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22Sep/10Off

ARC Ensemble receives $25,000 Bravo! Fact Grant

Adolf BUsch 1891-1952

Adolf BUsch 1891-1952

Bravo! Fact (Foundation to assist Canadian talent) has awarded the ARC Ensemble a $25,000 grant to create a short film. "One Good German" describes how Adolf Busch, the country's most eminent violinist, refused to co-operate with the Nazi regims and instead chose a self-imposed exile. The story is told as a filmed graphic novel, the score drawn from the ARC Ensemble's recently released recording of Busch's String Sextet (included on its Two Roads to Exile - RCA Red Seal). The artwork is being prepared by Max Douglas (or Salgood Sam, to use his nom de plume) and directed by James Murdoch. The project should be completed by the end of October, 2010.

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22Sep/10Off

Adolf Busch – The Life of an Honest Musician

Toccata Press has just issued Tully Potter's long-awaited biography of one of the 20th century's greatest violinists, and one of its least-appreciated composers: Adolf Busch - The life of an Honest Musician. Mr Potter generously forwarded a couple of chapters to me a few months ago when I was researching Busch's self-imposed German exile. The clarity of his narrative, and the depth and reach of his research heightened my impatience to read the complete account.

This is a massive work in two hefty volumes; the first covering Busch's life in Europe from 1891-1939, the second, his years in America and his role in the creation of the Marlboro Music School: 1939-1952. Vol. II also contains 12 appendices that feature a selection of tributes to, and discussions and observations about Busch's playing and teaching. Of inestimable value is a complete list of Busch's works (with commentary) and an exhaustive discography. Included with the biography are two fascinating CDs: one devoted to Busch the violinist, the other to a selection of his compositions. The books are copiously illustrated with scores of period photographs; one of my favorites: Rudolf Serkin playing the alto saxophone, an instrument not immediately associated with the legendary pianist who was Busch's son-in-law and longtime recital partner.

Tully Potter is an authority on the history of string playing and classical recording. He has been assembling material for this biography for some thirty years and much of the information is drawn from interviews with family-members and personalities who knew Busch intimately: Rudolf Serkin, Busch's widow Hedwig and his daughter Irene-Serkin Busch. And then there are the composers and musicians, Busch's friends, colleagues and students; Berthold Goldschmidt, Hans Gál, Louis Moyse, Philiip Naegele, Mieczyslaw Horszowski, Eugene Istomin... the list is huge, as is the number of libraries and institutions Mr Potter consulted.

"The Break", the chapter that covers the context of Busch's self-imposed exile from Germany, is one of the most engaging accounts of pre-war musical life I have read. There is a particularly chilling section describing the Busch Quartet's arrival in Berlin on April 1st, 1933, the day on which the Nazis began an orchestrated and enforced boycott of Jewish-owned stores. Late that night, following the quartet's performance of Haydn's Seven Last Words at Berlin's Marienkirche, Busch called a meeting and resolved to cancel the rest of the Busch Quartet's German tour, as well as all his own concerto appearances and recital performances with Serkin. The events of spring 1933 marked the beginning of legislated racism and represented a fulcrum in the lives and allegiances of German artists. It is at this point that Busch's future was determined. His position as an an enemy of Nazism remained utterly uncompromising, despite several overtures from Goebbels and the Nazi state, amd it was not until 1949 that a German audience again heard his violin. Busch's decision – and, it must be said, that of his brother Fritz, one of Germany's finest conductors – set him apart from most of his colleagues.

Busch Quartet c. 1932

Busch Quartet c. 1932

This is a magisterial account of Busch's life and times, and it is impossible to imagine anything surpassing it. But this is only part of its substance. Tully Potter's substantial detours into the lives and attitudes of colleagues and contemporaries, are of equivalent value. There are fascinating discussions about Fürtwangler, Tovey, Serkin and Casals for example, which add an unusual and variegated richness. The  detailed biographical portraits of Busch's family and colleagues in Volume II further augment this wealth of detail. Tully Potter's great achievement is his success in fusing the particularities of Busch's life with a nuanced and engaging musical history of the first half of the twentieth century.

While Busch as violinist and chamber musician is well-represented on disc (less so as a soloist) his compositions remain unexplored. One hopes that Tully Potter's extraordinary work will renew interest in an artist whose creative ability was as well-developed as his virtuosity and interpretive powers.

Simon Wynberg

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10Sep/10Off

The Most Musical Nation, James Loeffler

Yale University Press have just published James Loeffler's The Most Musical Nation, which explores the history of Jewish music and musicians in nineteenth century Imperial Russia. It is a much-needed study, covering the contributions of Anton Rubinstein and the creation of the St Petersburg Conservatory; the work of Joel Engel (sometimes described as the "father of Jewish music") and the emergence, influence and disintegration of the St Petersburg School. Although most of the book is devoted to the final decades of Imperial Russia, James Loeffler provides valuable insights into the history of Jewish music in the Soviet Union: his account of the mutual influence of Dmitri Shostakovich and Mieczyslaw Weinberg is compelling.

This is no easy, linear history. The subject is intricate and fraught with questions surrounding Jewish identity, the splintering of Jewish perspectives and allegiances, and the diaspora that followed Russia's turbulent political and social upheavals.

The Most Musical Nation is a fascinating and beautifully written book, meticulously researched and well-considered. For those of us who have wondered how the city of Odessa came to produce so many great violinists – Nathan Milstein, David Oistrakh, Toscha Seidel – and why Jews constituted not only an overwhelming percentage of  virtuosi but an apparently anomolous percentage of Russian musicians – by 1913, 50% of the St Petersburg Conservatory's students were Jewish – James Loeffler provides both balanced explanation and finely drawn historical and political context, carefully charting the undulations of domestic anti-semitism, as well as the influence of the pernicious racial theories of Wagner and Houston Stewart Chamberlain.

I found the section devoted to Joel Engel and his pioneering ethnographical work in the shtetls of the Pale of Settlement, where he collected Jewish songs, particularly engrossing. In an attempt to integrate with the locals, Engel and his two colleagues, Ansky and Yudovin, decided they would speak only Yiddish on their expedition, a language in which none of them was fluent. Engel's experiences, are whimsically and touchingly recounted in his unpublished memoirs. The songs were recorded using a horn and the recently-invented wax cylinder, but shtetl residents found the process so mysterious and exciting that the entire project was put in jeopardy. Collecting and authenticating material was challenging: when Engel offered five kopeks per musical piece, children attempted to augment their earnings by improvising songs "on the spot". Ultimately, as explained in a letter to Andrei Rimsky-Korsakov, Nikolai's son, Engel's travels and his exposure to Jewish life in the Pale challenged his very identity as an urban Russian intellectual.

Although James Loeffler's book adds significantly to our knowledge and understanding of Jewish musical history, it deserves a readership well beyond the scholarly or musicological. Its accessibility and readability are the equal of its impressive scholarship, and anyone interested in Jewish or Russian musical history will find much to divert them.

Simon Wynberg

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31May/10Off

The ARC Ensemble launches third album, Two Roads to Exile

It’s hard to imagine a more fitting venue for a spring concert than the Royal Conservatory of Music’s new second-floor theatre: the bright and airy room has two walls of windows looking out over busy Bloor Street in Toronto. On Thursday May 6th, the ARC Ensemble launched its third album, Two Roads to Exile, in this beautiful space to an excited gathering of musicians, students, arts supporters, and pillars of the music community. Two Roads to Exile builds upon the ensemble’s previous two Grammy-nominated recordings (On the Threshold of Hope and Right Through the Bone) in highlighting the repertoire of two composers, Adolf Busch and Walter Braunfels, whose largely forgotten work has finally been resurrected to great critical acclaim.

Florence Minz, ARC Ensemble Project Advisor

Florence Minz, ARC Ensemble Project Advisor

The festivities began with a few words from Dr. Peter Simon, President of the Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM), who outlined the importance of the album, released on Sony’s RCA Red Seal label. The ARC Ensemble boasts some of Canada’s most talented chamber musicians, all faculty or former students of the RCM’s Glenn Gould School. He was followed by Florence Minz, former chair of the RCM board and the ARC Ensemble's project advisor, who expanded on the mission of “Music in Exile,” which began as a means of exploring the context and works of composers who fled Germany in the 1930s, as well as those who stayed behind, resisted the regime and became “internal exiles.” As the child of Holocaust survivors, Ms. Minz emphasized the significance of recalling and celebrating these composers and their lost repertoire as a means of historical remembrance and tribute.

Simon Wynberg, Artistic Director of the ARC Ensemble and the curator of “Music in Exile,” then spoke briefly about the works themselves and the two composers, Busch and Braunfels—each with a distinct but equally harrowing story of exile. Adolf Busch, praised by Hitler as “our German violinist” to differentiate him from his Jewish colleagues, was one of Europe’s pre-eminent virtuosi. Busch was both ashamed and embarrassed by the Nazi regime and in 1933 left Germany for Switzerland, moving to America just before the war. Walter Braunfels, half-Jewish, although a practicing Catholic, moved to Überlingen, a small town on the shore of Lake Constance, where he was hidden from the Nazis: an internal exile immobilized by his attachment to his homeland.

Ottie Lockey and Saul Rubinek, friends of the ARC Ensemble

Ottie Lockey and Saul Rubinek, friends of the ARC Ensemble

As Mr. Wynberg noted, the warring aesthetics that left these works languishing in obscurity have now petered out. Over time, the integrity of the work is what matters, and Two Roads to Exile attests to this process. Following his speech, Mr. Wynberg introduced some of the artists featured on the album (Benjamin Bowman and Marie Bérard, violins; Steven Dann, viola; and Bryan Epperson and David Hetherington, cellos) who performed the “Finale” of Walter Braunfels’s String Quintet op.63 (1945).

Although most in the audience had never heard the Braunfels piece before, there was a sense of rapt attention and delight during the performance. It was an intimate experience, brief as such delicate moments are, and the desire to hear more was palpable—fortunately all attendees received a copy of Two Roads to Exile to take with them.

Members of the ARC Ensemble at the Royal Conservatory in Toronto

Members of the ARC Ensemble at the Royal Conservatory in Toronto

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16Feb/10Off

“So bad it’s good”

An article by Anne Midgette on the sales of classical recordings recently appeared in the Washington PostAmong the more alarming revelations was the following:

"The dirty secret of the Billboard classical charts is that album sales figures are so low, the charts are almost meaningless. Sales of 200 or 300 units are enough to land an album in the Top 10 [...] In early October [2009] pianist Murray Perahia's much-praised album of Bach partitas was in its sixth week on the [Soundscan] list, holding strong at No. 10. It sold 189 copies."

It has always been dangerous to compare classical sales to those of popular music—I remember hearing an anecdote in the 1980s that described Alfred Brendel's astonishment at the difference—and it is more than worrying when our niche becomes practically invisible. However the worlds of commercially successful music and, for want of a more inclusive term, "classical music," are too far apart to warrant comparison based on sales or downloads.

Ignoring for a moment issues of track length, radio format, marketing and demographics, there is the very basic issue of publishing royalties: the residuals attached to the "work" (composition) when it is performed, recorded, broadcast, arranged or sold as sheet-music. After a composer has been dead for fifty years (seventy years in some territories), the work enters the public domain and can be exploited without charge. This is true of the bulk of recorded classical material, where no one really has a vested financial interest in the music itself. In the commercial world where, more often than not, the composer is very much alive, there are huge financial benefits attached to the publishing rights. Put another way, in an industry now driven primarily by fashion and style, and less by content and quality, a dead composer is unlikely to prove particularly hip, nor is he likely to make anyone rich.

There are the exceptions to the rule however and they are fascinating. Sting's fairly recent Dowland project Songs from the Labyrinth particularly so (see Norman Lebrecht for a balanced and musically informed review). For those who might have missed that extraordinary singularity, when John Dowland's star shone incandescent over the earth before fizzling out in the waves of disbelief generated by his more traditional fan-base, this was Sting's take on the lute-songs of one of Elizabethan England's finest musicians.

It was greeted by many classical and early-music listeners with open-mouthed horror. But, and this is a big but, the album did well enough to climb to number 25 in the Billboard 200 album chart, a place as unfamiliar to classical musicians as the depths of the Mariana Trench are to a goldfish. One might argue that the opportunism of Deutsche Grammophon, coupled with Sting's huge celebrity and his inability to contain either ego or creative impulse, would have fuelled similar success, no matter what the repertoire, but that still does not provide a good explanation, although it clearly tells us that it is the messenger rather than the message that counts.

There are now thousands of unfortunate "crossover" recordings, most probably less well-intentioned than Songs from the Labyrinth, which was clearly motivated by self-fulfillment rather than self-aggrandizement.

An old favourite—and I am told its motivation places it squarely into the first "serious" category—is Mrs. Miller's remarkable rendition of Groovy Kind of Love.

Apparently someone at Capitol Records saw the financial potential in her vocal performance, although Mrs. Miller herself, at least in her initial ventures into the studio, was convinced of her musical bona fides.

One is simultaneously fascinated and repelled; the aural equivalent of watching a televised hernia operation. If you need more of these alternative covers from the not-so-swinging-sixties, try her rhythmically fearless and lyrically creative version of Downtown and the unparalleled There Goes my Everything, double-tracked for a doubly-troubling vocal experience. Her most ebullient and popular track remains A Lover's Concerto.

A typical listener comment maintains that a Mrs. Miller track is "so bad it's good." In truth she succeeds because she just manages to stay on the right side of musical catastrophe: she almost sings in tune; almost phrases like Petula Clark; almost adheres to a pulse; almost remembers the words. It is this "almost" quality, her daredevil attempts at improvisation and her senior's wobble that create something infinitely and hilariously memorable, but not, by any regular standards (and pace Julie Andrews), something "good." Something good doesn't often sell in the hundreds of thousands.

Simon Wynberg

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2Dec/09Off

War Stories from a Musical Front

Here is the first of what we hope will become regular additions to the ARC blog: "war-stories" describing some of the more unusual musical experiences of ARC membersvisitors are most welcome to add theirs. The first, recounted below by ARC's violist Steven Dann, is as bizarre as they come.

Steven Dann, Violist

Steven Dann, Violist

Apropos our recent recording of the Braunfels quintet, Simon has asked me to relate a brief tale which happened around another cello quintet recording that I was involved in. Here goes.

In the early 90s I was lucky enough to be involved in a series of recordings for Sony Classics which took place in New York City at the American Academy of Arts and Letters. The Schubert C major cello quintet was our first disc (and won a Diapason d'Or!). They were all joint ventures between the Dutch string trio Archibubelli and the Smithsonian Chamber Players. I was replacing the violist of Archibudelli who played backwards. But that's another story.

The recordings were all done using the collection of Stradivarius instruments from the Smithsonian Institute (as many as eight at a time!) and as such we were surrounded by maximum security while in New York. Up at 155th and Riverside Drive back then there were still some very dodgy elements to the neighbourhood, and the museum curators were very nervous about having circa 50 million dollars of their inventory in such a locale, and so far from their vaulted home at the Museum of American History in D.C.

At the end of each day, always late in the evening, the guards would arrive, take the instruments to a safe haven nearby, and securely put them to bed. One night however, upon exiting the recording session, it was found that the keys had been locked into the security van. Somewhat embarrassing? At that time of night, as one could imagine, it was hard to get a locksmith to come up to Harlem ("Where are you? Why do you need a locksmith? To break into a car? Hmmm..."). It was known that the neighbourhood was a far from safe place in which to leave valuables in cars. Strads included. But an obvious solution occurred to one of us. Anner Bylsma, one of our cellists, a lateral thinker of the first order, made the observation the we could likely find a local "professional" willing to make a few extra dollars by breaking into our van for us. Being a consummate communicator and a brilliant assessor of character, as those who know him will attest, off he went and I know that none of us were terribly surprised when minutes later he was back with a "professional" who just happened to have the necessary tools at hand and had the security van open in minutes. It's all about local talent, really, isn't it?

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1Dec/09Off

Loading the canon and ARC’s recording sessions

Members of the ARC Ensemble recording at the Royal Conservatory's Koerner Hall

Members of the ARC Ensemble recording at the Royal Conservatory's Koerner Hall

The ARC Ensemble has just completed recording its third CD for RCA Red Seal; an all-string enterprise featuring Adolf Busch's String Sextet (1933) and Walter Braunfels' String Quintet (1943). Busch and Braunfels are no longer twentieth century composers whose names come tripping off the tongue, and during the sessions at the Royal Conservatory's marvellous new venue, Koerner Hall, I was once again struck by the apparently random process whereby works find their way into (and sometimes out of) the repertoire. In some instances a cheesy encore becomes a staple simply because its initial ambassador plays the hell out of it and turns it into something greater than it has any right to be: violinists like Kreisler, Elman and Heifetz were particularly good at this. But for the old-fashioned Classical music buff there is the "canon," defined by Merriam Webster as "a sanctioned or accepted group or body of related works." Interestingly enough its other meanings: "a regulation or dogma decreed by a church council" or "an accepted principle or rule," more closely approach its rather arbitrary application to the inclusion of what are now considered Classical music's "standards." The contemporary prerequisite for inclusion in "the canon" is the need for several recordings - Arkiv.com informs us that they stock 76 varieties of Schubert's C major String Quintet, 219 of Beethoven's Appassionata Sonata and an overwhelming 256 of his Fifth Symphony. Even Beethoven, a man with a highly developed sense of his own destiny, would make little sense of it.

ARC's prducer, the unflappable David Frost

ARC's producer, the unflappable David Frost

No one in their right mind could question the beauty or genius of Schubert's great C major Cello Quintet or its inclusion in the canon but, apart from Schubert, the ground is hardly thick with great 20th century examples of the genre; or even 19th century examples for that matter. There are barrows-worth of cello quintets by Luigi Boccherini (diverting, occasionally ravishingly beautiful, but still not pillars of the string repertoire) and then one each by Cherubini, Glazunov, Taneyev, Bax, Borodin Niels Gade, Karl Goldmark and Dame Ethel Smythe, as well as a more recent contribution by the great Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara. But although most are available in one or two recorded versions, none of these has really entered the canon either; although the Minuet from Boccherini's E major Quintet op. 11, no. 5 is always there on any disc of "The Most Popular Classical Melodies of All Time." Its gracious lilt was famously featured in The Ladykillers (1955), a darkly humorous Ealing Comedy starring Alec Guiness, Herbert Lom and a youthful Peter Sellers—an infinitely richer film than the disappointing Coen brothers' remake with Tom Hanks.

For a relatively new ensemble like ARC one has to wonder whether providing the 77th recording of the Schubert Quintet, or the 100th of The Trout would serve anything other than vanity. The release of either would produce little more than a ripple of critical attention, and probably not even that from the general public. The idea of recording new repertoire for its own sake is similarly off-beam. Disappointing and unjustly-touted "masterpieces" only further entrench the familiar and give substance to the brutal generalisation that "there's a reason it's never been played." When one finds unknown but worthwhile repertoire one then runs the risk of having it compared to the known, by using established canonical composers to contextualise the new: "It's a mixture of Mahler and Wagner, with rhythmic touches of Stravinsky and the transparency of Ravel." It happened with ARC's recording of Mieczyslaw Weinberg's music. Weinberg is constantly compared to Shostakovich, when the truth is that the two composers were close friends who read through one another's music and whose influence was reciprocal.

So the barriers for the acceptance of new repertoire are inevitably high and sometimes closely guarded. We don't approach literature as we do music, restricting ourselves to a known author. We have our favourites but we are lured by the promise of the text, not solely by the author's reputation and credentials.

Establishing a new piece and finding it a permanent place in the canon is no easy task. The quality of the work is naturally the most important aspect of the process, but timing is critical. The lush Romantic music of Walter Braunfels, a proudly traditional German composer—if profoundly at odds with the National Socialists who forced him into hiding—would have been anathema to post-war avant-gardists. The Quintet's traditional form and its sensual harmonies, even (especially!) its exuberant Slovak / Roma finale, would have had seduced few among the serialists and aleatoricists who then ruled academe. But its time has now probably come. No-one who hears the piece remains impassive and it has found enthusiasts wherever it has been performed.

The parts used for the recording are the originals published by Gerig Verlag in 1953, and they are truly originals. The new but yellowed and fragile pages are actually 56 years old and the edition has presumably been in stock since its initial print run. The ARC Ensemble's CD will be the work's first commercial recording, a fact which continues to amaze, so there is no performance tradition and no precedents for its interpretation. Every decision concerning tempo, mood, articulation, dynamics and balance is part of the long process of assimilation and the establishment of a framework for later performances. It is a responsibility that weighs more heavily on the performer than the delivery of one more Schubert Quintet for the already confused classical consumer.

Simon Wynberg

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17Nov/09Off

August Sander (1876-1964) and the Reichsautobahn Neandertal; 1938

I remember leafing through a compilation of extraordinary photographs in the early 1970s. The book was titled August Sander Photographer Extraordinary (Thames & Hudson, London, 1973) and it fascinated me. It was not just the seriousness of the subjects; there seemed to be something ominous, even vaguely sinister about the pictures. Some thirty years later I inherited the volume, and about six years after that, searching for pictures from the late 1930s, I finally took it off the shelf. The book fell open at the image of two blind children. Dressed in grubby smocks and holding hands, they stand on a cement ground, a brick wall behind them. Unlike Sander's other subjects they are oblivious to the moment of the camera's capture. The image found the same nerve it had touched in a callow teenager nearly 40 years earlier.

CRI_5977

It seems appropriate that the music of two composers whose lives were so profoundly changed by National Socialist ideology should be accompanied by the work of a visual artist who was similarly affected. August Sander's Reichsautobahn Neandertal; 1938 ("Neanderthal Motorway; 1938"), is reproduced on the cover of ARC's third CD Two Roads to Exile which is devoted to works by Adolf Busch and Walter Braunfels (to be released in Spring 2010); its very existence is the result of Nazi policy (scroll down to view the image).

Sander is now best known for his portraiture; for staged pictures that reveal  unsmiling, self-conscious subjects, posed and prepared;  a world removed from our spontaneous, candid images of people long habituated to having their picture taken. The exigencies of glass negatives which required a long exposure time, a technique Sander preferred to film, account in part for the rather serious, still quality of his pictures. And yet it is this very formality that defines his sitters in the catalogue of types and characters assembled for Antlitz der Zeit ("Face of Our Time"), a prelude to People of the Twentieth Century, which was eventually completed posthumously and published in seven volumes in 2003.  For online examples of Sander's work visit the Getty Museum's exhibit.

http://www.getty.edu/art/gettyguide/artMakerDetails?maker=1786

The clarity of detail in his pictures is astonishing; one can almost smell the surroundings. They are also brutally honest, and every stripe of society is represented: farmers, bakers, merchants, bankers, composers, painters, street-musicians, sportsmen, society women, teachers, university professors, sabre-scarred military men, bureaucrats, entertainers, circus folk, boxers, dwarfs and the blind. Sander conceived his collection as a whole, as an overview of human type and an anthology of interdependent photographs, rather than as a series of individual shots. Their range, authenticity and their inevitable disclosure of human frailty and imperfection, by their very nature challenged Nazi ideals of Volk, racial purity and the nurture and preservation of a supreme Nordic race. Not surprisingly the recently-formed Ministry of Culture took the view that Antlitz der Zeit was a corrosive, anti-Aryan commentary, and in 1933 they instructed its publisher, Transmere, to withdraw it. The remaining copies were confiscated and the printing blocks destroyed. (When I checked on abebooks, three copies of the 1929 first-editions were listed. They ranged in price from $2,500 - $7,500.)

Around the time of the ban, August's son Erich ⎯ an ardent member of the Communist Party ⎯ was arrested and sentenced to ten years in prison. Though by no means a communist sympathizer, August had been complicit in the photographic reproduction of Erich's political pamphlets ⎯ the Party's printing presses had long since been seized ⎯ which, left to dry on the roof of their Cologne House, had fluttered to the ground and attracted the attention of the Gestapo. Erich died in 1944, shortly before his scheduled release.

Sander's years under the Nazis bear some similarities to those of the half-Jewish Walter Braunfels. Forbidden to work in a professional orchestral or theatrical environment, his works banned, Braunfels turned to chamber music during the war years, obliged to hide in the small town of Überlingen, where a sympathetic local church community protected him.

Erich's communist associations turned the Sander family into social pariahs. August's customers, fearful of patronising the businesses of a political undesirable, went elsewhere and obliged him to relocate to the country. Here he began taking pictures of his natural surroundings, making frequent trips to the picturesque Siebengebirge region. This inner exile kept him relatively safe from the Gestapo, while his photographs found a market with a Rhineland publisher who required illustrations for its books on the German countryside. But his apolitical claims were questioned when he began a series of photographs of Cologne. On the pretext that these pictures revealed "important war objectives" the Gestapo returned, ransacked his archives and removed valuable negatives.

If Sander's portraits are no more than objective studies of human variety and his nature photographs "apolitical", no such thing can be said of Reichsautobahn Neandertal; 1938. The very title is an explicit criticism of the subject itself: a stark, untravelled, swathe of motorway with threatening, Satanic clouds above (scroll down to see it). Its judgement on the culture that threatened Sander's career, undermined his projects and killed his son is clear.

Simon Wynberg

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27Oct/09Off

Welcome to the ARC Ensemble Blog

Welcome to the ARC Ensemble blog where we will keep you up-to-date on ARC's activities. Please send us your comments and suggestions.

On November 15th, 2009 ARC will present a matineé concert at the Mazzoleni Hall of the Royal Conservatory in Toronto. The repertoire, Walter Braunfels's String Quintet and Adolf Busch's String Sextet, will comprise ARC's third CD for SONY (on RCA Red Seal) which will be recorded at Koerner Hall, the Conservatory's extraordinary new performance venue from November 16th – 18th; produced by the incomparable David Frost and engineered by Carl Talbot of Montreal. This is the first commercial recording in Koerner Hall and once its qualities are better known— a magical acoustic in a perfectly silent environment—it is bound to become one of North America's most desirable recording venues.

The Busch / Braunfels CD will be released in Spring 2010 under the title “Two Roads to Exile.” The background to the recording is detailed in the liner notes below.

On December 5th, 2009 ARC performs for the Lindsay Concert Foundation in Lindsay, Ontario. The programme consists of Julius Röntgen's C minor Viola Sonata and two works by Brahms: the C minor Piano Trio, op. 101 and the Clarinet Quintet, op. 115. For ticketing detail visit: http://www.lindsayconcertfoundation.com/index.htm

ARC gives two concerts in Vancouver's Norman Rothstein Theatre on March 19th and 20th, 2010, part of the Chutzpah Festival's 10th anniversary series. Programme and ticketing Information will soon be added to the Chutzpah website:http://www.chutzpahfestival.com/

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25Oct/09Off

Two Roads to Exile

Two Roads to Exile

Cover picture: “Neanderthal Motorway Bridge”, c. 1938, August Sander

Cover picture: “© Die Photographische Sammlung /SK Stiftung Kultur –August Sander Archiv, Cologne; Sodrac, Montréal, 2009r

String Sextet - Adolf Busch

String Quintet - Walter Braunfels

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 in it.

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

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