Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Simon Rattle revives contemporary composer

"There was also the Proms reappearance of very old man: Berthold Goldschmidt (left), ninety that year. Simon Rattle, who had championed Goldschmidt’s music in Birmingham, was keen to conduct something of his in the Proms. Goldschmidt’s life was being much written about: how he had shown brilliant promise in pre-Hitler Germany but had much later been forced to leave, and how after successful years in Britain, including conducting the first performance of Deryck Cooke’s version of Mahler’s Tenth in 1964, he and his music had faded from view. I found it very hard to evaluate Goldschmidt’s music: it had obviously seemed remarkable in the 1920s and ‘30s, but struck me as less so after sixty years.

The work Rattle chose, the Ciaconna Sinfonia, had a triumphant reception, as if the audience wanted to compensate for years of neglect by refusing to let the composer leave the platform, and Goldschmidt really revelled in the applause. We gave him dinner afterwards in a nearby restaurant, during which he became seriously unwell and eventually slumped forward apparently dead. It was a dreadful moment. Simon Rattle stood behind him and felt for a pulse. I rushed about phoning ambulances and looking for a doctor. By the time the ambulance arrived Goldschmidt was sitting up chatting, quite unaware of the panic he had caused. ‘It’s rather hot isn’t it?’ he said.

He went home in a taxi, accompanied by a charming young woman, as if nothing had happened. At his ninetieth birthday party his publisher, Anthony Fell of Boosey & Hawkes, said it was marvellous that Goldschmidt was not bitter at his roller coaster of a life. In reply, Goldschmidt said, ’Bitterness is a question of taste.’ I am glad he lived long enough to hear his music performed again and to return to Germany and be feted everywhere, but I am still not sure how good the music is."


John Drummond recalls the revival in 1993 of a 20th century composer in his autobiography Tainted By Experience.


Now playing – Berthold Goldschmidt’s Ciaconna Sinfonia, with Simon Rattle conducting the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. You can judge yourself how good Goldschmidt’s music is by listening to The Goldschmidt Album. This 1996 Decca CD features the composer’s music conducted by Simon Rattle, Yakov Kreizberg, and Goldschmidt himself. Rattle was so keen to champion Goldschmidt’s music that he persuaded EMI to release him from his exclusive contract to record his 20 minute contribution to the album.

The CD was an early release in a Decca series Entartete Musik (Degenerate music) featuring works suppressed by the Third Reich. The first release in the much hyped series was the opera Jonny spielt auf which I wrote about recently. Its composer Ernst Krenek studied with Franz Schreker, as did Berthold Goldschmidt. But more than ten years later the Decca website only lists four titles in the series, and neither The Goldschmidt Album nor Jonny spielt auf are among them, although the Goldschmidt CD is available from Amazon resellers. Once again Entartete Musik has been suppressed, but this time by the corporate planners within Decca’s parent Universal Music.

Now read about another forgotten victim of fascism
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