Lothar_Zagrosek

Entartete Music and Berthold Goldschmidt

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.

Music by Goldschmidt on Spotify:

Dreams don’t come true

Imagine: you are young, beautiful and secretly in love with a revolutionary, who unfortunately is on his deathbed. Your relationship is “not done” and marriage is out of the question. You live in a small town, where there is no future for you.

One day, a prince presents himself. It is true: he is old and worn out. His beard and moustache are false, he wears a wig and he is a bit childish. But he is rich and actually quite nice. With his money you will be able to afford sending your lover to the Spanish sun, where he will definitely get better. And when the prince dies, there is nothing stopping you from marrying whoever you want. For this you are quite willing to sacrifice yourself, aren’t you?

Marja Alexandrowna is a cunning woman. She knows how to get her daughter Sina to agree to her little plan to hook the prince (albeit reluctantly). The prince is served a substantial meal, liberally sprinkled with wine. Sina sings an aria, the prince gets another liqueur, and yes: he asks for Sina’s hand. Alas, everything goes haywire.

Both Paul, a distant relative of the prince and in love with Sina, and Nastassja, a poor relative of Maria Alexandrowna and herself interested in the prince, throw a spanner in the works.

When the prince awakens from his nap, he readily accepts Paul’s explanation that his proposal only took place in a dream. Meanwhile, Nastasia makes sure that all the ladies of the town are informed of the incident. Mother and daughter are laughed at, Sina confesses the premeditated plan, the prince forgives her and leaves. And meanwhile, Sina’s lover dies.

Verlobung im Traum is an unusual opera. The action is captured within a frame narrative. The story is told to us by an archivist of Mordasov. In the prologue, he introduces the main characters to us; in the epilogue, we hear how things continue with Sina and her mother.


The story, literally after Dostoevsky’s “Uncle’s Dream” was adapted into a libretto by Rudolf Fuchs and Rudolf Thomas.

Trailer from Karlsruhe in 2014:



Verlobung im Traum was awarded the State Prize for Composition in 1933 and in the same year it was also performed: first for the Prague Radio and a few months later at the German Theatre in Prague. Georg Szell conducted and Hilde Konetzny sang Sina. The success was great, but further performances were out of the question. After all, it was already 1933.

The music is nowhere atonal, one detects strong influences of Poulenc, but Mahler is also quite close.

Krása sprinkles liberally with jazz influences and the saxophone takes a prominent place in the orchestra. Perhaps most remarkable is the “revenge duet” at the end of the first act: an ironic replacement for the usual “love duet”?

Anda-Luise Bogsa sings Sina:



And then we come to “Casta Diva”: Sina, in her attempt to seduce the prince, sings the beautiful aria from Bellini’s “Norma”. Instead of the original chorus, we get a quartet: the mother, the prince and, behind-the-scene, the eavesdropping Nastassja and Paul are each commenting on Sina’s singing….

Hans Krása in Teresienstadt


Born in 1899, the composer was a true “bon-vivant”. He spent his days at the coffee house, at the opera or playing chess with his friend Thomas. Little time was left for composing.

Krása spent a short time in Paris (at the invitation of his kindred spirits from “Les Six”), but nostalgia for Prague was stronger and so he returned to his homeland, just in time to be sent to Teresienstadt. On 17 October 1944, he was gassed in Auschwitz, along with Ullmann, Haas and Klein.

 “Das schönste sind im Leben diese Träume, die erfüllen, was unerfüllbar ist”


Hans Krása
Verlobung im Traum
Christianne Berggold, Charlotte Hellekant, Juanita Lascarro, Jane Henschel, Albert Dohmen
Ernst Senff Chor Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin olv Lothar Zagrosek
Decca 4555872

‘Saint François d’Assise’ by Olivier Messiaen in three audio recordings

SEIJI OZAWA

Olivier Messiaen was a very religious man and most of his works revolve around the Christian faith. For his only opera, about St Francis, he also wrote the libretto, which he considered his personal declaration of faith and a kind of testament. This was at least as important to him as the music itself. He worked on it for seven years; the premiere took place in 1983, in Paris.

The performance, with José van Dam in the lead role and conducted by Seiji Ozawa was released on CD, on the Cybélia label, unfortunately the recording is very hard to find these days. YouTube offers solace, there you can listen to some of it (with images!).



Below is a fragment:

LOTHAR ZAGROSEK


Two years later, in 1985, the opera was presented (albeit greatly shortened) in Salzburg, conducted by Lothar Zagrosek and featuring Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau as Francis, Rachel Yakar as the Angel and Kenneth Riegel as the Leper. It was broadcast live on ORF, and then released on Orfeo (C485 982).

KENT NAGANO



In 1998, ‘Francis’ returned to Salzburg, this time complete. Kent Nagano (when he was still Ozawa’s assistant he had once rehearsed the opera under Messiaen himself) conducted, and the lead role was performed by the now very grown-up José van Dam, seconded by Dawn Upshaw (the Angel) and Chris Merritt (the Leper).
The opera was recorded live during the performances and released on four CDs a year later, so we now have the only complete performance of this wonderful work on CD. (DG 4451762).



This recording is also on You Tube:



The performance is a very solid one. Chris Merritt does not possess the most beautiful voice in the world, but he doesn’t have to. He is supposed to come across as vulnerable and plaintive, and he succeeds superbly. Kenneth Riegel on the Orfeo recording is perhaps slightly more impressive, but you’re not going to buy the opera for one scene, though I myself like to have that recording alongside it.

Dawn Upshaw is a radiant, mercurial Angel, more esoteric than Rachel Yakar on Orfeo, and otherworldly beautiful. Fiescher-Dieskau had already retired in 1985, but agreed to rehearse the role of Francis (well, half of it). The result is certainly not bad, but for me it is very lacking in idiom, and he does not even come close to matching van Dam’s performance.

The music is very pleasant to listen to and it exudes a certain serenity, which cannot be attributed to the influence of the Gregorian chants alone. Occasionally reminiscent of Debussy’s Peleas and Melisande, Poulenc also comes quite close.

And Messiaen would not be Messiaen without the frequent use of the ondes Martenot (played on both editions by his sister-in-law, Jeanne Loriod), and without the chirping of birds.


Saint Francois d’Assis is an opera that lends itself beautifully to listening to on CD. It is a true masterpiece, but when it plays in the background only you will still enjoy it. You can read the synopsis, occasionally watch the dialogues (which may also be read beforehand, nothing much is happening anyway) and then you know it all. You can fold the laundry and listen to it just fine. Or just sit an

In gesprek met Jennifer Larmore

Jenny

Het wilde maar niet opschieten met de zomer in Amsterdam, maar op de middag dat we elkaar in de kantine van De Nationale Opera troffen was het heel erg benauwd. Daar had Jennifer Larmore weinig last van: hoe warmer hoe liever!

Jennifer

Zij was naar onze hoofdstad gekomen om Gräfin Geschwitz te zingen in Lulu van Alban Berg, een rol die zij al eerder vertolkte in Londen en Madrid, in een – door mij zeer bewonderde – productie van Christof Loy. De opera is heftig en haar rol zwaar, maar veel tijd om te rusten had zij niet: tussen de voorstellingen door was zij aan het repeteren voor haar rol van Mère Marie in Les Dialogues des Carmélites van Poulenc.
De zeer complexe rol van de weinig sympathieke, radicale non was nieuw voor haar en zij ging er helemaal voor. Ondanks dat de opera maar één keer werd opgevoerd.

Belcanto

“Jammer is dat wel, want ik vind de muziek ontzettend mooi en de opera ontroert mij oprecht. Maar ik heb er verder geen moeite mee om een nieuwe rol te leren voor slechts één opvoering. Dat heb ik vaker gedaan toen ik opnamen maakte voor Opera Rara. Ik heb toen veel onbekende opera’s ingestudeerd, wetend dat ze waarschijnlijk nooit meer uitgevoerd zouden worden. Maar ik was jong en nieuwsgierig. En zeer ambitieus.
De repetitieperioden waren lang en de opnamesessies werden met een éénmalige concertante uitvoering bekroond. Maar wat een plezier ik er aan heb gehad!

“En bovendien: zonder die opnames had ik waarschijnlijk nooit de kans gehad om opera’s als Elisabetta, regina d’Inghilterra van Rossini of Carlo di Borgogna van Pacini te leren kennen. Laat staan zingen! En de muziek is prachtig!”

Bij het verschenen van

Jenny

Het wilde maar niet opschieten met de zomer in Amsterdam, maar op de middag dat we elkaar in de kantine van De Nationale Opera troffen was het heel erg benauwd. Daar had Jennifer Larmore weinig last van: hoe warmer hoe liever!

Jennifer

Zij was naar onze hoofdstad gekomen om Gräfin Geschwitz te zingen in Lulu van Alban Berg, een rol die zij al eerder vertolkte in Londen en Madrid, in een – door mij zeer bewonderde – productie van Christof Loy. De opera is heftig en haar rol zwaar, maar veel tijd om te rusten had zij niet: tussen de voorstellingen door was zij aan het repeteren voor haar rol van Mère Marie in Les Dialogues des Carmélites van Poulenc.
De zeer complexe rol van de weinig sympathieke, radicale non was nieuw voor haar en zij ging er helemaal voor. Ondanks dat de opera maar één keer werd opgevoerd.

Belcanto

“Jammer is dat wel, want ik vind de muziek ontzettend mooi en de opera ontroert mij oprecht. Maar ik heb er verder geen moeite mee om een nieuwe rol te leren voor slechts één opvoering. Dat heb ik vaker gedaan toen ik opnamen maakte voor Opera Rara. Ik heb toen veel onbekende opera’s ingestudeerd, wetend dat ze waarschijnlijk nooit meer uitgevoerd zouden worden. Maar ik was jong en nieuwsgierig. En zeer ambitieus.
De repetitieperioden waren lang en de opnamesessies werden met een éénmalige concertante uitvoering bekroond. Maar wat een plezier ik er aan heb gehad!

“En bovendien: zonder die opnames had ik waarschijnlijk nooit de kans gehad om opera’s als Elisabetta, regina d’Inghilterra van Rossini of Carlo di Borgogna van Pacini te leren kennen. Laat staan zingen! En de muziek is prachtig!”

Bij het verschenen van Carlo di Borgogna bij Opera Rara werd er in de connaisseurkringen over een “belcanto opname van het millennium” gesproken:

“Di Gioia Sorse Il Di” uit Carlo di Borgogna

“Quant’e grato all’alma mia uit” ‘Elisabetta, regina d’Inghilterra’:

De periode van de (onbekende) belcantorollen heeft Larmore inmiddels achter zich gelaten. “Het werd tijd om dat hoofdstuk af te sluiten. Als je over de veertig bent, ben je geen jong meisje meer. Klaar. En al klinkt je stem nog steeds zo jeugdig en al zing je nog steeds zo goed: nee, het moet geloofwaardig zijn. En blijven.”

Larmore als Rosina in Barbiere del Sevilla in Amsterdam:

(meer…)