In 1933 Walter Braunfels was dismissed from his post as director of the Hochschule für Musik in Cologne. Until then he had been, with Richard Strauss and Franz Schreker, one of the most frequently performed contemporary composers. He retired to the Bodensee region (in his biography this is beautifully described as an “inner emigration’). After the war, on special request of Chancellor Adenauer, Braunfels returned to Cologne. The attention he received was limited to a few performances of his works. Disillusioned, he moved back to the Bodensee
In 1935 Berthold Goldschmidt (1903-1996) left Germany and travelled to London. Against his better judgement he kept composing, but his works remained unperformed. In 1951 Goldschmidt won an opera composition contest with Beatrice Cenci, which had to wait until 1988 for its first concert performance.
In the 1980s, stimulated by the renewed interest in his work, Goldschmidt started to compose again. His Rondeau from 1995, written for and performed by Chantal Juilliet, was recorded by Decca, together with his beautiful Ciaccona Sinfonica from 1936. This CD has been out of print for years now, and the composer’s works have all but disappeared from the concert platform.
Korngold, Braunfels, Goldschmidt, Zemlinsky, Ullmann, Schreker, Schoenberg, Toch, Weill, Krenek, Spoliansky, Holländer, Grosz, Waxman, Haas, Krasa, Schulhoff, Klein… a litany of names. Labelled “entartet” and banned by the Nazis, vilified, driven away, murdered. The composers who survived the war were forgotten, just like those who were murdered. Has this all really been the fault of the Nazis?
Michael Haas, the producer of Decca’s recording series Entartete Musik had a logical explanation. “After the war the new generation of composers felt a sense of guilt. Something similar should never happen again, and they found a remedy for that. They thought it was necessary to create objective music, without sentiment and subjected to strict rules. Music had to be universal. Serialism was born. In Darmstadt, the past was dealt with, including the composers from the 1930s. They were too romantic and sentimental, or borrowed too much from jazz and popular music. The Darmstadt school of composers became dominant, which meant an important link between the music of Mahler and Berio was lost. The bridge between the 1920s and the 1950s, the post-Schoenberg generation of composers.”
“My research started with a Weill project that unfortunately failed to take off. In the archives I discovered operas that were composed and performed in the 1920s and 1930s with immense success. I started to search for the scores, and my gut feeling was right. All of them were great compositions that deserved to be performed and recorded. Music history got back its logical order. “
In the 1920s old values were shaken. The Great War had just ended. Countries had become independent, or had just lost their independency. Powerful new influences like jazz, blues, and exotic folklore appeared. Boundaries between classical and popular music were fading.
Of all the composers from that period, Wilhelm Grosz was perhaps the most versatile. He was born in Vienna in 1894 into a wealthy Jewish family. In 1919 he graduated from the Viennese Music Academy, where he was taught by, amongst others, Franz Schreker. In 1920 he finished his musicological studies at the Vienna University.
Grosz composed songs, operas, operettas, ballet music and chamber music, and was a famous pianist as well. In 1928 he was appointed the artistic director of the Ultraphon record company in Berlin.
In 1929, commissioned by the prestigious Radio Breslau, he composed the song cycle Afrika Songs on lyrics by African-American poets.
Afrika Songs was premiered on 4 February 1930 and enthusiastically received. The cycle also became known as the Jugendstil Spirituals, which probably is the most fitting description for it. There are jazz and blues influences, but the songs were also quite heavily influenced by the music of Zemlinsky, Mahler and … Puccini (compare Tante Sues Geschichten with Ho una casa nell’ Honan from the second act of Turandot!).
When he Nazis came to power, Grosz returned to Vienna. In 1934 he was forced to flee again, this time to London. There his popular works grew more distinct from his serious ones. His name became forever attached to a series of world wide hits. The Isle of Capri, for example, was the big hit of 1934.
ALONG THE SANTA FE TRAIL
In 1938 Grosz left for Hollywood. He composed the music for Along the Santa Fe Trail, a movie with Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland and Ronald Reagan in the leads. He had a heart attack in 1939 and died, aged only 45.
AFRIKA SONGS AND MORE
After almost sixty years Grosz was rediscovered, although only briefly. It is hard to believe, but the Afrika Songs were not recorded until 1996! The Matrix Ensemble performed them for the firs time at the Proms in 1993. The CD also includes the song cycle Rondels, Bänkel und Balladen and the hits Isle of Capri, When Budapest Was Young and Red Sails in the Sunset, songs we all know but never knew who composed them.
Vera Lynn sings Red Sails in the Sunset in 1935
Mezzo Cynthia Clarey and baritone Jake Gardner are splendid in the Afrika Songs and Andrew Shore makes a party of Bänkel und Balladen. Nothing but praise for the Matrix Ensemble.
We meet the Matrix Ensemble again, this time accompanying Ute Lemper on a recording of Berlin cabaret songs. Cabaret in Berlin in the 1920s and the 1930s. Countless books and articles have been written about it, and it has inspired many movies. Cabaret really was a world of its own, with the venerable Rudolf Nelson as its undisputed king. Pretty soon the younger generation made its mark on the cabaret scene: Mischa Spoliansky and Friedrich Holländer. The lyrics (mainly by Marcellus Schiffer, but also by Tucholsky) scrutinised the spirit of the times. Everything was mocked, but serious topics were not eschewed either.
Ute Lemper sings Der Verflossene by Berthold Goldschmidt
Lemper’s choice of material is outstanding. Apart from a few widely known schlagers (Peter, Wenn die beste Freundin, Raus mit den Männern) she sings lesser known repertoire, amongst others a composition by Berthold Goldschmidt, Der Verflossene. Goldschmidt was present during the recording sessions, just like the daughters of Spoliansky and Holländer.
Korngold, Braunfels, Goldschmidt, Zemlinsky, Ullmann, Schreker, Schoenberg, Toch, Weill, Krenek, Spoliansky, Holländer, Grosz, Waxman, Haas, Krasa, Schulhoff, Klein… a litany of names. With the naming of these names the documentary from the 1990s on Entartete Musik started. I doubt the DVD is still for sale somewhere…
It is probably remaindered, like the entire prestigious Decca recording series. No money could be made from it. As Michael Haas remarked: “The series is very successful, it wins awards and it is praised. But it does not sell.”
BETWEEN TWO WORLDS
In 1944 Korngold wrote music for the movie Between two worlds. It was to be one of his last movie compositions. In London, during World War II, a concert pianist tries to leave by boat to the United States but is refused an exit permit. He then decides to commit suicide. His wife joins him.
Those who commit suicide are refused at the gates of heaven. The pianist and his wife are therefore doomed to remain on a mysterious ship where the dead come to be judged.