Entartete Musik

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

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