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Forbidden Voices liberated in NZSM conference on music and musicians banned by Nazis

By , 23/08/2014

New Zealand School of Music: Recovering Forbidden Voices:Responding to the Suppression of Music in World War Two

Die Welt von Gestern (The World of Yesterday)
Schreker: Sonata for violin and piano in F major
Zemlinsky: Serenade in A major
Korngold: Violin Sonata in G major, Op 6

Duo Richter-Carrigan (Goetz Richter – violin and Jeanell Carrigan – piano)

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Saturday 23 August, 8:15 pm

This evening’s concert was session number 11 in the weekend’s conference of talks, concerts and panel discussions dealing with the suppression of music and other arts during the second world war, primarily through the Nazi suppression of what they considered ‘Entartete Kunst’ – ‘Degenerate Art’. It’s been a mixture of music and the spoken word, the latter examining aspects of the hideous impact of Nazism on art and artists wherever the regime gained control. Jews were by no means the only artists, musicians, writers to suffer, and music by Shostakovich and Messiaen have been heard in the concerts.

To this point there had been a performance of Hans Krasa’s children’s opera Brundibar (reviewed by us), concerts of chamber music by Schulhoff, Weinberg, Ullmann, Gidon Klein, Schoenberg and Shostakovich, as well as contemporary composers whose lives were deeply affected by fascism and communism; lectures and discussions about the repression of Jews and other minorities, and musicians in exile like Martinu; a celebration of the work of conductor/composer Georg Tintner, who sought refuge in New Zealand from WW2, but was largely ignored. He began to make musical headway only after going to Australia in 1954.

One of the ironical effects of the Nazi treatment that made so much art, music and literature disappear, was the West’s pursuit of the avant-garde in many of those fields since the end of World War 2, resulting in those composers remaining ignored for several decades, only now being revived, as here.

For Middle C the conference has presented a bit of a problem as various things have prevented each of us from paying the kind of attention that we should have liked, and which it deserved.

This lecture-recital began with a brief talk by the violinist Goetz Richter expanding on the theme music and the aesthetic of revenge – the revenge being that of Hitler against the bourgeois society that had rejected him as a creative artist (according to Richter). Unfortunately I was not sitting close enough to hear it well and Richter delivered it at a pace that was not well adapted to a thesis that was dense with complex propositions and argument.

Goetz Richter is a violinist, trained at the Hochschule für Musik, Munich. with a PhD in philosophy from Sydney University, a past associate concertmaster in the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, now an
associate professor at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

Jeanell Carrigan is senior lecturer in ensemble studies at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, having obtained her musical education in universities in Queensland, Sydney, Wollongong and studies in Europe with various piano pedagogues including Alfons Kontarsky and Karl Engel.

The duo has been playing together for 30 years.

The programme included works by three German or Austrian Jewish composers born with 25 years at the end of the 19th century. Each was written when the composer was young: the Schreker aged 20, the Zemlinsky at 24 and the Korngold at the age of 15. It was the Korngold piece that was the longest and most ambitious, and may have proved the most challenging in execution.

The three movements of Schreker’s piece are: Allegro Moderato, Andante con Moto, Presto. While his sonata bore the marked influence of Brahms, and sounded the most conventional of the three, given the time of its composition, after major chamber music by Debussy for example, Korngold’s sonata of only 14 years later was much more complex technically. Though, unlike the music that Schoenberg was writing by then, it was melodically still accessible; however, it does not sound as imposing or perhaps as promising as does Strauss’s violin sonata of ten years earlier.

Schreker’s second movement was quietly meditative, breathing calmly with a performance that was warm and burnished, yet quietly adventurous harmonies peep through. There may well have been hints of the later Schreker of the operas such as Der ferner Klang, Die Gezeichneten, Der Schatzgräber – which I’ve just missed during visits to Germany over the past decade as they have been unearthed, given interesting productions and been widely acclaimed.

The Zemlinsky piece of 1895 was a Serenade (or suite) in five fairly short movements: Massig; Langsam, mit grossem ausdruck; Sehr schnell und leicht; Massiges Walzertempo; Schnell. It was a charming piece, distinctly lighter inspirit than a sonata, its rhythms and melodies more striking and engaging than some of Zemlinsky’s music of more serious intent. The main theme of the first movement was quite joyful, while the second, that I’d noted, in the absence of movement names in the programme, as a Largo, was lit by its variety of twists in melody and rhythm and quixotic mood changes, ending with a passage of heavy piano chords. The fourth movement, a waltz, risked becoming schmaltzy had it not been so well crafted, so inventive and playful – tossing the waltz rhythms back and forth between the two instruments. The last movement called the Schumann of the early piano pieces to mind.

Then the astonishing Korngold sonata. One of the characteristics that caught my ear was the melodic tendency of spirit-lifting upward grasps such as Scriabin performs, and from then on I tended to feel the presence of the Russians like Rachmaninov and Medtner. A long work, it presented the players with daunting technical challenges with mighty fistfuls of notes at the piano and passages of both dazzling virtuosity and quiet beauty from the violin – in the third movement especially. Though later in the Adagio it slipped into a commonplace, late romantic character.

The four movements are: (1) Ben moderato, ma con passion; (2) Scherzo: Allegro molto (con fuoco) and Trio – Moderato cantabile; (3) Adagio: Mit tiefer Empfindung; (4) Finale: Allegretto quasi andante (con grazia).

The last movement impressed me however as more rigorous in shape and structure, with quite striking melody: the piano soon announced a fugue which evolved interestingly between the two instruments. Perhaps as a result of the discipline imposed by the fugue, and the commanding and illuminating performance by Richter and Carrigan, it came to seem the most imaginative and substantial music in the whole sonata.

So this was one of those recitals that the timid or unadventurous would avoid, but which revealed three composers and three works by those composers that were revelatory and most important of all, thoroughly engaging and enjoyable at the hands of two musicians of the top rank. It served to show how little we know of the Australian music scene that such splendid players, who have been playing as a duo for three decades, were unknown to me and, I imagine, to almost all the audience (which was sadly small).

 

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