Franz Reizenstein

When Franz Theodor Reizenstein (June 7, 1911 – October 15, 1968) left Berlin in 1934, England presented an obvious sanctuary. His uncle Bruno, who had been injured in the First World War and had married the English nurse who tended his wounds, lived in South London in Kingston-upon-Thames. He acted as guarantor for Franz and several other family members, and provided the beginnings of a local circle. Franz, just 23 when he arrived, had already enjoyed some professional success. The son of Albert Reizenstein, a Nuremberg doctor, and Lina Kohn, his prodigious musical gifts (he wrote his first piece at the age of five) were nurtured by a close and artistic family, and cultivated at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik, where he studied composition with Paul Hindemith and piano with Leonid Kreutzer. He had completed his first major piece, a string quartet, by the time he was seventeen. Hindemith insisted that his students have a broad knowledge of instrumental technique. As Reizenstein later wrote:

“He arranged for his students to take up different wind and stringed instruments in turn… We played together regularly and provided most of the music by composing it ourselves. We would not let anyone listen to the ghastly noises we produced--not that anybody wanted to--but we did learn how to write for the various instruments.” 

When he arrived in England, Reizenstein was less finished and less experienced a composer than older émigré colleagues like Hans Gál, Karl Rankl, Berthold Goldschmidt and Egon Wellesz. But his solid training, a loyalty to tonality and the musical structures of the nineteenth-century and, particularly, a belief that he was part of its ongoing tradition, provided him with confidence and maturity. In England his composition studies continued with Vaughan Williams at the Royal College of Music, while the illustrious Solomon Cutner refined his piano technique, especially with regard to touch and color. His first published piece, the Suite for piano, Op. 6, was issued in 1936 by Alfred Lengnick, but it was the virtuosic and flamboyant Prologue, Variations and Finale, Op. 12, composed for the violinist Max Rostal, and inspired by an extended tour to South America (undertaken with another legendary violinist, Roman Totenberg) which brought him to prominence. The piano part was later expanded to create an orchestral accompaniment.

Under Vaughan Williams's tutelage, and with his generous support and encouragement (during and after his internment), Reizenstein's musical language was freed and broadened. English music began to inform his compositions. Comparing his 1934 Wind Quintet–which is assured, idiomatic and beautifully balanced, but rather sober and unemotional–with the concise Oboe Sonata, Op. 11, composed just three years later, one is struck by the changed sensibility: an incipient pastoral quality, and an Englishness that would become more pronounced over the years that followed.  

Reizenstein's status as a British resident was interrupted (and compromised) by his tour to South America in 1937/38, and so, despite a seven-year residency in London, Reizenstein joined the thousands of German and Austrian Jews interned in requisitioned hotels on the Isle of Man. While he was incarcerated, he organized and performed in concerts for his fellow internees, partnering with Sigmund Nissel, who would later play second violin in the Amadeus Quartet. On his release, Reizenstein's army application was turned down on account of his poor eyesight, and he eventually found work as a railway clerk. Composing whenever he had a free moment, by the end of the war he had produced the substantial Piano Sonata, Op. 19, and the Violin Sonata, Op. 20, composed for Maria Lidka, a stalwart supporter of new music. This evocative and idiomatic work, with its bold gestures and infectious, Iberian middle movement, together with the Cello Sonata, Op. 22, completed in 1947, both deserve a place on recital programs.

The Piano Quintet, Op. 23, one of the composer's favorite works, was finished in 1948. Lionel Salter's 1975 Gramophone review of its only commercial recording (the Melos Ensemble with the pianist Lamar Crowson on l'Oiseau Lyre) maintains that it “stands alongside Shostakovich's as the most noteworthy of this century's piano quintets”–a rather rash underestimation of the contributions by Fauré, Elgar, Martinů, Bartók and several others, but praise indeed nevertheless. The critic and musicologist Mosco Carner wrote of the work: “Here style and idea, matter and manner are fused into a complete organic whole, not to mention the brilliant exploitation of the medium.” But despite these plaudits and despite the obvious substance and the musical rewards the Quintet offers both player and audience, it is fair to say the piece has only very occasionally slipped out of obscurity. Its neglect, and that of the cello and violin sonatas, was part of the discrimination that unapologetic traditionalists like Reizenstein suffered--the severance that accompanied an uncompromising dismissal of serial procedure and the avant-garde. His works were certainly marginalized by the BBC during the tenure of William Glock, and by a post-war musical establishment that tended to be both inward-looking and randomly anti-Semitic.

The Piano Quintet is assembled in traditional classical sonata-form: four movements, the outer two and the second, Poco adagio, being of equivalent length; the Scherzo a fleeting hell-for-leather romp that draws on preceding material. Reizenstein's polytonal technique gives the work a terrific sense of tension, but whatever the distance we are taken harmonically, there is always a return to an unequivocal tonal center, indeed the work is securely cast in D major. The critic and theorist Hans Keller wrote of the Scherzo: “The texture proves to be immaculate […] so that one is left with the impression that this movement may be the best, if not indeed the only, truly piano-quintettish piece ever written.”

Reizenstein's vocal works include the opera Men against the Sea (1949), Voices of Night, Op. 27 (1951), for soprano, baritone, chorus and orchestra, and the radio opera Anna Kraus, Op. 30 (1952), whose main protagonist is a German refugee, as of course was Reizenstein himself. In 1958 the Three Choirs Festival premiered his highly successful oratorio Genesis, Op. 35. The text was assembled by the actor, poet and dramatist Christopher Hassall, a close friend of Reizenstein's, who also worked with William Walton, Malcolm Arnold, Arthur Bliss, and perhaps most famously, Ivor Novello. The spirit of Vaughan Willams, who died the same year, is evident in both Genesis and the cantata Voices of the Night (a series of poems that explores the progression of night from dusk to dawn), and there are reminders of his Five Tudor Portraits, the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis and the Five Mystical Songs.  Reizenstein also left a significant corpus of music for winds. In addition to the Oboe Sonata, there is a set of variations for Clarinet Quintet, a Trio for flute, clarinet and bassoon, an unfinished Clarinet Sonata, a Flute Quartet and a substantial Serenade for winds that was premiered at the 1951 Cheltenham Festival by Harry Blech (founder and conductor of the London Mozart Players) and the London Winds, who had commissioned the piece.

A consummate pianist as well as a versatile and practical composer, Reizenstein performed regularly with artists of the caliber of violinist Max Rostal and cellist Leslie Parnas, and his work on the concert platform and in the broadcast studio was a major part of his musical career. His compositions for the piano are not numerous, but they include a set of Twelve Preludes and Fugues, Op. 32, dedicated to Hindemith and influenced by his Ludus Tonalis, a piece Reizenstein himself performed. The work is a rigorous exploration of polytonality (where two or more keys are simultaneously suggested) and contrapuntal techniques. There are also two Piano Sonatas, Opp. 19 and 40, the first of which is dedicated to William Walton, the Zodiac Suite, Op. 41, and a number of shorter pieces, including a Fantasy, the Four Silhouettes and an Impromptu, Intermezzo, Scherzo and Legend.

Although Reizenstein's music is often densely chromatic it never embraced serial processes. An article in The Listener (March, 1964) spelled out the composer's views in no uncertain terms:

“In all branches of the arts there exists a desire to delve into decadence and revel in the macabre, both things far removed from Hindemith's ideals. Vociferous advocates of surrealism, who proudly proclaim that they have freed music from the shackles of tonality, tend to minimize Hindemith's great achievements. [...] Any music cast in traditional form or idiom is suspect in their eyes, even if it is of first-rate craftsmanship. They may continue their delicious dance around the serial golden calf indefinitely; this is of little consequence to the general public, who will decide in the long run which kind of twentieth-century music it wants to hear.”

Rather than seize on new compositional systems or a revolutionary set of aesthetic principles, Reizenstein was content to engage with conventional rhythmic ideas, traditional harmonic processes and classical forms. These he nevertheless developed into a highly sophisticated and very individual musical vocabulary. Apart from the music of his teachers, Hindemith and Vaughan Williams, he had a great affection for Walton, Shostakovich and Bartók, although his own works owe much to the German contrapuntal tradition of Bach, Bruckner and Reger.

Reizenstein's technical mastery, complemented by a brilliant talent for pastiche and a highly developed sense of the absurd, made him a perfect partner for the musical satirist Gerard Hoffnung (Hoffnung, another refugee to London, had left Berlin as a schoolboy in 1939). Reizenstein's Concerto Popolare – “A Piano Concerto To End All Piano Concertos” – is a concoction in which the piano soloist (Yvonne Arnaud at the premiere) performs on the assumption that she has been hired to play the Grieg Concerto. However the conductor and orchestra are intractably committed to the Tchaikovsky. The ensuing pandemonium, with quotes from unrelated pieces like “Rhapsody in Blue” and “Roll Out The Barrel,” is as brilliantly witty today as it was half-a-century ago. Reizenstein provided a similarly anarchic spectacle with Let's Fake an Opera, a Britten spoof to a libretto by the Mozart scholar William Mann, that features myriad characters drawn from forty different operas (the compilation recording of all three Hoffnung festivals is fortunately still available).

On a smaller scale, Reizenstein's Variations on the Lambeth Walk, based on the wildly popular song from Noel Gay's 1937 musical, Me and My Girl, assigns each variation to a different composer: Chopin, Verdi, Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, Wagner and Liszt are all represented. While this is a pièce d'occasion, rather than a work for a “serious” piano recital, its sly, perfectly caught accents certainly qualify it as an excellent encore or even an effective educational piece.

During the 1950s, Reizenstein's foray into film was, musically at any rate, equally as successful, and his atmospheric score to “The Mummy,” a Hammer production starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, is both inventive and fittingly chilling. Other film scores include “The House that Jack Built” (1953), “The Sea” (1953), “Island of Steel” (1955), “Jessy” (1959), “The White Trap” (1959) and “Circus of Horrors” (1960). But apart from his film scores, a handful of orchestral works and his four concertos (two for piano, Opp. 16 and 37, and one each for violin, Op. 31, and cello, Op. 8) about three quarters of his opus numbers are chamber works.

Although Reizenstein accepted a piano professorship at the Royal Academy in 1958, and at the Royal Manchester College in 1964, with the exception of evening classes he gave at a modest music center in London's suburban Hendon, he never taught composition at an English institution. Even if one acknowledges the primacy of the modernists, there is still something rather disturbing about this – knowing that both Hindemith and Vaughan Williams had held Reizenstein in the highest regard, and that in 1966 Boston University considered him significant enough to invite him for a six-month stay as a visiting professor of composition. In Boston two concerts were dedicated to his music, and it was here that Reizenstein completed his Concert Fantasy for Viola and Piano, Op. 42, which was followed shortly thereafter by the Sonata for Solo Viola, Op. 45. Both were dedicated to Elizabeth Holbrook.

Ironically Reizenstein's last performance, in September 1968, was a radio broadcast from Nuremberg, the town of his birth. The program included his Second Piano Sonata and the Zodiac Suite. He died the following month, just 57, survived by his wife and son. His last completed work, the Concerto for String Orchestra Op. 43, was premiered a year later.


Franz Reizenstein


Mieczyslaw Weinberg

Mieczysław Weinberg’s flight from Nazi-occupied Europe was rather different from the customary exile to the West - to England or the United States. His move to the Soviet Union meant a second period of threat and discrimination under Stalin. But unlike many of his émigré colleagues in the West, Weinberg did enjoy considerable success as one of his adopted country’s most fêted and frequently performed composers, especially during the 1960s and 1970s when Emil Gilels, Mstislav Rostropovich. Kiril Kondrashin, the Borodin Quartet and Leonid Kogan all recorded and performed his works. Weinberg’s massive ouevre, which includes over 150 opus numbers, found favour on the opera stage, on movie soundtracks and in chamber and orchestral programs. However his music was known only in the USSR, its spread stifled by the Iron Curtain and the restrictions imposed by the cold war. His career foundered completely when the USSR fragmented, and it is only over the last five to ten years that Weinberg has found a growing number of enthusiasts outside Russia. Following a pioneering series of releases on the Olympia label (unfortunately no longer available) there have been a slew of new recordings, including issues by the Danel Quartet (on CPO) and the Polish National Symphony Orchestra (on Chandos). Peermusic have reissued a number of his works and Weinberg’s significance is now being reassessed, to a point where several critics argue that the century’s greatest Russian music was composed by a triumvirate that consisted of Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Weinberg.

Some confusion has attended Mieczysław Weinberg’s surname. In Poland he was Wajnberg, in the Soviet Union, Moisey Samuilovich Vaynberg — “Matek” to those who knew him well. A few traditionalists still cling to the other Cyrillic-derived version: “Vainberg”.  But there have been a number of other variations, including Wajnberg, Vaynberg or Vijnberg. The music-historian Per Skans has written of the composer’s preference for the standard Westernised version, “Weinberg”, and this spelling is now becoming the norm. 

Weinberg was born in Warsaw on December 8, 1919. His father Shmuel had left the Moldavian town of Kishinyov (Chişinău) ten years earlier following a series of anti-Semitic attacks that had killed both his father and grandfather. In Warsaw he worked as a violinist and conductor in Yiddish theatre and it was he who provided Mieczysław with his initial practical experience, and exposed him to the traditional and liturgical Jewish music that was to inform his work for the rest of his life.

Eight years at the Warsaw Conservatory, then directed by Karol Szymanowski, provided Weinberg with a thorough traditional grounding. Under the tuition of Józef Turczyński he became an exceptional pianist, and it was generally assumed that once he had graduated, Weinberg would become a touring virtuoso in the tradition of Polish legends like Leopold Godowsky, Ignaz Friedman and Ignaz Paderewski. War changed these expectations, and his departure (on foot) from Warsaw in 1939, shortly before Hitler’s Panzers swept through Poland, marked the beginning of a series of well-timed re-locations. By 1940 he was in the White Russian capital of Minsk, 300 miles east of Warsaw (Belarus) studying composition with Vassily Zolotaryov, a protégé of Rimsky-Korsakov and Mily Balakirev. The day after his final examinations in June 1941 the Wehrmacht rolled into Russia and Weinberg was again forced to flee. He found work as a coach at the Tashkent opera house, 2000 miles away in eastern Uzbekistan. Many intellectuals and artists had been evacuated here, among them the illustrious actor and theatre director Solomon Mikhoels, a Latvian Jew whose daughter, Natalia Vovsi, Weinberg would soon marry. At Mikhoel’s behest Shostakovich examined the score of Weinberg’s First Symphony. Immensely impressed, he organized for Weinberg to come to Moscow. Here Weinberg re-established his friendship with Nikolay Myaskovsky, Professor of Composition at the Moscow Conservatory whom he had first met in 1940.

After 1917, the emerging Soviet Union had offered Jews living conditions superior to anything they had ever previously enjoyed. But this dispensation was short-lived and a renewal of repression in the 1930s saw the banning of Jewish newspapers and periodicals, and the closure of Jewish theatres and educational institutions. During the Second World War — still known in Russia as “The Great Patriotic War” - the reins of anti-Semitism were relaxed again, this time by Joseph Stalin, who wanted to encourage Jewish support for the war within the Soviet Union as well as to access funds from American Jewry. It was during this period of relative tolerance that Weinberg found refuge in Moscow. Official permission to reside in the city, a rarity during the war, was granted thanks to Shostakovich’s influence. He arrived in the capital in 1943 and remained there until his death in 1996. A lifelong friend, Shostakovich’s enthusiasm for Weinberg’s abilities grew and he came to describe him as "one of the most outstanding composers of today".

In turn, Weinberg revered Shostakovich, for his generosity and humanity, as well as his gifts as a musician. Although he was already an accomplished composer by the time he arrived in Moscow — his Piano Quintet completed in 1943 is one of the most extraordinary in the repertoire - Weinberg claimed that Shostakovich had introduced him to “a new continent” in music, and despite the 12 year age difference and Shostakovich’s burgeoning reputation, the nature of their relationship was collegial rather than that of master and student. They lived in the same Moscow apartment block; saw each other regularly, and played through one another’s compositions, often in arrangements for two pianos. Weinberg performed the four-hand piano-reductions of Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony (with Shostakovich), and his Twelfth (with Boris Tchaikovsky, another Shostakovich student) when the works were auditioned by the Composers’ Union, and Weinberg and Shostakovich also played the Babi Yar Symphony in this arrangement. There are also many mutual musical “borrowings”: the two-note motif that appears in Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony is re-applied in Weinberg’s Fifth, composed shortly after its premiere, while Weinberg’s Seventh Symphony shares a similar formal design with Shostakovich’s Ninth String Quartet. Shostakovich’s Tenth Quartet, dedicated to Weinberg, draws on the latter’s Seventh Symphony.

Weinberg performed in the premieres of Shostakovich’s Seven Romances on Poems of Alexander Blok op. 127 (collaborating with Galina Vishnevskaya, David Oistrakh and Mstislav Rostropovich) and the Violin Sonata op. 134, standing in for Svjatoslav Richter. Weinberg worked as a freelance composer and pianist, outside the organizations that would have required him to become a party member, and therefore without the protection of the state. His status became increasingly precarious after 1948 when some of his compositions joined a list of prohibited works that included pieces by Shostakovich and Prokofiev.


When Stalin’s anti-Semitic purges began again in 1948, Andrei Zhdanov — Stalin’s deputy with responsibilities for “ideology, culture and science” — began a campaign aimed at extinguishing works with creative connections to Western musical developments; those works that exhibited traits of “cosmopolitanism and formalism” and in particular anything produced by Jewish artists and thinkers. Instead Zhdanov wanted works that could be easily assimilated by the public and glorify the achievements of the Soviet Union. This was nothing less than a communist incarnation of the Reichmusikkammer’s similarly repressive credo. Weinberg was not banned under the Zhdanov decree, unlike his colleague and friend Myaskovsky.

On the same day as the announcement, Solomon Mikhoels, Weinberg’s father-in-law, was murdered by the Cheka (the state secret police), his corpse run over by a truck and his death described as “an accident”. In a bizarre but not unusual volte face, the murder was then blamed on the CIA. So began a particularly depressing period in Soviet musical history. Weinberg himself was arrested in January 1953 and charged with conspiring to establish a Jewish republic in the Crimea — a concoction that although absurd, was still accompanied by a death sentence. The truth lay in Weinberg’s connection to Miron Vovsi, a close relative of his wife and the principal defendant in Stalin’s trumped-up “Doctor’s Plot”. It was assumed that Weinberg’s wife and sister-in-law would be arrested as a matter of course, and Nina Vasilyevna, Shostakovich’s wife, was given power- of-attorney for the Weinbergs’ seven-year-old daughter Vitosha, as well as the family’s possessions. With scant regard for his own safety, Shostakovich, wrote to Stalin and to his equally unpredictable security chief, Lavrenti Beria, protesting Weinberg’s innocence. Weinberg, incarcerated in sub-zero temperatures was deprived of sleep and interrogated. It was only Stalin’s propitious death on March 5th 1953 that led to Weinberg’s public rehabilitation and ultimate release. The account by his wife makes fascinating reading:

“Soon after this Shostakovich and his wife went to the south on holiday, making me promise to send a telegram as soon as Weinberg was released. And shortly we were able to send them this telegram: ’Enjoy your holiday. We embrace you, Tala and Metak.’ Two days later the Shostakoviches were back in Moscow. That evening we celebrated. At the table, festively decked out with candles in antique candlesticks, Nina Vasilyevna read out the power of attorney that I had written. Then Dmitri Dmitriyevich got up and solemnly pronounced, ’Now we will consign this document to the flames,’ and proposed that I should burn it over the candles. After the destruction of the ’document’, we drank vodka and sat down to supper. I rarely saw Dmitri Dmitriyevich as calm, and even merry, as he was that evening. We sat up till the early hours of the morning. Nina Vasilyevna laughingly recounted how I was worried that Vitosha would get a bad upbringing in the orphanage; it was then that I discovered that they had decided to take her into their own home.”

Weinberg lost many relatives in the war, including his parents and sister who died at the Trawniki camp, about 90 miles south east of Warsaw. His   experience of hate and racism inform his music to a very considerable degree. He contemplates the horrors of repression, the suffering of the Jews, and in particular the loss of children in many of his works. He once wrote: "Many of my works are related to the theme of war. This, alas, was not my own choice. It was dictated by my fate, by the tragic fate of my relatives. I regard it as my moral duty to write about the war, about the horrors that befell mankind in our century."

But Weinberg’s personal response to the attacks on himself and those close to him remained stoical and positive, and he was relentlessly prolific in almost every musical genre. There are 26 complete symphonies — the last, Kaddish, written in memory of the Jews who died in the Warsaw Ghetto. Weinberg donated the manuscript score to the Yad Vashem memorial in Israel. There are also four Chamber Symphonies. Weinberg and Shostakovich had a light-hearted but long-running rivalry as to who could compose the most string quartets: Weinberg ultimately composed 17 (two more than his friend). There are also 28 instrumental sonatas, either for piano solo or with violin, viola, cello or clarinet. The sonatas for solo cello are particularly ingenious, as is the sonata for solo double bass, one of the most unusual and effective modern works for the instrument. His seven concertos include one for cello, which was programmed by Rostropovich during the 1960s (a live recording is included in EMI’s recently-released set of CDs devoted to the cellist), a brilliant concerto for trumpet, a violin concerto championed by Leonid Kogan and a fine concerto for clarinet. There are over 150 songs ranging from Yiddish laments to settings of poems by Julian Tuvim and Shakespeare; a Requiem (drawing on secular texts), seven operas, three operettas, two ballets, and incidental music for 65 films, plays, radio productions and circus performances.

Although his language is occasionally uncannily close to Shostakovich’s, Weinberg’s resourcefulness and the wealth of his musical ideas render the epigone accusation baseless. His works often possess a wry humour, a strong sense of irony and, in Symphonies like the Seventh and Twelfth, an uncompromising severity and strength of purpose. But rarely do these qualities overwhelm an overall feeling of contained human acceptance and gratitude. Weinberg also drew liberally on folkloric, Polish, Moldavian and in particular Jewish sources, musical ideas which, some say, resonated with Shostakovich and manifested themselves in his Second Piano Trio and, notably, in From Jewish Folk Poetry composed at the height of Zhdanov’s repressive regime. Although Weinberg’s life and music are becoming increasingly more familiar, his operas remain completely unexplored. The Passenger, set partly in Auschwitz was very highly regarded by Shostakovich and a new production of this and other stage works would mark a new chapter in our appreciation of the composer.

By all accounts Weinberg was a modest and generous man, somewhat removed from the Soviet mainstream — he never joined the Communist Party — and with his heavily accented Russian destined to remain, at least in part, an émigré. Shortly before his death in 1996, dispirited by Russia’s disregard for him and weakened by a long battle with Crohn’s disease, Weinberg converted to the Russian Orthodox Church.

A much-anticipated biography of Weinberg will be published by Toccata Press in 2011. The work, begun by the late Per Skans is being completed by Prof. David Fanning and Michelle Assay.


Mieczyslaw Weinberg


Hanns Eisler

The reputation of Hanns Eisler (1898-1962) in his native Germany is remarkably different from his reputation in the United States, where he lived from 1937 until 1948.  After his American sojourn Eisler settled in East Berlin, where he was promptly elected to the German Academy of Arts and for twelve years served as an esteemed professor of composition at the Hochschule für Musik.  After his death, the school was renamed the Eisler Conservatory in his honor, and in 1994 the reunified Germany officially supported both the founding of an International Hanns Eisler Society and the launch of a critical edition of Eisler's collected works.

In contrast, Eisler in the United States remains known primarily as a once-upon-a-time modernist who withdrew from serious critical consideration when in the mid-1920s he boldly espoused the idea that music is useless if it is directed only toward sophisticated ears; he is known as well for composing scores for a handful of largely mediocre Hollywood films and for having co-authored, with Theodor Adorno, a densely theoretical book on film music. The most enduring aspect of Eisler's fame in the United States, however, has to do not with music but with politics. Eisler was suspected of being an "enemy of the American people" and thus subjected to six years of intense scrutiny by the Federal Bureau of Investigation; although no incriminating evidence was found, Eisler in 1947 nevertheless was subjected to prolonged and harsh public questioning by the House Un-American Activities Committee, and his exit from the United States was spurred by an official order for deportation.

American attitudes toward Eisler's music are changing for the positive, but only slowly. As British musicologist David Blake wrote in his entries on Eisler for both the 1980 and the 2000 editions of The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, probably "no composer has suffered more from the post-1945 cultural cold war." 

Early Career

Eisler was born in Leipzig but grew up in Vienna, where his father, an Austrian Jew who had earned his doctorate in philosophy in Leipzig, eked out a living as an editor and translator. Both of his parents were amateur musicians, and from early childhood Eisler immersed himself in music. It would not be until 1918, however—after he spent two years of World War I in a Hungarian regiment—that he had any formal lessons in composition.

None of the works composed while Eisler was a schoolboy survives, but the output apparently included a piano sonata, numerous songs, incidental music for Hauptmann's play Hanneles Himmelfahrt, and a symphonic poem based on the writings of Jens Peter Jacobsen. Sketches for an oratorio titled Gegen den Krieg were made and lost during Eisler's service at the front; the extant wartime compositions are limited to songs for piano and voice featuring poems by Christian Morgenstern and translations by Alfred Klabund of Chinese poems. Written under enemy fire, the settings of the Chinese texts are emotionally uninhibited responses to the horrors of war. The Morgenstern settings— a half-dozen Galgenlieder ("Gallows Songs") and a pair collectively titled Die Mausefalle ("The Mousetrap")— were composed while Eisler recuperated from injuries first in a field hospital and then in a convalescent facility near Vienna, and they are indicative of the wry direction Eisler's music would take over the next decade.

After his discharge from the army in November 1918 Eisler studied composition with Karl Weigl at the New Vienna Conservatory and supported himself with proofreading work at the Universal Editions publishing house. During his first few months as a civilian Eisler composed prolifically, producing dozens of songs— most of them romantic, even sentimental, in nature— with texts by such poets as Morgenstern, Trakl, Rilke, Tagore, and Eichendorff. Study with Weigl served primarily to clarify procedure for a young composer hitherto self-taught in composition and harmony. Eisler's formative musical education began in the late summer of 1919, when he was accepted for private instruction, without fee, by Arnold Schoenberg.

Rather than instruction in the creation of atonal or serial music, Eisler's study with Schoenberg focused on exercises in eighteenth-century counterpoint and harmonic analyses of the music of Johannes Brahms. But Eisler breathed deeply the modernist air of Schoenberg and his circle: he was given a low-level administrative job with the prestigious Verein für Musikalische Privataufführungen (Society for Private Musical Performance) that Schoenberg had founded in 1918, and he frequently accompanied his teacher on music-related trips outside Vienna. As might be expected, Eisler in the early 1920s composed music that very much shows the influence of his mentor. But quite unlike the consistently sober music of Schoenberg, however, Eisler's first published works— the Op. 1 Piano Sonata, the Op. 2 set of six songs with texts by Japanese poets, the Op. 3 Piano Pieces, and the Op. 4 Divertimento for wind quintet— feature many moments of levity. Although based on the ordered unfolding of twelve-note series, the harmonies in their progressions often allude to traditional syntax, and the music's rhythmic propulsion typically draws from the vernacular rhythms of jazz and other popular genres.

A self-taught Expressionist who vented Angst with humor and later a well-trained serialist who referenced tradition in order to temper a rigorous new methodology, Eisler almost from the start was a composer who valued connection with his immediate audience over an imagined seat in some futuristic pantheon. But however 'light' his music might have seemed during his years under Schoenberg's tutelage, it lightened far more when in the autumn of 1925 Eisler accepted a teaching position at the Klindworth-Scharwenka Conservatory in Berlin. The stylistic shift was prompted by political ideology.

Almost by definition, the Schoenbergian aesthetic was elitist: to actually hear relationships between one form or another of a twelve-tone series demanded phenomenal listening skills, but simply to appreciate why some composers might find it necessary to create music in the serial vein required an understanding of the long history of nineteenth-century European art music and its connection with economically fueled societal issues. That Eisler was anti-elitist at heart is evidenced by his involvement, while still in Vienna, with various 'workers' singing societies. But after moving to Berlin, where his brother and sister had for several years been active communists, Eisler became a zealot. In 1926 he applied for membership in the German Communist party; that he was denied membership, as is documented by the FBI files, had mostly to do with the fact that he failed to pay his dues on time. Also as is documented by the FBI files, Eisler in 1926 began to write articles on music for the Communist periodical Die Rote Fahne. And he fairly threw himself into the creation of anthems, marching songs, and pieces for unaccompanied men's chorus that were not just overtly supportive of the proletariat in their texts but also self-consciously 'accessible' in their musical content.

Not surprisingly, this led to a break with Schoenberg. Schoenberg, who moved to Berlin in January 1926 to teach at the Prussian Academy of Arts, accused Eisler of being disloyal. Eisler in turn accused Schoenberg of being esoteric and, more damningly, bourgeois. In a bitterly rejective letter to his once-revered teacher, Eisler wrote: "Modern music bores me, it doesn't interest me, some of it I even hate and despise. Actually, I want nothing to do with what is 'modern.' … Also, I understand nothing (except superficialities) of twelve-note technique and twelve-note music."

Eisler, of course, understood a great deal about twelve-note music, and despite his bravado he was not about to abandon either his serial skills or his awareness of the melodic/harmonic possibilities that the serial method afforded. This led to a dilemma. On the one hand, Eisler had good reason to believe in his potential as a serious composer; on the other hand, Eisler was in the throes of rebellion against the very system that allowed him his burgeoning success.

Early in his retreat from the world of 'elitist' music, Eisler composed two works that demonstrate the ambivalence he must have been feeling. One of these, based on bitterly sarcastic excerpts from his own diaries, is the Op. 9 Tagebuch des Hanns Eisler, for three female voices, tenor, violin, and piano (1926); the other, based only in part on the more or less grim newspaper clippings suggested by the title, is a set of ten songs that make up the Op. 11 Zeitungausschnitte (1925-27). Neither piece makes use of serial techniques, but the Tagebuch craftily juxtaposes a quotation from the "Internationale" with references to Schoenberg's 1923 Op. 9 Chamber Symphony and harmonically vertiginous episodes based on whole-tone scales, and the Zeitungausschnitte throughout is decidedly brittle and nonlyrical. A notebook kept by Eisler in 1928 teems with comments and musical sketches that suggest that Eisler, however bold his public statements and activities, was in fact torn between aesthetic and political allegiances.

Eisler's Tagebuch and Zeitungausschnitte received their premieres in 1927, the one in Baden-Baden at a festival of contemporary music organized by Paul Hindemith, the other on a concert sponsored by the Berlin chapter of the International Society for New Music. At least for a while, these would be the last of Eisler's efforts to participate in what Eisler acridly described as "the bourgeois concert business." Over the next half-dozen years Eisler concentrated almost entirely on projects that in one way or another furthered the socialist cause. Along with vocal pieces that fall more or less into the category of 'Kampflieder' ("songs for the struggle"), these include scores for a handful of silent films and—triggered by meetings with director Erwin Piscator in 1928 and, significantly, writer Bertolt Brecht in 1930—suites of incidental music for a large number of politically flavored theatrical productions.

The exile that Eisler experienced between 1926 and 1933 was self-imposed and based not just on a strident political attitude but also on ideological reaction to prevailing trends in contemporary music. The exile that began in January 1933 was of an entirely different sort. Eisler happened to be in Vienna, supervising the music for a production of Brecht's play Die Mutter, on the day that Germany's president assigned to Adolph Hitler the title Chancellor of the Reich. Well aware that his life was likely now in danger, the Jewish and outspokenly anti-fascist Eisler wisely chose not to return to Berlin.

Eisler in Exile

Before Hitler's rise to power, Eisler had twice—in 1930 and 1931—briefly visited the Soviet Union. After Hitler's installation as Chancellor, Eisler moved not east but, for the most part, west. Not until January 1938 would Eisler 'settle in' to a teaching position at the New School for Social Research and what he hoped would be permanent residence in the United States. Before that his odyssey took him to Prague, Paris, Amsterdam, and London (1933); to Copenhagen, Paris, and London (1934); to Strasbourg, London, Moscow, Prague, and—on two occasions—New York (1935); to London, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Brussels, and Copenhagen (1936); and to Madrid, Copenhagen, and Prague (1937).

Even under the duress of traveling almost constantly and without a passport, Eisler managed to compose. His output from these years includes film scores and, as one might expect, music overtly supportive of the proletariat cause. But it also includes concert works that suggest Eisler, now a refugee, was experiencing a change of heart regarding musical techniques that just a few years earlier he had vociferously eschewed.

The Op. 29 Kleine Sinfonie and the Op. 30 Suite No. 4 for Orchestra that Eisler completed just before exiting Germany certainly show the hand of a serial composer. More self-consciously serialist, as is evidenced by the explanatory essay that accompanies it, is Eisler's 1934 Prelude and Fugue on B-A-C-H, Op. 46, for string trio. The Op. 50 Deutsche Sinfonie—started in 1935 and completed in 1939—is composed entirely in what Blake has described as "Eisler's distinctively tonal type of serialism." Likewise for all nine of the Chamber Cantatas for voice and various accompanying ensembles that Eisler produced in 1937 and, from the same year, the Two Sonnets set to texts by Brecht; the serial writing in the Sonnets is especially rigorous, yet it is serial writing that—as German biographer-critic Jürgen Schebera observes—nevertheless "through its 'Eislerian' handling of materials speaks an utterly clear musical message."

Eisler's rapprochement with serialism was hardly limited to his years of travel. It may be that the first major work Eisler composed upon his move to New York, the 1938 String Quartet (Op. 75), is fundamentally a melodic piece, but its pitch sequences are nonetheless intricately serial. Also intricate in their deployment of serial lines are the 1938 Five Orchestral Pieces, the 1940 Chamber Symphony (Op. 69), and the 1941 quintet titled Fourteen Ways of Describing Rain (Op. 70). Indeed, the quintet stands out as the most strictly organized piece in the entire Eisler catalog, and perhaps this has something to do with the fact that it was conceived as a birthday tribute to Schoenberg.

The Five Orchestral Pieces, the Chamber Symphony, and the Op. 70 quintet are works intended for the arguably 'elitist' concert hall, yet all of them stem from impulses connected with the 'populist' venue of the cinema. Like the fairly light Scherzo for violin and orchestra, the tautly serial Five Orchestral Pieces derive from music Eisler composed for a 1938 Joris Ivens documentary film on China titled The 400 Million. The 1940 Chamber Symphony is based on materials that would surface later that year in the score for the short documentary film White Flood, and the 1941 quintet is based on a set of variations originally designed to accompany a showing of Ivens's 1929 silent film Regen ("Rain").

Even in his scores for commercial Hollywood films Eisler occasionally used serial techniques. And even in his most serious concert works Eisler managed to fill serialist prescriptions in ways that are likely to strike most listeners as comprehensible both aurally and emotionally. Regardless of its genre, the music from Eisler's years of exile often demonstrates what German critic Martin Hufner in 1998 described as "serialism with a human face."

Back in Germany

Eisler left the United States in March 1948 and traveled to London, Vienna, and Prague before settling in East Berlin. One of his first compositional activities was the setting to music of Johannes Becher's poem "Auferstanden aus Ruinen," and the result was promptly selected as the national anthem for the newly established German Democratic Republic. Eisler sustained his collaboration with Brecht and other playwrights, between 1948 and 1961 writing music for seventeen theatrical productions; similarly, he continued to compose music for both feature films and documentaries, and to compose—prolifically—songs and anthems for non-professional choruses.

Even though this public-outreach music is relatively conservative in idiom, in intent it is no less 'serious' than the music that Eisler, comfortably positioned in post-war East Germany, wrote for the concert hall. At the same time, and despite its sophisticated use of serial technique, Eisler's later concert music—which includes a Rhapsody for soprano and orchestra based on a section of Goethe's Faust (1949), the cantatas Mitte des Jahrhunderts (1950) and Die Teppichweber von Kujan-Bulak (1957), and dozens of songs fitted with both piano and orchestral accompaniment—is no less 'accessible' than his music designed for the ears, and hearts, of the general public.

Eisler's production of abstract (i.e., purely instrumental) music was concentrated first in the period immediately following his studies with Schoenberg and then, after his political 'enlightenment' in the strife-filled late 1920's, in the eleven years during which he struggled unsuccessfully to make a home in the United States. But in essence even the most abstract of Eisler's compositions are not far removed from his deliberately populist output. Using whatever musical techniques seemed best to serve the purposes at hand, Eisler throughout his long career strove to compose music that was genuinely 'communicative.'



Hanns Eisler


Jaroslav Jezek

Jaroslav Ježek [1906-1942] was an important composer, performer and conductor during the inter-war period in Czechoslovakia.  As leader of the Ježek Big Band and composer for the Liberated Theater, his popularity was immense.  Forced to flee Prague ahead of the Nazis in 1938, he settled in New York where he composed his final works, including a compelling Sonata for Piano.  He died of kidney failure on January 1, 1942.


Ježek was born on September 25th, 1906 (the same day as Dmitri Shostakovich). He was born with poor eyesight, and a series of operations left him nearly blind for his adult life.  In addition he suffered from ear infections that impaired his hearing.  He attended a special school for the blind, where he learned to play piano, cello, clarinet and guitar.  Ježek tried to gain admission to Charles University to study musicology, but did not have the requisite background and was not admitted.  Despite his skill, he was also refused admission to the piano department of the Prague Conservatory due to his poor eyesight, but was admitted finally for composition, and he studied there with Karel Boleslav Jirák (for more on Jirák see:ák.htm#engl).

Jirák arranged for Ježek to have a stipend so he could have some experience with musical life in Paris, and it was there that he encountered jazz as played by jazz musicians, as opposed to its stylization in the works of Stravinsky, Milhaud and others.  It was also in Paris where he heard Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue which made a profound impression on him.  Like Gershwin, Ježek became one of the few composers—Leonard Bernstein, Mel Powell, and André Previn come to mind—who had double careers as composers in both “jazz” and “classical” worlds.  And it is only Ježek and Powell, perhaps, whose “classical” careers were as modernists.  Indeed, Ježek was to have close connections with two artistic movements of considerable power: Devĕtsil and the Manes group.

Ježek completed his studies with Jirák with the composition and performance of his examination piece, the Piano Concerto, in 1927.  In addition to his lessons with Jirák, Ježek also studied with Josef Suk at the Prague Conservatory, and he completed his studies there in 1929.  It was at just this time that Ježek fell in with two other artists who were to play a critical role in the remainder of his musical life.  Jiří Voskovec and Jan Werich had begun their fruitful association the year Ježek finished his composition studies with Jirák.  They quickly created a trademark combination of edgy satire, comedic Dada, and virtuoso intellectual clowning that became the core of the Liberated Theater (Osvobozené divadlo).  Ježek was the perfect foil, at once perfectly pedigreed as a classicizing musician and bringing another zany personality into the mix.  Over the next decade Ježek wrote hundreds of songs for twenty different shows and reviews, as well as music for several films.  In addition to this, he kept up his career as a modernist composer with a sonata and a concerto for violin, the Fantasy for Piano and several other piano works.

In 1934 the Liberated Theater had presented Kat a blázen (The Executioner and the Fool), which was reviled in the right wing press, and marked the participants as leftists in the minds of audiences and bureaucrats.  It was certainly this status, as well as Voskovec's Jewish ancestry, that caused the trio to leave Czechoslovakia in 1939 in advance of the Nazi invasion.  After a brief stop in Paris, Ježek settled in New York where he became a piano teacher and the conductor of a Czech choir.  In poor health, Ježek composed a Sonata for Piano in 1940 and entered it in a kind of competition organized by the ISCM (International Society for Contemporary Music).  Despite being informed that the piece would be performed, it was taken off the program and replaced by a piece by Viktor Ullmann.  Ježek's sonata is nonetheless one of his great works, and its fate was surely a great disappointment to him.

Ježek's health continued to decline, and he died on New Year's Day 1941 at the age of 36.


Despite a certain overlap, Ježek's works divide easily into those that are meant for the concert stage, and those that were part of the reviews and shows of the Liberated Theater.  This overlap, however, is part of Ježek's distinction as a composer, because, often, his popular songs feature certain kinds of touches usually associated with art music, and his concert works feature “jazzy” elements.

Popular Works

Ježek's collection of songs, interludes and ballet pieces for the Liberated Theater is long and varied.  Ranging from traditional foxtrots, to Latin-influenced compositions, and presented in both improvisatory and carefully composed styles, this body of work is at the very top level of contemporary European song and stands alongside the creations of Weill, Gershwin and Irving Berlin.  While it is difficult to meaningfully separate Ježek's contribution to these songs from those of Voskovec and Werich (since many are true collaborations), there are some observations we can make about Ježek’s popular style.

One of Ježek's first big hits, and a piece that remains popular today, is the Bugatti Step.  Written as a tribute to (or to capitalize on) the success of the racecar driver Eliška Junková, and her vehicle of choice, this rag-like work combines edginess and elegance.  Beginning with the klaxon horn stylizations suggesting the car itself, the piece proceeds with a theme which is simultaneously restrained and zany.  Meant perhaps to suggest the speed and sleek lines of the Bugatti, the second series of phrases creates an increasing intensity, easily read as the race itself.  Ježek's combination of traditional popular style with dissonances based on the honking horn motives that open the piece become a kind of personal signature.  Songs like “Život je jen nahoda,” (Life is Just Coincidence), Svíta (Shining) and “Tmavomodrý svĕt” (Dark Blue World) have become classics, and each of these uses this tendency to link popular song tropes with innovative harmonic designs (“Coincidence” uses parallel chords that forecast bop stylizations; the main theme of “Shining” is harmonized with a 6/4 chord; and “Dark Blue” jostles back and forth between two chords a third apart). “Dark Blue World” is considered by many to be Ježek's most personal work, autobiographical even.  The double pun of the title becomes triple when Ježek's poor eyesight is taken into consideration.  At best, the world looked “dark blue” to him.  He famously composed in a space known as “The Blue Room,” which is today a museum devoted to the composer.

Various other songs involve satire and patter, such as “Šaty dĕlaj človeka” (Clothes Make the Man), Tři Strážníci (Three Policemen) and “David a Goliaš” (David and Goliath).  The last of these, a hysterical send-up of the famous Biblical story was part of the show “Tĕžka Barbora,” (Heavy Barbara—referring to a piece of artillery, not a person…) and was presented as a clear reference to world events.

Though clearly Ježek's songs have models among the works of Gershwin and others (Svíta appears to be based somewhat on the Gershwin tune “Nobody but You”), there is a level of originality and freshness throughout.

Concert Works

Starting in the late 1920s and continuing for the rest of his life, Ježek wrote concert pieces, including works for orchestra and small ensemble and, occasionally, art songs.  From the jazzy Piano Concerto of 1927 to his final piano sonata of 1941, Ježek wrote a collection of pieces that ensure him an important position in the history of Czech music between the wars. 

Although he does not shy away from lyricism, he is not its servant.  In such pieces as the Sonata for Violin of 1933 we can hear a potent synthesis of jazz and blues, local song stylizations, both popular and “folk” and the fundamental character of what might be called “Slavonic modernism.”  This refers to a fusion of dissonant musical language with an essentially tonal vocabulary of the kind found in Stravinsky, Shostakovich and Prokofiev, Janáček and Martinů, and Bartók.  All these composers have a tendency to avoid traditional musical notions of sentimentality.

We can hear this notably in some of Ježek's marvelous slow movements, whether the Lento e Religioso from the 1931 Wind Quintet with its alternation of funereal chorale and piercing piccolo lines, or in the exquisite blues-inflected moment buried in the center of the slow movement of the Piano Sonata, completed in 1941.  In fact, we might wonder how someone with such considerable physical challenges managed to keep his spirits up, and what he might really have thought about his lot.  This is impossible to say, but, while speculative, we may look for evidence of this in his slow movements, both in the way they are constructed and the nature of the material.  A notable example is the Sonata for Violin which has a slow movement (Lento) in the second place, followed by another slow movement even slower, a Largo!  Both of these movements are extraordinarily reflective and brilliantly uncompromising in a search for depth that is simultaneously objective and utterly personal. 

Ježek's outer movements and scherzi are brilliant in style, matching syncopations—both jazzy and folk (the Piano Sonata scherzo, the Violin Sonata finale)—with powerful toccata-like elements.


Jaroslav Jezek


Berthold Goldschmidt

Berthold Goldschmidt (1903-1996) could well be a poster boy for one kind of composer in exile.  A rising superstar in Germany, his move to England certainly ensured his survival and opened up many opportunities.  However, he toiled as a composer, mostly in obscurity, for decades after his emigration.  By the late 1950’s he had stopped composing entirely, devoting himself instead to conducting, where he played a vital role in Mahler’s ascendancy in Great Britain.  Then around the age of 80, with the growing interest in “Entartete Musik” he had a kind of fourth career, as an increasingly venerated (and productive) figure, composing once again until his death at 93.


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 and in that same year won the Mendelssohn prize for his Passacaglia for orchestra, Op.4, showing a fondness for traditional forms that would be evident throughout his life.  The success of this work was matched by his early chamber works and an overture to The Comedy of Errors titled Overture to a Comic Opera.  His work as a conductor continued with stints with the Leningrad Philharmonic and the State Opera in Berlin.  During this time he composed his first opera Der gewaltige Hahnre (The Great Cuckold) on a play by the Flemish writer Fernand Crommelynck which was premiered in 1932.  This was a genuine success, but with the rise of the Nazis, performances planned for the following year were cancelled, and it was not performed again in German for a half-century.

In 1935 Goldschmidt emigrated to England, leaving behind many scores that never have been located.  Although he enjoyed some initial successes—his ballet Chronica was performed in 1938 and his opera Beatrice Cenci won a prize in the Art’s Council Festival of Britain in 1951—the composer did not find an audience for his music.  During this time he began what was to be a more immediately fruitful career as a conductor (notable moments included a performance of Verdi’s Macbeth in Glyndeborne in 1947).  He also played an important role in programming music for BBC’s European service broadcasts to Germany, a kind of anti-propaganda featuring the works of Mahler, Mendelssohn and many other composers banned by the Nazis.  He continued to compose sporadically, but after the completion of Mediterranean Songs in 1958 Goldschmidt stopped writing music for more than 25 years.  It was during this period that he played a pivotal role in Derek Cooke’s completion of Mahler’s 10th Symphony, premiering both the first and second versions after 1964.

After all these “careers” Goldschmidt had a resurrection as improbable as it was welcome and productive.  Starting in the early 1980’s he began composing again with a Clarinet Quartet.  A group of conductors, including Simon Rattle, Charles Dutoit and Yakov Kreizberg began to propagate his work, which was recorded by London and Decca, and the composer enjoyed what has been referred to as an “Indian Summer” as a highly respected figure.  His final work, the Deux Nocturnes, was composed shortly before his death at the age of 93.


Berthold Goldschmidt came out of an approach that sought to use the inherited tradition in powerful and imaginative ways without making an obvious break with it.  This can be heard from the very beginning of his prizewinning Passacaglia.  Its angular theme, serving both a thematic and a structural role in the variations format, is treated in various ways, ranging from a kind of despair to Beethovenian grandeur and from there to ephemeral modernist abstraction.  Goldschmidt was devoted to the music of Bach, and many of his works, from the start of his career to the finish, feature the great forms of the baroque, including canon, suite, and variation set.  He had a particular fondness for the chaconne/passacaglia principle and was quite successful with it in numerous works. With these forms the composer could avoid questions of long-range harmonic development, because by its very nature the chaconne form eschews modulation, but rather requires the composer to create dramatic effects without harmonic movement.  For this reason there are aspects of wit and shimmer in his early Passacaglia that have their analogue in the overture to The Comedy of Errors composed in 1925.  The closest American counterparts to this style are figures like Ruggles and Ives.  It is somewhat ironic that the Passacaglia won something called the “Mendelssohn Prize,” since the Comedy of Errors Overture is work of Mendelssohnian wit and charm.

As a musician in the Weimar Republic, Goldschmidt had opportunities to engage in opera in many ways: as a spectator, a repetiteur, a conductor and eventually as a composer.  His first opera was a bold choice; Crommelynck’s play The Magnificent Cuckold begins as something like a farce and becomes an Othello-like tragedy of obsession and violence.  Some have argued that it was a thickly veiled critique of the ascendant Nazis.  Like other successful composers of the time Berg, Bartók, Shostakovich and Janáček, Goldschmidt was able to create an edgy new operatic vocabulary while hewing to the traditions his audience knew and understood. 

Shortly after his arrival in England in 1935 Goldschmidt had a success with a ballet called Chronica, which had been commissioned by the Ballet Jooss.  Arranged for two pianos, and orchestrated more than twenty years later, its seven movements veer from tragedy to satire, from a powerful Passacaglia in a prison yard, to a parodic military march.  Particularly effective is an exquisite “Canone,” a kind of updated reflection on bel canto style inflected by, but not overtaken by, sardonic dissonance.  To some extent this describes the stylistic world of his second opera Beatrice Cenci after Shelley’s poem composed 1949-50.

His works written between 1982 and his death in 1996 reveal both a continuity with his stylistic preferences and several new directions.  Michael Struck, writing in the New Grove article about the composer suggests that these works “focus on the very problem of temporal disjunction, of being out of step with the times, that characterizes his work and his career as a whole.”  Some of these compositions like the nostalgic “Rondeau 'Rue du Rocher’” do have a retrospective cast, although we can also hear such “retrospective” moments in the Op.4 Passacaglia written in 1925.  Despite what a work like the Rondeau might or might not allude to, it has a depth of texture and a richness of variety that is impressive, especially in a 92-year-old composer.

Goldshmidt As Writer

Berthold Goldschmidt was also a significant personality whose writing, including memoirs and recollections, are some of the most valuable records of German musical life between the wars.  His small article on meeting one of his heroes, Ferrucio Busoni, is memorable for its understated style and wealth of detail on everything from the weather (“grey, cold morning”) to Busoni’s appearance (“wearing a gray overcoat and smoking a cigarette.  He was hatless, and I was fascinated by the 'artistic’ look of his silvery hair and the fine features of his face.”).  Many of his observations are collected in a volume published in German as: Berthold Goldschmidt - Komponist und Dirigent: ein Musiker-Leben zwischen Hamburg, Berlin und London (Berthold Goldschmidt Composer and Conductor: A Musical Life Between Hamburg, Berlin and London), published in 1994.


Berthold Goldschmidt


Hans Gal

Hans Gál (1890-1987) was a prolific composer, teacher and scholar throughout his long life.  At the height of his powers and his popularity, he was forced to leave Germany and Austria, never again able to achieve the cultural significance he had enjoyed during the years of the Weimar Republic.  Gál arrived in England just before the war, and his assimilation was postponed when he, like many other Jewish refugees, was imprisoned in several internment camps for enemy aliens.  After the war he became a revered figure in Edinburgh's musical life and continued composing well into his nineties.


Gál was born near Vienna in 1890.  Unlike many other composers of the time, he did not really become seriously interested in music until his early teens.  Rather, he was a well-rounded child with a broad cultural background.  This stood him well in his career, which represents an unusual synthesis of scholarship and creativity.

Attending the New Vienna Conservatory, Gál became a pupil of Richard Robert and also studied music history and theory.  His serious efforts at composition began around this time.  In 1912 his cantata Von ewiger Freude was completed and performed a year later at the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde.  In the years preceding the war, he wrote a series of works and had his initial successes.  In 1915 he won the newly created “State Prize for Composition.”

He was drafted into the army in 1915 and spent time in Serbia and the Polish Carpathians.  While he had many tasks to perform he kept up with his composition, sowing the seeds for his first important opera Der Arzt der Sobeide (Sobeide's Doctor) set in 16th-century Granada.  This work, drawing on Spanish musical idioms received rave reviews at the time and launched Gál's successful career as an opera composer.

The 1920's was the time of Gál's rapid rise as a composer and teacher.  Awarded the Rothschild Prize in 1919 he was appointed as a lecturer in Music Theory at the University of Vienna.  He also worked at the Neue Wiener Buhne where he provided instrumental music for the theater.  In 1924 his opera Die Heilige Ente (The Sacred Duck), with a Chinese setting and a libretto by Karl Michael von Levetzow was premiered and was a great success, performed in more than twenty theaters, remaining in the repertoire until 1933.  His many contacts at the time with conductors George Szell and Erich Kleiber, and with composers Berg and Webern, went hand-in-hand with his growing popularity as a creative figure in the Weimar Republic.  He won a prize for his first published symphony, and his Overture to a Puppet Play became an international hit.

It was during this period that he also began to work as a serious scholar.  He was co-editor of the complete works of Brahms, along with Eusebius Mandyczewski, editing ten volumes, and he also edited numerous volumes in other series as well.

In 1929 Gál became Director of the Conservatory in Mainz, a sign of great distinction since he was chosen from more than 100 applicants and supported by such figures as Fritz Busch and Furtwängler.  At this point he was a leading figure in German musical life, and his activities as a composer continued to thrive in the genres of chamber music, orchestral music and opera.  It was during this period that he completed what was to be his last opera composed on European soil, Die Beiden Klaas (Rich Claus, Poor Claus).

Gál's standing in the world of German music came to a complete and sudden end in March of 1933 when, shortly after the Nazis occupied Mainz, Gál was summarily fired from his position at the conservatory.  Misunderstanding the nature and intentions of the Nazis, Gál tried for more than a year to protest this decision, eventually moving back to Austria.  During this period several planned productions of Die Beiden Klaas were aborted because of the political climate, including a performance to be conducted by Bruno Walter at the Vienna State Opera.  It was only premiered in England in 1990, on the occasion of what would have been the composer's 100th birthday.

Gál's return to Austria was no happy occasion.  Political activity in Austria already forecasted the Anschluss of 1938.  Gál, like many others, had to scramble to make ends meet, yet continued to compose and occupy himself as an editor.  His most ambitious piece of the time was De profundis, a setting of Baroque poems.  Composed at a time of despair and scant hope, it was, in the composer's words dedicated to “the memory of this time, its misery and its victims.”  Things, however, would not get better, and by 1938 the Gáls realized they would have to get out.  Several family members who stayed behind were either killed or committed suicide.

Intending originally to come to the United States, Gál settled in England with his family.  At first his luck was good: he met one of the great figures of English musical life, Sir Donald Tovey, who very much wanted him to become a part of the conservatory in Edinburgh.  Shortly after this, though, Tovey had a heart attack, and Gál's plans did not come to fruition.  Gál remained in London and did not move to Edinburgh until war broke out. 

In one of the less pleasant moves in the history of the Second World War in Britain, Winston Churchill, like Roosevelt in the United States, decided to imprison many so-called “enemy aliens.”  This absurdly created a situation where actual Nazis were imprisoned side by side with Jewish refugees who were fleeing Nazism.  Gál was arrested in March of 1940 and kept imprisoned, first in Huyton near Liverpool, and then on the Isle of Man until the fall.  While the process was disorienting, unpleasant and sometimes frightening, many musicians and intellectuals were incarcerated, and they quickly set up lectures and concerts.  Gál wrote a Huyton Suite for two violins and flute, the only instruments available, and later wrote music for a revue, What a Life based on camp experiences.

Although the moments after the war were filled with uncertainty, Gál finally did receive a position at the University of Edinburgh, and was awarded an honorary doctorate there in 1948.  He had also been offered a position at the University of Vienna, but decided he could not uproot once again, though he went back in 1958 to receive the Austrian State Prize.  Gál became an essential part of Edinburgh's musical life, particular with his role in the creation and ongoing success of the Edinburgh Music Festival, under the initial direction of Rudolf Bing.

For the remaining forty years of his life, following the end of the war, Gál was productive as a teacher, scholar and as a composer.  It was during this period that he wrote monographs on Brahms, Wagner, Schubert and Verdi.  Although he no longer commanded the European stage, as he had during the 1920s, Gál's compositional activity was unabated, and his music from this period is attractive, innovative and distinctive.  Considering the composer's identification with the music of his native Vienna, and his love for Brahms, Schubert and Johann Strauss, as well as his interest in Early Music, it is fitting that his last listed composition is a Moment Musical for treble recorder composed at age ninety-six the year before his death.


From his earliest compositions Gál's compositions evince a kind of double unity.  Not only are they beautifully constructed (Gál wrote himself about intuitive organicism) but they relate to each other in a kind of graceful tracing.

From the early cantata Von ewiger Freude, with its bright sounds of double women's choirs and harps, to his final works, written almost seventy years later, Gál's work exudes a sense of balance and control.  The sources of his sound lie in a synthesis of the Viennese classical style with a commitment to Early Music, including madrigals and choral sounds.  To this he adds a kind of lucidity that owes something to his lifelong love for Bach and Chopin.

Gál's music does not feature a continuous supply of bracing dissonance nor did the composer believe that only ugliness can reveal great truth. While Gál's use of harmony is inventive and refreshing, he rarely ranges into the world of conventional modernism.  Rather, it sounds as if much of his music was written by the characters in Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel; his compositions have poise, clarity and, despite their seeming simplicity, usually evade expectations.  Even the Totentanz from Gál's somber De profundis written during the bleak years of 1936-37 never succumbs to pessimism, nor does it aim to create sonic pain.  Rather it creates its effect through structural crescendos, and much of its power lies in its restraint.

Some creative figures put themselves most fully only into a select group of masterpieces, writing only perfunctorily for their other compositions.  Gál, like Schubert, puts his best self into all his compositions, and like Schubert, Gál has a distinctly Biedermeier side.  Not only is one of his fine compositions called Biedermeier Dances (Op.66), but many of his pieces display the characteristics of the best “hausmusik”—some, like the exquisite Divertimento for Two Alto Recorders and Guitar, sound positively New Agey.  During the height of modernism his aesthetic would have been discounted, immediately disqualifying his work from any consideration of its skill or, more importantly, its effect. 

This is not to imply that Gál is glib, or that he lives on the musical surface.  Quite the contrary, in works such as his 1932 Violin Concerto, the Act III duet from Die heilige Ente, the Canzona from the String Quartet No.2, or even in the lilting seventh variation of the Improvisation, Variations and Finale on a Theme, the composer creates a kind of exquisite and transcendent sound as transparent as it is powerful.



Hans Gal


Karl Amadeus Hartmann

Karl Amadeus Hartmann, composer and organizer of Munich's postwar contemporary music series Musica Viva, has received much attention in association with notions of inner emigration. Emerging in the postwar correspondence between Thomas Mann and Frank Thiess, the term “inner emigration” refers to those artists that remained in Third Reich Germany but did not publish or participate in party events, whether for political or aesthetic reasons. As inner emigration scholar Michael Philipp suggests in his social history of the phenomenon, the concept remains highly elusive. Distinctions between collaboration and so-called “aesthetic resistance” are often permeated by a politically charged postwar ideology that occludes the complexity involved in each artist's case. The following article chronicles Hartmann's life and output and will also survey the literature that presents Hartmann as the inner emigration composer par excellence.

Early Life

Karl Amadeus Hartmann was born in Munich in 1905 as the youngest of four sons within an artistically inclined lower-middle-class family. His father Friedrich Richard (1866-1925) was a professional painter, and his mother Getrud (né Schwamm, 1874-1935) expressed a keen interest in literature and music. His brother Adolf (1900-1971) also became an accomplished painter and his artistic connections, especially at the Munich Juryfreien exhibitions, were critical in shaping the young Karl Amadeus. 

Karl Amadeus showed musical talent from an early age and, despite dropping out of school, Hartmann later enrolled in Munich's Akademie der Tonkunst and studied composition with the Reger disciple Joseph Haas. During the troubled, yet artistically dynamic years of the Weimar Republic, Hartmann remained largely an inconspicuous trombonist for the Munich opera. Yet, he also became involved with the prestigious Juryfreien exhibitions beginning in 1928, for which he served as an organizer, composer and conductor. It was during these years that Hartmann's leftist political and aesthetic convictions were formed. [The talented and multifaceted conductor Hermann Scherchen became an outstanding influence on Hartmann's subsequent career as a composer and artistic director.] 

In these early years Hartmann wrote mainly in the avant-garde idiom of the great composers of the time (Hindemith, Stravinsky, Milhaud, Orff and Krenek). Despite later studying with Anton Webern, Hartmann distanced himself from the Second Viennese School. Instead, as demonstrated in the Jazz-Toccata und Fuge (1928) and the Tanzsuite (1931), Hartmann adopted jazz sonorities and rhythms, and his dense layering of percussive, polymetrical textures made the post-1933 reception of his music in Germany problematic. Furthermore, these early works frequently incorporated explicit messages of communism and did not shy from images of violent revolution. Thus, Hartmann composed two a-cappella chorales to Communist texts by Johannes Becher and Karl Marx and also a series of highly parodic Kurzopern entitled Wachsfigurenkabinett. Yet, as the latter operatic sketches attest, satire and radicalism were fashionable and could be manipulated to explore a number of coloristic musical effects.

Inner Emigration Years

After Hitler's 1933 seizure of power, the Bavarian Radio cancelled its intended premiere of Hartmann's Burleske Musik, fearing the scandal that avant-garde idiom would create, and although he was too insignificant to be directly attacked by National Socialist sympathizers, he was nonetheless forced into a marginalized position. Not in the financial position to emigrate to Switzerland (like many of his colleagues), Hartmann was compelled to remain in Third Reich Germany, supported by his wife's family. As Michael Kater points out, although Hartmann ignored all Reichsmusikkammer letters requesting participation in official duties and for proof of his “Aryan identity,” he was by default an RMK member. During this time, whether for political, social or artistic reasons, Hartmann neither published nor solicited performances of his works within Nazi Germany.

Instead, Hartmann directed his creative energies abroad, toward international festivals and competitions. Between the years 1933 and 1945, Hartmann appeared at several international contemporary music festivals with a declaration of independence from Third Reich Germany. This included performances of his orchestral work Miserae and of his First String Quartet at the annual IGNM festivals in Prague and London in 1935 and 1938 respectively. Both premieres were positively received abroad, lending the impression that contemporary music continued in Germany However, the Prague premiere resulted in a confrontation with National Socialist authorities and, as Kater argues, the fact that Hartmann was able to participate three years later in London suggests that Hartmann did have administrative connections. Other international recognition included the Emil Hertzka Stiftung for the choral work Anno '48 Friede, the 1936 Le Carillon prize, performances of his Symphonie L'oeuvre and the Concerto funèbre at the 1939 International Exhibitions in Belgium and Switzerland, and also broadcasts via the Belgian Radio in Brussels.

Works of this time period, usually referred to as “inner emigration works,” often incorporate both explicit and indirect references to music that was either forbidden or discredited by the Nazi party. Thus, in his dissertation on Hartmann's opera Simplicius Simplicissimus, Rüdiger Behschnitt refers to the viola melody in the overture's Adagio section as being Jewish in origin. Moreover, as exemplified by the second movement of Symphonie L'oeuvre (which is based on an anti-war Chinese song by Confucius), the use of extra-musical sources and often autobiographically related texts serve to comment on surrounding political and social realities. This is complemented by dedications and inscriptions that were unambiguously subversive, like the dedication of Sinfoniae Drammaticae “China fights” to the Russian author Sergej Tretjakov and the Chinese independence-fighter Den Shi-Hua.  Further, as Hartmann scholar Andreas Jaschinski articulates, the use of extended slow symphonic movements serve as elaborate lamentations; and, to contrast this, Hartmann adopts quick, ostinato-driven movements that build up into chaotic climaxes, in turn satirically undermining their own monumentality.

Significantly, many of these inner emigration compositions were later reworked into postwar publications. Yet, in conformity with postwar ideological demands and emerging Cold War politics, these re-workings frequently neutralized initial political messages of socialist revolution. For example, the “China fights” dedication was replaced with an inscription to the Munich music critic Antonio Mingotti. Similarly, Hartmann denied the symphony's programmatic content and its revolutionary character, instead asserting that the composition was merely a simple musical exercise on an eight-measure Chinese melody.

Hence, unlike many opportunistic composers during the immediate postwar period who selectively reinterpreted their works as exhibiting hidden messages of aesthetic resistance, Hartmann deemphasized and (as in the case of Sinfoniae Drammaticae) even erased those features that might be associated with political subversion and communist activity. This resulted in what some have considered to be a more subdued form of socialism, one that propounded an ethos of tolerance, love for humanity and “commitment” against all tyranny.  Here, Hartmann's revised tone may be contextualized vis-à-vis his subsequent employment by the American military occupation, an environment that precluded communist sympathies and revolutionary activities.

Writing Between the Lines: A Paradigm of Aesthetic Resistance

Before proceeding to outline Hartmann's postwar symphonic output and his efforts as organizer for the Musica Viva series, several paragraphs about the notion of “aesthetic resistance” are in order.

Although Hans-Werner Heister alludes to Hartmann's brief involvement in an underground anti-fascist network, Hartmann scholarship for the most part constructs arguments of inner emigration and resistance in terms of a paradigm of aesthetic communication, one of “writing between the lines”. Also referred to as “verdeckte Schreibweise” (literally “hidden writing”), this mode of interpretation presents music as a language that is to be decoded, assuming that the listener is properly attuned within a “horizon of expectation” (“Erwartungshorizont”). In the case of Hartmann's music, this is an audience that is capable of deciphering and that most likely shares the composer's political and social messages. Needless to say, this is a paradigm that assumes the ultimate transparency of the composer's intention (irrespective of whether such a clear intention existed) and that reduces music to a means of sending and receiving encoded messages.

In Heister's seminal work (“Inner Emigration, Hidden Writing, Compositional Resistance: Karl Amadeus Hartmann's Output after 1933”) – the same essay that transplants Dolf Sternberger's concept of “verdeckte Schreibweise” from literary criticism into musicological research – Heister argues that the musical quote (“Musikzitat”) is this paradigm's central mechanism. Here, musical quotation is broadly described as a manner of signaling a message to an appropriately critical audience, while simultaneously deceiving the unsuspecting and “system-conforming” listener. (Note the implicit moral judgment.) Several different types of “musical” allusion are enumerated, varying from direct and indirect musical quotation to extra-musical appropriation of literary topoi and ideological content. In turn, these are exemplified in Hartmann's opera Simplicius Simplissimus, a work composed in 1934 to a picaresque novel by the seventeenth-century German author Grimmelshausen (1621-1676).

The first type of quotation is characterized as an “inversion of negation,” or the adoption of music that was forbidden within Nazi Germany. Here, Heister turns to the émigré Paul Walter Jakob, who formulates “forbidden music” in terms of its being “Marxist” (e.g. Weill and Eisler), “Jewish” (i.e. according to biographical details and not musical criteria), or “culture bolshevist” avant-garde music. Although critical of Jakob's “overly-selective” categorization, this tripartite model pervades Heister's analysis of the Simplicius opera. Thus, the Jewish melody “Elijahu ha-navi” appears in the opera's second tableau, lending a prophetic tone to the hermit's death. However, unlike the String Quartet (1933), where the same Jewish melody appears in a more conspicuous form, the Simplicius opera extrapolates only segments, instead integrating the musical reference into its surrounding content. A similar indirect musical allusion occurs in the opera's finale (directly before the “Peasants' War Song”), where a march-like piano piece by Prokofiev serves as a fighting song for the politically awakened Simplicius. Furthermore, Heister argues that the transition from recitando speech-song to metered and rhymed prosody (within the same number) points to a technique frequently employed by Soviet composers. Thus, Hartmann is characterized as having used all three types of forbidden music, thereby “inverting” Third Reich Germany's marginalization and persecution of Jewish and Marxist composers. Yet, the question remains if today's listener, let alone Hartmann's intended audience, was capable of perceiving such indirect references. If not, the theory that music functions in terms of transparent signals is misleading and fails to account for the listener's actual experience.

The second type of musical quote outlined by Heister is referred to as the “reclamation of history.” In the early stages of Hartmann's inner emigration, “satire and parodic elements pervade the compositional vocabulary.” This is exemplified in Hartmann's negative depictions of soldiers and authority figures (e.g. the Governor), these being character types that were frequently championed by the Nazi party. Yet, as Heister contends, Hartmann's position is subtler than simple parody. Rather, Hartmann aspires “to reclaim Germany's cultural and historical past from National Socialist misappropriation.” In keeping with this, Hartmann makes explicit use of the Volkslied  “Wir sind Geyers Schwarzer Haufen,” a song that was often used in Nazi Germany but had a longer standing history as a revolutionary song, commemorating the fight against tyranny during the Peasants' War (1524-25). As Heister maintains, Hartmann is able to reclaim history and de-ossify ideological reification by abandoning the song's usual conservative chorale treatment, instead “integrating the song into a modern musical language.” This is complemented by the fact that certain ambivalent passages in the song are left out in favor of an unequivocal statement of revolutionary sentiment.

Hartmann's reclamation of history extends beyond explicit musical quotation. As Heister articulates, Hartmann adopts a historical subject that was common in stage works and historical novels of this time period. The Peasants' War and the Thirty Years War (1618-48), which are anachronistically combined in Hartmann's opera, also appeared in sanctified National Socialist operas; however, Hartmann uses the historical subject to depict the destruction and absurdities of war and to criticize the National Socialist trope of heroism. In a similar manner Hartmann reclaims the orchestration technique of speech-choir, what Victor Klemperer has described as the “language of the Third Reich.” Despite being a common technique of amateur and professional choirs at party events, Hartmann instead utilizes speech-choir in the manner of politically engaged Weimar Republic art, its use as a dramaturgical device of Marxist epic theater.

In conclusion, Heister's treatment of the Simplicius opera as a series of covert political messages is insightful, and the treatment of specific moments in the musical score and libretto as decodable signals enables a “thick description” in terms of the deeper-lying political and cultural contexts. However, the readers of Heister's well-thought-out essay are left with a feeling of doubt whether Hartmann indeed intended such explicit messages (as his post-factum autobiographical Kleine Schriften similarly argue) and whether the music-as-language model functions effectively, given that today's listenership no longer understands these references.

Postwar Years

In the years following Germany's 1945 surrender, Hartmann was employed by American military occupation forces to promote cultural reeducation and to combat Bavarian regionalism. Although a native of Bavaria, Hartmann was deemed sufficiently free of Nazi and local party sympathies to mediate in subsequent political decisions.  Given America's outstanding support and patronage, Hartmann was able to found and lead the concert series Musica Viva until his death in 1963. Here, Hartmann's creative programming and his juxtaposition of past and present musical works presented a forum for active dialogue and critical confrontation with the past. Moreover, through his active commissioning of visual artworks for the Musica Viva program booklets, and through innovative stage productions, Hartmann effectively placed contemporary music within a larger artistic and cultural community. Thus, in some sense Hartmann's Musica Viva was an anti-thesis to the contemporary festivals in Darmstadt and Donaueschingen, which stressed a “Zero Hour” ideology of musical autonomy and a clean break with the past.

During the postwar period many of Hartmann's existing compositions were performed for the first time, albeit often in a revised form. Revisions were made of the Simplicius opera, which was first staged in 1949 and then again in its revised form in 1957. Inner emigration works like the Symphonie für Streicher und Sopransolo (1938), the Concertino für Trompete und Bläserkammerorchester (1933), and the Symphonie “L'ouevre” (1938/9) were revised and included in the Fourth Symphony (1947), Fifth Symphony (1950), and Sixth Symphony (1951-3) respectively. Other works, like the Kantate für Altstimme und Orchester (1936) saw multiple revisions – first as Lamento, then as Symphonisches Fragment, and finally as the First Symphony (1947/8). At times, as with the Fifth Symphony, the revision entailed as little as the addition of several instruments; however, compositions like the Sixth Symphony were completely reworked. Works like the Sinfonia tragica, the Symphonische Hymen, Klagegesang, Friede Anno '48 – composed in 1940, 1943, 1944, and 1936 respectively – had to wait until well after Hartmann's death for their premieres (1989, 1975, 1990, and 1968 respectively.)

Typically, the Sixth Symphony is seen as a turning point in Hartmann's symphonic oeuvre, which in turn culminates in the Seventh and Eighth symphonies. In these works Hartmann turns increasingly to music history, experimenting with past notations, musical structures, rhythms, timbres and polyphonic textures.

During his final years Hartmann exhibited a renewed interest in operatic and dramatic works. This resulted in the Gesangsszene für Bariton und Orchester, based on the prologue to Jean Giraudoux's drama Sodome et Gomorrhe. Heinz von Cramer also speaks of operatic sketches for Lope de Vega's Fuente Ovejuna, and fragments for projects on Giraudoux's Ondine and Shakespeare's Macbeth exist in the Munich City Library. As exemplified in the scene based on Sodom and Gomorrah, Hartmann became increasingly concerned with nuclear holocaust, technological abuses and environmental pollution. Mention should also be made of Hartmann's contribution to the Jüdische Chronik, a series of musical compositions that were commissioned in the early 1960s to commemorate the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Complementing works contributed by Blacher, Henze, Dessau, and Wagner-Régeny, Hartmann's movement (“Ghetto”) served as a threnody to the last moments of the Warsaw Ghetto.


Karl Amadeus Hartmann


Jaromir Weinberger

Jaromír Weinberger (1896-1967) was the composer of one of the most successful operas between the wars, the comedy Švanda Dudák (Schwanda the Bagpiper).  While unable to duplicate that level of success in his subsequent works, Weinberger was a prolific, productive and highly effective composer for several decades.  The disruption of emigration and his inability to retrieve his royalties made his life in the United States somewhat difficult, but he continued to compose in a variety of styles on a broad array of subjects, including such works as the Lincoln Symphony.


Weinberger was born in Prague in January of 1896.  He was a prodigy of near-Mozartian proportions, starting piano at the age of five and composing by his tenth year.  He studied in Prague with such significant figures as Jaroslav Křička, Václav Talich and Rudolf Karel.  Eventually he ended up in the master class of Vítĕzslav Novák, a Dvořák pupil and one of the country's leading creative figures.  He continued studying with Karel Hoffmeister and eventually traveled to Leipzig to take lessons with Max Reger, whose rigorous approach to composition, especially counterpoint, is a factor in many of Weinberger's works.

In September of 1922, almost inexplicably, Weinberger moved to the United States where he took up a position as an instructor at Cornell University.  While he at first found many wonderful things in the USA, and made much of his cultural affinity to such writers as Whitman, Twain, Longfellow and Bret Harte--also signaling his intention to write an American symphony on the order of Dvořák's “New World”—his first American sojourn was brief and his words bitter upon his return (Americans were too stiff and mechanical, too motivated by profit, etc.). 

When he returned to Czechoslovakia he was appointed director of the National Theater in Bratislava, and later received appointments in Eger in Hungary, and Prague.  In 1926 Weinberger completed Švanda Dudák (Schwanda the Bagpiper) which became one of the most popular operatic works between the wars, with thousands of performances in hundreds of theaters including the Metropolitan Opera in New York.  Although none of his subsequent European works captured audiences as Švanda had, such pieces as the Passacaglia for Orchestra and Organ, Six Bohemian Dances for Violin and Piano, the opera The Outcasts of Poker Flat and a grand oratorio Christmas reveal a versatile composer, making use of the widest variety of materials and approaches.

Several observers, including Hans Heinsheimer at Universal Edition and Renato Mordo, manager of the German theater in Prague noted Weinberger's pessimism and regarded his long discussions about world events to be utterly pessimistic.  Whatever one thinks of such things, the 1930's were a time when even the most pessimistic and catastrophic visions fell well short of the mark.  With the rise of Nazism, Weinberger's works were gradually denied performances, and the composer eventually fled his homeland for France and England.  He arrived in New York in 1939, a place where he was well known, for the success of Švanda at the Metropolitan Opera in 1931 had been considerable.

Shortly after his arrival he was interviewed by Howard Taubman who wrote an article for The New York Times titled “Weinberger Seeks Time to Compose.”  The composer's tone alternates understandably between some level of near despair, with some discussion of how few royalties from Švanda were being sent to him, but also focused on a possibly bright future, which would include such works as a grand Lincoln Symphony.  Throughout, though, Weinberger expresses the exile's worry about where his income will be coming from, where he will live, who he is.

He did land on his feet, at least at first.  The initial years of his American period were immensely productive featuring such varied works as Ten Characteristic Solos for Drum and Piano (1939), Mississippi Rhapsody (1940), Prelude to the Festival for symphonic band (1941), Prelude and Fugue on a Southern Folk Tune (1940), the Lincoln Symphony (1941) Czech Rhapsody (1941) and several religious compositions, including Ecclesiastes (1946) and Six Religious Preludes (1946). 

The late 1930's and 1940's were spent mostly in the picturesque village of Fleishmanns in the Catskills, but after about a decade Weinberger moved to St. Petersburg, Florida.  The composer had a history of mental disorder, and was almost certainly bi-polar.  During the 1950's and ‘60’s he gradually sank into a deep depression and committed suicide in 1967 in mourning, according to his biographer, for a culture that which no longer existed.


The sources of Weinberger's musical languages are many and varied.  His studies in Prague and Leipzig stressed formal control and contrapuntal mastery; his teachers, Křička, Novák and Reger were concerned with a certain professional polish and control, but they were also somewhat playful, and that combination can be found in Weinberger's works.  These were aspects of his output that alternately received critical acclaim (when they were regarded as somehow genuine) and also set the composer up for a good deal of criticism (when they were thought to be either too automatic or insufficiently profound).  It is fair to say that, with the exception of Švanda, Weinberger frustrated his critics even as he pleased them.

Several of his Czech compositions enjoyed great local renown until the war.  Among these, the most conspicuous was his Christmas oratorio, which combined various stories about the holiday with the long, rich tradition of Czech “koledy,” or Christmas carols.  While the composer continued to write works that used Czech sources, from the very beginning he had a broad outlook, perhaps gleaned from Vítĕzslav Novák who also wrote in virtually every available genre.  Weinberger's catalogue includes manifestly American works, such as the Lincoln Symphony and the Prelude and Fugue on a Southern Folk Tune, both of which try to combine old world musical sophistication with local elements, echoing Dvořák's work decades earlier.  In his later years Weinberger more and more explored musical worlds related to religious mysticism, cultivating a more objective and nuanced style.

Without a doubt though, it was his latter-day export of “Czechness” to the rest of Europe that was Weinberger's greatest contribution and his greatest success.  But this was not an entirely simple matter.  As in Bohuslav Martinů's opera The Plays of Mary and Kodály's Háry János (composed within a year of Švanda), Weinberger's nationality comes to the fore precisely because it is set up by an array of “cosmopolitan” musical languages that stand for the very forces that threaten the simple goodness of the homeland.  Thus when Švanda (or Mary or Háry) sings at home, and presents himself to the world, he does so in intonations reminiscent of Smetana and Dvořák.  Indeed, his words “I am Švanda the Bagpiper” ape the opening of Smetana's Má vlast.  When, however, he forgets his beloved and moves to the city, we hear “modern” music of a different stripe.  Like Martinů and Kodály (and Mozart, Dvořák, Schubert and Lehar), Weinberger's dazzling mastery of many modern styles simultaneously infuses his music with depth and dimension and marks him as a kind of Hapsburg composer whose true style is a “style of styles.” 

It is somewhat ironic that there is such a degree of nationalist absurdity in the reception of Weinberger's works.  While the Czechs tended to find Švanda not quite Czech enough, or too routinely Czech, the rest of Europe clearly felt that Weinberger's origins gave him an authentic Czech composing license, and it was rather his other works which sometimes failed in their estimation for being insufficiently Švanda-esque. The utter confusion in such matters is neatly encapsulated in a fragment from The New York Times, anticipating Švanda's premiere at the Metropolitan Opera in 1931:

“The opera has been heard on almost one hundred stages abroad, although some of the presentations had to be postponed in parts of Germany as a matter of reprisal due to the feeling engendered by certain Czech Nationalists who had protested in their country against the singing of the choral section of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in German.  The presentation here will probably be in German.”
What's this?  Švanda postponed because Czech patriots needed their Schiller in Czech?  And in the end the opera is presented at the Met in German anyway?  This kind of tension has simultaneously helped and hindered works like Švanda and composers such as Weinberger and untold others from this region.


It is customary with composers such as Weinberger to marvel somewhat at the fact that they had only one hit, and to suggest that they somehow fell short of their potential.  But the reality is that any composer with an enduring hit like Švanda is the great exception.  While Weinberger could never duplicate that opera's success, which came about due to a complex interaction of politics, personal style and audience reception, he remained a productive and thoughtful composer until his final tortured years.  Forced to emigrate, losing his sources of income, we should marvel not that he did not live up to Švanda, but that he continued to compose at all.


Jaromir Weinberger


Alexander Zemlinsky

Alexander Zemlinsky (October 14, 1871 – March 15, 1942) was one of the most powerful musical voices of his time.  A remarkably influential musician, he had connections with both the more traditional and the Second Viennese School.  Although his work was nearly forgotten after the war, he has recently been recognized as one of the 20th century's significant compositional voices.


Alexander Zemlinsky, composer and conductor, was born in Vienna to a Slovakian Catholic father and mother of mixed Sephardic Jewish–Muslim descent. He played piano and organ from a young age and was admitted to the Vienna Conservatory in 1884 to study piano and composition under Anton Door, Franz Krenn, and the brothers Robert and Johann Nepomuk Fuchs. Zemlinsky's first chamber compositions were performed in 1893 at the Wiener Tonkünstlerverein, where he appeared as guest pianist and conductor.

Brahms was reportedly impressed with his Clarinet Trio (1896) and recommended it to Simrock as Zemlinsky's first publication. At this time Zemlinsky was conducting Vienna's Polyhymnia orchestra, at which time he met composer (then cellist), Arnold Schoenberg. An informal teacher–pupil relationship developed between the composers: Schoenberg composed his D Major Quartet under Zemlinsky's supervision and dedicated his Op. 1 Lieder to him as “teacher and friend.” The two became close friends and eventually brothers–in–law when Schoenberg married Zemlinsky's sister, Mathilde. In 1896 Zemlinsky won the Luitpold Prize in Munich for his opera Sarema with a vocal score by Schoenberg.  Zemlinsky's reputation as a composer was further established with the premiere of his second opera, Es war einmal… , conducted by Gustav Mahler at the Vienna Hofoper in 1900. Shortly thereafter, Zemlinsky became romantically involved with Mahler's pupil Alma Schindler. Pressure from friends and family, however, influenced Schindler to reject Zemlinsky in favor of Mahler himself. Zemlinsky married Ida Guttmann in 1907; following her death in 1929, Zemlinsky married Louise Sachsel, a former student twenty–nine years his junior.

Until 1903 Zemlinsky had been Kapellmeister at both operetta houses, Carltheater and Theater an der Wien. Although Zemlinsky also taught regularly at the Schwarzwald school, he was forced to seek further employment with the early death of his father. In 1904 Zemlinsky and Schoenberg founded the Vereinigung Schaffender Tonkünstler, with support from Mahler, to promote contemporary music in Vienna. At this time Zemlinsky was appointed first Kapellmeister at the Volksoper, before departing briefly to join Mahler at the more prestigious Hofoper.  However, when Mahler resigned, his contract was not extended, and Zemlinsky returned to the Volksoper.

Zemlinsky received acclaim in 1910 with the premiere of his own Kleider machen Leute, subsequently accepting the musical directorship of the Neues Deutsches Theater in Prague. It was under his direction that the Prague theater gained admiration as one of the most esteemed opera houses in Europe. His assistants included Kleiber (1911–12), Webern (1917–18) and Szell (1919–20), and Viktor Ullmann served as chorus master (1921–7). In addition to conducting, Zemlinsky's finest works were composed during this time, including the Maeterlinck songs, the Second Quartet, the Lyrische Symphonie, Eine florentinische Tragoedie and Der Zwerg.

Zemlinsky had successfully secured the future of the Prague theater, renamed the Deutsches Landestheater with the founding of the Czech Republic in 1918. He was appointed rector of the Deutsche Akademie für Musik und Bildende Kunst, where he associated with Schoenberg's pupils Anton Webern, Heinrich Jalowetz, Karl Horowitz and composer Hans Krása. In 1923 he became a guest conductor for the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, launching the orchestra's affinity for Mahler as well as conducting notable premieres of Czech music, including works of Bedřich Smetana, Leoš Janáček and Josef Suk. In 1924 Zemlinsky conducted the world premiere of Schoenberg's Erwartung at the Prague ISCM Festival, though relations with his brother–in–law had begun to deteriorate for personal and professional reasons (apparently a disagreement that stemmed from contradictory views on the technique of 12–note composition).

Although Zemlinsky was an important musical figure in Prague from 1911 to 1927, he nonetheless made several unsuccessful attempts to either return to Vienna or continue his work in Germany. In 1923 Max von Schillings offered him the post of Generalmusikdirector at the Staatsoper in Berlin. Zemlinsky refused the position, but reluctantly accepted an offer at the Kroll Oper with the promotion of a new Kapellmeister, Hans Wilhelm Steinberg, in Prague. He remained in Berlin until the closing of the theater in 1931, subsequently teaching at the Musikhochschule and guest conducting throughout Europe. Although Zemlinsky received praise for conducting the Berlin production of Kurt Weill's The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny that year, and later for setting Klabund's (pseudonym of Alfred Henschke) Kreidekreis in 1932, he soon returned to Vienna with new focus on his own compositions. After completing the score for Der König Kandaules in 1936, Zemlinsky was required to abandon its orchestration because of the Anschluss in March 1938. He fled first to Prague and afterwards to New York City with his wife and daughter. Once in New York City, Zemlinsky hoped to perform Kandaules at the Metropolitan Opera, but the libretto was considered inadequate.  He was forced to forsake these larger works and direct attention to smaller compositions for financial reasons. In 1939 Zemlinsky attempted a final opera, Circe, but it remained incomplete after the composer suffered a series of strokes. Memorable moments of his final years include a brief reconciliation with Schoenberg and a national NBC broadcast of his Sinfonietta in 1940 under the direction of conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos.


Zemlinsky's compositions are recognized for bridging the gap between late Romanticism and twentieth–century modernist styles. Following the path of teachers Robert and J.N. Fuchs, and also Brahms and Wagner, Zemlinsky notably developed shifting tonal centers within a formal technique of variation and word–painting in the style of Viennese expressionism. The influence of Brahms is apparent in Zemlinsky's early works, while later works draw from Mahler and the extended harmonies of Wagner. Zemlinsky eventually explored symbolism, but unlike his colleague Schoenberg, avoided extreme dissonance, twelve–tone technique and atonal music in general. Although these compositions reflect an affinity with Berg, who sought rational solutions to structural problems, Zemlinsky embraced asymmetry and did not seek such solutions.

Zemlinksy's earlier works, Sarema and Es war einmal, reveal a characteristic Brahmsian form, dramatic pacing and nervous intensity also observed later in his First Quartet and Clarinet Trio. He departs suddenly from these Romantic characteristics in Die Seejungfrau, a work composed during his tumultuous affair with Alma Schindler, who appears indirectly as the princess and outcast in the subsequent Der Traumgörge, often considered one of Zemlinsky's finest works.

Zemlinsky explored various combinations of music and drama in the style of Wagner with his Oscar Wilde operas. While early symphonies revealed his attempts to radically alter variation technique within traditional sonata form, Zemlinsky developed a new style of irregular rhythms and astringent harmonies in these operas, which are also apparent in his Third Quartet. After nearly five idle years, Zemlinsky returned to compose a dark Fourth Quartet (on the death of Berg) and several unique works that merged his various styles and techniques. These later works, such as the Symphonische Gesänge, Sinfonietta and the Third and Fourth string quartets tended towards sparseness, incorporating elements of Neue Sachlichkeit, Neo–Classicism and jazz. Although Zemlinsky was consistently drawn to larger–scale compositions, his lieder, especially the early Maeterlinck songs, are thought to best exhibit his creative skill and intuition

Zemlinsky was admired not only for his compositions, but also for his conducting.  Kurt Weill and Stravinsky, among others, praised him for his notable interpretations of Mozart and for his advocacy of Mahler, Schoenberg and contemporary music in general. Zemlinsky's work vanished from concert and opera programs until the late 1960's, when his music was revived in the wake of widespread Mahler zeal. The Fourth Quartet and Psalm XIII, neither of which had been published or performed during his lifetime, were rediscovered and celebrated posthumously. In 1907 Der Traumgörge was scheduled for a performance by Mahler, but was cancelled by Felix Weingartner, and postponed until its world premiere in 1980.


Alexander Zemlinsky


Walter Braunfels

Braunfels, Walter (b Frankfurt, 19 Dec 1882; d Cologne, 19 March 1954) was an important composer in Germany in the 1920's and 30's until his music was banned as “degenerate” and he was branded a half–Jew.  Most famous as a composer of opera and oratorio, he also wrote several significant orchestral and chamber pieces. Largely thought of as a neo–Romantic composer in the tradition of Berlioz, Strauss, Wagner and Mahler, he considered his work to have a strong connection to antiquity, evident in his thematic and literary choices for pieces such as the opera Die Vögel, based on Aristophanes' “The Birds.” 

Braunfels had a successful career as a pianist and composer throughout the 1920's and his success lasted until his dismissal from his post at the Hochschule für Musik in Cologne in 1933. He was expelled for having written what the Third Reich considered to be Entartete Musik as well as for being half–Jewish. He withdrew from public life and entered into what has been termed internal exile, first in Bad Godesburg and then on Lake Constance. Braunfels continued to compose during the war years, but upon return to the stage and academic life after the war he was unable to reclaim the success he had enjoyed in the 20s and early 30s. After his death in 1954, he was largely forgotten for several decades. However, there has been a revival of his works in recent years, and his operas in particular have received critical acclaim along with his string quartets and orchestral works. 

Early Life

The Braunfels family was from Frankfurt am Main. Walter Braunfels was the youngest of four children; his father was a jurist and a ‘man of letters’ and his mother was a musician and the great–niece of the composer Louis Spohr. When he was only three years old his father died. He was brought up in an intensely musical environment, his mother had played with Liszt, and his older sister was a pupil of Clara Schumann at the Hochschen Conservatory in Frankfurt.

At the age of 12, he was accepted as a student of James Kwast at the Hochschen Conservatory. Through his teacher, he became devoted to the music of the conservative and nationalistic anti–modernist composer Hans Pfitzner, who was Kwast's son–in–law.  As a result he joined the Hans Pfitzner Society founded by the German writer Thomas Mann along with Pfitzner himself. Pfitzner was also a great supporter of Braunfels; their mutual respect and support is documented through their correspondence.

In 1901 Braunfels moved to Kiel to take up legal and economic studies at the university, highlighting a split between a love for music and a desire to have a more practical vocation. He kept up his mostly autodidactic studies of piano and composition in this period, and was keen on improvising.  He gave several house concerts (documented in his letters to his mother), where he improvised on themes provided by the audience.

In 1902 he moved to Munich where a dynamic artistic scene was in its heyday. The creative environment featured studies with conductor Felix Mottl, who acted as his music coach and conducting teacher, and allowed him to sit in on rehearsals of Wagner's Ring and Tristan und Isolde.  His contacts with Mottl, in addition to hearing performances of the symphonies of Mahler and the music of Strauss, were some of the most formative moments for Braunfels. As a result, he decided to pursue music full time.

In the winter of 1902 he enrolled in a course of piano studies in Vienna with the famous pianist and pedagogue Theodor Leschetizky. Following in the footsteps of pianists such as Arthur Schnabel and Ignaz Paderewski, Braunfels threw himself into Leschetizky's rigorous method that required him to re–learn much of his technique. The great teacher's motto was, “In an emergency, if you do not know how to use one hundred different sound colors in 10 bars of music, you are not an artist.”  During this period Braunfels also studied theory with Karl Nawratil, the theory teacher of Arnold Schoenberg.  The following year he began his composition studies with Ludwig Thuille.

In 1905 Walter Braunfels began to visit the house of Adolph von Hildebrand, where he met his youngest daughter Betal, who was, at that time, the fiancée of Wilhelm Furtwängler.  She became a piano student of Braunfels shortly thereafter. They fell in love, and four years later, in 1909, they were married.

Prinzessin Brambilla and Die Vögel

In 1909, Braunfels completed Prinzessin Brambilla. This opera, based on material from the Commedia dell'arte, was admired by Busoni and was intended as a comic opera that ‘thumbed its nose’ at Wagner.

In 1913, Braunfels started writing one of his most famous works, Die Vögel, a work based upon the play of the same title (‘The Birds’) by Aristophanes. In 1915 he enlisted in the army and served at the front. In 1917, reflecting on his experiences in the war and inspired by Bruckner's religious devotion as well as that of his father–in–law, Adolph von Hildebrand, Braunfels converted to Catholicism.  The second act of Die Vögel seems to reflect this, showing a more obviously Christian tone, and ending with a religious hymn.

Between World Wars

The post–war period between 1920 and 1933 was the time of Braunfels's greatest success. His most important works from this period are the opera Die Vögel, and the orchestral work Phantastischen Erscheinungen eines Themas von Berlioz.  The orchestral variations were performed in New York under Bruno Walter in 1920 as well as in Zurich, Frankfurt and Leipzig (under Wilhelm Furtwängler). Furtwängler conducted the Don Juan Variations in 1924, and the premiere of the opera Don Gil von den grünen Hosen, was performed, all in the period between 1920 and 1925.

In 1925, Braunfels was appointed founding director of the Hochschule für Musik in Cologne.  Two further large scale works, the opera Galathea, and the Adventskantate were premiered in 1927 and 1930 respectively.  In 1933 Braunfels was dismissed from all official offices and denounced as a composer of Entartete Musik and also for being half–Jewish.  He retired from public life and remained in internal exile until the end of the war.

The War Years

Braunfels continued to compose during his internal exile, turning to religious and spiritual themes. His Adventskantate from 1933 and his composition Verkündigung, from 1933–35, based on the play ‘L'Annonce fait a Marie,’ by Paul Claudels, are rooted in Christian themes and texts, and are seemingly an attempt to counter the banality and evil of the Third Reich by adapting a high moral tone. These works were poorly received after the war, as they were considered to be deeply out of sync with emerging post–war music. Verkündigung was finally performed in Cologne in 1948 shortly after Braunfels was reinstated as a Professor Emeritus at the Hochschule für Musik.

In February of 1937, Braunfels met with Bruno Walter in Amsterdam to discuss mounting a production of his opera, Der Traum ein Leben, which Walter agreed to perform in Vienna, but due to the annexing of Austria in 1938, the performance never came off. To add insult to injury the Reichsmusikkammer banned Braunfels from all public music engagements.

From 1943–1945 Braunfels turned his focus to chamber music,  writing two String Quartets (opp. 60 and 61) and a String Quintet (op. 63). These works have been compared to the late quartets of Beethoven, and it is likely that he drew much inspiration from the works of the great composer who had also written his works in the kind of internal exile that deafness had imposed upon him.

Post War (1948–1954)

Walter Braunfels returned to public life in 1948, returning to his post as the director of the Hochschule für Musik in Cologne and also returning to the stage as a pianist. His works were performed once again, but their critical reception made this a bittersweet experience. His successes from the 1920's were never duplicated, and the works from his internal exile from 1933–1945 were hardly staged. 

After his death in 1954 his work was largely forgotten and was to remain in oblivion until two new productions of his opera Die Vögel were staged in the early 1990's followed by a recording with the Cologne Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Dennis Russell Davies, in 1992 (EMI Classics).

Walter Braunfels's reputation as a composer is still in flux. While there is emerging interest in his compositions, there is very little material about him available in English. The only major study of his life and music was written by Ute Jung and published in 1980.  While recent releases of his music on labels such as Decca and EMI have led to a resurgence of interest, there are still many biographical questions that remain unanswered, in particular with regard his internal exile during the war.



Walter Braunfels


Vitezslava Kapralova

When she died in exile in France at the age of twenty–five, Vítĕzslava Kaprálová (1915–40) was on the threshold of a successful international career as a composer and conductor. During her short life, she composed no fewer than fifty works (many of which were published), conducted orchestras in Prague, London, and Paris, was praised by music critics across Europe, and was awarded the Smetana Award by the Bendřich Smetana Foundation.

On the eve of the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia, Kaprálová left her homeland to study with the Czechoslovak composer Bohuslav Martinů in Paris. During the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, she remained in France, continuing her studies with Martinů. During this time, she experimented with a variety of compositional styles ranging from a conservative folk–like idiom to a neo–classicism inspired by Stravinsky, and cultivated a kind of moderism modeled after her teacher, Martinů.

Shortly before the Nazi occupation of France, Kaprálová became terminaly ill.  She was evacuated from Paris to Montpellier by her husband, Jiří Mucha, to whom she had been married only a few months. As Paris fell to Hitler's forces, Vítĕzslava Kaprálová succumbed to her illness.

Early Life

Born in Brno (Moravia, Czechoslovakia) on January 24, 1915, Vítĕzslava Kaprálová was the only child of composer Václav Kaprál and singer Viktorie Kaprálová. From an early age, following Kaprál's return from conscripted service in Albania during World War I, Kaprálová studied music with her father, despite his belief that women could not succeed in the male–dominated field of music. By the age of nine, she had completed her first two compositions, “V řísí bájí” (“In the realm of myths”) and “Válka” (“War”), both for solo piano. The following year, another work for piano, “Na dalekou cestu” (“Before the Long Journey”), was published by Oldřich Pazdírek in Hudebni Besidka in Brno. Kaprálová also studied piano at home with her mother.

In 1923, Viktorie and Václav decided to separate; Václav traveled to Paris to continue his music studies. While in Paris, he met Bohuslav Martinů, who became a close friend of the Kaprál family.

In 1930, against the wishes of her father but with the support of her mother, Kaprálová entered the Brno Conservatory where she studied composition with Vilém Petrželka, choral conducting with Vilém Steinman, and orchestral conducting with Zdenĕk Chalabala. In the five years she spent at the Brno Conservatory she composed more than fifteen works for various solo instruments and ensembles, including her first ten pieces to be given opus numbers.

Her years at the Brno Conservatory were marked by a number of firsts for Kaprálová that played a marked role in her budding career. During these years, she experienced Martinů's music for the first time; a performance of Martinů's second piano concerto by Rudolf Firkušný greatly affected Kaprálová. She also received the first published reviews of her compositions in the area's newspapers, most of which were filled with praise. Third, in 1935, Kaprálová made her conducting debut leading the Brno Conservatory Orchestra in the premiere performance of the first movement of her Piano Concerto in d minor, her graduation piece.

Prague Conservatory

In 1935, Kaprálová enrolled in the Prague Conservatory. She was accepted into the composition masterclass of Vítĕzslav Novák, a former student of Antonín Dvořák and one of the most highly regarded Czech composers of the day. She also began her studies in conducting with Václav Talich, a popular and distinguished Czech conductor. In Prague, as would have been expected of a talented music student, Kaprálová began composing in earnest.

Her first assignment for Novák's masterclass proved to be a bit of a struggle for Kaprálová; she found her new composition teacher to be demanding and highly critical of her efforts.  After several revisions, the resulting work, a witty modernist work for piano entitled Grotesque Passacaglia, won first prize in a composition competition and was later published in Three Pieces for Piano, Op. 9.  After that first assignment, Kaprálová began composing quickly, often working on several works at the same time and completing them in rapid succession.  First were the remaining two piano works (Preludium and Crab Canon) for her opus 9, followed by her orchestration of a suite originally composed for piano.  When this Suite en miniature was premiered in Brno, it received a positive review from Czechoslovak musicologist and critic Otakar Šourek.  Also composed during this early period in Prague was a string quartet (opus 8), additional works for solo piano, and some sketches for vocal works.  But perhaps the most significant work begun by Kaprálová was her Military Sinfonietta, which she began sketching early in 1936.  Although Kaprálová composed several other works during her Prague years, the Military Sinfonietta would become one of her best-known works.

While her musical ideas for Military Sinfonietta (opus 11) were coalescing, she continued her studies at the Prague Conservatory.  In January 1936, Kaprálová graduated from Talich's conducting masterclass and, in May, she passed the state piano teacher certification examination.  During those months, she also composed several works, primarily for small ensembles or voice and piano, and several compositions premiered in Prague and Brno.  Two highlights from the year include the premiere in early October of Kaprálová‘s String Quartet, Op. 8, by the Moravian Quartet in Brno and the radio premiere of her Piano Concerto in d minor, Op. 7, a couple weeks later by the Brno Radio Orchestra with Kaprálová on the podium (Kaprálová had also conducted the premiere of the concerto's first movement at the Prague Conservatory the year before).  The performances received rave reviews in the Czechoslovak press, particularly from Šourek, who was becoming an important proponent of Kaprálová‘s work.

Perhaps the most important work to come out of Kaprálová‘s time at the Prague Conservatory was her Military Sinfonietta.  A single movement work for large orchestra, Kaprálová completed the composition in February 1937.  The work had several performances that were key to the young composer's future.  First, the work served as her graduation piece; in June 1937, Kaprálová graduated with distinction from the Prague Conservatory.  Her teacher, Novák, with whom she worked very closely on the composition, was greatly impressed by it and recommended it the Czech National Women's Council who wanted to include a piece by a Czech female composer at their gala in November.  In honor of that performance, Kaprálová dedicated the work to the Czechoslovak president, Edvard Beneš, who was also patron of the Czech National Women's Council.  The reference to “military” in the title of the work often proved problematic for the young composer who had completed the work at a time when the future of the young Czechoslovak Republic seemed in jeopardy.  In her analysis of the composition, Kaprálová explained her choice of title: “The composition does not represent a battle cry, but it depicts the psychological need to defend that which is most sacred to the nation.” [quoted from, text translated by Leda Hatrick] The work was also included in the International Society for Contemporary Music Festival in London in 1938 (see below).  At the end of 1938, Kaprálová was also awarded the Smetana Award by the Bendřich Smetana Foundation in Prague for her Military Sinfonietta.

In addition to her activities at the Conservatory, Kaprálová was also involved with the modern music scene in Prague.  Shortly after her arrival in Prague, she joined the Přítomnost Society, an organization dedicated to the creation and performance of contemporary music, which was very active in the capital during the inter–war years.  The musicians of the Přítomnost Society premiered several of Kaprálová's works.  Works premiered by the Society included Three Pieces for Piano, Apple from the Lap (cycle of four songs), and April Preludes (for piano).  Kaprálová was also a member of Ochranný svaz autorský, a Czechoslovak composers' rights organization.

Most of the works Kaprálová composed during her years at the Prague Conservatory, although relatively conservative in nature, do have a modernist bent.  As one might expect from student works, these combine the teachings of Novák with Kaprálová's attempts to find her own compositional voice.  Her talent as a composer can be heard in the earliest of her compositions and can be seen in her preliminary analyses included with several of the works.  Her development into a modernist composer would take on a new depth as she moved from Prague to Paris to study with Bohuslav Martinů.

With Martinů in Paris

Although Kaprálová was not formally introduced to Martinů until April 1937, Martinů had been a friend of the Kaprál family for several years.  A native of a small village in Bohemia, Martinů studied for a short while at the Prague Conservatory before moving to Paris in 1923.  Although he never lived in the Czech lands again, Martinů was highly regarded as a Czechoslovak composer.  In 1937, Martinů visited Prague to begin preparations with Václav Talich (Kaprálová‘s conducting teacher) for the premiere of his opera, Julietta (an opera which would soon take on a special meaning for Kaprálová and Martinů), at the city's National Theater the following year.  During that visit, Kaprálová met the much older composer, whose works she had admired for many years.  During that first meeting, Martinů advised Kaprálová that she should continue her studies with him in Paris.  Thus began a relationship that would deeply influence Kaprálová's musical and personal life for the remainder of her lifetime.

The prospect of traveling to and studying in Paris was an expensive one.  Kaprálová applied to the French government for financial assistance and, with the help of with the help of Otakar Šourek, was awarded a scholarship for one year's study at L'École Normale de Musique in Paris.  She arrived in Paris late in October 1938 and soon began to study conducting with Charles Munch and composition with Martinů.  During her first weeks in Paris, the young Czech composer was introduced to some of the most well known figures in Paris's modern music community, including Darius Milhaud and Arthur Honegger.

In November, Kaprálová made a quick trip to Prague to conduct the performance of Military Sinfonietta for the Czech National Women's Council, which received positive reviews in several publications.  Shortly after her return to Paris, she was informed that the same work had been selected by the International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM) committee as one of the works to represent Czechoslovak contemporary music at the 1938 festival in London.  The other representatives of Czechoslovak music included Iša Krejčí, Václav Bartoš, and Viktor Ullmann.

Before departing for the festival in London in June, Kaprálová settled into life as a music student in Paris.  She grew close to Martinů, both personally and professionally, as the two shared ideas about their work. During this time, they collaborated on several of each other's works, both in person and through correspondence; in the collection of Martinů's papers, there are copies of 33 letters from the teacher to his student.  One of Kaprálová‘s works from this period known to be influenced by her relationship with Martinů is her Partita, a work in three movements for string orchestra and piano.  Begun early in 1938, Kaprálová would revisit and rework the piece several times over the course of her time with Martinů.  Most scholars familiar with the work of both Kaprálová and Martinů agree that this work is by far her strongest imitation of Martinů's style.  However, what is unclear is whether her imitation of his style was a result of her admiration of him as a composer, her very close and personal relationship with him, the mere fact that she was studying with him and was expected to imitate his style, or a combination of all three.  Nonetheless, Kaprálová's Partita, with its angular melodic lines and often dissonant harmonies, is one of her most modern works.

Martinů's works from this period also reflect his close relationship with Kaprálová.  For example, in May 1938, he composed his String Quartet, No. 5, often considered to be a deeply personal work, and dedicated the completed sketch to his student.

International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM)

In June 1938 Kaprálová, accompanied by her teacher, traveled from Paris to London to participate in the ISCM festival.  In addition to her conducting duties, Kaprálová was also interviewed by the BBC and met with Jan Masaryk, the Czechoslovak ambassador to Great Britain.  But for the young Czech composer and conductor, the highlight of the trip must have been her appearance as conductor, leading the BBC Orchestra in a performance of her Military Sinfonietta at the festival's opening concert.  Although she was the youngest composer participating in the festival, her performance on the podium and her skills as a composer were widely praised by those in attendance and in published reports of the concert.  Both The Daily Telegraph and La revue musicale printed reviews praising the work and its performance.  In his account of the ICSM festival, British composer Havergal Brian wrote, “The first work played and broadcast at the recent festival, a Military Sinfonietta, by Miss Vítĕzslava Kaprálová of Czechoslovakia proved an amazing piece of orchestral writing: it was also of logical and well balanced design.”

The concert was also sent by shortwave radio to the United States and rebroadcast by Columbia Broadcasting System.  A review of the festival in Time magazine shortly after the broadcast also described Kaprálová‘s work as a composer and conductor in glowing terms: “In its 16 years of existence, the [ICSM] society has now and then turned up a really golden egg. At the festival's opening concert last week, seven strictly fresh compositions were chipped open, sniffed at. Four attracted considerable critical attention: …4) a Military Symphonietta in one movement by 22-year-old Vítĕzslava Kapr&#225lová, a good-looking Czechoslovakian girl. To Composer Kaprálová, who conducted her own lusty, sprawling composition, went the afternoon's biggest hand. Dedicated to Czechoslovakia's President Eduard Beneš, Composer Kaprálová's Military Symphonietta was not supposed to summon up any aggressive blood. Said she: ‘My Symphonietta is not an appeal for war, but an appeal for a conscious defensive attitude.’”

The performance at the ICSM festival was a testament to Kaprálová's talent as a conductor and composer.  Although her scholarship to continue studying in Paris with Martinů was in jeopardy, she was on the threshold of becoming a successful and well-known composer and conductor – a feat rarely attained by a young woman in the late 1930s.

Her Final Compositions

Following her success at the ICSM festival, Kaprálová returned to Paris before taking a holiday in home country.  It was a time of uncertainty and unrest in the countries of Eastern Europe.  Hitler had been gaining power in Nazi Germany and was eager to gain control of the Czech Sudetenland.  On September 29, 1938, in an agreement reached as part of the Munich Accord granted those lands to Germany; the Accord marked the beginning of the carving up of Czechoslovakia and the rest of Eastern Europe and opened the door to the full-scale German invasion of the Czech Lands the following year.

While she was in Czechoslovakia, Kaprálová continued composing, completing a couple of pieces that were already in the works and beginning the sketches of a few others.  In July, with the help of Martinů, she worked on the orchestration for her song Waving Farewell for solo voice and orchestra, a project begun earlier that year.  In September, she completed the sketches for Ilena, a work which began as a ballad and morphed into a cantata for mixed chorus and orchestra, and began orchestrating the work the following month; unfortunately the work remained unfinished.  In both works Kaprálová continued to search for her “voice,” using what she learned from her time at the Prague Conservatory together with what Martinů had taught her, combined with what she believed her compositional voice to be.

In October 1938, Kaprálová received a letter from Alfred Kalmus of Universal Edition (London) asking about the status of an orchestral work based on Czech folk songs that he, on behalf of the publishing house, had commissioned from her.  Although the original letter requesting the commission is lost, it appears that Kaprálová immediately began working on the commission when she received Kalmus' second letter.  In just more than a fortnight she finished sketching the suite, which she titled Suita Rustica, and had completed the work by November 10, less than a month after receiving Kalmus's letter.  Unfortunately, for reasons that still remain unclear, Kalmus and Universal Edition rejected the orchestral suite.  Nonetheless, Suita Rustica, with its use of traditional Czech folk songs in a conservative yet forward-looking style, remains one of Kaprálová's most popular works, and is considered by many to be one of her finest works.

Kaprálová‘s future studies in Paris were far from certain.  Before the ICSM festival, her scholarship to study with Martinů and at L'École Normale de Musique had expired.  In order to resume her studies in Western Europe, Kaprálová needed once again to secure funding from the French government.  After a series of correspondence between representatives of the French and Czechoslovak ministries of culture, Otakar Šourek, Martinů, and even Czechoslovak author Karel Ĉapek, Kaprálová was finally able to return to Paris in late November 1938, just over a month after Edvard Beneš, the Czechoslovak president, was forced to into exile.  With the political situation in Czechoslovakia rapidly deteriorating, Kaprálová left her homeland for the last time, returning to Paris to resume her studies and her life with Martinů.

Her return to Paris marked the beginning of a busy time in Kaprálová's life.  Professionally, as she resumed her studies, she began composing at a frenetic pace, beginning several new works in many different genres and, under the guidance of Martinů, revising old works, most notably the Partita.  Of the many new works begun during this period, several were never finished.  Nonetheless, the works from this period represent her most mature works, and indicate her ability to work across genres and styles.  These compositions also chart the development of Kaprálová's personal voice.  Works begun and/or completed during the time (1939) include: In Memoriam of Karel Ĉapek (who died at the end of 1938) for violin and piano (later renamed Elegy); Concertino for Violin, Clarinet and Orchestra, Op. 21 (unfinished); V zemi české / In the Czech Land, for voice and piano; the song cycle Zpívano do dálky / Sung into the Distance, Op. 22 [including Píseň tvé nepřítomnosti / A Song of Your Absence, Polohlasem / Under One's Breath]; Sonatina for Violin and Piano [unfinished]; Můj milý človĕče / My Dear One [from Seconds, Op. 18].  As the political situation under Nazi occupation in the Czech lands continued to worsen, Kaprálová was inspired to compose works that expressed her feelings of loss for her homeland.  Some of these works, often dedicated to her parents, were recorded in Western Europe and rebroadcast in Czechoslovakia.

Due to the deteriorating political conditions across Europe and particularly in Paris, Kaprálová also began looking for ways to continue her studies in the United States.  She wrote letters making inquiries and asking for financial assistance.  She also applied to the Juilliard School in New York.  However, none of these attempts proved to be fruitful.

On a personal level, the beginning of 1939 saw the relationship between Kaprálová and her teacher deepen.  The two worked closely together on their respective compositions.  Martinů gave Kaprálová a piano sketch of his opera Julietta; the opera had previously been meaningful to both of them and the sketch confirmed its importance, and perhaps Martinů's romantic feelings, for Kaprálová.  By June, Kaprálová wrote to her parents that she and Martinů were making plans to live together.  However, those plans never came to pass.

Around the same time, Kaprálová met Jiří Mucha, the son of the Czech art–nouveau painter Alphonse Mucha, in Paris.  Being of similar age and with similar interest in the events happening in their common homeland, the two began to spend time together.  Kaprálová soon began to realize that a future with Martinů was not in her best interest.  As World War II spread across the European continent at the end of 1939, the political unrest grew in Paris and across France.  Martinů and his de facto wife, Charlotte, started to make plans to leave France, and Martinů and Kaprálová began to spend less time together as she became involved with Mucha.  Although Mucha enlisted in the French army, the two continued their relationship.

On April 23, 1940, Kaprálová and Mucha were married in Paris.  A week later, the first signs of the illness that would take Kaprálová's life were documented.  Although she managed to maintain her musical activities in Paris, continuing to compose, publishing articles, and directing the newly formed Czech women's choir in Paris, the illness rapidly took its toll.  She was in and out of the hospital for several weeks and on May 20 was evacuated by her husband from the increasingly stressful conditions in Paris to a hospital in Montpellier.  The day before her evacuation, Kaprálová saw her mentor and teacher, Martinů, for the last time. On June 14, the German's occupied Paris.  Two days later, on June 16, 1940, with her husband by her side, Vítĕzslava Kaprálová died.

Kaprálová's Posthumous Legacy

Most likely due the conditions of war–torn Europe and the presence of the Iron Curtain, Kaprálová was largely forgotten by the music community in France and in Czechoslovakia.  Several of the works she completed at the end of her life were premiered in the years immediately following the war; however, Kaprálová and her works were soon lost in the shadows of history.  Any mention of the young Czechoslovak composer was limited to a footnote in the studies of Martinů‘s life and music; usually these footnotes referred to her only as Martinů's young mistress and made no mention of her ability as a composer, conductor and musician.

Starting in the last two decades of the twentieth century, interest in Kaprálová began to re–emerge.  In 1988, Jiří Mucha published a memoir of his life with Kaprálová; the following decade saw the publication of a fictional account of Kaprálová's relationship with Martinů.  Scholarly interest in Kaprálová and her music received a healthy boost from the work of Karla Hartl and the Kaprálová Society.  Several of Kaprálová‘s works were also performed and recorded by musicians around the world.  Perhaps Kaprálová, a promising composer and musician and young victim of World War II, is now once again on her way to becoming an important part of the early Czechoslovak modernist movement.


Vitezslava Kapralova


Pavel Haas

Pavel Haas was born into a wealthy and prominent Jewish family in the Moravian capital of Brno.  This was a city with a rich cultural life, and it was during Haas' childhood that Leoš Janáček established himself as a leading figure, both regionally and nationally.  Haas became an important composer of theater and film music, composing music, for example, for Karel Ĉapek's infamous RUR (Rossum's Universal Robots).  During this period he worked several times with his brother, Hugo Haas, who became a successful actor in the United States after the war.  The war years severely limited Haas' professional development, and in 1941 he was sent to Terezín.  Although at first he was too ill and depressed to compose, he later became part of the rich musical life of the camp, writing several works that are considered classics of that time.  He was deported to Auschwitz in mid-October 1944 and immediately killed.


A compositional prodigy, Haas studied at the school of the Philharmonic in Brno until he was drafted into the Austrian army in 1917.  He remained in Brno during that time, and in 1919 he began the serious study of composition at the Brno conservatory, working with Jan Kunc and Vilém Petrželka.  Later (1920-22) he became a part of the master class of the conservatory led by Leoš Janáček.  As one of the only cultural figures in Moravia to have achieved international success, it is impossible to overestimate Janáček's stature or his influence in Brno and Moravia more broadly.  Although Haas clearly went in his own direction, Leoš Janáček's effect was profound.

Starting in his early 20's, Haas was a prolific and versatile composer who drew on the leading trends of the time.  The 1930's was a great age of Czech cinema, and one of its leading figures was Haas' brother Hugo.  During this period Pavel Haas wrote several notable scores for both stage and film, and reached his maturity as a composer in the mid-1930's with such works as the opera The Charlatan, String Quartets 2 and 3, and the Suite for Oboe.  A major work from this period, a large symphony, was left unfinished and completed only after Haas' death.

When Czech society began to break down under the pressure of the Nazi presence, Haas, like other Jewish composers, took whatever steps he could to protect his interests.  In this case, this included divorcing his wife in order to shield her from anti-Semitic policies.  Haas was deported to Terezín in 1941. 

Reports of Haas' life in Terezín usually include the information that Haas was ill and depressed upon his arrival and only returned to some kind of creative productivity when the energetic and intrepid Gideon Klein put several sheets of blank music paper in front of him and urged him to return to his work.  While in Terezín, Haas wrote several works including, most notably, the Study for Strings, immortalized in a clip from the 1944 Nazi propaganda film created to show the camp as a kind of idyllic spa for Jews.  Here we see the composer sitting nervously and finally taking several stiff bows.  Conducted by Karel Ančerl in the film, this work was successfully revived after the war.  Among his greatest works, composed during his last year in Terezín, are the Four Songs on Chinese Poetry.  A mature composition, written on many different levels, the cycle was performed in a concert in June of 1944.

It was likely clear to any of the more highly placed prisoners that, as soon as the Red Cross visit and the propaganda film had been completed, there would be no reason to protect any of the long-term internees.  By the end of the summer things had begun to change, and huge transports started at the end of September 1944.  On October 16th, Haas was placed in a transport with other Terezín composers Klein, Krása, Ullmann, and Karel Ancerl.  According to Ančerl's testimony, Haas, along with Ullmann and Krása, was immediately gassed.


From his earliest period, Haas showed an equal affinity for abstract music and music based on text.  The most formative influence on his music was the compositional legacy of Leoš Janáček.  Janáček's dramatic intensity played a role in Haas' artistic development, but also his use of short motives and his use of Moravian musical elements.  Haas also had an affinity with Hebrew chant and incorporated these along with neoclassic and jazz idioms.

This integration of Janáček's style with his own mature voice can be heard most notably in such works as the 1938 Suite for piano, in the String Quartet #3, with its synthesis of local and international musical elements, in the Suite for Oboe and Piano from 1939, and of course in the great dramatic work of his maturity, The Charlatan.  Here we have a compelling combination of surface and depth, immediate charm and subtlety.  These elements also seem to have been present in a powerful blend in Haas' incomplete symphony, posthumously completed.  For example, in the final variations movement of the 3rd quartet we have Beethovenian depth, Janácek's aphoristic approach, Moravian rhythms and references to Jewish folk tunes.

This deepening of Haas' approach continued while the composer was in Terezín, reaching its apotheosis in the Four Songs on Chinese Poetry.  Here there is a kind of ideal, if agonizing and tragic, synthesis.  These songs of love and longing for home seem to capture the mood of Terezín as much as any other compositions.  Set as a series of interior monologues, and making periodic reference to such things as the Czech historical chorale “St. Wenceslaus,” the cycle offers us an affective world poised between life and death, between affirmation and complete despair.

Haas seems to have a kind of personal relationship with the “St. Wenceslaus” melody, a tune used literally hundreds of time by composers in the Czech Lands over the centuries.  It is present in the incomplete symphony, and used several times in the Suite for Oboe and Piano.  The songs from Chinese Poetry also refer to it, obliquely in an especially poignant way. 


Pavel Haas


Eric Zeisl

Eric Zeisl (1905-1959) was a composer whose career unfolded along a well-trodden path of exile.  In the early 1930’s he was a promising young Viennese composer just starting to make his career.  When Austria was annexed by the Nazis in 1938, he was forced to leave.  Emigrating through Paris and New York, he eventually settled in Southern California, living in Hollywood where he worked in the film business, did some teaching and was part of a vibrant and distinguished émigré community before he died of a heart attack in his early 50’s.  Zeisl’s music is deeply traditional; drawing on a broad range of powerful expressive devices, and from the late 1930’s his output is marked by a frequent turn towards what has been described as something like a “Hebraic” mode.

Early Life

Eric Zeisl was born into an assimilated Jewish upper middle-class family.  His family ran a café on Praterstern.  Eric and his brothers were involved in musical pursuits, particularly singing, from their earliest years.  There are stories about his passionate desire to improvise at the piano, and his early reverence for such composers as Beethoven, Schubert, Wolf, Wagner and Bruckner. 

His ambition to study music seriously was opposed by his parents, so young Eric apparently sold his stamp collection to pay for lessons.  After a year or so of study at the Vienna Academy of Music and Performing Arts, he continued to study privately with Richard Stöhr, a popular composition teacher at the Academy of Music and author of several important textbooks.  Unlike Schoenberg, his exact contemporary, Stöhr was a dedicated traditionalist who believed that the musical language of the late nineteenth century was still viable.  Stöhr considered Zeisl to be his most talented composition student. 

Zeisl also studied with Joseph Marx and Hugo Kauder in the early 1930’s and began to be recognized for the expressive power of such works as the Piano Trio Suite, Op.8, and his early songs, including several powerful ones based on the poetry of Nietzsche.  According to his biographers, Kauder was an innovative theorist and teacher who had been much influenced by Gustav Mahler in his thinking, something that he passed on to Zeisl.  In both his songs and his instrumental works, Zeisl was taken with Kauder’s approach.  One of the works where this is evident is the First String Quartet, in particular the final movement, a theme and variations based on a Slovak melody.  This work, premiered in 1934, made a great impression.  Zeisl’s biographer, Karin Wagner makes the important point that during these years avant-garde music was already being banned by the Nazis, and Zeisl’s more traditional language was tolerated in the early years of Nazi power.  She also points out that, despite various claims, Zeisl was never offered the Austrian State Prize for his Requiem Concertante, but rather received a small stipend to help with copying.  Around this time Zeisl also made some lifelong friends, associating with the painter Lisel Salzer and the writer Hilde Spiel.  At this time Zeisl was both productive and popular, composing works in almost every genre, but this was soon to end.

Change and Exile

With Hitler’s annexation of Austria in 1938 Zeisl’s fortunes took a predictable turn.  Though he at first moved to Baden in the hopes of riding out the bad times, it soon became clear that the Zeisls would not be able to stay in Austria.  Leaving his parents behind, Zeisl and several of his brothers left the country, and Eric and his wife, Gertrude, to Paris.

France in the late 1930’s was the home and pass-through zone of exiles from all over Europe, coming and going at a prodigious rate, from Walter Benjamin to Sigmund Freud, and from Pablo Picasso to Elias Canetti.  Hundreds of musicians from Germany, Austria, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary also took up residence there for more or less time as their needs and, more importantly, their opportunities dictated. 

It was during his time in Paris that Zeisl made the acquaintance of the work of the Austrian writer Joseph Roth (1894-1939).  In 1939, his novel Job was presented in a staged version featuring such talents as Hugo Haas, Josef Meinrad and Leon Askin.  Zeisl wrote several pieces for this production, including Menuhim’s Song and a Cossack Dance.  This story of a search for Jewish identity through tragedy and exile, and its contemporary Job, Mendel Singer, captured Zeisl’s imagination, and became part of his musical and dramatic thought for the rest of his life.  Although he never finished a planned opera on Job, there are two acts extant, and Roth’s story is credited with pushing Zeisl in the direction of something like a “Jewish” compositional idiom. 

To America

With the political situation worsening in Europe, the Zeisls left for the United States in 1939, at first settling in New York.  Initially, Zeisl was both lucky and successful.  Ernö Rapee, a Hungarian conductor, included Zeisl’s Little Symphony in his weekly national radio broadcast, and it was a fantastic success.  Other works of the composer were played, and it looked as if he might be able to build a career for himself in New York.  The next year the family moved to a large house in Mamaroneck near the Long Island Sound, and the composer was able to work in pleasant and tranquil circumstances.  He was productive as never before and, compared to many other émigrés, doing quite well.

Like many composers both before and after, Zeisl seems to have regarded Hollywood as a place where he could make a comfortable living and, at the very least, match his current output.  And like many other composers, he was to find that the movie business could be a trap for all but the most successful, and that California itself could veer wildly from a land of dreams to a land of dreams dashed.  His name for the town, “Schein-Heiligenstadt” is both a pun on “Holly=Holy” town, but also included the German word for hypocrisy.

Zeisl began to work for MGM in the early 1940’s and wrote music for the Fitzpatrick Travel Talks with titles like “On the Road to Monterey” “Morning in Minnesota,” and “Glimpses of Scotland.”  Although he ended up writing music for several films, including Bataan (1943), Song of Russia (1943), The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) and even Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951), he was never to receive the main composer credit in a film.  Despite his disappointments with the film industry— and again, in this he was not alone— he was able to forge ahead in his own creative world with such significant works as the Requiem Ebraico in memory of his parents, who had died in the camps, and all those who perished.  Once again, he used something of the “Jewish” color he had begun to consciously employ in Job.  Many other works during this period, including the ballets Naboth’s Vineyard (1953) and Jacob and Rachel (1954) were composed at this time.  These, and many other works with Jewish themes, were performed at concerts devoted to Jewish music.  These concerts and his success led to his employment at the Brandeis Camp Institute in Simi Valley from 1948-50 and resulted in a major work, the “Brandeis Sonata” for Violin and Piano (1949-50).

His last completed work was the so-called “Arrowhead” Trio, written in 1956, but he spent the summers of 1957 and 1958 trying to complete the opera Job, a task he did not accomplish.

West Coast Exiles

According to the recollections of Gertrude Zeisl, painstakingly recorded by Malcolm Cole over twelve hours and transcribed, the Zeisl home was a meeting place of the great European exile community of the West Coast.  Alma Mahler Werfel, Korngold, Stravinsky, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Alexander Tansman and many, many others spent time together, and while he only met Schoenberg once, their children, Barbara and Ronald, met, uniting these families. 

From the late 1940’s Zeisl made his living teaching at several schools including the Southern California School of Music and Arts and the Los Angeles City College, where he gave evening classes.  He died of a heart attack in 1959 after teaching a class at City College.

Music Early Years

Eric Zeisl had a particular kind of talent involving an unabashed directness, a penchant for rich textures, “expressive” harmonies that sometimes recall the Baroque use of chords, and seemingly a preference for shorter over longer forms.  His first works, indeed through the early 1930’s, are primarily songs and suites.  We may remember that the suite originally referred to a collection of dance pieces, and in the 19th century came also to suggest a group of excerpts.  Either definition is far from the world of the symphony, with its implications of emotional and logical sweep.  Like his songs, Zeisl’s suites, including the Op. 2 Suite for Violin and Piano, the “Heinzelmännchen” Suite for Piano and the Op. 8 Suite for Piano Violin and Cello, are collections of musical pictures, linked by key more than attempts to establish themselves in the tradition of Sonatas and Trios. (Dvořák once famously remarked that Tchaikovsky’s symphonies were actually more like suites).

So there is no suggestion that these works are in any way poorly organized or lacking in ambition.  The Op. 8 Trio Suite is a bold and powerful piece, revealing a sureness of tone that recalls early Brahms even as it reaches for the harmonic world of Mahler.  From the enormous depth of the Adagio to the faux-Oriental waltz of the Scherzo, to the beautifully crafted variations of the last movement (based on a theme recalling both Hansel and Gretel the Brahms Haydn Variations), this is the work of a composer who seems to have few doubts about his musical speech.  The last movement in particular, using a variation form that serves the composer well in many other works, shows an effortless fluidity that is simultaneously new, dramatic and ravishing.

When the composer does get to a traditional genre, as he does in 1930-33 with his first String Quartet, it too combines elements of traditional quartet structure with a kind of looseness more common to the suite style.  Particularly effective is a Theme and Variations on a Slovak folksong, revealing everything from the most delicate colors to wild bravura passages; the composer later successfully arranged this for orchestra.

Once again, when Zeisl does start working with a large orchestra it is to write a work using one of his beloved variation genres, the Passacaglia.  In this work Zeisl boldly chooses a bass theme that is at least twice as long as is typical for the genre.  Because the first half of the theme is somewhat simple and predictable, while the second veers wildly through several keys, the work has simultaneously a straightforward regal bearing and a risky edge.

Zeisl’s almost 100 songs reveal a talented reader of poems and a subtle setter of texts. His “Komm süsser Tod” combines the rhythms of Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” with the harmonic intensity of Dvořák’s Biblical Songs to create a memorable farewell.  This may be noteworthy since it was both the last song written by Zeisl and a probably a commentary on the loss of his homeland.

Job and After

Writing about her father, Zeisl’s daughter Barbara recalls something the composer said when he was asked about whether his music had changed in the United States.  “I was a finished product of the old world; I could not change that even if I wanted to.”  Whether this is true or not is difficult to say, and still more difficult to prove. However, we have remarked on certain changes that took place in his outlook, and his music, when he began to work on Job.

Most audible in places like “Menuhim’s Song,” with its augmented intervals and “Hava nagila” skips, and its attempts to conjure ancient modes, this Hebraic style becomes part of Zeisl’s musical vocabulary, to be used whenever plot or his inner need calls for it.  While this does become one feature of his style, it would also be wrong to overemphasize it, since it is well integrated into the rest of his vocabularies.  We might note at this point that one characteristic of any so-called Viennese style is its concatenation of musical dialects.  Whether in Mozart’s Magic Flute, Beethoven’s Ninth or Mahler’s Symphony #1, we encounter an amazingly wide palette of styles, featuring quite abrupt juxtapositions.  Zeisl’s discovery and assimilation of any “Jewish” style would simply place him on a par with the very masters he revered.

Vestiges of this musical idiolect can be heard in one of his most important and popular works, the Requiem Ebraico, a setting of Psalm 97 in three versions, including a final one for SATB chorus, soloists and orchestra.  This deeply moving tribute to those who perished in the war pushes the vocabulary even further with what seems sometimes to cultivate a Jewishly inflected “innigkeit” to augment that Viennese innerness he felt was his birthright.

Such a thing can also be heard in his final work, the “Arrowhead” Trio.  While the outer movements move with alla Barocca fluidity, the inner core is something different altogether.  Here, the “Jewish” opening interval is seamlessly integrated into the rest of the texture, and the result, with the flute, violin and harp, sounds something like Debussy, “only a little bit Jewish.”  For whatever reason the composer chose to write in this manner, the result is, like his best work, some uncanny combination of the completely conventional with enough depth and subtlety to strike the listener as convincing and deeply moving.

Indeed, it is perhaps in his brilliantly rendered slow movements that Zeisl is his most powerful and original.  While the outer movements of the Second String Quartet, for example, are forceful (in the case of the opening movement) and charming (the Finale), it is in the best Viennese tradition that the slow center carries the expressive weight of the work.  Although there are no easily audible studied Semitisms, the movement has the feel of his penchant for a Jewishly inflected innerness, combining the ancient and the modern and the traditionally lyrical with the pulse of cantillation.  And when the opening gives way to a series of prayer-like sequences, the effect is mesmerizing.


In his recent book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell encourages us to question the meaning of success, and the means by which one achieves it.  At the very beginning of the book he notes that if you look at the rosters of the most successful Canadian hockey teams, a hugely disproportionate number of players were born in January, February and March.  That is because the cutoff for these elite leagues is January 1, and thus, at a very young age, when differences of months genuinely matter, players born in January will usually shine when opposing players up to a full year younger.  Those players will get more attention, superior training, and in general will do far better than their teammates who have the “misfortune” to be born in, say, October, November and December.

While nothing can truly explain the past, this phenomenon might allow for some understanding of why things were so hard for Eric Zeisl.  Born in 1905, he was virtually the youngest of his cohort of exiles and had neither the accomplishments of Krenek (b.1900) or Weinberger (b.1896) who had established themselves as international stars with “Jonny” and “Schwanda,” nor the connections of Korngold (b.1897) or Martinů (b.1890) to help him along. 

Often, when we look at measures of success and failure, we consider issues of talent to be paramount, or imagine that it all is a matter of luck.  Yet it might be that neither is the case; perhaps much of Zeisl’s fate was determined, quite simply, by the year in which he was born.


Eric Zeisl


Kurt Weill

Despite the relative brevity of his life, composer Kurt Weill forged a far-reaching career that challenged the purity of preexisting styles.  As a famous German Jew, he fled Nazi Germany, fending for himself in foreign countries such as America, where versatility of styles, unlike anything in Germany, interested him the most. That these varied styles— music and theater, American and European—in which he worked were (and sometimes still are) hostile to one another, places him less in the role of a unifier, and more in the role of a “crossover” artist.

Many who unconditionally praise Weill's output typically pick only one of his musical “personalities” and contrive ways of dismissing whatever other body of his work might offend them (whether his German music, Broadway music, “lowbrow” songs or “highbrow” works). Critics and scholars are presented a perplexing task when called upon to classify or evaluate Weill's importance to music or theater of the 20thcentury, since their critical versatility rarely matches Weill's creative versatility.

As he was sometimes outspoken, attacking with flare what he declared to be outmoded prejudices, Weill provided many quotable statements that lend support to many of his adherents, as well as his detractors. At other times he seemed to maneuver with stealth, using these very same prejudices to cleverly keep his career vital, nonchalantly but deftly pressing the political buttons of the international music world of the 1920s, 30s and 40s.

He was deceptively shrewd with business, socially charming, despite his shyness, and, above all, planned everything he did with equanimity and without impetuosity. In all these ways, he was the direct opposite of his most famous collaborator, Bertolt Brecht. 

Early Life

Born in Dessau March 2, 1900, Kurt Julian Weill was the son of a Jewish cantor. Despite his religious upbringing, he did not ostensibly practice Judaism throughout his life, although these roots came into substantial play at opportune and inopportune moments of his career.

In 1918, he traveled to Berlin and studied philosophy and music, including a brief period with the opera composer Engelbert Humperdinck. A few years later, he took up lessons with Ferrucio Busoni, who would be his primary composition teacher. During these student years, Weill worked industriously on many purely instrumental works and songs, mostly in Post-Romantic style, as well as his first attempts at opera.

As the distinctively chaotic culture of Berlin between the wars began to thrive, Weill found his way into the Novembergruppe, an organization of progressive artists from different disciplines that included musicians such as Hanns Eisler and Stefan Wolpe. In this progressive environment, Weill found collaborators who would help mold his innovative vision of modern music theater, including Yvan Goll and Georg Kaiser (whose assistant, Lotte Lenya, became Weill's wife and a powerful force in his career).

Weill Finds Brecht / Brecht Finds Weill

While Weill was working as a writer/critic for Der Deutsche Rundfunk, he glowingly reviewed a 1927 radio performance of Bertolt Brecht's Mann ist Mann. Brecht was so impressed by the review, and by the fact that a composer could have such insights into theater, that he invited Weill to dinner.

Weill must have been further enticed when Brecht presented to him a lengthy published book of poetry with the title Bertolt Brechts Hauspostille (Bertolt Brecht's Household Breviary—a reference to a work by Martin Luther). In a foldout “appendix” glued to the back lid of the book, notated melodies and lyrics for five songs, known as the “Mahagonny Lieder,” demonstrated Brecht's interest in putting words to music and evidenced unmistakable influence by cabaret poet and singer Frank Wedekind. In those days, Brecht carried a guitar with him wherever he went, belting out songs, which were often in pidgin English (one of Brecht's many prophecies was that a form of pidgin English would be the first world language). Some acquaintances even insist he was quite accomplished on the guitar.

A young composer working for Brecht named Franz Servatius Bruinier (1905-1928) is credited with first writing out the melodies of the “Mahagonny Lieder,” and an extant recital program for a vocalist suggests he also arranged them for voice and piano, along with several other songs attributed to Weill/Brecht, including “Seeräuber-Jenny” (“Pirate Jenny”) and “Surabaya-Jonny”. Weill claimed he never considered these (or any other melodies presented to him by Brecht) when writing out his own melodies and arrangements, but these “ur-melodies” by Brecht or Brecht/Bruinier are definitely the seeds from which many of Weill's early theatrical songs evolved.

The origin of the word “Mahagonny” is unclear: one possible source is a 1922 song by Leopold Krauss-Elka and O. A. Alberts, “Komm nach Mahagonne!,” which was made into a hit by the Norwegian crooner Henry Erichsen; or it could have also been inspired by the Biblical city of Magog. Mahagonny, as a run-amok town in Alaska, partly symbolizes Berlin during its hyperinflation of the 1920s, but draws influence from Jack London's stories and Charlie Chaplin's The Goldrush (1925).

Weill added a sixth song to the “Mahagonny Lieder,” provided a stridently dissonant accompaniment while maintaining the cabaret feel, and created the first of the Brecht/Weill collaborations with the title Mahagonny Songspiel. The word “Songspiel” parodied the German tradition of Singspiel, replacing the word “sing” with the American word “song.” Mahagonny Songspiel was staged for the 1927 Donaueschingen Festival (held in Baden-Baden that year), which was organized by Paul Hindemith and emphasized new music theater.

The relationship between Weill and Brecht was famously not a warm friendship, although Brecht frequently avoided overt friendly contact with collaborators (with some exceptions). Nonetheless, Brecht's influence on Weill must have been enormous, from his ideas on “epic theatre” (i.e., an anti-escapist approach to theater attributed to Brecht's friend Erwin Piscator that allowed the audience to see stagehands and the mechanics of theater while they functioned) to the prophecies of America's culture laden with unostentatious gangsters overtaking European culture. Later dubbed “The New Objectivity” (“die neue Sachlichkeit”), the overall theatrical approach emphasizes gesture by the actors/singers and served as a reaction against German Expressionism via realistic, non-distorted images (such as in newspapers). There is also a concerted attempt to put relevant social and political commentary into the productions, no matter how old or exotic the source material is. 

Die Dreigroschenoper / The Threepenny Opera

A successful revival in London of John Gay's 1728 The Beggar's Opera caught Brecht's eye, and he instructed his assistant, Elisabeth Hauptmann, to prepare a German translation of it. A Berlin actor named Ernst Josef Aufricht had recently acquired a theater (Theater am Schiffbauerdamm) and offered its première production to Brecht. Brecht agreed and proposed the German version of The Beggar's Opera, also insisting on discarding the original 18th-century songs and replacing them with new, original songs.

From this simple idea, Weill set new lyrics by Brecht to new songs (one original song from The Beggar's Opera was retained), and they called the concoction Die Dreigroschenoper (now popularly translated as The Threepenny Opera, even though a “Groschen” is actually a dime). The overwhelming success of this 1928 production (with Lenya playing one of the minor roles) made celebrities out of Brecht and Weill.

Unlike Mahagonny Songspiel, Weill's music in Die Dreigroschenoper did more than demonstrate influence by the hit songs (or “Schlager”) from America's then infamous Tin Pan Alley and jazz: it genuinely created a “craze” (referred to as “Dreigroschenfieber” or “Threepenny fever”). Although a simplified arrangement of “The Alabama Song” from Mahagonny Songspiel was published in sheet music form and promoted as if it could be a hit song (it would 40 years later), many songs from Die Dreigroschenoper became hits without much promotion shortly after they were performed, especially the opening number “Die Moritat von Mackie Messer,” which would become one of the biggest hit songs of the 20th-century after both Weill and Brecht had died.

Dreigroschenfieber spread throughout Europe and spawned a popularized version of the work through early sound movies, including G. W. Pabst's filmed version of Die Dreigroschenoper (1931). Elsewhere, songwriters such as Friedrich Holländer and Rudolf Nelson wrote popular songs for singers such as Marlene Dietrich, creating a culture that the Nazis referred to as “Jewish Bolshevism.” At least one of these famous singers, Kurt Gerron, who played Tiger Brown in the original cast of Die Dreigroschenoper, was murdered along with his family in Auschwitz in 1944. [He had been forced to direct the infamous Theresienstadt propaganda movie for the Nazis.]     

Brecht/Weill and Beyond

The next Brecht/Weill collaboration, Happy End, utilizes less music than Die Dreigroschenoper, but is stylistically similar. An attempt to expand the “Mahagonny Lieder” into a full-length opera, Der Aufsteig und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny (The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny), met with many obstacles, including ongoing demonstrations by the Nazis. A radio cantata called Der Lindberghflug and a school opera in two versions based on Japanese Noh drama (Der Jasager/Der Neinsager) were collaborations on a smaller scale.

Despite Weill's plunge into his own sophisticated version of popular music, he apparently still held on to ambitions of being a more conventional opera composer. While still in Berlin, he composed such an opera, Die Bürgschaft, working with Brecht's childhood friend and scenic designer Caspar Neher (with whose wife, Erika, Weill was having an open affair).

Georg Kaiser's and Weill's Die Silbersee is more a musical, but Weill also considered it an opera. One month after its simultaneous opening in three different German cities in 1933, Weill decided to leave Germany for Paris with little more than a suitcase.

In Paris, Weill collaborated again with Brecht in a ballet chanté (i.e., a ballet with singing) called Die sieben Todsünden (The Seven Deadly Sins), starring dancer Tilly Losch and Weill's then estranged wife Lenya. The production served as part of the first and only season of George Balanchine's short-lived troupe known as Les Ballets.

The widely held myth that Weill's relationship with Brecht had by this time deteriorated beyond repair is not consistent with the evidence that they stayed in contact for the rest of Weill's life (Brecht outlived him by only six years). In fact, they would make another attempt to collaborate one evening in 1943 at Weill's house with Schweyk in the Second World War and The Good Woman of Setzuan.

Weill's American Career

Weill arrived in New York City in 1935, expecting to only work on one gigantic pageant of Judaism with the title The Eternal Road. The enormous Meyer Weisgal production brought together a “dream team” of director Max Reinhardt, librettist Franz Werfel and Weill.

Because of its huge scope, The Eternal Road met with many financial and production setbacks, and Weill had a chance to settle into New York and rub elbows with some of the most influential American theatrical talents of that time. By the time The Eternal Road began its limited run in 1937, Weill had already premièred on Broadway his first American collaboration, Johnny Johnson, with playwright Paul Green (produced by the Group Theatre, led by Cheryl Crawford, Lee Strasbourg, and Harold Clurman).

His friendship with writer Maxwell Anderson (who would also become Weill's neighbor) led to Knickerbocker Holiday (1938), which included the hit “September Song.” A collaboration with Moss Hart and Ira Gershwin earned him a genuine Broadway hit with Lady in the Dark (1941), followed by another hit with Ogden Nash and S. J. Perelman, One Touch of Venus (1943), at a time when the most renowned Broadway musicals, such as Oklahoma! and South Pacific, were becoming standard fare. Some of the more successful late Weill productions included Street Scene (1947), Love Life (1948) and Lost in the Stars (1949).

Weill's Posthumous Career

When Weill died of a heart ailment one month after his 50th birthday (3 April 1950), his legacy and estate went into the hands of Lenya, who continued to nurture his career up until her death in 1981. Unexpected prosperity came in 1954 with an English-language version in New York City of Brecht/Weill's The Threepenny Opera, with help (including a stylish translation) from composer Marc Blitzstein. This production distinguishes itself as one of a handful of productions that became the cornerstone of the phenomenon known as “Off-Broadway.” A few years later, Louis Armstrong made the song “Mack the Knife” into a hit single, followed by a version by Bobby Darrin (1959) that became one of the most famous Grammy-winning hits of all time. Many American television and movie stars, including Jerry Ohrbach, Bea Arthur, Jerry Stiller, and Ed Asner, appeared in this “Off-Broadway” production, which ran at the Theatre de Lys (today, the Lucille Lortel Theatre in Greenwich Village) for almost a decade—one of the longest running shows in New York City history.

Some other cultural barrier crisscrossing addenda to Weill's career include the fact that Lenya starred as the villain Rosa Klebb in the James Bond film From Russia With Love (1963) and was no doubt the inspiration for the female villain Frau Farbissina in comedian Mike Myers's successful Austin Powers trilogy of movies (1997, 1999 and 2002). In 1967, The Doors recorded a simplified version of Brecht/Weill's “Alabama Song” which became a big hit, inspiring other rock stars to cover the song including David Bowie and Marilyn Manson.

In many ways, Weill had just as much, if not more, influence on the second half of the 20th-century than the first. This influence is still widely taken for granted.

Crossover and Its Confusion Xenophobia between European and American cultures inevitably produce oversimplified viewpoints of Weill's music, whether assessing it positively or negatively: the Germans (especially Berliners) tend to look upon his American career as less important; and many Americans (especially New Yorkers, such as author Foster Hirsch) insist his German career is less important than what he did on Broadway. In a similar way, the traditional rift between “high” and “low” culture (which in Germany is commonly specified as “E-Kultur” and “U-Kultur”) is illustrated, for instance, by opera purists looking down at Weill's work as selling out to popular culture, and pop culture purists often treating the notion of “high culture” altogether as some sort of malicious snobbery. Such oversimplifications suffer not only from myopia, but double-vision: a clichéd “two-Weills” approach to assessing his career is common.

Included in this confusion is how to classify Weill's innovative theatrical works in light of the fact that universal definitions of “opera” and “musical” do not exist. Weill himself called Street Scene an “American opera” almost as a nuance to distinguish or “elevate” it.

Michael Feingold, drama critic for The Village Voice, calls Weill “the most influential composer of the [20th] century,” and this goes beyond a theater critic's admiration of Weill's indispensable contribution to the “Off-Broadway” scene in New York. Feingold uses Weill to articulate the view of many pop culture enthusiasts that, in the 20th century, American pop culture became the heir of European “classical” music of the 18th and 19th centuries within a universal musical language that resonates with and within important historical events.

More doctrinaire critiques, such as Virgil Thompson's, have dismissed Weill's work as dabbling in popular music, although Thompson typically mitigates this with guardedly positive statements about Weill's music. Weill's own composition teacher Ferruccio Busoni, despite their close friendship and mutual admiration, criticized Weill's work in music theater as “a poor man's Giuseppe Verdi.” Theodor Adorno dismissed Weill altogether as a mere tunesmith and arranger.

Kim Kowalke, who has served as the President of the Kurt Weill Foundation since Lenya's death in 1981, strongly asserts that Weill's significance lies beyond his collaboration with Brecht. He further points out that all of Weill's works are some sort of hybrid, unrelated to one another. He points to Die Bürgschaft and Street Scenes as Weill's true legacy as an opera composer.

In all these ways, assessing and reassessing Weill throughout the years produces many differing opinions. Perhaps the difficult task of fairly assessing Weill's career as a whole will never yield a definitive view. If the multifarious culture of the 20th-century requires such a versatile “crossover” artist, then perhaps Weill is a quintessential representative of this era. Undoubtedly, much of his versatility rested in his ability to adapt, something many of his fellow German émigrés could not do as well.


Kurt Weill


Marcel Tyberg

Marcel Tyberg (1893–1944) was an accomplished composer, conductor and pianist.  Notable conductors such as Rafael Kubelik and Rodolfo Lipizer premiered his pieces at venues in Prague and Italy.  His eclectic compositional style embraced popular dance music as well as enormous symphonies on the scale of Mahler.  Unfortunately, due to the conditions of World War II, Tyberg, only 1/16th Jewish, was sent to his death and his musical career was prematurely extinguished.  For this reason, many basic details about his life are still unknown.

In the Summer of 2005, Marcel Tyberg's oeuvre, once remembered only in the hearts and minds of friends, emerged from Enrico Mihich's Buffalo basement to be reintroduced to the musical community. Thus far, the Foundation for Jewish Philanthropies, in conjunction with Dr. Mihich and JoAnn Falletta of the Buffalo Symphony Orchestra, has funded a performance of three lieder, two piano sonatas, and the copying of his Trio, Sextet and Third Symphony.  These efforts place Marcel Tyberg among the most recently rediscovered composers whose lives and careers were cut short by World War II. 


Friends described him as a brilliant musician with an “all–embracing musical knowledge.”  His unique appearance made him easily recognizable in his home of Abbazia.  His “large dark eyes radiated gentleness and childlike joy.”  They gave life to his whole face and filled it with a “clear dreamy gravity.”  “He greatly resembled Beethoven, especially in his mouth and chin,” and some thought in his musical creations as well.  He was a “strange spiritual man,” who seemed to “walk a step further on this earth than was granted to most humans.”

Marcel Tyberg (Jr.) was born in Vienna, Austria on January 27, 1893.  His father, Marcell Tyberg (Sr.), was a prominent violinist, and his mother, Wanda Paltinger Tybergova, was a pianist and colleague of Arthur Schnabel in the Leschetizky school.  Because Marcell was a well–known violinist in Vienna, Jan Kubelik, the famous violinist and musical patriarch, and his family became close to the Tybergs.  Over the years, Marcel became close to the Kubelik daughters and even composed lieder dedicated to them.  Although twenty years stood between Marcel and Rafael, theirs was a friendship that would last to Tyberg's death and beyond.

As of yet, little is known of Marcel's education and musical training.  It is assumed not only that Marcel received a musical education from his parents, but he also had formal training in the art of orchestration, counterpoint and harmony, aas evidenced by his works.  His residence in Vienna and future friendship with violinist, conductor, and composition student Rodolfo Lipizner (1895–1974) at the Vienna Musical Academy suggests that Tyberg was a colleague at the Academy.  It was during this time of academic growth that Marcel composed his First Piano Sonata (1920) and First Symphony (1924).

In 1927, the Abbazia Symphony Orchestra appointed Rodolfo as permanent conductor.  Marcel(l) Tyberg (Sr and Jr) and Jan Kubelik were later listed as two of the young conductor's preferred soloists; perhaps in the case of Marcell, a section member.  This appointment brought the Tybergs to Abbazia, a resort town between Italy and Yugoslavia on the Adriatic Sea.  Later that year, on November 27, Marcell Tyberg died in Fiume, or modern day Rijeka, a major sea port near Abbazia..  Upon the founding of the Gorizia Symphony Orchestra in 1930, Lipizer not only continued to invite Marcel Tyberg and Jan Kubelik to perform as soloists, but also handed the baton of the Abbazia Symphony Orchestra over to Marcel.

After the death of his father, Marcel and his mother remained in their villa on the Adriatic Sea.  As an article by friend Marion Schiffler explains, for the remainder of his life Tyberg “hung on his mother with the greatest love and reverence.  She was described by all as an unusually generous gentle woman.”  In Abbazia, with the help of his mother's love and impeccable copying abilities, Marcel completed his Scherzo and Finale for Schubert's Unfinished Symphony (1928), Second Symphony (1931), Sextet (1932), First Mass (1934), Second Piano Sonata (1935), Trio (1936), Second Mass (1941) and Third Symphony (1943). 

For a living, Marcel played the organ in local churches, taught harmony to young students, composed dance music under the pseudonym Till Bergmar (rumbas, tangos, slow waltzes, etc.) and performed his music with his inherited orchestra.  To supplement their income, his mother, a well–known pianist whose playing was “especially moving,” taught piano and gave local concerts.  Toward the end of his life, Tyberg, Schiffler wrote, contentedly lived in “indescribable poverty and supported himself and his mother only through lessons.”

Schiffler praised his improvisations and compositions as “simply perfect.”  His unique improvisatory ensemble of piano and voice evoked the sound of a commanding solo orchestra.  When begged to publish his compositions he would always demur.  According to Schiffler, he had refused several offers.  He did not thirst for fame nor did he crave earthly possessions.  Satisfied with the little he owned, he lived happily unknown.  However, he was not entirely secluded from the outside world.  As mentioned above, he sporadically performed as a soloist with the Gorizia Symphony Orchestra, performed his dance compositions with a small orchestra, conducted his Masses and Chamber works with the Abbazia Symphony Orchestra, and even called on his childhood friend Rafael Kubelik to premiere his Second Symphony with the Czech Philharmonic at some point during the 1930's.

On July 25, 1943, Tyberg revealed his unrestrained piety in a performance of his Te Deum used to consecrate the enlarged Abbazian church.  This historic date for Italy, on which the Italian Grand Council captured and dismissed Benito Mussolini as premier of Italy, occurred only weeks before Italy's surrender to the Allies, an act that would seal the fate of Marcel and his mother.

In anticipation of the Italian surrender, the Germans reorganized their military command in southeast Europe early in the summer of 1943 so that it would be ready to take over the Italian–held areas and defend them in the event of a Western Allied invasion.  After moving many troops into what is now Croatia, on September 7, 1943, Hitler issued Order No. 26, Improvement in the Defensive Power of Croatia.  Its main objective was to bring about closer collaboration between the German and Croatian armed forces. In addition, Berlin assigned each German corps and divisional command a special Croatian delegate for civil affairs, whose German influence was necessary for the protection of military interests.  Therefore, the Croatian government enforced all Nazi laws pertaining to Jews in the Croatian and German–controlled territories.  One such German–controlled territory was Rijeka/Abbazia.  Eleven days later, Marcel completed his final work, the Third Symphony.

Although Article 6 of the Law Decree on Racial Belonging of April 30,1941, declared some selected Jews honorary Aryans and exempt from Croatian anti–Jewish measures, in the summer of 1943, Marcel’s mother went to the local German officials and registered that her great–grandfather was a Jew, thus making her one–eighth Jewish and Marcel one–sixteenth Jewish.  A few months after this fateful decision that would alter Marcel's life, his mother died of natural causes. 

“For Tyberg,” wrote Schiffler, “the death of his mother was a wound which never closed.”  He now gave those who encountered him the impression of “a man who is not far from the end of his journey on earth and who, unknown perhaps to himself and us, has already raised his glance to that great unknowable which involuntarily frightens us.”  On the back of the Third Symphony's manuscript, Tyberg stated that he completed the work with tremendous difficulty and grief.  Because he was creatively and emotionally exhausted, this work marked his compositional mortality.

In anticipation of his capture and possible deportation, Marcel entrusted all compositions and personal writings to his friend Dr. Milan Mihich.  In addition, he gave Dr. Mihich a document authorizing him to take any action deemed desirable to preserve his music.  Only a few days before the Gestapo would take Tyberg in a night raid, he shared some of his compositions with his friends on the organ in the church of Volosca.  Schiffler recalls:

Shuddering and shivering, we listened to the uninterrupted flow of sounds that ranged from cheerful pastoral tunes to the greatest Beethoven–like outbursts.  His face shone transfigured and happily smiling out of the dimness.  There was a childlike joy and tenderness in him that is only seen in great souls shortly before their return home.  The tears ran down my cheeks.  We all had the feeling that he will not be with us much longer.  Perhaps he felt it himself, too; he hardly knew any more where he was and who we were.  It seemed as if he had to fulfill some final task—to play for his friends—and then to part and never return. As he ended, we silently embraced the completely exhausted artist and only hesitantly did words of thanks pass across our lips.  It was as if our thanks could wipe out this, his last gift.  We shook his hand, one after the other.  I was not able to utter a word.  He, however, smiled, friendly and ingenuous, as if he wanted once more to let us take part in his unknown greatness.  In that dark old church he stood like a saint in our midst, a strange ray of light— the first moonlight—fell at this moment through the high arched window onto his quiet face.

Several months passed before rumors began to circulate of Tyberg's suicide.  They were, it seems, erroneous.  Only recently has it been discovered that he was indeed sent to the extermination camps San Sabba and Auschwitz.  His recorded date of death is December 31, 1944.

In 1945, following the end of the War and the occupation of Fiume by the Communist Yugoslavians, Dr. Milan Mihich and his family fled Fiume to Milan.  With him, he took only precious family possessions, including the entirety of Tyberg's catalogue.  In 1948, Dr. Mihich died and the music and related responsibilities were left to his son, and Tyberg's former harmony student, Enrico Mihich, then a medical student at the University of Milan.  Dr. Enrico Mihich later came to Buffalo and became a member of the Roswell Park Cancer Institute.  Dr. Mihich to this day keeps Marcel Tyberg's music safely secured in his home in Buffalo.

After nearly fifty years of ineffective attempts to have Buffalo Philharmonic conductors premiere the treasure trove of works, as well as an aborted collaboration with Rafael Kubelik in the late 1980's, Mihich finally found the partner he sought in conductor JoAnn Falletta. In order to obtain the funds required to print the rough, hand-written manuscripts for performance, Dr. Mihich and the Foundation for Jewish Philanthropies in Buffalo, New York, organized the Tyberg Musical Legacy fund. 

Because of his persistence and respect for his former teacher, efforts are now underway to perform this forgotten oeuvre and reawaken the spirit of Marcel Tyberg so that all may enjoy these “great and immortal works&#1478 composed by a man “endowed by heaven.”

Marcel Tyberg


Viktor Ullmann

Viktor Ullmann (1898–1944) was born on 1 January 1898 in the garrison town of Teschen in Silesia, in what belonged to the Austro–Hungarian Empire and is now a part of the Czech Republic.  Educated in Vienna, Ullmann made important contributions to both Czech and German cultural life as a composer, conductor, pianist and music critic.  Shaped by his engagement with Schoenberg's musical philosophy, German aesthetics, as well the anthroposophy of Rudolf Steiner, Ullmann understood the role of art as central to human spiritual and ethical development.  Prior to his death in 1944, he wrote that “[artistic] form” must be understood from the perspective of Goethe and Schiller as that which “overcomes matter or substance [and where] the secret of every work of art is the annihilation of matter through form—something that can possibly be seen as the overall mission of the human being, not only the aesthetic but ethical human being as well.”  Within the context of his own compositions, Ullmann used form as a powerful commentary on his own self–conscious engagement with the traditions of Western art music as he engaged with them in the works of Schoenberg, Mahler and Berg. 

Childhood and Youth 1898–1919

The son of Maximilian and Malwine Ullmann, Viktor Ullmann's birth was registered with the Catholic community in Teschen, where he was later baptized on 27 January.  Prior to Ullmann's birth, his father, who was of Jewish heritage, had officially renounced his faith and converted to Catholicism in order to advance his military career as an officer in the Austrian army.  In order to avoid the itinerate lifestyle that her husband's work imposed on the family, when he was dispatched for extended periods to military outposts throughout Silesia, Ullmann's mother moved with him to Vienna in 1909, where he attended gymnasium until 1916.  Concurrent to his schoolwork, Ullmann studied piano under Eduard Steuermann and received theory and composition lessons from Arnold Schoenberg's student Josef Polnauer, beginning in 1914.  Although there is little documentation concerning Ullmann's early musical engagements beyond these lessons, a program from his gymnasium years indicates that Ullmann conducted his school orchestra in 1915 in a concert of works by Mozart, Schubert, and Strauss.

After completing his Kriegsabitur, facilitating his early graduation from the gymnasium in May 1916, Ullmann enlisted for voluntary military service and was sent to the Isonzo–Front, after initially serving in a garrison in Vienna.  Decorated for bravery for his service in the war, Ullmann was made a lieutenant in 1918.  Returning to Vienna that year after two years of military duty, Ullmann not only entered Vienna University as a law student but was also accepted into Arnold Schoenberg's Composition Seminar, where his classmates included, among others, Hanns Eisler and Josef Travinek.  Resuming piano lessons with his former teacher Steuermann at that time, Ullmann, at Schoenberg's recommendation, was made a founding member of the committee for the Verein für Musikalische Privataufführungen. 

Professional Life in Prague: 1920–1927

In May 1919, after having worked with Schoenberg for less than a year, Ullmann married his fellow composition student Martha Koref, left the university and abruptly moved to Prague, where musical culture in this cosmopolitan European capital was centered around the Czech National and New German Theaters.  Joining the staff at the New German Theater as a choir director and repetiteur in 1920, Ullmann underwent a rigorous training from its director Alexander Zemlinsky, who demanded that he develop a comprehensive grasp of both Czech and German musical repertories.  In his capacity as choir director, Ullmann was responsible for preparing the choruses and soloists for different productions, which included, most notably, performances of Schoenberg's Gurrelieder and Mozart's Bastien und Bastienne in 1921.  Appointed as a conductor at the theater in 1922, Ullmann maintained this position until 1927.  During these formative years in Prague, Ullmann witnessed numerous performances of new works, including the Prague premiere of Berg's Wozzeck at the Czech National Theater in 1926, which became the basis of his life–long admiration of the composer's work.

Parallel to his activity at the New German Theater, Ullmann was composing new works such as the Sieben Lieder with piano (1923), the Octet (1924), his incidental music for Klabund's Kreidekreis (1925), the Symphonische Phantasie (1925), as well as the first version of his Variationen und Doppelfuge über ein Klavierstück von Arnold Schönberg (1925), based on the composer's Op. 19, No. 4.  An orchestrated version of this work later was awarded the prestigious Emil–Hertzka–Gedächtnispreis in 1934.  Although composed in 1923, Ullmann's First String Quartet, Op. 2, was premiered in 1927 on a program advertised as an “Evening of Prague Composers,” which included works by the composers Hans Krása, Karl Boleslav Jirák, and Fidelio Finke.

Ullmann was appointed as the conductor of the opera house in Aussig (now Ústí nad Labem) for the 1927 season, where he conducted, most notably, Tristan und Isolde, Ariadne auf Naxos, Le nozze di Figaro, and Jonny Spielt Auf.  Returning to Prague at the end of that season, Ullmann remained without a permanent post, actively pursuing his career as freelance composer at that time.  While his Concerto for Orchestra generated interest when performed in Prague in 1929 and in Frankfurt in 1930, it was the second version of his Schoenberg–Variationen, performed by pianist Franz Langer at the 1929 festival of the ISCM in Geneva, which brought Ullmann's work to international attention. 

Although the period between 1929 and 1931 can be seen as a highpoint of Ullmann's career, when he was engaged by the Zürich Schauspielhaus as a composer of incidental music and his works were being performed throughout Europe, it was also a time of spiritual and intellectual crisis.  As part of facing his inner conflicts, Ullmann not only underwent psychoanalysis in Zürich but also continued his exploration of diverse esoteric paths of knowledge, including the I–Ching, the Freemasons, as well as the anthroposophy of the Austrian philosopher and scientist Rudolf Steiner (1865–1925).  The term ‘anthroposophy,’ meaning ‘the wisdom of the human being,’ was chosen by Steiner to designate a path or epistemology for attaining occult knowledge that he developed through his engagement with Goetheanism, German idealist philosophy, esoteric Christianity, Rosicrucianism, as well the theosophical tradition.  As a prominent intellectual figure in the cultural life of pre– and post–World War I Europe, Steiner lectured widely and developed a large following that included intellectuals, artists, scientists and politicians who drew on his ideas as a basis for their own work. 

Ullmann and Anthroposophy 1929–1933

Although Ullmann “encountered” Steiner's work through friends in 1919 while a student in Vienna, he initially rejected it.  Ten years later at the time of his crisis in 1929, a visit to the Goetheanum—the international center of the anthroposophical movement in Dornach, Switzerland—became the basis for a radical reorientation of his worldview.  Compelled by his new experiences, he eventually joined the Anthroposophical Society in 1931 and subsequently abandoned his musical career for a period of two years in order to manage, and later acquire, an anthroposophical bookstore in Stuttgart.

Despite the complete failure of this entrepreneurial endeavor, which, in his words, “led [him] back to music,” Ullmann's sojourn in Germany between 1931 and 1933 was an important time of introspection.  During this period, he developed friendships with Hans Büchenbacher and Herman Beckh, who were key figures in the German anthroposophical movement.  Ullmann's musical engagements within Stuttgart's anthroposophical circles brought him into contact with the musicologist Erich Schwebsch, as well as with Felix Petyrek, a professor of music at the Stuttgart Academy of Music, whom he had known since secondary school in Vienna.  As Ullmann explained it in a 1931 letter to his friend Alban Berg, he was reading “everything Steiner said […] about music” and working in Stuttgart at the Novalis Bookstore in order “to fulfill an old desire to serve the anthroposophical movement directly.” 

Return to Prague 1933–1942

Following the rise of the National Socialists to power in Germany in 1933, Ullmann returned to Prague.  As musicologist Ingo Schultz' research has demonstrated, Ullmann's sudden departure was not prompted by the fact that his Jewish identity had been exposed.  Rather, it was due to the fact that a legal process had been initiated against him, because of debts he had accrued in conjunction with his eventual purchase of the Novalis bookstore.  Arriving in Prague in July of that year and unable to secure a permanent position, Ullmann once again established himself as a freelance musician, making important contributions to both Czech and German musical culture there as a composer, conductor, music journalist and educator.  As part of his professional activities, Ullmann lectured regularly at Leo Kestenberg's Internationale Gesellschaft für Musikerziehung and additionally wrote articles and music reviews for journals such as Der Auftakt, Das Montagsblatt, as well as for Anbruch: Monatschrift für Moderne Musik.

Once in Prague, Ullmann began work on his monumental opera Der Sturz des Antichrist Op. 9, which he based on a drama of the same name by the anthroposophical writer Albert Steffen.  (As a complex archetype of evil in the opera, the Antichrist brings unity to a world ravaged by perpetual war through the formation of a one–world state, which is imposed as the price of individual freedom.)  In the opera, which essentially stages a battle between good and evil, the Artist–Poet— unlike the Priest and the Technician— is the only character able to harness the forces necessary to challenge the hegemony of the Antichrist.  Completed in 1935, the opera was awarded the prestigious Emil–Herztka–Gedächtnispreis in 1936 by a jury that included Alexander Zemlinsky, Ernst Krenek, Egon Wellesz, Karl Rankl and Lothar Wallerstein, all of whom where leading figures in Prague's cosmopolitan cultural life.

Despite the initial success of the work, however, it was never performed during Ullmann's lifetime.  With the political movement to the right in Czechoslovakia and Austria after 1933, the work's anti–totalitarian theme made it problematic for institutions like the Vienna Opera and Czech National Theater that later considered it for their repertories in 1935 and 1937. 

Having completed Der Sturz des Antichrist, Ullmann began a two–year composition course with Alois Hába in his quarter–tone techniques (1935–1937),  producing his Sonata für Viertelton–Klarinette und Viertelton–Klavier, Op. 16 in 1936.  Other significant works composed and performed in Prague during this period were his Piano Sonata No. 1, the Sechs Lieder for soprano and piano, Op. 17, with texts by Albert Steffen, as well as his String Quartet No. 2, which was performed at the ISCM festival in London in 1938.  Works composed after 1938, including his Slawische Rhapsodie, the Piano Concerto, as well as his opera Der zerbrochene Krug, did not receive public performances due to the political situation at that time. 

Prague: 1938–1942

With the establishment of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia in 1938, which effectively brought Czechoslovakia under German control, the political situation became increasingly dire as the Nuremburg Laws, which had been applied inside the German Reich, were then applied to the regions in Czechoslovakia under jurisdiction of the protectorate.  As a result, the authorities of the occupation introduced anti–Jewish legislation through the puppet government of the protectorate, which, among many other measures, eventually expelled Jews from public life and institutions.  After the invasion and subsequent defeat of Poland on 1 September 1939, the administration made plans for massive transports of the Jewish population to take place out of the occupied territories.

In this climate of escalating political tension and fear, Ullmann no longer attempted to have his Der Sturz des Antichrist staged.  Rather, he directed his efforts towards procuring emigration visas for his family, which now included his second wife Annie Winternitz, whom he had married in 1931, their sons Max and Johannes, as well as their daughter Felicia.  In a series of letters written to friends and colleagues in places as far away as South Africa, Ullmann appealed for help.  By the end of 1939, having exhausted all possibilities for immigration, Ullmann and his wife made the decision to send their two oldest children Felicia and Johannes in a children's transport to England through the British Committee for Children in Prague.

Although Ullmann continued to compose during this difficult period, even self–publishing several new works during the first two years of the war, his personal circumstances grew increasingly serious.  With the finalization of his divorce from his second wife Annie in August of 1941, Ullmann, who was already stateless, became single, making him particularly vulnerable to the threat of deportation.  By mid–October of 1941, it was known that the administration of the protectorate was making lists for five transports of approximately one–thousand stateless and single Jews from Prague to be deported to the Lodz Ghetto.  In a desperate and last minute effort to prevent his anticipated deportation, Ullmann married his new partner Elisabeth Frank–Meissl on 15 October 1941.  Although Ullmann did receive a deportation notice for Lodz, the Office of Jewish Community Affairs in Prague intervened on his behalf, providing him with a requisite identification card that effectively rescued him from the transport.  This protection was temporary, however, and the following year, on 8 September 1942, Ullmann and his new wife Elisabeth were deported to Terezín, or Theresienstadt as it was renamed by the Nazis, a concentration and transit camp located north of Prague. 

Terezín/Theresienstadt: 1942–1944

At Theresienstadt, under the auspices of the Freizeitgestaltung (the Administration of Leisure Activities), a cultural organ of the Jewish self–administration in the camp and officially sanctioned by the SS, Ullmann composed twenty–three works.  These included three piano sonatas, a string quartet, arrangements of Jewish songs for chorus, incidental music for dramatic productions, his one–act opera Der Kaiser von Atlantis, as well as his final work, a melodrama based on Rilke's Die Weise von Liebe und Tod des Cornets Christoph Rilke, which he completed in 1944.

Parallel to his activity as a composer in Theresienstadt, Ullmann was also influential there as a pianist, conductor, music critic and lecturer and additionally served as the director of the Studio für neue Musik.  In that capacity, Ullmann championed the work of his fellow composers in the camp, including that of Pavel Haas, Hans Krasa, Gideon Klein, and Siegmund Schul, in particular.  Ullmann's twenty–six surviving reviews of musical events in Theresienstadt, which were a product of his ongoing activity as the official music critic in the camp, provide an important perspective on the astounding cultural life that developed there.  Having begun underground, this cultural activity was later allowed to flourish openly, because it provided the Nazis with a propaganda vehicle to deceive the outside world about the conditions in Theresienstadt, which was portrayed to the Red Cross as a “model camp” during their decisive visit in June of 1944.  Behind the façade created by the regime, however, the prisoners where subjected to the same hardships and brutalities as existed in the larger concentration camps, including disease, starvation, torture, executions and the frequent transports to the extermination camps in the east. 

Death serves as both the historical and dramatic backdrop of Ullmann's 1943 opera Der Kaiser von Atlantis, which he composed while a prisoner in Theresienstadt.  Based on a libretto by the young Czech poet and painter Petr Kien, who was also active in the cultural life in the camp. Der Kaiser von Atlantis is a profound meditation on death that stages a dramatic confrontation between the Emperor of Atlantis and the character of Death. The central problem of the opera develops when the Emperor of Atlantis declares a holy war against evil elements in his empire and seeks “to conscript Death to his cause.”  Insulted by the Emperor's effort to involve him in his modernized military campaign, Death—who is already offended by the “mechanization of modern life and dying”—refuses to cooperate.  Instead, he decides to teach the Emperor and humanity a lesson that will demonstrate his centrality in regulating existence by making it impossible for anyone to die. 

Although Der Kaiser von Atlantis was composed and rehearsed under the auspices of the Administration of Leisure Activities in Theresienstadt, it was never performed in the camp.  The parallel between the despotic character of the Emperor Overall and Hitler appears to have been obvious to the SS, who cancelled the production after observing a rehearsal in the autumn of 1944.  As a critique of modern warfare and the political tyrannies that perpetuate war, Ullmann's Der Kaiser von Atlantis—like Der Sturz des Antichrist—can be understood as powerful allegory on the despotic nature of power, where the dramatic confrontation with tyranny and death is portrayed as a powerful catalyst in shaping the exigencies of human freedom. 

Ullmann's Musical Language and Aesthetic

In a 1938 letter to his friend Karel Reiner, Ullmann reflected on the development of his musical language, making it clear that his earlier compositions, particularly his Variationen und Doppelfuge über ein Thema von Arnold Schönberg für Klavier, Op. 3a, had been shaped in terms of their harmonic and architectural conception by his engagement with Schoenberg's teachings.  Although Ullmann's musical development falls into roughly three periods, with the first extending from 1920 to the early 1930's, he had already begun to distance himself from the Schoenberg school by 1924 as he came increasingly under the influence of Berg's work at that time.

Characteristic of Ullmann's second period is his first piano sonata, composed upon his return to Prague in 1933.  Ullmann termed this work one of his “new endeavors,” where “new harmonic functions within the framework of a tonality […] could be called polytonality.  The principal tonality is three tonalities, but this is not essential.  What is apparently happening is the linking of the twelve tonalities and their related minor keys.” 

Acknowledging Berg as the first composer to bridge the historical–musical impasse precipitated by the crisis of tonality at the beginning of the twentieth century, Ullmann strove to further Berg's path of synthesis between tonality and twelve–tone techniques.  In his own work, Ullmann was striving for a musical language that would, as he explained it in the letter to Reiner, “serve as a twelve–tone system on a tonal basis [and be] similar to the merging of major and minor keys.”

The final stage of Ullmann's musical development took place in Terezín, where the “formal and expressive mastery” he had achieved during his final years in Prague was harnessed to fulfill the demands of the musical culture in the camp.  In an essay entitled “Goethe and Ghetto,” written during the final months of his life, Ullmann makes it clear that he confronted the desolate landscape of the concentration camp in spiritual and aesthetic terms.  This compelled him to write “Theresienstadt was and is for me a school of form.”  As he explained it, “earlier, when one did not feel the impact and burden of material life because comfort—this magic of civilization—suppressed it, it was easy to create beautiful forms.  Yet, in Theresienstadt, where in daily life one has to overcome matter through form, where everything musical stands in direct contrast to the surroundings: here is true school for masters […]”

During the late summer of 1944, as news filtered into Theresienstadt that the allies had invaded Europe and the Russian front was drawing near, the prisoners waited eagerly to be liberated.  From September to October, however, massive transports from Theresienstadt to the Auschwitz and other death camps in the east effectively liquidated the camp. Ullmann was sent to Auschwitz on 16 October 1944 where he perished two days later along with other key figures from the cultural life in the camp.