Arts and Culture | Local

UA’s ‘Forbidden Composers’ festival to explore work of Nazi-banned musicians

Arnold Schoenberg
Arnold Schoenberg
Kurt Weill
Kurt Weill
Hans Winterberg
Hans Winterberg

“Forbidden Composers” is the theme for the 9th annual Music + Festival which will be presented by the University of Arizona Fred Fox School of Music later this month. The festival will focus on the music, lives and cultural impact of three Jews whose music was banned by the Nazis as degenerate: Arnold Schoenberg, Kurt Weill and Hans Winterberg.

Who, you may be wondering, is Hans Winterberg?

Even dedicated classical music fans are unlikely to recognize the name Winterberg, as his music, until very recently, had been locked away in the archives of the Sudeten German Music Institute. The story surrounding Winterberg’s musical scores is one of legal machinations and family disputes, shadowed by anti-Semitic overtones. In an ironic twist of fate, it was Schoenberg’s grandson who would assist Winterberg’s grandson in breaking a German contract that had repressed the composer’s music for a second time. Tucsonans will have the opportunity to hear the American debut of several of Winterberg’s pieces at the upcoming festival.

The festival, which will be held Friday through Sunday, Oct. 14-16, will consist of a conference, symposium and four concerts.

Daniel Asia
Daniel Asia

“The designation ‘forbidden composers’ wasn’t just an exclusive club for Jews,” explains festival director Daniel Asia. “Many non-Jewish composers were banned as well, but if you were a Jewish composer, you were considered degenerate by definition.”

Asia, 63, a nationally renowned composer, conductor and music professor at the UA for the past 28 years, is the founder of the Music + Festival, which focuses on 20th and 21st century composers. This year’s featured composers were all musical prodigies whose lives and music were strongly impacted by the Holocaust. The selection reflects Asia’s lifelong interests in classical music, Holocaust studies and Jewish culture.

Schoenberg was an Austrian who managed to escape the Holocaust and establish a new life in the United States. “I felt it important to include Schoenberg even though his expressionist, 12-tone music can be difficult to understand,” says Asia. “He is one of the most influential classical composers of the 20th century along with Igor Stravinsky.  Schoenberg is really the last in a long line of extraordinary Romantic composers that includes Wagner, Strauss and Mahler. Though he was influenced by his new life in the United States, Schoenberg remained true to his classical roots. He was a gifted painter as well as a composer, so the festival will examine Schoenberg and his music in a context of understanding a person of extraordinary evolving creativity.”

At a nearly opposite pole from Schoenberg, says Asia, is Weill, who was born in Germany and also immigrated to the United States to escape the Shoah. Weill’s compositional focus began as classical, but early on he discovered jazz. Once in the United States, he began studying American popular music and eventually became a successful composer for American theater and film. His music has been recorded by Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, The Doors and Sting, among other artists.

As Asia was preparing for this year’s festival, he says, a bit of serendipity occurred that greatly enriched the programming. After reading “Forbidden Music: The Jewish Composers Banned by the Nazis” by Grammy award-winning music producer Michael Haas, Asia reached out to Haas and the two got to meet in London. Haas, formerly the music curator at the Jewish Museum in Vienna, is currently the director of the Jewish Music Institute’s International Committee of Suppressed Music at the University of London, as well as honorary research associate at the department of Jewish and Hebrew studies at University College London.

“In the course of our conversation,” Asia explains, “Michael mentioned that he had just come across the work of another forbidden composer whose archive was just opening, and so I was introduced to the music of Hans Winterberg.”

Winterberg was a Czechoslovakian Jewish composer whose music was banned by the Nazis. When Winterberg died his scores were locked away in the archives of the Sudeten German Music Institute (SMI), according to Winterberg’s grandson, Peter Kreitmeir.

Kreitmeir says that when his grandfather died, his uncle sold the rights to the music to SMI, stipulating a ban on distributing or even acknowledging the existence of Winterberg’s music until the year 2031.  When Kreitmeir learned about his grandfather’s musical legacy in 2011 he felt compelled to act, enlisting the help of Randol Schoenberg. (Schoenberg is the attorney portrayed by Ryan Reynolds in the movie “Woman in Gold,” who won the Supreme Court battle for restitution of a Nazi-looted painting by Gustave Klimt to descendants of its Austrian Jewish owners.)

Haas explains that his role in uncovering Winterberg’s music started when Schoenberg sent him a copy of the contract with SMI. “Schoenberg’s email stated only ‘This might be something for your blog [forbiddenmusic.org].’ He was right. Within hours of posting, I had journalist after journalist contacting me, stunned that a publicly funded institution [SMI] should have agreed to such wording and conditions in a contract as late as 2002,” says Haas. Kreitmeir later gave him further documentation for his blog, says Haas.

Along with the ban on distributing his grandfather’s music, Kreitmeir told the AJP, the contract included a proviso that upon the release of his music, Winterberg never be identified as a Jew. While his uncle was afraid of anti-Semitic repercussions, Kreitmeir was outraged by this insult to his grandfather’s memory.

Winterberg, unlike Schoenberg and Weill, did not escape the Shoah. He was imprisoned in the Theresienstadt concentration camp (then in Bohemia, now the Czech Republic) in 1944. He remained incarcerated in the camp until 1947, well after the conclusion of World War II, suspended in a stateless state because his Czech citizenship had been revoked. Winterberg then suffered the hardship and humiliation of the forced march out of Eastern Europe during which 250,000 German-identified Czechs died.

Winterberg eventually settled in Munich, Germany, where he worked as a writer and editor at the Bavarian Broadcasting Company and as a teacher at the Richard Strauss Conservatory. Once retired, he dedicated himself to composing music until his death in 1991.

Festival attendees will have the pleasure of hearing special guest artists, the Amernet String Quartet, play the American debut of Winterberg’s String Quartet, as well as quartets by Schoenberg and Weill. The quartet’s cellist, Jason Calloway, told the AJP their upcoming performance of the three composers’ forbidden music “dovetails nicely with the work that we already do. All of us have Jewish backgrounds, and as it happens, our violist, Michael Klotz, is a first generation American whose four grandparents all survived Auschwitz.” Calloway explains that “one of the cornerstone’s of our quartet’s professional activity is to focus on music from the Shoah as well as to advocate for music in the Jewish Diaspora.”

Other festival participants include UA faculty members, student ensembles and other guest artists. Guest scholars Haas, Sabine Feisst and Stephen Hinton will speak at the conference. Kreitmeir also will travel from his home in Murnau, Germany, to attend.

Guest scholars for the 2016 Shaol & Louis Pozez Fine Arts Symposium, presented by the Arizona Center for Judaic Studies, are Aaron Mobley, a composer and musicologist, and Robert Gordon, an art historian and philosopher, who are associated with the UA’s American Culture and Ideas Initiative (also founded by Asia). They will mediate conversations that examine the music presented at the festival through the lens of its impact on history, politics, culture and the broader human experience.

With the exception of the Amernet String Quartet concert on Sunday, Oct. 16 at 2 p.m., which has an admission fee of $10 ($7 for UA employees and seniors 55+ and $5 for students), all festival performances, the conference and symposium are free and open to the public. Music performances will be held at the UA’s Holsclaw and Crowder Halls. For more information, visit music.arizona.edu or call 621-1655.

Renee Claire is a freelance writer in Tucson.

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