Entartete Musik

Rudolf Karel, a hardly known ‘Theresienstadt composer’

Panocha Klein Haas Karel

If it is true that Gideon Klein composed the Divertimento as early as 1940, this is a very important musical discovery. Until now it was assumed that all works that Klein composed before his internment in Terezín have been lost. Unfortunately, the brief-looking booklet with only a short story about the composers and the performers leaves us in limbo. Is the year correct? The (little) work itself is pleasant and easy to hear.

The wind quintet by Pavel Haas dates from 1929. It was very much influenced by Janácek, who has been his teacher and great example since 1920. The second part of the quintet is movingly beautiful. I will not be surprised if the ‘Preghiera’ will lead a life of its own on a compilation CD.

Below ‘La Preghiera’, performed by the Belfiato Quinten:

The biggest discovery for me, however, is the nonet of Rudolf Karel (1880 – 1945). The least known of the ‘Theresienstadt composers’ certainly does not seem to be the least gifted! The work was created when Karel stayed in the hospital barracks of a Prague prison. He wrote his compositions on the smuggled pieces of toilet paper with staves, which were then immediately smuggled out.

Panocha KarelRudolfByAbeTerezin

Below, Rudolf Karel’s Nonet, performed by Orquesta de Cámara del Auditorio de Zaragoza “Grupo Enigma” – OCAZEnigma:

Gideon Klein (then 24 years old) and Pavel Haas were gassed in Auschwitz. Rudolf Karel died in Theresienstadt. Štepan Lucký is not really part of it. His Divertimento, composed in 1974, is from a different time, in a different style and of a different quality. Why he is included here, is a mystery to me.

The performances are more than exemplary. The pinnacle is Karel’s Nonet, in which the Academia Wind Quintet is strengthened by the members of the famous Panocha Quartet.

You can also listen to Rudolf Karel’s Nonet, plus some compositions by Haas, Klein and Schulhoff on Spotify, in a performance by the Bayerische Kammerphilharmonie conducted by Israel Yinon:


English translation Frans Wentholt

Gideon Klein, Pavel Haas, Rudolf Karel, Štêpán Lucký
Chamber compositions
Academia Wind Quintet Prague, Panocha Quartet conducted by Vladimír Válek
Supraphon SU 3339-2131

Marcel Worms takes care of piano works by Jewish composers

Worms pianowerkem

We can safely call Marcel Worms the ambassador of persecuted and forgotten composers. For his latest CD, he has recorded piano works by composers from various European countries: the Netherlands, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, France and Austria. Not only the countries of origin are different, the compositions written between 1922 and 1943 also vary a lot. From jazzy and swinging through romantic, virtuoso and modest to an attempt at serialism.

The composers all have one factor in common: they were Jewish and all but three (Weinberg, Laks and Urbancic) did not survive the war. Weinberg fled to the Soviet Union, Urbancic (who was not actually Jewish but his wife and children were) to Iceland. And Laks was very lucky to survive Auschwitz, as the bandmaster of the camp orchestra.

The CD starts spectacularly with ‘Blues’ by Szymon Laks. It is unknown when this wonderful work was composed. For myself, I think of the early 1930s. Dick Kattenburg’s ‘Novolette’ from 1941 fits in perfectly with this work. As well as the very rhythmic ‘Toccata’ by Paul Hermann.

The ‘Prelude’ by Mischa Hillesum (Etty’s brother) is another story. The composition is strongly anchored in romance: never are Chopin and Rachmaninoff far away; and the two Hommage-pieces (to Sherlock Holmes and to Remmington) by Leo Smit, that you can’t actually ‘store’ anywhere, are simply delightful.

Victor Urbancic is a big unknown to me, it is the first time that I hear from him. That is not very strange: his compositions are completely forgotten and the 1922 ‘Sonatine’ has its recorded premiere here. I don’t really love it, which may be due to my unfamiliarity with his idiom.

Worms

What I really do love is the irresistible playing by the pianist. Marcel Worms plays as if his life depended on it. Full of conviction and a real pianistic zest.


Szymon Laks (1901 – 1983), Dick Kattenburg (1919 – 1944), Paul Hermann (1902 – 1944), Mischa Hillesum (1920 – 1943), Nico Richter (1915 – 1945), Erwin Schulhoff (1894 – 1942), Viktor Urbancic ( 1903-1958), Gideon Klein (1919 – 1945), Leo Smit (1900 – 1943), Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919 – 1996)
Marcel Worms, piano
Zefir Records ZEF 9669

English translation: Frans Wentholt

Ooit van Wilhelm Grosz gehoord?

Enetartet Grosz

In de jaren twintig van de vorige eeuw werden alle waarden aan het wankelen gebracht. De Grote Oorlog was afgelopen, landen werden onafhankelijk of verloren juist hun zelfstandigheid. Nieuwe invloeden deden van zich spreken: jazz, blues, exotische folklore. De grens tussen de klassieke en populaire muziek vervaagde.

Van alle componisten uit die tijd, was Wilhelm Grosz misschien de meest veelzijdige. Hij werd geboren in Wenen in 1894 in een welgestelde Joodse familie. In 1919 studeerde hij af aan de Weense muziekacademie, waar hij onder andere les had van Franz Schreker en in 1920 rondde hij zijn studie musicologie aan de Weense Universiteit af.

Grosz schreef liederen, opera’s, operette’s, ballet, kamermuziek en was zeer beroemd als pianist. In.1928 werd hij in Berlijn aangesteld als artistiek directeur van de platenmaatschappij Ultraphon.

In 1929 componeerde hij (in opdracht van de toen prestigieuze radio Breslau) de liederencyclus Afrika Songs. De teksten die hij daarvoor gebruikte waren afkomstig van zwarte Amerikaanse dichters. De premiére op 4 februari 1930 werd zeer enthousiast ontvangen. ‘Jugendstil Spirituals’, werd de cyclus genoemd en wellicht is dat de beste omschrijving, want behalve

jazz en blues zijn de liederen zwaar beïnvloed door de muziek van Zemlinsky, Mahler en …. Puccini (vergelijk ‘Tante Sues Geschichten’ met ‘Ho una casa nell’ Honan’ uit de tweede acte van ‘Turandot’!).

Toen de nazi’s aan de macht kwamen, keerde Grosz naar Wenen terug om in 1934 ook daarvandaan te moeten vluchten. Hij vestigde zich in London. Daar werd voor het eerst een onderscheid gemaakt tussen zijn serieuze en populaire composities.

Zijn naam werd onlosmakelijk verbonden aan een paar wereldhits, zo was ‘The Isle of Capri’ dé grootste hit van 1934.

ALONG THE SANTA FE TRAIL

Entartet Gosz Santa Fe

In 1938 vertrok Grosz naar Hollywood. Daar componeerde hij muziek voor ‘Along the Santa Fé Trail’, een film met in de hoofdrollen Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland en Ronald Reagan. In 1939 werd hij getroffen door een hartinfarct en stierf, nog maar 45 jaar oud.

AFRIKA SONGS EN MEER

Entartete Gosz Africa

Na bijna zestig jaar werd Grosz herontdekt, al duurde het maar heel even. Het is haast niet te geloven maar de ‘Afrika Songs’ beleefden in 1996 hun plaat première! Het Matrix Ensemble heeft ze voor het eerst uitgevoerd op de Proms in 1993. Op de cd verder de liederencycli ‘Rondels’ en ‘Bänkel und Balladen’ en de hits ‘Isle of Capri’, ‘When Budapest was young’ en ‘Red sails in the sunset’- liedjes die we allemaal kennen en waarvan we nooit wisten wie de componist was.

Vera Lynn zingt ‘Red Sails in the Sunset’ in 1935

Mezzo Cynthia Clarey en bariton Jake Gardner  zijn subliem in de ‘Afrika Songs’ en Andrew Shore maakt een feest van ‘Bänkel und Balladen’.

 

Marcel Worms ontfermt zich over pianowerken van Joodse componisten

Worms pianowerkem

Marcel Worms kunnen we rustig de ambassadeur van vervolgde en vergeten componisten noemen. Voor zijn nieuwste cd heeft hij pianowerken opgenomen van componisten uit verschillende Europese landen: Nederland, Polen, Hongarije, Tsjechoslowakije, Frankrijk en Oostenrijk. Niet alleen de landen van afkomst zijn verschillend, hun composities geschreven tussen 1922 en 1943 zijn het ook. Van jazzy en swingend via romantisch, virtuoos en ingetogen tot een poging tot serialisme.

Er is één verbindingssector: allemaal waren ze Joods en op drie na (Weinberg, Laks en Urbancic) hebben ze de oorlog niet overleefd. Weinberg vluchtte naar de Sovjet-Unie, Urbancic (die eigenlijk niet Joods was maar zijn vrouw en kinderen wel) naar IJsland. En Laks had de enorme mazzel om Auschwitz te overleven, als de kapelmeester van het kamporkest.

De cd begint spetterend met ‘Blues’ van Szymon Laks. Het is onbekend wanneer het heerlijk werkje werd gecomponeerd, zelf denk ik aan begin jaren dertig. De ‘Novolette’ van Dick Kattenburg uit 1941 sluit daar perfect aan. Alsook de zeer ritmische ’Toccata’ van Paul Hermann.

De ‘Prelude’ van Mischa Hillesum (de broer van Etty) is een andere koek. De compositie zit sterk in de romantiek verankerd: Chopin en Rachmaninoff zijn nergens ver weg; en de twee Hommage-stukken (aan Sherlock Holmes en aan Remmington) van Leo Smit die je eigenlijk nergens kunt ‘opbergen’ zijn gewoon verrukkelijk.

Victor Urbancic is voor mij een grote onbekende, het is voor het eerst dat ik iets van hem hoor. Zo raar is het niet, zijn composities zijn totaal vergeten en de ‘Sonatine’ uit 1922 beleeft hier zijn plaatpremière. Echt kapot ben ik er niet van, wat onder andere aan mijn onbekendheid met zijn idioom kan liggen.

Worms

Waar ik wel kapot van ben is het onweerstaanbare spel van de pianist. Marcel Worms speelt alsof zijn leven er van afhangt. Vol overtuiging en een echt pianistiek elan.


 

Szymon Laks (1901 – 1983), Dick Kattenburg (1919 – 1944), Paul Hermann (1902 – 1944), Mischa Hillesum (1920 – 1943), Nico Richter (1915 – 1945), Erwin Schulhoff (1894 – 1942), Viktor Urbancic ( 1903-1958), Gideon Klein (1919 – 1945), Leo Smit (1900 – 1943), Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919 – 1996)
Marcel Worms, piano
Zefir Records ZEF 9669

Nog meer Korngold: van alles wat

korngold 1929 Franz Loewy

Korngold in 1929 © Franz Loewy

VIOLANTA

KOrngold Violanta

Zeventien jaar oud was Korngold toen hij in 1914 aan zijn tweede opera begon, waarvoor hij ook het libretto schreef. Het verhaal speelt zich af in de vijftiende eeuw in Venetië. Violanta wil wraak nemen op Alfonso, een prins die haar zuster heeft verleid. Helaas wordt zij zelf op hem verliefd en net als Gilda offert ze zichzelf voor hem op.

De muziek, met rijke orkestraties en mooie melodieën, doet zeer veristisch aan en de uitvoering onder leiding van Marek Janowski is schitterend. Het wordt tijd om de opera aan de vergetelheid te onttrekken. Wie wil de handtekeningenactie starten?

Walter Berry, Eva Marton, Siegfried Jerusalem;
Bavarian Radio Chorus&Munich Radio Orchestra/Marek Janowski
Sony 79229


KORNGOLD DIRIGEERT

Korngold in Vienna

Deze opname is gemaakt tijdens het korte verblijf van de componist in zijn geliefde stad Wenen en is dus van een onschatbare waarde. Het bevat aria’s uit al zijn opera’s, met een grote selectie uit Die Kathrin.

Ze worden gezongen door onder andere Anton Dermota, Ilona Steingruber en Gundula Janowitz, en al is de klank niet geweldig, toch prefereer ik het boven veel modernere uitvoeringen. Het idee alleen al dat hij zelf voor het orkest staat! Ik hoop dat het nog ergens te koop is, anders biedt Spotify de oplossing.

From the operas of Erich Wolfgang Korngold
The Austrian State Radio Orchestra olv Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Cambria CD 1032


VIOOLCONCERT

Korngold Shaham

Korngold schreef zijn vioolconcert in 1945 voor Bronislaw Hubermann, maar het was uiteindelijk Heifetz die de première in 1947 verzorgde. Alle drie de delen van het concert waren al eerder gebruikt als filmmuziek, in respectievelijk Another Dawn, Anthony Adverse en The Prince and the Pauper.

Het is een zeer romantisch vioolconcert geworden, prachtig in zijn eenvoud en rijk aan gevoelens. Er bestaan veel opnamen van, ook van Heifetz, maar zelf vind ik de uitvoering van Gil Shaham beslist de mooiste. Het is sentimenteel en terughoudend tegelijk en overtuigend betrokken.

André Previn dirigeert congeniaal, zijn affiniteit met muziek van Korngold is verbazingwekkend.


Gil Shaham; London Symphony Orchestra/André Previn
DG 4398862

EEN DVD OVER KORNGOLD

KOrngold dvd

Dit is een leuke dvd voor de beginners. Het voegt niets nieuws toe, maar is aardig gemaakt en bevat, behalve filmfragmenten en interviews, ook de complete uitvoeringen van veel van zijn werken, inclusief het viool- en het celloconcert. Dat laatste gespeeld door Quirine Viersen:

Erich Wolfgang Korngold. The Adventures of a Wunderkind. A portrait and Concert
Arthausmuziek 100 362

Korngold boek

Mocht u geïnteresseerd zijn geraakt, dan kan ik u het boek van Brendan G. Carroll, The Last Prodigy van harte aanbevelen.

Korngold boek

En als u wat meer over Korngold in Nederland wilt weten dan kunt u niet om Een jongen van brutale zwier van Caspar Wintermans heen.

Die Tote Stadt discografie. Deel 1

Aanbeden, genegeerd, vergeten: over Erich Wolfgang Korngold en ‘Die Tote Stadt’

Wonderlijke productie van Das wunder der Heliane uit Berlijn

Das Wunder der Annemarie Kremers ‘Heliane’

TUSSEN TWEE WERELDEN

KORNGOLD: complete songs

Silenced Voices

Silenced voices

Do you know the Black Oak Ensemble? There is a good chance you don’t, even though this American string trio, which barely anyone knows in the Netherlands, is rated as absolute top class. Its recent CD called Silenced Voices features pieces by six Jewish composers,  Géza Frid, Paul Hermann, Dick Kattenburg, Gideon Klein, Hans Krása and Sándor Kuti.

silnced ermann_1

Paul Hermann

They originally came from Hungary, Czechoslovakia and the Netherlands and with the exception of Géza Frid, who was active in the Dutch Resistance, they were all murdered. Hans Krása, Gideon Klein and Dick Kattenburg at Auschwitz. Sándor Kuti at a concentration camp in the Ukraine, probably in 1945 (!). But we don’t even know when or where the almost Dutch Paul Hermann was murdered.

Silenceed Kuti_Sándor

Sándor Kuti

Sándor Kuti studied at the Franz Liszt Academy with Georg Solti, who had a great deal of respect for him and once said that if he had not been murdered, Kuti would have become one of the greatest composers of Hungary. I read that he continued to compose up until his death somewhere in the Ukraine.

His Serenade for String Trio (1934) was what touched me the most on this CD. Of course the fact that I had never heard this composition before could have influenced how it affected me, but even when I listened to it again, it intrigued and moved me. Despite the numerous quotes straight from Hungarian folk music, the trio got under my skin. Just listen to the mesmerizing Scherzando that turns into an ominous Adagio ma non troppo. Real goosebumps.

Silenced Géza Frid lowres

Géza Frid

Géza Frid taught chamber music at the Utrecht Conservatory from 1964 to 1970, and his trio also had its world premiere here. Frid survived the war but died a horrifying death. The staff at his nursing home failed to check the temperature in his bathtub and he died at the Beverwijk Burn Centre.

Silenced Krasa

Hans Krása

Like Gideon Klein’s string trio, Hans Krása’s Passacaglia & Fugue for String Trio had already been recorded a couple of times, though still not often enough. Certainly not if you bear in mind that neither of the compositions are anything short of true masterpieces.

Silenced gideon-klein-bababa2d-8316-404b-bef4-7146a240c53-resize-750

Gideon Klein

There is also an earlier recording – one recording! – of Dick Kattenburg’s Trio à cordes. It had its world première on the incredible CD of The Hague String Trio. The composition only takes five minutes but what a five minutes they are!

silenced -Zelfportret_op_partituur,_door_Dick_Kattenburg

Dick Kattenburg: self portrait

The performance by the Black Oak Ensemble is simply sublime. I think you should all buy this CD!.


Kattenburg: Trio à cordes
Kuti: Serenade for String Trio 
Krása: Passacaglia & Fuga for String Trio
Klein: Trio for violin, viola, and cello
Hermann: Strijktrio
Frid: Trio à cordes, Op. 1
Black Oak Ensemble
Cedile Records CDR 90000 189

English translation: Sheila Gogol

 

 

 

Silenced Voices: hoe lang nog?

Silenced voices

Kent u het Black Oak Ensemble? De kans is groot van niet en dat terwijl het in Nederland vrijwel onbekend Amerikaans strijktrio bij de absolute top hoort. Op de niet zo lang geleden uitgekomen cd getiteld Silenced Voices hebben ze werken opgenomen van zes Joodse componisten: Géza Frid, Paul Hermann, Dick Kattenburg, Gideon Klein, Hans Krása en Sándor Kuti.

silnced ermann_1

Paul Hermann

Oorspronkelijk kwamen ze uit Hongarije, Tsjechoslowakije en Nederland en op Géza Frid na (hij deed actief mee met het verzet in Nederland) werden ze allemaal vermoord. Hans Krása, Gideon Klein en Dick Kattenburg in Auschwitz. Sándor Kuti in een concentratiekamp in Oekraïne, waarschijnlijk in 1945 (!). Maar ook van de bijna Nederlandse Paul Hermann weten we noch de datum noch de plaats waar hij werd vermoord.

Silenceed Kuti_Sándor

Sándor Kuti

Sándor Kuti studeerde aan de Franz Liszt Academie samen met Georg Solti die hem zeer hoog achtte en ooit verklaarde dat Kuti, als hij niet vermoord was geworden een van de grootste componisten van Hongarije zou zijn geworden. Ik las dat hij tot aan zijn dood ergens in Oekraïne aan het componeren was geweest.

Zijn Serenade voor strijktrio uit 1934 is voor mij het meest aangrijpende werk op deze cd. Dat ik de compositie niet eerder had gehoord kan natuurlijk van invloed zijn geweest voor mijn beleving, maar ook bij herhaald luisteren kan ik mij er niet van los maken. Ondanks de vele citaten die rechtstreeks komen uit de Hongaarse volksmuziek voelt het trio ongemakkelijk aan. Luister even naar het Scherzando dat al je aandacht gaat opeisen en die in een onheilspellend Adagio na non troppo overgaat. Echt kippenvel.

Silenced Géza Frid lowres

Géza Frid

Ook het trio van Géza Frid (tussen 1964 en 1970 hoofddocent kamermuziek aan het Utrechts Conservatorium) beleeft hier zijn wereldpremière. Frid heeft dan de oorlog overleefd, maar zijn dood was niet minder dan gruwelijk: de verpleegkundigen in zijn verzorgingstehuis hadden de temperatuur van zijn badwater niet gecontroleerd. Hij stierf in het brandwondencentrum in Beverwijk.

Silenced Krasa

Hans Krása

Hans Krása’s Passacaglia & Fuga voor Strijktrio is, net als het strijktrio van Gideon Klein al een paar keer eerder en vaker opgenomen maar nog steeds niet vaak genoeg. Zeker als je bedenkt dat beide composities niet minder zijn dan echte meesterwerken.

Silenced gideon-klein-bababa2d-8316-404b-bef4-7146a240c53-resize-750

Gideon Klein

Ook van Dick Kattenburgs Trio à cordes bestaat al – één! –  opname, het beleefde zijn wereldpremière op de waanzinnig goede cd van Het Haags Strijktrio. Het werk duurt maar vijf minuten maar wat een vijf minuten!

silenced -Zelfportret_op_partituur,_door_Dick_Kattenburg

Dick Kattenburg: zelfporrtet

De uitvoering door het Black Oak Ensemble is gewoon subliem. Deze cd moet u allemaal van mij kopen.


Kattenburg: Trio à cordes
Kuti: Serenade for String Trio 
Krása: Passacaglia & Fuga for String Trio
Klein: Trio for violin, viola, and cello
Hermann: Strijktrio
Frid: Trio à cordes, Op. 1

The voice of the Viola in Times of Opression: de altviool als stem voor de vervolgden

After the Darkness

Forbidden Music in World WAR II: PAUL HERMANN

Entartete Musik, Teresienstadt en Channel Classics

DROMEN ZIJN BEDROG

 

 

Persian poems about the pleasures of wine, set to music by a Czech Jew.

Ulmaan MatuszekThe

Persian poet Hafiz has also influenced many westerners. His ghazels (short poems mainly about love and wine) were the inspiration for Goethe’s ‘West-Östlicher Divan’. But many composers have also set his poems to music, including Karol Szymanowski and Victor Ullmann.

Ullmann composed his Liederbuch des Hafis in 1940. The wonderfully light-footed, humorous and lyrical songs are a feast for the ear and would make a very pleasant extension of the song repertoire. It is therefore impossible for me to understand why they are not sung more frequently. After all, Ullmann is one of the greatest composers of the twentieth century and he is no longer that unknown, is he?

In 1942 Ullmann was deported to Terezín (Theresienstadt). There he wrote many of his most important works, including his String Quartet No. 3 and the opera Der Kaiser von Atlantis. The songs Der Mensch und sein Tag op. 47 and the Drei Chinesische Lieder (Three Chinese Songs) also date from this period.

The Czech baritone Petr Matuszek has a very beautiful and warm timbre, he sings intelligibly and with much feeling. His repertoire is very broad: besides Schubert, Schumann, Brahms and Zelenka (!) he also sings many contemporary compositions. Moreover, he has recorded almost all the songs of the ‘Theresienstadt composers’.

He is excellently accompanied by Aleš Kanka on the piano and in the song ‘Herbst’ (here incorrectly added to the cycle Der Mensch und sein Tag) he is assisted by a string trio.


Victor Ullmann
Songs
Petr Matuszek baritone
Aleš Kanka piano, Pavel Eret violin, Libor Kanka viola, Vladan Kocí cello
Supraphon SU 3284-2 231

Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator

Alexander Zemlinsky. Part 4: ‘Warum hast du mir nicht gesagt…’

EINE FLORENTINISCHE TRAGÖDIE

zemlinsky FT Wacik klein

Bianca, the attractive wife of the merchant Simone is having an affair with the beautiful prince Guido Bardi. Simone catches them and challenges Guido to a duel with swords and eventually strangles him with his bare hands.  His wife looks at him admirably: “Why didn’t you tell me that you were so strong?” In turn, Simone becomes aware of the beauty of his wife: “Why didn’t you tell me that you were so beautiful…”

Zemlinsky Oscar_Wilde_portrait

Oscar Wilde

Eine Florentinische Tragödie  is based on the last play by Oscar Wilde. The beginning of the play is missing: the manuscript was stolen when Wilde went to prison. Zemlinsky solved the problem by composing a prologue to suggest the love scene between Bianca and Guido.

The opera, which premiered in 1917, provided a lot of gossip. “Eine autobiografische Tragödie” (An autobiographical Tragedy) was the headline of the Vienna Zeitung article by Edwin Baumgartner. Alma Mahler was not amused. She was certain that Zemlinsky had depicted her affair with Walter Groppius.

Mathilde Schönberg Zemlinsky with child

and with her husband

The Viennese public, on the other hand, thought it was about Schönberg and his wife Mathilde, Zemlinsky’s sister. Mathilde had left her husband for the young painter Richard Gerstl.

Zemlinsky Gerstl_-_Bildnis_Mathilde_Schönberg

Mathilde Schönberg with child. Painting by Gerstl

When she returned to her husband, Gerstl committed suicide, he was only 25 years old

Zemlinsky Gerstl

Richard Gerstl: ‘Selbstbildnis (“Akt in ganzer Figur’) from 1908. Courtesy Leopold Museum / Neue Galerie

All in the family in the best tradition, so to speak.

But what do you think: can you consider a fictional character in a work of art as the alter ego of its creator? Do you want to project a composer’s course of life onto the opera he has composed? How far do you involve life in art?

In a letter to Alma Mahler, Zemlinsky wrote that “a life had to be sacrificed in order to save the lives of two others.” But does this immediately make this the central theme of this opera, as many critics write? I don’t know.

One thing is certain: Eine Florentinische Tragödie can be listened to as an exciting, dark thriller, in which you do not sympathize with any of the characters.

Zemlinsky Tragedie Chailly

In 1997 Decca included the opera in their now expired series ‘Entartete Musik’. Riccardo Chailly conducted the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (Decca 4551122).

In the same year there was also a (live) recording of the Cologne Gürzenich-Orchester conducted by their then chief conductor James Conlon (once on EMI).

ZemllinskyConlonFRONT-1

Both recordings are good and I wouldn’t know which one to choose. Chailly’s orchestral sound is fuller and the strings sound more pleasant, but Conlon is undeniably more exciting, perhaps because it was recorded live.

The sound of the Cologne orchestra is more sensual, the sound of the RCO is darker. The singers are equally good in both recordings, although I find David Kuebler (Guido at Conlon) much more pleasant than the slightly shrill Heinz Kruse for Chailly.

Iris Vermillion for Chailly sounds nicer and warmer than Deborah Voigt for Conlon, but the latter has more sex appeal. In the role of Guido, Albert Dohmen (Chailly) is by far preferable to the not entirely idiomatic Donnie Ray Albert.

ZemlinskyCD Jurowski

In 2010 Eine Florentinische Tragödie was recorded by the London Philharmonic Orchestra under the very inspiring leadership of Vladimir Jurowsky (LPO-0078). Albert Dohmen is back: his Simone sounds even more impressive than on Decca.

Sergey Skorokhodov’s Guido is a wimp and no match for the macho Dohmen. A Don Ottavio who will take on Hunding, so to speak. Heike Wessels (Bianca) is a mistake.

On YouTube you can find many (fragments) of live performances of the opera, among others from Lyon:

Frühlingsbegräbnis, the cantata that brought Zemlinsky into contact with Alma Mahler.

Zemlinsky cantate fruhling

This cantata is (was?) available on CD, performed very well by the Gürzenich-Orchester in Cologne, conducted by James Conlon, with the soprano Deborah Voigt and the baritone Donnie Ray Albert as soloists.  I love this work, it reminds me a little of Brahms’s Ein Deutsches requiem. The cantata was once coupled with several other unknown works by Zemlinsky, who all had their record premieres here: “Cymbeline”-Suite, after lyrics of Shakespeare and Ein Tanzpoem. Unfortunately…. Even YouTube has removed this recording, so second hand (or asking a friend who owns it for a copy) remains the only option.

Strangely enough Frühlingsbegräbnis by Conlon is on Spotify, but in combination with Psalms and Hochzeitgesang in a totally different performance:

On Spotify you can also listen to the recording under Antony Beaumont. The performance is less beautiful than that of Conlon but certainly not bad:

Cymbeline by Conlon can be found on You Tube:

James Conlon about Zemlinsky (and Ullmann):

“The music of Alexander Zemlinsky and Viktor Ullmann remained hidden for decades by the aftermath of the destruction caused by the Nazi regime […] Full recognition of their works and talent is still lacking, more than 70 years after their death […] Their lives and personal histories were tragic, but their music transcends it all. It is up to us to appreciate their story in its full historical and artistic context.”

Literature consulted:
Antony Beaumont: Zemlinsky
Michael Haas: Forbidden Music. The Jewish Composers banned by the Nazis

ALEXANDER ZEMLINSKY. Part 1: The Man

Alexander Zemlinsky. Part 2: ‘Du bist mein Eigen.’

Alexander Zemlinsky. Part 3: dreams and the happiness that needs to be hidden

Alexander Zemlinsky. Part 3: dreams and the happiness that needs to be hidden

DER ZWERG

Zemlinsky Zwerg dvd

Like no other renowned conductor, James Conlon has been an ardent advocate of the ‘Entartet composers’ for years. In his Cologne years (between 1989 and 2002 he was chief conductor of the Gürzenich-Orchester and artistic director of the opera) he performed and recorded almost all of Zemlinski’s orchestral and vocal works. I cherish his recordings on EMI (unfortunately most of them are no longer on the market) as the greatest treasures, which they probably are.

Zemlinsky James Conlon

James Conlon

In 2006, Conlon was appointed musical director of the Los Angeles opera and one of his first projects was a series of ‘Recovered Voices: A Lost Generation’s Long-Fortgotten Masterpieces.’ The series started in 2008 with a double-bill of Ullmann’s Der zerbrochene Krug and Zemlinsky’s Der Zwerg. (Arthaus Music 101 528)

The idea of composing an opera about an ugly man who is in love with a beauty has haunted Zemlinsky all his life, and that’s how he ended up with Oscar Wilde and his The Birthday of the Infanta.

Zemlinsky zwerg kostuum

Costume design for ‘Der Zwerg’ by August Haag, Cologne 1922.

On her eighteenth birthday Donna Clara receives a remarkable gift: a dwarf, who is also hideously ugly. A delightful toy for the infante, especially since the dwarf does not know he is ugly himself – he has never seen his own reflection… Donna Clara makes him fall in love with her and makes him think that she loves him too, after which she puts him in front of mirrors. He doesn’t survive, but that doesn’t interest the spoiled princess.

Zemlinksy velazquez.meninas

Diego Velázques: Las Meninas

The very traditional and naturalistic setting is exceptionally beautiful and the costumes are dazzling. You really think you’re at the Spanish court. The whole thing looks like a painting of Velazques, breathtaking.

The execution is also breathtaking. James Johnson sings and acts an excellent Don Esteban. Mary Dunleavy has everything it takes to perform the conceited infante: she is beautiful and capricious. Her voice is silvery and childishly light. As an actress she also knows how to convince.

Rodrick Dixon sings the leading role here in an inimitable way. The only singer I ever liked better in this part was Douglas Nasrawi, whom I heard singing it during a Saturday Matinee at the Concertgebouw.

James Conlon on Ullmann’s Der zerbrochene Krug conducted by him, coupled with Zemlinsky’s Der Zwerg:

DER TRAUMGÖRGE

Zemlinsky Traumgorge

“The fairy tales must become reality,” sings Görge, after his dream has been laughed at by the farmers and his fiancée Grete. And so it happens: Görge finds his dreamed princess in the form of Gertraud, cast out by the farmers, and his dream comes true.

Zemlinski has provided the story of Görge the dreamer and his search for the unattainable ideal with music of touching beauty. Sehnsucht, shimmering eroticism, symbolism …. You name it and you’ll find it. The work reminds me strongly of Szymanowski’s Król Roger, the same long, spun-out lines in the soprano aria, the same overwhelming choral parts, swelling orchestra. I love it.

Der Traumgörge (Leo Feld’s libretto after Richard von Volkmann-Leander’s fairytale ‘Vom unsichtbaren Königreich’ and Heine’s poem ‘Der arme Peter’) was meant by Zemlinsky as a tribute to his then beloved Alma. Due to circumstances, the opera was never performed during his lifetime; the first – considerably shortened – performance only took place in 1980.

Zemlinsky Traumgorge decor

Set design by Alfred Roller for ‘Der Traumgörge’. Vienna Court Opera 1907

The first complete recording from 1999 proves that the music is not to blame. The Cologne orchestra conducted by James Conlon alone deserves an A-plus and the soloists are absolutely sublime.

David Kuebler plays a beautiful Görge with a radiant height. His voice mixes the right amount of metal with sottovoce, which is necessary for this role.

Patricia Racette, then still a great unknown, is unearthly beautiful as Gertraud (her velvet tones in ‘Oh! Ich wil zu dir in die Welt’ are of a Korgoldian beauty) and Andreas Schmidt has enough of a peasant to be a convincing Hans. The live recording sounds excellent.

DER KÖNIG KANDAULES

Zemlinsky KK Gerome

Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904): ‘King Candaules’.

In 1938, Zemlinsky fled to New York. His suitcase contained the unfinished opera Der könig Kandaules. Once in New York, he hoped for a performance at the Metropolitan Opera.

Zemlinsky Andre Gide

André Gide

Unfortunately for him the libretto based on the play by André Gide (King Kandaules wants to share his happiness and [the beauty of] his wife with everyone. Encouraged by the king and helped by a ring that makes him invisible, Gyges spends one night with the queen. When she finds out what happened, she urges Gyges to kill the king, after which he himself is crowned king) was too risky for the American public. When Zemlinsky died in 1942, his opera was still unfinished.

Zemlinsky Beaumont

Antony Beaumont

It was only the English musicologist and Zemlinsky biographer Antony Beaumont who completed the score. In October 1996 the opera was performed in Hamburg, with enormous success. The performance was recorded live and released on the label Capriccio (600712).

Zemlinsky KK Capriccio

The performance, conducted by Gerd Albrecht, is without a doubt excellent and the leading roles of James O’Neal (Kandaules), Monte Pederson (Gyges) and Nina Warren (Nyssia) are very adequately cast. In the small role of Nicomedes we hear a young debutant, Mariusz Kwiecień.

 

Zemlinsky KK Nagano

In 2002 Salzburg programmed the opera and the performance was recorded live – phenomenally cast – and released on 2 CD’s (Naïve 3070) in a very elaborate edition. The role of Kandaules was sung with dedication by Robert Brubacker and Wolfgang Schöne was an excellent Gyges. The Swedish Nina Stemme, who was then still in the lyrical ‘fach’, sang a beautiful Nyssia. The Deutsches Symphonie Orchester conducted by Kent Nagano sounds very exciting.

Our unsurpassed Saturday Matinee performed the opera in November 2007 as a concert performance, unfortunately there is no recording of it. Too bad, because the conductor Bernhard Kontarsky conducted with great dedication and Stuart Skelton and Jeanne-Michèle Charbonnet were unforgettable as the royal couple.

Gyges (or was it Zemlinsky himself?): „Der, der ein Glück hält, soll sich gut verstecken! Und besser noch, sein Glück vor Andern“.


ALEXANDER ZEMLINSKY. Part 1: The Man

Alexander Zemlinsky. Part 2: ‘Du bist mein Eigen.’

in Dutch:
EINE (AUTO)BIOGRAFISCHE TRAGÖDIE: ALEXANDER ZEMLINSKY. Deel 3: dromen en het geluk dat verborgen dient te worden