Furtwangler and the forgotten new music
When, in November 1943, Furtwängler returned to Berlin from a concert tour abroad, he was informed that the Philharmonie Hall had been bombed during an attack on the night of November 22-23. The facade had been badly damaged, and so had the front rooms in which the irreplaceable music library had been kept. Important letters, files, documents, orginal scores - everything had been destroyed.
The concert hall itself remained intact, but the windows had been blown out, and glass, at the time, was not available. Besides, concerts could no longer be given there because high piles of rubble cut off the hall from the outside world. And before it could be cleared away, more bombs fell on the Philharmonie Hall on January 30, 1944, when the Anhalter Station, near the hall, was the target. This time the Philharmonie was completely wrecked.
From Wilhelm Furtwängler a biography by Curt Riess, 1955
Following the destruction of the Philharmonie Wilhelm Furtwängler conducted the Berlin Philharmonic in nine more concerts before the Nazi forces surrendered. Six were in the Staatsoper, and when this was damaged by bombing the last three were held in the Admiralpalast. The last concerts under Nazi rule were held on 22nd and 23rd January with a programme of Mozart’s ‘Die Zauberflote' overture, Mozart Symphony no 40 (first two movements only for reasons not given), and Brahms First Symphony.
Those final two concerts took place just four months before the collapse of Berlin. Allied forces were closing in on the stricken city, and air raids continued night and day. Remember that Hitler was not a democratically elected leader, and many of those, musicians and others, trapped in the beleagured city were not rabid Nazis. Like those in the Twin Towers, New Orleans and the London Underground history dictated that many were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. The predicament faced by the performing arts in the 21st century palls into insignificance compared with the conditions that the inhabitants, and musicians, of Berlin faced in the final months of the war.
Yet not only did the music continue, but quite remarkably the final nine concerts in those last torrid months included the first performance of one new work (by Gerhart von Westerman, and played in two successive concerts), and one Berlin Philharmonic first performance (Kurt Hessenberg’s Second Symphony).
Today Wilhelm Furtwängler's name is irrevocably linked to the Nazis. It is not the purpose of this article to cover that ground again, too many apologies have already been written. The fact is he remained in Germany as Director of the Berlin Philharmonic through the darkest hours of the Nazis. But a lot of great music was performed in the years between 1922 and 1954 when Furtwangler led the orchestra. Although his political compromises were deplorable, they should not prevent study of the music that was an integral part of the culture during those turbulent years.
Furtwängler is remembered today as an important interpreter of the Austro-Germanic repertoire, from Mozart through Beethoven to Bruckner. He is also known as a composer; the very last work he conducted with the Berlin Philharmonic in concert was his own Second Symphony on 20th September 1954. He died just three months later in December 1954.
During his thirty-two years as Director of the Berlin Philharmonic a surprising amount of 20th century music was performed under his baton. (Don’t forget his tenure at the orchestra only covered the first half of the century). Some the new music has endured. There was much Schoenberg (including the first performance of the Variations for Orchestra, op. 31 2nd version in 1928), much Pfitzner and Hindemith (the Nazi banning of his opera Mathis del Maler provoked Furtwangler’s resignation from the Berlin Opera in 1934), plus Bartok, Prokofiev and more.
But he also performed a large amount of 20th century music that has not stood the test of time. For research purposes I have taken a subjective definition of a ‘forgotten composer’ as one whose work is not performed with any regularity today. Using this definition, I researched every one of the four hundred and seventy-three concerts Furtwängler conducted with the Berlin Philharmonic. This identified forty-five 20th century works, from thirty composers who have subsequently slipped into varying degrees of obscurity.
The results of my research are given below (more details of the research are given as a footnote). The history of these composers varies. Many remained in Germany through the Nazi period and beyond. Some such as Ernst Toch (right) fled to the US when the Nazis came to power. There are very few non-Germans, but these include the Italian Alfredo Casella, who was a known Fascist sympathiser. Interestingly one fellow conductor-composer is included, the Polish-born Paul Kletzki. Some works remain in print, if not in performance. These include the two works performed in 1944 after the destruction of the Philharmonie; Gerhart von Westerman's Divertimento and Kurt Hessenberg's Second Symphony, op. 29.
Looking at frequency of performance, the name that jumps out is Max Trapp. Six of his compositions were given over a twenty-eight year period, three of these in first performances. His works were performed both during the Nazi period (1935 and 1939), and after the war in 1951. Trapp lived from 1887 to 1971, and taught in various positions in Berlin throughout his life. His works included seven symphonies, and chamber music. The only one known at all today is his Piano Concerto, and he is largely forgotten. Why?
There is no suggestion that a body of forty-five neglected masterpieces awaits discovery in Berlin archives. (But how many perished in the fall of Berlin?) But what was this music like? Furtwängler was a brilliant conductor and accomplished composer – does his programming of these composers bestow some merit on them? Or were many of them politically convenient commissions? (This argument falls on the fact that many of the performances were pre-1933). Is the comparative obscurity (I can find no information at all on two) of these composers simply typical of the casualty rate among new works? Have I misrepresented these artists who lived through such difficult times? Do any readers know more about these thirty forgotten composers?
More questions than answers, but an overgrown path that is well worth exploring. Please add further information and views using the comments (or email) feature at the foot of the article.
And here is my analysis of Furtwängler's forgotten modern music:
Max Trapp: Symphonie Nr. 11 in h-moll op. 15 (BPO first performance)
28/29 January 1923.
Symphonie Nr.IV in b-moll op. 24 (BPO first performance)
14/15 December 1930.
Sinfonische Suite op. 30 (BPO first performance)
3 & 4 December 1933.
Orchesterkonzert op. 32 (First performance)
29/30 September 1935.
Konzert Nr. II f. Orchester op. 36 (First performance)
3/5 December 1939.
Symphonie Nr. Vl op. 45 (First performance)
25/26 February 1951.
“Don Juan”, eine klassich-romantische Phantasmagorie op. 34 (BPO first performance)
16/17 Novembber 1924.
Vorspiel u. Prolog aus “Die Vogel.”
20/21 December 1925.
Georg Schumann: (photo right) Variationen und Gigue uber ein Thema von G. F. Handel op. 72 (BPO first performance)
22/23 February 1925.
Variationen uber “Gerstern abend war Vetter Michel “ da op. 74 (First performance)
2/3 February 1930.
Morgenklangspiel op. 19 (First performance)
7/8 November 1926.
Musik mit Mozart. Symphonische Variaten f. Orch op. 25 (BPO first performance)
15/17 February 1942.
Komodie f. Orchester op. 42 (BPO first performance)
13/14 November 1927.
Kleine Theatersuite op. 54 (BPO first performance)
8/9 February 1931.
Konzert f. 2 Violinen u. Orch. Op. 5 (BPO first performance)
30 Nov/1 December 1930.
Passacaglia ((First performance)
18/19 December 1932.
25/26 November 1934.
Konzert f. Klavier u. Orch (BPO first performance, the composer conducted this work, Furtwangler conducted the balance of the programme )
28/29 November 1937.
Variationen u. Fugue uber ein deutsches Volkslied (“Morgenrot Morgenrot”) op. 2 (BPO first performance)
5/6 Feb 1933.
Konzert f. gr. Orchester op. 5 (BPO first performance)
17/19 December 1939.
Theodor Berger: (photo right)
Rondino giocoso (BPO first performance)
15/17 December 1940.
Ballade f. Orchester op. 10 (First performance)
2/4 November 1941.
Konzert f. Violincello u. Orch. Op. 26
16/18 October 1949.
Konzert f. Violincello u. Orchester op. 26 (First performance)
19/21 October 1941.
Praludium u. Toccata f. Streichorch (BPO first performance)
5/7 February 1939.
Hymnisces Konzert f. Orgel, Orch. Mit Sopran- und Tenor-solo (BPO first performance)
6/8 December 1942.
Bernhard Sekles: Gesichte. Fantastiche Miniaturen f. kl. Orch. Op. 29 (BPO first performance)
11/12 November 1923.
Alfredo Casella: Partita f. Klavier u. Orchester (BPO first performance)
19/20 December 1926.
Karol Rathaus: Ouverture fur grosses Orchester op. 22 (First performance)
4/5 March 1928.
Gunther Raphael: Thema, Variationen u. Rondo f. Orch. Op. 19 (BPO first performance)
24/25 March 1929.
Paul Kletzki: Orchestervariationen (BPO first performance)
19/20 January 1930.
Botho Sigwart: Melodram “Hektors Bestattung” op. 15
2/3 February 1930.
Wladimir Vogel: 2 Etuden f. Orchester (BPO first performance)
25/26 October 1931.
Paul Graener: Die Flote von Sanssouci. Suite f. Kammerorch. Op. 88 (BPO first performance)
20/21 December 1931.
Max Ettinger: Altenglische Suite op. 30 (BPO first performance)
3 & 4 April 1932.
Hugo Reichenberger: Zwei Mariensbilder
18/19 December 1932.
Max v. Schillings: Symphonischer Prolog zu “Konig Odipus” f. gr. Orch. Op. 11
15/16 October 1933.
Sigfrid Walther Muller: Heitere Musik op, 43 (BPO first performance)
14/15 January 1934.
Hans Brehme: Triptychon (BPO first performance)
26/28 November 1938.
Heinrich Zilcher (should this be Hermann Zilcher, a composer who lived from 1881 - 1948?) : Konzert f. Violine u Orch. In A-dur op. 92 (First performance)
2/4 February 1941.
Paul Hoffer: Symphonische Variatonen uber einen Bass von Bach op. 47 (BPO First performance)
1/3 March 1942.
Gerhard Frommel: Symphonie in E-dur op. 13 (First performance)
8/10 November 1942
Ernst Pepping: Symphonie Nr. II f. Orch. In f-moll (BPO first performance)
31 October/3 November 1943.
Gerhart v. Westerman: Divertimento f. gr. Orch. Op. 16 (First performance)
22/23 October 1944.
Kurt Hessenberg: (photo above) Symphonie Nr. Ll in A-dur op. 29 (BPO first performance) 11 December 1944.
Notes on the research:
1.The analysis was carried out specifically for this article using Wilhelm Furtwängler Die Programme Der Konzert Mit Dem Berliner Philharmonischen Orchester 1922-1954 published in 1965 by F.A. Brockhaus Wiesbaden.
2. I have not translated the composition titles from their original German. This is because many have never been translated, and I would prefer a more skilled linguist to undertke this important work.
3. I have added hyperlinks to web resources where available. Not surpisingly some of these are in German. Details of further resources will be gratefully received. I will be glad to share the contents of this fascinating inventory of every work Furtwangler performed with the Berlin Philharmonic with any interested researchers.
4. First performance means world premiere. BPO first performance is hopefully self-explanatory.
5. The Classical Composers Database is a very useful tool for researching the more obscure composers; but, like all of us, it is by no means infallible.
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