbre van Doris Soffel past de zwaarmoedige melodieën als een handschoen.

Als een absolute must beschouw ik de DVD getiteld ‘Verbotene Klange. Komponisten in Exil’ (Capriccio 93506). Het betreft een documentaire over de Duitse en Oostenrijkse componisten, die, zoals de commentator het zegt “in plaats van vereerd te zijn, veracht werden”. En die, dankzij de emigratie, in leven zijn gebleven. Met interviews met o.a. Ernst Krenek en Berthold Goldschmidt: de laatste maken we mee bij de allereerste opname (na 50 jaar!) van zijn strijkkwartetten. De bijna honderdjarige Krenek zegt iets, wat je typerend voor die generatie zal kunnen noemen: “Ik zit gevangen tussen de continenten. In Amerika voel ik me niet ‘heimisch’, maar ik pieker er niet over om terug naar Europa te gaan. Nergens ben ik meer thuis”.

Die Opferung des Gefangenen by Egon Wellesz: an extremely interesting hybrid.

“This West Indian tragedy has remained the sole dramatic work of a heroic world in pre-Columbian times that, after a flourishing heyday, was abruptly terminated by foreign violence” (Egon Wellesz in 1925).

Die Opferung des Gefangenen; what exactly is it supposed to be?: it is both opera and ballet and at the same time it is neither an opera nor a ballet. It’s a hybrid, and an extremely interesting one indeed! Wellesz was always deeply invested in developing his own style, so that almost all his compositions speak a different ‘language’. He was trained by Schönberg who, in addition to the twelve-tone technique, also taught him to use a large dose of expressionism.

Die Opferung des Gefangenen has the subtitle ‘Ein Kultisches Drama für Tanz, Sologesang und Chor’ and it was composed on a libretto by Eduard Stücken after the Mayan play ‘Rabinal Achi’. It is about a conflict between the Quiché and the Rabinal Indian tribes, at the beginning of the fifteenth century. The premiere took place on 2 April 1926 in Cologne, and it was conducted by Eugen Szenkar.

After the Anschluss in 1938, Wellesz (Jewish and author of ‘Entartete Musik’) fled to Oxford where he died in 1974. Nowadays we rarely hear his music.

The recording that Capriccio has now (re?) released on CD is from 1995 and it is an absolutely good one, for which I am very grateful. But how I would love to experience this work live, because on CD you miss half of it, namely the ballet!

Quartets of Pavel Haas by the Kocian Quartet: a must

Haas Kocian

Of all Leoš Janáček’s pupils, Pavel Haas (Brno 1899 – Auschwitz 1944) managed best to combine his teacher’s influence with his very own musical language.

Haas stil filmStill from the film ‘Der Fuehrer schenkt den Juden eine Stadt’. The man on the right is Pavel Haas, who is actually listening to his Study for Strings performed by the Ghetto Orchestra © United States Holocaust Museum
© United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Ivan Vojtech Fric

Haas was a big jazz fan and he also composed a lot of theatre and film music. The latter partly under the influence of his brother, a well-known film actor. His greatest love, however, was Moravian folk music.

The second string quartet, nicknamed ‘From the Monkey Mountains’, is an open declaration of love to Moravia. The music is programmatic, meaning that without using words, something (in this case the beauty of nature) is described in a narrative way.

Parts one and three are extremely melodious and agonizingly beautiful. In the second and fourth movements, a certain dissonance can be detected and they strongly remind me of Janáček’s Second String Quartet, composed three years later.

Haas originally composed the fourth movement for a jazz band, but the reviews of the premiere made him decide to change it. On these recordings, two percussionists were added to the string quartet. A masterstroke.

The third string quartet, already composed in 1938, was performed for the first time in January 1946, two years after the composer’s death.

Here is the string quartet in the version of the Pavel Haas Quartet:

The performance by the Kocian Quartet is very expressive, sparkling, and where necessary, wistful. This recording is almost twenty years old, but still unsurpassed. Not that they have much competition…….If only I could convince all chamber music lovers that they should buy this wonderful CD!

Haas stolperstein in Brno

                                                                                   Stolperstein for Pavel Haas in Brno

Pavel Haas
String quartets nrs. 1-3 (complete)
Kocian Quartet
Praga PRD 250 118

Die Opferung des Gefangenen van Egon Wellesz: een buitengewoon interessante hybride

“This West Indian tragedy has remained the sole dramatic work of a heroic world in pre-Columbian times that, after a flourishing heyday, was abruptly terminated by foreign violence” (Egon Wellesz in 1925).

Die Opferung des Gefangenen is moeilijk in een la te stoppen: het is zowel een opera als een ballet en tegelijk ook geen opera noch ballet. Een hybride, maar een buitengewoon interessante hybride. Wellesz was altijd geïnteresseerd in het ontwikkelen van zijn eigen stijl waardoor vrijwel al zijn composities een andere ‘taal’ spreken. Zijn opleiding genoot hij bij Schönberg die hem, behalve de twaalftoonstechniek ook een grote dosis expressionisme had bijgebracht.

Die Opferung des Gefangenen heeft als bijtitel ‘Ein Kultisches Drama für Tanz, Sologesang und Chor’ en is gecomponeerd op een libretto van Eduard Stücken naar het Mayaanse spel ‘Rabinal Achi’ over een conflict tussen de Quiché en de Rabinal Indianenstammen aan het begin van de vijftiende eeuw. De première vond plaats op 2 april 1926 in Keulen, onder leiding van Eugen Szenkar.

                                            Egon Wellesz door Oscar Kokoschka

Na de Anschluss in 1938 vluchtte Wellesz (Joods en schrijver van ‘Entartete Musik’) naar Oxford waar hij in 1974 overleed. Tegenwoordig horen we zijn muziek nog maar zelden.

De opname die Capriccio nu op cd heeft (her?)uitgebracht stamt uit 1995 en is zonder meer goed waarvoor mijn grote dank. Maar wat zou ik graag dit werk live willen meemaken, want op cd mis je de helft, het ballet.

Egon Wellesz: Die Opferung des Gefangenen
Wolfgang Koch (Feldherr), Robert Brooks (Schildträger des Prinzen), Ivan Urbas (Der Älteste des Rates)
Wiener Konzertchor, ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra olv Friedrich Cerha
Capriccio C5423

Discovering Walter Kaufmann: when Bombay meets Berlin

Slow, way too slow and actually way too late, but the music world is waking up. One gap after another is finally being filled and the (consciously or unconsciously) ‘forgotten’ composers are also entering our CD players. It’s also partly thanks to the Canadian ARC Ensemble. A few years ago, together with the English label Chandos, they set up the project ‘Music in Exile’, to which we owe splendid recordings of works by, among others, Szymon Laks, Jerzy Fittelberg and Paul Ben-Haim.

And now it is Walter Kaufmann’s (1907-1984) turn, an originally Czechoslovakian composer whose name, even to me, was nothing more than a name. Not that he had been completely forgotten: in Canada, his new homeland since 1947, he was a highly regarded piano teacher at the Halifax Conservatory. In 1956 he was offered a job at a conservatory in US where he was adored by his students. But as much as he was loved as a teacher, as forgotten he was as a composer. And that is extremely unfortunate because Kaufmann’s life course – and his works – are quite different from those of his exile fellows.

Early on, Kaufmann became obsessed with Indian music, which made him decide to flee to India in 1933. Once at his destination, Kaufmann immersed himself in the music of his host country. Among other things, he composed a tune for ‘All India Radio’ and founded the ‘Bombay Chamber Music Society’. All the chamber music works, on this Chandos recording really magnificently played by the ARC Ensemble, are also composed in India.

No, it’s not that you should immediately think of Ravi Shankar, but the Indian influence is undeniable. And that, while you are clearly dealing with western music from the twenties / thirties. A bit hybrid, yes, but luckily that is allowed again.

Translation: Frans Wentholt

Walter Kaufmann
String Quartet No. 7, String Quartet No. 11, Violin Sonata No. 2 op. 44, Violin Sonatin No. 12, Septet (for three violins, viola, two cellos and piano)
ARC Ensemble, Chandos CHAN 20170

Walter Kaufmann: Bombay meets Berlin

Langzaam, veel te langzaam en eigenlijk veel te laat, maar de muziekwereld wordt wakker. De een na de andere leemte wordt eindelijk opgevuld en de (bewust of onbewust) ‘vergeten’ componisten komen ook onze cd-spelers in. Het is ook mede te danken aan het Canadese ARC Ensemble. Samen met de Engelse label Chandos hebben ze een paar jaar geleden het project ‘Music in Exile’ in het leven geroepen, waar we schitterende opnamen van onder anderen Szymon Laks, Jerzy Fittelberg en Paul Ben-Haim aan te danken hebben.

En nu is er beurt aan Walter Kaufmann (1907-1984), een van oorsprong Tsjecho-Slovaakse componist wiens naam zelfs voor mij niet meer dan een naam was. Niet dat hij totaal was vergeten: in Canada, zijn nieuwe vaderland sinds 1947 was hij een zeer gewaardeerde pianodocent aan het conservatorium in Halifax. In 1956 kreeg hij een baan aan een conservatorium in US aangeboden waar hij door zijn studenten op handen werd gedragen. Maar zo geliefd als docent zo vergeten was hij als componist. En dat is buitengewoon spijtig want Kaufmann’ zijn levensloop – en zijn werken – verschillen nogal van die van zijn exile-genoten.

Al vroeg raakte Kaufmann geobsedeerd door Indiase muziek, wat hem in 1933 deed besluiten om naar India te vluchten. Eenmaal op de plaats van zijn bestemming verdiepte Kaufmann zich in de muziek van zijn gastland. Onder andere componeerde hij er een tune voor ‘All India Radio’ en richtte de ‘Bombay Chamber Music Society’ op. Ook alle kamermuziekwerken, op deze Chandos opname werkelijk grandioos gespeeld door het ARC Ensemble, zijn in India gecomponeerd.

Nee, het is niet zo dat je meteen aan Ravi Shankar moet denken, maar de Indiase invloed is onmiskenbaar. En dat, terwijl je overduidelijk met de westerse muziek uit de jaren twintig/dertig te maken hebt. Een beetje hybride, dat wel, maar gelukkig mag dat weer.

Walter Kaufmann
Strijkkwartet nr. 7, Strijkkwartet nr. 11, Vioolsonate nr. 2 op. 44, Vioolsonatine nr. 12,  Septet (voor drie violen, altviool, twee cello’s en piano)
ARC Ensemble
Chandos CHAN 20170