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?
Today I want to tell you more about Berthold Goldschmidt, as it is his 120-th Birthday. Goldschmidt was born in Hamburg in 1903. He studied philosophy and art history, as well as composition (with Schreker) and conducting. He served as Erich Kleiber’s assistant for the premiere of Berg’s Wozzeck in 1925. His musical career began in earnest during the heyday of the Weimar Republic.
In 1925, Goldschmidt achieved his first major success with his Passacaglia which earned him the prestigious Mendelssohn Prize. Hailed as one of the brightest hopes of a generation of young composers, Goldschmidt reached the premature climax of his career with the premiere of his opera Der gewaltige Hahnrei in Mannheim in 1932.
And then…. And then the Nazi’s came to power and he became “Entartet. In 1935 Berthold Goldschmidt left Germany and travelled to London. During World War II, Goldschmidt worked for the BBC and served as the Music Director of its German Service in 1944-47. While taking jobs in conducting, 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.
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.