“Ich möcht so gern nach Haus!”: Anne Sofie von Otter sings songs by ‘Theresienstadt composers

The songs Anne Sofie von Otter, assisted by baritone Christian Gerhaher, sings on the CD Terezín – Theresienstadt, released in 2008 on Deutsche Gramophon (DG 4776546), belong to a variety of music genres. They have one thing in common: all of them were composed in the Terezín concentration camp and their creators who were deported there were later murdered in Auschwitz.

The initiative came from von Otter herself: for the Holocaust commemoration in Stockholm she collected a wide selection of the ‘Terezín songs’ and compiled a recital of them.  This programme was then recorded for CD, ” because we must never forget. “

ILse Weber

It is a CD you really need to listen to from start to finish even though many of the songs come from the lighter genre. Most moving are the songs by Ilse Weber.

Try to keep a dry eye when listening to ‘Wiegala,’ the lullaby that Weber sang to the children in the gas chambers.

Or the terrifying words “I want to go home so badly” from Weber’s “Ich wandre durch Theresienstadt.”

Erwin Schulhoff

The beautiful violin solo sonata by Erwin Schulhoff does not really belong here, Schulhoff has never been to Terezín. He was arrested in Prague on 23 June 1941 and deported to the Würzburg concentration camp, where he died of tuberculosis in 1942. You can hear that Daniel Hope has been devoted to Schulhoff’s music for many years, as he interprets the work in an inimitable way.

Below Daniel Hope plays ‘Andante Cantabile’, the second movement of Schulhoff’s sonata. It is a recording from the CD ‘Forbidden Music’, released by Nimbus:


Ilse Weber, Hans Krása, Viktor Ullmann, Pavel Haas, Karel Svenk, Erwin Schulhoff
Terezín – Theresienstadt
Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo-soprano), Christian Gerhaher (baritone), Daniel Hope (violin), Bengt Forsberg (piano), Bebe Risengf (accordion, guitar and double bass) and others.

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Korngold and time

“Die Zeit, die ist ein sonderbar Ding […] sie ist um uns herum, sie ist auch in uns drinnen. (Hugo of Hoffmanstal)

Yes, time is really something special, it goes by whether you want it to or not, and resigning yourself to it is an art in itself. But sometimes time returns, often too late and usually in a dream. Or as a memory.

Think of Erich Wolfgang Korngold, a child prodigy who at the age of 20 was already world-famous and established as a composer. In 1934, he left for Hollywood to compose music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The film was a huge success and the management of Warner Bros. offered Korngold a really fantastic contract. Who thought at the time that it would save his life?

Korngold with his wife and children

In early 1938, he received a telegram asking if he could be back in Hollywood in ten days. Korngold considered it an omen: on the very last ship, on 29 January of that year, he left his beloved Vienna. And Europe.

(Original Caption) Erich Wolfgang Korngold, his son and his wife, pictured as they arrived in New York City, aboard the S.S. Normandie.

He was doing well in America and was very successful there, but he did not feel at home. His heart and soul remained in Vienna. In 1949 he travelled back to the city of his dreams, but nobody there knew him anymore. Forgotten. In just over ten years, he had become a nobody. Disillusioned, he returned to Hollywood, where he literally died of a broken heart seven years later.

Until the 1980s, he went from being a celebrated composer of countless operas, songs, concertos, symphonies, quartets and whatnot to a reviled ‘film composer’ of kitsch music.

Time… And suddenly people found out – or remembered – what a great composer he had been. Korngold was rediscovered. Today, his violin concerto is one of the most played (and recorded) violin concertos and his operas are on the bill in every opera house in the world. Rightly so, but too late for him.

Time… Just look at his string quartets. Korngold composed his second string quartet in 1933, when nothing was supposedly happening as yet, although you could already hear (and not even very far away) lightning and thunder and there were already some signs on the wall.

Korngold wrote his third string quartet twelve years later. Not only did a lot of time pass between the second and third string quartets, but a lot of things had also happened. Well, a few things…… Fascism, anti-Semitism, Kristallnacht, Anschluss, pogroms, the Second World War and the Shoah.

Time…. The second string quartet still has the schwung of the old Viennese tradition. A bit like a ‘Mozart-kugel’, or a ‘Sachertarte’. Delicious and irresistible. What a difference with the third! Korngold composed it in 1945 and you feel nostalgia and bitterness. And resignation.

Alma String Quartet

We have long known that the Alma Quartet has a great affinity with ‘Entartete composers’. Their recording of the quartets by Schulhoff is simply the best I have ever heard.


And now there is Korngold. Just as I expected: fascinating, breathtaking and speaking to your heart and soul. Virtuoso, perfect and emotional. Phenomenal, in other words. That is how I prefer to hear my Korngold.

But there is more to it. Again; time… The Almas recorded the string quartets ‘direct-to-disc’. Live and without edits. No modifications: directly onto the record (CD).

In the announcement: “Because in this old recording technique, there is no digital track between the microphone and the record, there can be no editing. What you get is studio quality, but the sensation of a live performance. To reinforce that feeling, the quartet decided to play two pieces by Erich Wolfgang Korngold in concert attire”.

The first quartet is still to come: I can hardly wait!

Erich Wolfgang Korngold
String Quartet No. 2 in E-flat, op. 26 – No. 3 in D, op. 34
Alma Quartet: Marc Daniël van Biemen, Benjamin Peled, Jeroen Woudstra, Clément Peigné
Challenge Classics CC72869

Live performance on NPO Radio 4 ‘Podium’ at Hilversum Mediapark on November 25th, 2021

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

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”.

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.


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

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.


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

Music as ecstasy: Kathryn Stott plays Erwin Schulhoff

Schulhoff hot

In 1919 Erwin Schulhoff wrote: “Music should bring primarily physical pleasure, even ecstasy, to the listener. It is not philosophy: its roots lie in ecstatic situations and its expression lies in rhythm.”  No wonder the synthesis of jazz and classical music was not only a challenge for him, but eventually became his artistic credo.

In his time, Schulhoff (1894-1942) was highly appreciated as a composer and a virtuoso pianist. One review even speaks of an ‘absolutely perfect technique’ and a remarkable gift for improvisation.

The latter was particularly appreciated during his (live) radio performances, in which, of course, he also promoted his own jazz compositions. In 1928 he recorded several of his compositions for Polydor, including three from his Cinq Études de Jazz. These are particularly difficult works, which demand almost the impossible from the performer.

That Kathryn Stott has the required technique is obvious. Her recordings of piano music by Fauré, among others, earned her world fame and numerous prizes. She also deserves the greatest praise for her performance of Schulhoff’s jazz compositions. She plays the Etudes much slower than the composer, yet very rhythmical and extremely virtuosic. And yes: the pleasure of listening is indeed physical.

Ervín Schulhoff
Hot Music
Katryn Stott (piano)
BIS 1249

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Muziek als extase: Kathryn Stott speelt Schulhoff

Schulhoff hot

 “Muziek moet voornamelijk fysiek plezier, zelfs een extase bij de luisteraar teweegbrengen. Zij is geen filosofie, haar oorsprong ligt in de extatische situaties en haar uiting in het ritme”, schreef Erwin Schulhoff in 1919. Geen wonder dat de synthese van jazz en klassieke muziek voor hem niet alleen een uitdaging maar zelfs zijn artistieke credo was.

Schulhoff (1894-1942) was in zijn tijd zeer gewaardeerd niet alleen als componist maar ook als een virtuoos pianist. In a recensies uit die wordt gesproken van een ‘absoluut volkomen techniek’ en een opmerkelijke gave tot improviseren.

Dat laatste kwam hem bijzonder te pas tijdens zijn (live) radio optredens, waarin hij uiteraard ook zijn eigen jazz composities promootte. In 1928 nam hij voor Polydor een paar van zijn composities op, waaronder drie uit zijn Cinq Études de Jazz. Het zijn bijzonder moeilijke concertstukken, die van de uitvoerder bijna het onmogelijke eisen.

Dat Kathryn Stott over de vereiste techniek beschikt is evident. Haar opnamen van onder andere pianomuziek van Fauré bezorgden haar wereldfaam en ettelijke prijzen. Ook voor de uitvoering van de jazzcomposities van Schulhoff verdient zij de grootste lof. Zij speelt de Etudes veel langzamer dan de componist, maar toch zeer ritmisch en bijzonder virtuoos. En ja: het plezier bij het luisteren is inderdaad fysiek.

Ervín Schulhoff
Hot Music
Katryn Stott (piano)
BIS 1249

The Yiddish Cabaret: Jerusalem Quartet’s tribute to their grandparents

Jiddish CabaretThe Jerusalem String Quartet never disappoints. Never. Whatever they play. It’s not just about perfection, but also, or perhaps mainly, about their attention to the story behind the notes. For their involvement in the pieces they play. And their search for the truth that may not even exist. But with this album they have gone far above themselves and their own standards. Something that might have to do with the fact that they were allowed to choose the works themselves, none of which are commonplace?

With their choice they have also made a statement. Something we all know but still don’t want to admit out loud because we feel uncomfortable about it? About the influence of Jews and their contribution to our Western culture?

These days, Schulhoff and certainly Korngold are no longer curiosities, although of the latter mostly his operas are performed these days. Yet his chamber music compositions are not to be sneezed at. Listen his second string quartet, for example! At the first notes you get the nostalgic feeling of an unattainable lover and an intense desire. Beautiful and painful at the same time. Not only are the notes divinely beautiful, it is also the performance. Yearning and full of desire.

The five pieces for Erwin Schulhoff’s string quartet are a  link to the title of the album: the Jewish Cabaret. Leonid Desyatnikov composed his ‘Yiddish’ in 2018. These five songs are based on the Yiddish songs from the Polish interbellum, the period between the two world wars, which were sung in the cabarets in Warsaw and Lódz. The soprano Hila Baggio manages to strike the right tone in the songs. Light-footed. Think of the very young Lotte Lenya.

The album is dedicated to the grandparents of the members of the quartet. I allow myself to include my own grandparents that I have never known.

The Yiddish Cabaret
Erich Wolfgang Korngold: String quartet no. 2 on. 26
Erwin Schulhoff: 5 Pieces for string quartet
Leonid Desyatnikov: Yiddish – 5 Lieder for Stem and Stem Quarter (2018)
Hila Baggio (soprano), Jerusalem Quartet
Harmonia Mundi HMM 902631

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