Roads To Exile
ARC Ensemble (Artists of the Royal Conservatory)
RCA 88697 64490-è2
Cover picture: “Neanderthal Motorway Bridge”, c. 1938, August Sander
© Die Photographische Sammlung /SK Stiftung Kultur –August Sander Archiv, Cologne; Sodrac, Montréal, 2009r
Recorded at Koerner Hall, November 16th – 18th
|Walter Braunfels (1882 - 1954) : String
Quintet in F-sharp Minor, Op. 63
IV. Finale - Rondo
Benjamin Bowman & Marie Bérard, violins
Adolf Busch (1891 - 1952) : String Sextet in G Major,
Marie Bérard & Benjamin Bowman, violins
|A sense of exile is not always accompanied by geographical displacement. For
those who failed to fulfill the Nazis’ racial requirements, Germany itself
presented an exile of sorts, as institutionalized intolerance, legalized
discrimination and the incremental withdrawal of rights meant that it was
possible to observe a familiar life without actually being able to participate
This recording revives the chamber music of two composers whose very different exiles were born of equally divergent backgrounds. Adolf Busch – “unser deutscher Geiger” (our German violinist), as Hitler proudly claimed him – was, at least superficially, the epitome of the Aryan musical ideal: blonde, blue-eyed, strong-jawed; his repertoire the bedrock of Austro-German tradition – Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann and Brahms. But Busch, though of humble Westphalian stock, was a true cosmopolitan; a tolerant, decent man whom his Jewish friends would doubtless have labelled a “mensch.” His friend and colleague Rudolf Serkin, who later married Busch’s daughter Irene, and Karl Doktor, the violist of the legendary Busch Quartet, were both Jewish, and Adolf’s brother Herman, the quartet’s cellist, married into a Jewish family. Busch’s reaction to Hitler’s accession in 1933 was one of acute personal shame and embarrassment. He wrote that year: “The anti-Semitic movement in Germany closes my Fatherland to me – as a German, I feel so revolted by what is happening [...] that the joy in making music, which for me is essential, has in this atmosphere altogether disappeared.” Collusion of any kind was inconceivable. After a quartet concert in Berlin on April 1, which coincided with the first day of orchestrated attacks on Jewish-owned stores, Busch cancelled the rest of the quartet’s German tour. He left Germany, based himself in Basle and, at the outbreak of war, moved to the United States. Here he toured extensively with both the quartet and a chamber orchestra. With Serkin he established the Marlboro Music School.
Although Busch is now known primarily as a violinist, in the 1920s his composing and performing careers were of equivalent importance. Adolf’s brother Fritz, the eminent European conductor who served as Glyndebourne’s first music director, premiered a number of his orchestral works, and his chamber music was integral to the Busch Quartet’s repertoire. Luminaries such as Hermann Scherchen, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Hermann Abendroth and Felix Weingartner all conducted his music, and in 1929, Toscanini and the New York Philharmonic performed his Mozart Variations for large orchestra Op. 41, four times. Three major houses – Eulenburg, Breitkopf und Härtel and Simrock – published his works. Ironically Busch’s stand during the 1930s engendered a degree of hostility from those who had found expediency easier than adherence to principle. As Busch’s biographer Tully Potter describes it: “Busch did not endear himself to many of his compatriots by behaving well when they were disgracing themselves.” Indeed, during and after the war, some Germans viewed Busch as a traitor. The conductor Herbert von Karajan on the other hand, who had joined the NDSAP twice – the first time in 1933 when the Jewish musical exodus had opened up a number of opportunities – was considered to have done little more than circumstances required. He was quickly rehabilitated.
Adolf Busch’s legendary status as a violinist and chamber musician has overshadowed his parallel gifts as a composer, and his own music continues to languish in obscurity. His self-imposed exile meant that no particular country laid claim to him after the war, neither Germany, nor Switzerland nor the United States. After settling in Vermont, Busch himself made little effort to promote his own works, and the fact that he was neither Jewish, nor a victim of the Holocaust, nor a composer of “entartete Musik” (“degenerate music,” as the Reich described works of which it disapproved) has excluded him from the contemporary programs and series that spotlight these themes.
The Sextet for Strings, Op. 40, was premiered in Bonn on September 25, 1928 and quite substantially revised in 1933. It has never been published and the manuscript remains in the collection of the Brüder-Busch-Archiv in Karlsruhe. It is an ebullient declaration of a master musician revelling in the creation of instrumental challenges, ingenious string sonorities and virtuosic counterpoint.
Adolf Busch knew Walter Braunfels quite well and both had connections to the Cologne Hochschule für Musik. Busch had trained there (when it was the Cologne Conservatorium) and Braunfels was appointed its co-director in 1925. Like Busch he was a major figure in Germany’s musical landscape, with direct links to its august past. His mother Helene, née Spohr, was a pianist, a great-niece of the violinist and composer Louis Spohr, and a friend of both Liszt and Clara Schumann. The premiere of his opera Die Vögel (“The Birds”) in 1920 under Bruno Walter was followed by 50 performances in Munich alone, with further productions in Berlin, Vienna and Cologne. Walter also conducted his electrifying Te Deum (1922), which was presented close to 100 times. But by 1933 Braunfels’s career was over. As a half-Jew (although a practising Catholic) he was stripped of his position at the Hochschule. Rather than emigrate, he made the dangerous decision to remain in Germany, eventually moving to the bucolic village of Überlingen on Lake Constance in the autumn of 1937. The following year his works were banned. Like many Jews, as well as half- or quarter-Jews, Braunfels was immobilized by his attachment to his homeland, and overwhelmed by the prospect of having to re-invent himself abroad. Fortunately he had sufficient financial resources to sustain himself. Living in what is now described as “internal exile” (“inner migration” is a more accurate translation of the German), under the constant threat of deportation and excluded from any professional interaction, Braunfels found refuge in the completion of an opera based on the trial of Joan of Arc: Szenen aus dem Leben der heiligen Johanna (“Scenes from the life of the Holy Johanna”).
Then, for the first and only time in his life, Braunfels devoted himself to chamber music, writing two string quartets in 1944 and the F# minor String Quintet, Op. 63, in 1945. A third string quartet was completed in 1947. Unsullied by Nazi associations, Braunfels was reinstated as head of the Cologne Hochschule in 1946, but by his death in 1954 Europe had practically forgotten him. He has enjoyed something of a revival in the last decade, including notable performances and recordings of Die Vögel and the Te Deum; however, the String Quintet has been overlooked and this recording is its first. Its ecstatic lyricism, harmonic opulence and concentrated musical narrative provide ample reward for its enormous practical complexities. It deserves a central place in the chamber music canon.
After the war there was an understandable desire to protect and encourage the music that the Nazis had proscribed. The investment in the Darmstadt school, the promotion of its composers and acolytes, and the eventual hegemony of the avant-garde, in universities particularly, meant that those who had followed traditional musical avenues were painted as musical reactionaries. Braunfels’s influences include Strauss, Pfitzner, Bruckner, Wagner and Beethoven; in the case of Busch: Reger, Brahms and Bach. However outrageous it may seem to us today, the most successful route to damning these composers was to elide the Nazis’ musical conservatism with theirs, and to suggest an artistic, and by implication, a political sympathy with the fascist regime. Conversely, the “new music” that the Nazis would most certainly have labeled “degenerate” – the works of Leibowitz, Nono, Stockhausen and Boulez – defined their composers as intrinsically worthy, regardless of their political stripe. But with the passing of time, hostilities between warring aesthetics and musical fashions peter out. An accommodation is reached and the intrinsic significance of an individual work of art is revealed. These two major string pieces by Adolf Busch and Walter Braunfels attest to the process.
© Simon Wynberg, Toronto, 2009