Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Art born out of rebellion and dissatisfaction


Email received ~ 'Hi: I have a Xmas card from Toscanini to Ernst Krenek, sent Xmas 1946. I find this an odd connection & wonder if you know something I don't. Toscanini's handwriting is hard to read, but I am an autograph dealer & used to hard-to-write handwritings. It is in "broken" English however. The card also has a photo of Toscanini looking at a photo of Beethoven laid on. Underneath the photo there is a musical quotation from Beethoven's 9th Symphony with the words: "Seid umschlungen, Millionen! Diesen Kuss der ganzen Welt!" penned by Toscanini. There is also a note to Krenek from Toscanini thanking him for a wonderful gift & wishing him & Madame Krenek a happy New Year. So the plot thickens with the Beethoven association. Any ideas of how this connects?
Thanks,Joyce.'


Joyce, my solution is the following. Toscanini and Krenek were linked through the 1934 Salzburg declaration. In this, a young Viennese musician, Paul Csonka, started a movement which has some contemporary resonances ... "against conventional opera, conventionally produced and enslaved by the star system. Our hope was to introduce the arts of the theatre into opera from which they have been divorced, these many years, all over the world." Both Toscanini and Krenek signed the declaration, see the full story below reproduced from Time in November 1937.

The story of Paul Csonka
is an extraordinary one, and deserves an article to itself. He was rumored to be the illegitimate son of Kaiser Franz Joseph, and fled from Austria after the Anschluss. He settled in Cuba, where he built the Opera Nacional de Havana and composed. After the 1958 revolution he left Cuba for Miami where he became creative director of Palm Beach Opera. Csonka also taught, and the young composers he worked with included Richard Danielpour. He once won $11,000 on a TV quiz show, his subject was opera. Paul Csonka died in 1995 in Palm Beach aged ninety.

The quotation on the Christmas card is from Schiller's Ode to Joy , and translates as 'Be embraced, you millions! This kiss for the whole world!'. It seems to reflect the sentiments of the 1934 Salzburg declaration, and would have been sent to Krenek when he was living in Cuba - he became a citizen in 1947. That's my take, other solutions to the link between Toscanini and Krenek are very welcome. Here is the 1937 Time story:

''Our company was born out of rebellion and dissatisfaction, in the summer of 1934. Our rebellion was against conventional opera, conventionally produced and enslaved by the star system. Our hope was to introduce the arts of the theatre into opera from which they have been divorced, these many years, all over the world. Toscanini, Klemperer, Stefan Zweig and Ernst Krenek listened to our declarations. A proclamation of artistic independence was drawn up and subscribed to by these men. They all signed it. and Toscanini remarked: 'Nothing is ever being done for the real opera—only words, never action. But perhaps,' he added with a smile, 'this will be the real thing.' "

Thus does a young Viennese named Paul Csonka (photo above), who assembled a troupe of young singers in 1934, explain what he set out to do. For six months in a quiet Tyrolese village his troupe rehearsed one opera, Mozart's Cosi fan tutte. After a season in Vienna, Csonka moved it to Salzburg, though it had no connection with the summer music festivals, and adopted the name, Salzburg Opera Guild. Last summer, rehearsing twelve hours a day in a rented castle at Mondsee near Salzburg, the Guild increased its repertory of operas. Last week, under the management of astute S. (for Sol) Hurok, the Guild made its Manhattan debut, first stop in a tour of 100 U. S. cities.

With Cosi fan tutte ("They all do it") as its opener, the Guild showed that, though it could not do much for the vocal side of opera, it could, theatrically, provide as agreeable a romp as anything that had been sung on a Manhattan stage in years. Viennese Theo Otto's frivolous set and gay 18th-Century costumes—worn by opera singers who for once looked perfectly at home in them—made a completely plausible background for Mozart's tale of deception which proves that all women are fickle.

The starless cast of the Salzburg Guild included: pretty Soprano Margarethe Menzel, 24, who once played the piano in a Viennese ladies' orchestra; pretty Contralto Hertha Glatz, 27, who has sung with the San Francisco Symphony; pretty Coloratura Soprano Marisa Merlo. so flip on the stage that audiences might not guess that she once nearly got herself to a nunnery; roly-poly Basso Alfred Hollander, once of the able German Theatre in Brunn, Czechoslovakia; Baritone Leo Weith, who sang the title role in the world premiere of Schwanda der Dudelsackpfeifer; Tenor Franco Perulli, onetime protege of Tenor Tito Schipa.

The Guild's repertory for its tour is balanced between the gay and the sombre: La Cambiale di Matrimonio ("The Matrimonial Market"), Rossini's first operatic work, an opera-buffa composed when he was 18; Angelique, music by contemporary Frenchman Jacques Ibert, the story of a shopkeeper's efforts to sell his shrewish wife; Le Pauvre Matelot, a "lament in one act," music by Darius Milhaud. libretto by Jean Cocteau, in which a woman kills a sailor, unaware that he is her husband who has returned after 15 years' absence. This week the Guild gives the first professional performance in the U. S. of L'Incoronazione di Poppea, an antique forerunner of modern opera, composed by Claudio Monteverdi and given its debut in Venice in 1642. The work has been reconstructed from its fragmentary original score by Ernst Krenek, best known in the U. S. for his jazz opera Jonny Spielt Anf, and as conductor of the Monteverdi work making his first visit to the U. S.


Now read the full story of Jonny Spielt Anf
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