The Intricate Sound of ExileBy Irene Suchy
For many years we didn’t miss them – the exiled, the murdered, the silenced. There was an Economic Miracle to be built. The year 1945 was proclaimed Year Zero, a new beginning designed to conceal the continuities from the Nazi era. The lost war, whose beginning the majority had exulted in, was easily pushed to the back of our minds. The perpetrators were honoured; they annexed themselves to Austria’s present as past Austria had allowed itself to be annexed to Nazi Germany. Streets and squares were named after them; their friendships and collaborations with the rulers of the Third Reich were downplayed, their Nazi party memberships were quietly overlooked, their indispensability to Austria was emphasised more than their crimes. Only after many years – much later than the other arts – did the musical and musicological worlds discover what they had lost: the exiled and the murdered, their music, their ideas, their contribution to musical life.
And the theme that was so unwelcome in the universities until well into the 1970s – research into the exiled musical artists – underwent a welcome transformation. In 1996 the «Orpheus Trust» was founded; scholarly research began. «Exilarte» – Center for Banned Music at the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna – has been carrying out research, collection, publication and teaching activities since 2016. What was once frowned upon is now a must for aspiring musicologists – in-depth engagement with the music of the exiled artists.
They were too many to count: half a million people escaped the Third Reich, amongst them artists of various kinds. The humiliation escalated in stages: exclusion from the Reich Chamber of Music, prohibition from ownership of instruments, prohibition from professional music, prohibition from performance, eviction, seizure of assets, punitive taxes, threats to life.
Robert Stolz, from whose optimistic oeuvre the arias performed on 13 July 2024 have been chosen, was one of those who demonstrated courage and cunning to help their fellow-sufferers survive the Nazi regime. Born in 1884 in Graz, he became a film music composer in Berlin. It was only after the global success of the movie «Two Hearts in Waltz Time» that he became a master of operetta and of the popular song genre Schlager. The Nazis courted him, but in 1936 he left Germany for Austria, then under the Austrofascist regime. He never distanced himself from his Jewish librettists such as Fritz Grünbaum and he saved at-risk colleagues on numerous journeys between Berlin and Vienna. In 1938 he escaped to Switzerland. By 1939 he was in occupied Paris, where his fifth wife «Einzi» helped him escape the clutches of the Gestapo after being interned for three days. In 1940 he arrived in New York; in Hollywood he won two Oscars. He took his enterprising spirit with him and worked as composer for the Viennese Ice Revue.
On 8 September we hear the Diary of Anne Frank in a musical setting by Michael Tilson Thomas. It’s not the first musical version of her story: in 2011, to accompany a scholarly research project into the Strasshof concentration camp, the mono-opera «The Diary of Anne Frank» by Grigori Frid was performed. It was staged in a steam engine shed built in 1944 and used as its set one of the cattle trucks that Jewish deportees were forced into for their railway journey to extermination. Michael Tilson Thomas, grandson of Yiddish theatre makers from New York, intended his 40-minute-long musical version to prompt lasting reflection in his listeners. In his four-part melodrama, a commission from UNICEF, Ruth Brauer-Kvam recites Anne’s reflections on first love, nature, her imaginary correspondent Kitty, all while her inevitable murder draws nearer, the work nevertheless ending with a hopeful concluding assertion: «I want to go on living.» At its premiere in 1990, no less a performer than Audrey Hepburn recited Anne’s diary entries. Even if Tilson Thomas, born in Los Angeles in 1944, never knew his grandfather, he still feels connected to Jewish history and tradition.
Arnold Schönberg’s works have long been an established part of the concert repertoire. On 7 September 2024, in a Schönberg anniversary year, the Staatskapelle Dresden presents his late-romantic opus 4 «Verklärte Nacht» («Transfigured Night»). Schönberg, who was born in Vienna in 1874 and died in exile Los Angeles in 1951, composed his string sextet «Verklärte Nacht» during a holiday with his composition teacher Alexander von Zemlinsky and the latter’s sister Mathilde in the Lower Austrian town of Payerbach in 1899. A love affair began and in 1901 he married Mathilde, becoming father of a daughter Gertrude and a son Georg. Ahead of him was the pain of the marital crisis in 1908 and Mathilde’s infidelity. He would lose her, despite eventually persuading her to return. Her lover Richard Gerstl killed himself in 1908, she died in 1923. One year later Schönberg married again.
«Verklärte Nacht», originally composed for string sextet and adapted by Schönberg himself for string orchestra, is one of the most intimately heartfelt of his works, inspired by a poem by Richard Dehmel.
«Two people go through the bleak, cold grove;/the Moon walks with them, they look inside./The Moon walks over tall oaks,/no cloud darkens the heavens’ light/into which the black spurs reach»
The poet, writing in 1912, was deeply gratified: «Yesterday evening I heard ‹Verklärte Nacht› and I would feel it a sin of omission if I didn’t give you a word of thanks for your wonderful sextet. I had planned to follow the motifs of my text in your composition, but I was so bewitched by the music I soon forgot that.»
In 1902, the year of the premiere, Schönberg wrote about the process of musical fantasising over a poetic idea, «until it has extracted all possible moods and meanings from it – I almost want to say: until it has analysed it.»
The women who financially supported Schönberg’s work are seldom mentioned: In 1904 he received a grant of 1,000 kronen from the Fröhlich Sisters Foundation. These women were patrons of the arts who lived with the poet Franz Grillparzer in Spiegelgasse in Vienna. Anna Fröhlich worked as a professor of singing at the conservatory that had recently been established by the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Wien (Society of Friends of Music in Vienna) and Josefine Fröhlich was a waltz composer and an internationally famous opera singer. Schönberg received stipends from the Mahler Foundation in 1913, 1914 and 1918 thanks to the intervention of Mahler’s widow Alma, who persuaded other acquaintances to join the circle of patrons. The contribution by Alma’s acquaintance Lilly Lieser, who gener- ously supported Schönberg during the First World War with a monthly allowance, free housing in the villa in Gloriettegasse, holidays at Semmering, Lower Austria, and the purchase of a harmonium, all of which demonstrate a deep respect for the composer, was only discovered and documented much later. He didn’t appreciate any of this; she elegantly withdrew after bearing the brunt of crude insults. Schönberg’s fate with the difficult new beginning in his Los Angeles exile stands in stark contrast to that of his patron Lilly Lieser. She was deported from her palais in Argentinierstrasse to the Riga concentration camp, endured life there for two years before being murdered in Auschwitz. Other Viennese people were there to bear witness to her suffering. It was only a few years ago that a Stolperstein, one of the small memorials placed in the pavement outside the former homes of victims of Nazi persecution, was finally dedicated to her. There is still no street, no square, no concert hall named after her – the woman who used her wealth to shoul- der responsibility for the art of her time.
The history of exile doesn’t end with the composers. The sound of exile is deeper and more intricate than any score can show.