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Exile of European Music



The Exile of European Music: Documentation of Upheaval and Immigration in the New York Times

David Josephson, Brown University

The great drama of the exile of European music in the 1930s played itself out in countless individual stories, some of them told, more waiting to be unearthed, most to remain lost forever. This essay treats of one scene in that drama: the upheaval in Germany, the flight of its disenfranchised musicians and those from countries eventually swallowed by the German leviathan, the response of their colleagues abroad, and the arrival of those who came to America, as these events were set forth in the pages of the New York Times, the American newspaper of record.

Only five weeks after Hitler's accession to power, readers of the New York Times began to learn of the impact of his government on musical life in Germany, when the ouster of Fritz Busch as conductor of the Dresden State Opera was reported. In a news miscellany cabled from Berlin on March 7, they read of the funeral of a Nazi storm trooper in Dsseldorf, the hoisting of the swastika over a synagogue in Bochum and a department store in Allsberg, the bombing of a synagogue in Knigsberg, the closing of a Woolworth store in Duisburg, and then the humiliation of Fritz Busch, the distinguished general music director of the Dresden State Opera.

When Fritz Busch, the conductor, took his place in the Dresden Opera House orchestra tonight for a performance of "Rigoletto" there were shouts, "Out with Busch," from front rows, occupied by Nazis. After several minutes of uproar Herr Busch left and his place was taken by Kurt Striegler. The performance then took place without further trouble.

After conducting a rehearsal of "Rigoletto" early today, Herr Busch was called to the stage and informed by a Nazi storm troop detachment that executive control of the Saxon State theatres had passed to the Nazis and that Herr Striegler would take over the musical direction in Herr Busch's place. The ousted director is believed to be a Socialist.

The following day, a second cable filled in the details. The Nazis had charged that Busch, the highest salaried official of the Saxon State government, had taken frequent leaves of absence in order to earn money elsewhere, leaving substitutes to fill in for him. Busch countered that he had attended to his responsibilities faithfully, conducting more rehearsals and performances than his two assistants together, and had rejected more lucrative invitations in order to stay at Dresden. Still, he offered to accept a salary reduction of twenty per cent. Moreover, he was a patriot who had won the Iron Cross and kept away from politics.

By March 15, Times readers learned from an account by Herbert Peyser, the Times music correspondent in Berlin, that the issue was neither Busch's salary nor his absences, but a political pressure that had spread beyond Dresden:

Musical circles in Germany are acutely feeling repercussions of recent political developments. Opera houses, which are State or municipal institutions, have been increasingly subjected to pressure with respect to their administrative staffs and artistic personnel, and rumors point to even more extensive changes. In the past few days the State Opera of Dresden and the Civic Opera of Berlin were compelled to discharge some of their principal functionaries and replace them with national Socialists.

Carl Ebert, Intendant of the Municipal Opera in Berlin and a Social Democrat, had been fired on March 11 along with four members of his senior staff: Fritz Stiedry, Paul Breisach, Rudolf Bing, and Jrgen Fehling. As in Dresden, the firing had taken place in the theater and under physical threat by an SA mob. Jews, foreigners, Social Democrats, and others on the left were at risk. The Berlin State Opera was thought to be next, with Otto Klemperer and Leo Blech among its conductors and Alexander Kipnis, Frida Leider, Emanuel List, and Lauritz Melchior among its leading singers. Its Intendant, Heinz Tietjen, was rumored to have threatened his resignation in the event of the firings of those musicians. The Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung had weighed in against the dismissals, or at least against the way they were handled. So great was the turmoil that the premiere of Richard Strauss's Arabella scheduled for Dresden in July was now open to question.

Two days later, on March 17, the tone of the reporting changed perceptibly, its neutral presentation now bent with irony as the outrages grew more transparent, as unrelated firings in far-flung cities of the Reich under the jurisdictions of different states came to be seen as elements of a coordinated purge; and as they suddenly came to touch on a musician lionized in New York. Like the March 8 report, this one was a miscellany; now, though, music captured the headline, in the person of Bruno Walter, who had just returned from his second season with the New York Philharmonic. The reporting betrayed continuing confusion: there seemed to be no national leader of the purge, described only as a "national 'purging process," though its center lay in the Berlin government.

The daily newsreel from Germany is compelled to depend upon a medley of happenings in all corners of the Reich, for while Berlin is the official domicile of the Hitler-von Papen government and the centre of this "national revolution," it is the happenings in the provinces that supply the patches of color needed to fill in the general picture.

The reporter, though he noted a tightening federal grip on the states, seemed incredulous that no opposition had arisen to the dismissals. This time a concert of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra that was to have been led by Walter on March 16 was cancelled. Although officials attributed the cancellation to fear of public disorder, Walter's friends were cited as having attributed it to his Jewish blood. His Berlin Philharmonic concert planned for March 20 was still scheduled, but the soprano Jarmila Novotna was removed from its roster, presumably because she was Czech.

Other items in the miscellany including the renaming of streets and public squares in Thuringia named for Marxists or Jews, the removal from Saxon prisons of Marxist and pacifist writings, the arrest in Schleswig of General Paul von Schoenaich, chairman of the German Peace League, the first flag parade in Kiel since the Great War, the announced Socialist boycott of the forthcoming services in the Garrison Church at Potsdam dedicating the new government, and the banning of "Negro jazz" at Berlin's radio station by its new director. This time the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung sided with the authorities on the grounds that such a ban met "an old demand in those sections of the public where the sense for morals and good taste has not 'gone to sleep.'"

The first critical response to the news by Olin Downes, chief music critic of the Times, was published in a Sunday column on March 19. Trying to make sense of, and draw meaning from, conflicting signals emanating from Germany, he addressed the issue of nationalism, which he saw as a fundamental and positive quality in music, "the inspired expression of heredity and environment, of race and soil," a quality now being twisted by the Nazis into a chauvinism in which the political status of a musician counted for all. A culturally immature America swung between the extremes of imitation of foreign models on the one hand, chauvinism on the other; it could not yet find a middle road. In a few years' time, as the flow of skilled immigrants turned into a desperate flood, the issue would be framed as a debate among musicians and the communities that supported them, directors of institutional boards, judges in competitions, administrators and teachers in colleges, universities, and conservatories; and it would find its way into the pages of the New York Times. But in 1933, with the flight from Germany in its early uncertain stage, Downes could still prescribe a reasonable national policy for what could be seen as either boon or threat to the American musical landscape:

Each country should strive to stimulate its creative artists. Special assistance can be given them, but they should not be encouraged in erroneous ways by pampering mediocrity or excusing incompetence. Criticism of artistic effort should be unsparing. Give the native musician . . . opportunity for self-development. Then examine his offerings and estimate them for what they are and not what we would like them to be.

By April 2 the musical turmoil had made its way to the front page, with a report under the headline that Toscanini and nine other musicians had sent Hitler a cable the previous day in "protest against the persecution of their colleagues in that country for political or religious reasons." The cable had been drafted by Berthold Neuer, vice president of the Knabe Piano Company, at the suggestion of Artur Bodanzky, conductor of German opera at the Metropolitan Opera, after he heard that the outrages against Busch and Walter had been followed by an assault by storm troops on Otto Klemperer. The article is oddly vague about the chronology of events regarding the cable. On the one hand, it quotes Toscanini's request that his name head the list of signatories. On the other, it quotes from the letter of Ossip Gabrilowitsch, conductor of the Detroit Symphony, to Toscanini asking him to support the protest to Hitler, for without his support no protest to Hitler would be effective. Gabrilowitsch, who was openly contemptuous of the courtly tone of the protest letter as drafted by Neuer, wrote a separate letter to Toscanini in unusually strong language--language that might have been unnecessary had he been certa