Sunday, January 11, 2015

Ervin Schulhoff - Symphonies 1-3 - Philharmonia Hungarica - George Alexander Albrecht - CPO 1994

Greetings everyone. Sorry that it's been silent around here but 2015 is thus far proving to be a very difficult time for me. Sometimes I think it is music and music alone that keeps me going. As Duke Ellington once said (and I second the statement), "music is my mistress". I truly love that quote and
I'd add that it's my entire cosmos as well. 

On to the music. I was really happy to find a large part of my Ervin Schulhoff collection recently, thanks to a trip over to my parents house. Indeed I have about 20 more boxes in their attic that have been there for many years. How on earth I will take them with me anywhere I haven't a clue. So this was the first Schulhoff disc I ever bought, motivated in part by the most enthusiastic of reviews (the shorthand being that it was a very exciting and special release..) circa 1994 in "Classical Pulse" which was a magazine that was put out by (the sadly defunct) Tower Records. Many of you will, I'm sure, have fond memories of browsing the glorious shelves for hours as I do. (Tower exists as an online store but has nothing to do with the original owners who filed for bankruptcy and liquidation in the early 2000s) Anyhow to get back on-topic..

The composer and pianist Ervin Schulhoff was born in Prague on June 8th 1894. Like many in the lost, inter-war generation of Czech-German composers, Erwin Schulhoff was drawn to a wide range of idioms from Schoenbergian expressionism to Stravinskian neo-classicism. His love of jazz is well known, but he was also prone to an open-air modal folkiness which gives even his most eclectic scores a fairly distinctive profile. The first three symphonies show him stylistically in transition over a decade of compositional activity. By the time of his death at the hands of the Nazis, the Dadaist prankster had remade himself as a socialist realist composer of big statements and, latterly, a Soviet citizen. 

Schulhoff was from a Prague family of German-Jewish origin and, like Franz Kafka, Max Brod, Franz Werfel and others, represented the important and unique German-Jewish stratum of Prague cultural life. His family tree included professional musicians, and his parents encouraged the development of his extraordinary talent from his childhood onwards. Schulhoff began his studies at the Prague Conservatory in 1904-at the age of ten and on Antonin Dvorak's recommendation. He studied privately in Vienna and and then went on to study composition and piano at the conservatories in Leipzig from 1908-1910, partially under Max Reger's tutelage and after this he studied in Cologne from 1911-1914. Max Reger, Richard Strauss, Claude Debussy and Alexander Scriabin were his original compositional models. WW 1 intervened just as he was setting out on a promising career as a composer and pianist. 

Schulhoff was an impressionable, sensitive young man, and his experiences on the Western front brought about dramatic changes in his artistic and political orientation. After the war he became an adherent and zealous advocate of the leftist musical avant-garde in Germany, where he lived until 1923. As a dazzling, phenomenal piano virtuoso he performed new modern works in the important European cultural centers during the 1920s. As a composer he produced avant-garde music combining, spontaneously so, expressionistic influences with inspiration from jazz, dadaism, and neoclassicism. He developed a great fondness for grotesqueries and parodies, complicated rhythms, and tone-color effects, and his predilection for jazz led to his composition of the H.M.S. Royal Oak jazz oratorio in 1930. Many of the works he composed after his return to Prague in 1923 were distinguished by his astute, characteristic oscillations between German expressionistic, French neoclassical, and Slavic folkloric impulses and tendencies. He also worked together with Alois Haba on microtonal music, became a leading advocate of the 'microtonic' compositions of Haba and his pupils, and offered flawless piano performances of these works on various occasions. For all Schulhoff's modernity, radicalism, and cosmopolitism, it is pretty remarkable that his oeuvre contained elements of the musical mainstream of his native Prague (such as the Czech Dvorak School, Josef Suk and Vitezslav Novak).

Schulhoff's career reached its peak in the 1920s and early 1930s. His chamber and orchestral works were performed with success at the International Society for Contemporary Music festivals in Salzburg in 1924, Venice in 1925, Geneva in 1929, and Oxford in 1931. He was one of the most active and best known exponents of the Bohemian musical avant-garde between the two world wars.

During the 1930s Schulhoff earned his living as a pianist for Prague and Brno radio corporations. As a composer he espoused the doctrine of so-called proletarian art and began to compose musically conservative works in the interest of communist propaganda. He lost his job in 1939 when the Nazis gained control in Czechoslovakia. Two years later he was imprisoned; house arrest in Prague was followed by deportation to Germany. A year later, on August 18 1942, he succumbed to tuberculosis in a Nazi concentration camp. Like so many other similar cases-we are left to ponder what else this musical polymath might have accomplished and contributed to the world of music, and therefore, humanity in general.

Schulhoff's first, second and third symphonies have a number of features in common. All three are of cyclical design, and all three based on the contrast of spirited swift movements and slow movements. The sequence of movements is almost classical. The expression is contemporary and unconventional, but the music continues to operate on a thematic and tonal basis. The music not infrequently has a sharp, harsh, and complicated sound, and the points are surprising and exciting. The composer has a wealth of ideas at his disposal, his invention is broad, fresh and rich, and his treatment of the large orchestra is sovereign. Ten years separated the first and third symphonies, and changes in Schulhoff's artistic poetics, view of the world and vital consciousness are evident in all three. 

Symphony No. 1 has three movements and lasts almost a full half hour. The 'Allegro ma non troppo' introductory movement is full of happy, playful, lively music. The 'Andante con moto' second movement is extended and lyrical. It contains impressionistic solo parts, melodies of deep longing, melancholy, rich harmonization and dance scenes of an almost 'oriental', sensuous magic. The 'Molto allegro con brio e agitato' third movement presents spirited, rhythmically vital music. The gradations and climaxes are I think very effective. The suggestions of oriental music appearing at important places in all the movements are a special feature of this symphony, and like the whole work- entranced me upon my very first listen. It is overflowing with vitality and joy.

Symphony No. 2 has four short movements and Schulhoff's apparent aim here was a simplification of all the compositional elements. The symphony feels almost like a chamber piece. The structure is quite simple, the colors clear, and the form is obvious. The kinetic neoclassical beginning has a steady forward drive and the second movement too has a neoclassical sound, while the sources of the rondo finale can be traced back to Viennese classicism. 'Scherzo alla jazz', a jazz stylization of grotesque, remarkable expression, is quite the interesting miniature. The overall mood of the final movement is that of the symphony as a whole-playful, unproblematic, and conflict-free.

Symphony No. 3 has three movements and offers an entirely different picture. The 'Moderato' first movement extends over a single musical plane and forms one sole gradation, indeed an effective one.
A suggestion builds up and emerges from the persistent, tenacious music and creates the impression of a dark, menacing and powerful mob scene. The 'Grave, ma deciso' slow second movement does without the tender lyricism of the andante movements of the first and second symphonies. Here we have anxious, disconnected, excited, expressive, almost explosive and resolute music. In the 'Allegro non troppo' third movement we hear the robust march of the committed masses and its massive, optimistic and victorious conclusion. Here ideological models have exerted a strong influence on the composer.

-I hope everyone enjoys the Schulhoff as much as I do!

Track listing:

Symphony No. 1  (1925)
1)Allegro ma non troppo (6:41)
2)Andante con moto - Allegretto alla marcia (9:43)
3)Molto allegro con brio e agitato (8:38)

Symphony No. 2  (1932)
4)Allegro ma non troppo (4:46)
5)Andante con moto (4:57)
6)Scherzo alla jazz. Allegro assai (4:29)
7)Finale. Allegro con spirito (6:49)

Symphony No. 3  (1935)
8)Moderato (9:55)
9)Grave, ma deciso (6:46)
10)Allegro ma non troppo (6:16)

This disc is quite special to me and thus I have, like some other recent posts, imported it as Apple Lossless files (again, still m4a files).



Lastly-I am too burned out to continue any later into the a.m. hours, however I will be posting more Schulhoff Monday night and perhaps Tuesday as well..


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Tzadik... you're introducing us to so many interesting composers who've been far too neglected.

Anonymous said...

A big Thank You from me as well. And a healthy year 2015 for you!


bruce said...

Yes Schulhof does look interesting, I will try on your recommendation thanks.

Stephen Peithman said...

From my perspective, your posts are consistently the most interesting of any other poster on these blogs. I am always eager to see your most recent shares. Thank you so much--and I hope things go better for you as the year continues.

Anonymous said...

Suuuuuuuper Sinfonias del gran Schullhoff,hombre cosmopolita y bueno,que atrapado por los malditos nazis murió en un campo de concentración como Viktor Ullmannn,del cual tengo sus 2 Sinfonias gloriosas compuestas también en ese campo del horror,gracias Tzadik inmortal!! Tu amigos de las Pampas,Dr. Tapirman.

Anonymous said...

Suuuuuuuper Sinfonias del gran Schullhoff,hombre cosmopolita y bueno,que atrapado por los malditos nazis murió en un campo de concentración como Viktor Ullmannn,del cual tengo sus 2 Sinfonias gloriosas compuestas también en ese campo del horror,gracias Tzadik inmortal!! Tu amigos de las Pampas,Dr. Tapirman.

Johannes R. Becher said...

Didn't know cpo had released Schulhoff's symphonies. I had previously listened to the Koch & Schwann version only to find that they didn't live up to the expectations created by the piano concerto which opens the mythical Decca's Entartete Musik 'Concertos Alla Jazz'. At that time it stroke me hard that his more serious works (the symphonies, the serenade, the Ogelala) where rather harsh and seemingly unrelated in mood and spirit to the piece that had fascinated me at the first hearing. I've re-listened to them in your cpo version and must admit that, although not spectacular, the first symphony is approachable.

I definitely must pay him some time and attention again.

Tzadik said...

Hello Anon poster, I'm happy that you are learning/ getting a lot from my blog :) Thanks for commenting!

Tzadik said...

Hi Martin, a very happy and healthy 2015 to you as well! Keep on enjoying the music friend. TZ

Tzadik said...

Bruce hope you like it, thanks for the comment! TZ

Tzadik said...

Hello there Stephen-thank you so very much for the compliments; that means a lot to me, and I get such pleasure knowing that the blog and my passion is enjoyed and shared by others. And thank you for your well-wishes..when things are very bad they can only get better, at some point anyhow. Kind regards, Tzadik

Tzadik said...

Hola Doctor T. Sí, la vida de Schulhoff era uno tan colorido y finalmente trágica. Me duele encanta este arte tan mucho tiempo que conocer el creador que comparte sus dones con el mundo se dio las gracias por ser asesinados por los nazis. Como he perdido la familia de esa manera que es dos veces más difícil para mí tratar y dar sentido. Ullman también es muy bueno, me gusta todo lo que he oído de él. -TZ

Tzadik said...

Hi Johannes I assume you know the Supraphon discs as well? The 1st symphony is actually the one I'm most fond of. The Decca series is very good, I believe I have them all. The very first from the series that I bought I recall was a Korngold disc ('Between Two Worlds' I think was the title) and needless to say the series only got more interesting.. TZ

Anonymous said...

Tzadik eres un Master de las musas,en cd Capricho tengo las Sinfonias de Viktor Ullmann.¿acaso aprecias las Sympphony 10 de Mahler-Cooke?,es mi preferida,es una Opus Magnum,de todo lo que sucedió y pasa hoy**en el siglo xx,esperemos la Pax,para este 2015,JE SUIS CHARLIE,un cálido abrazo,amigo. Marcelo Lasta,alias Dr. Tapirman.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this great music!

I've known and admired Schulhoff since I first discovered his magnificent, profound Sextet, but I haven't heard this recording of these symphonies - but now I will, and thank you very much for this!

And thanks for the lossless files, too!

bruce said...

I note especially the 3rd which is relentless, a march towards war (I can hear fascism approaching through the 1st movement and anti-fascism in the last-ultimately victorious - the program seems clear). Fans of Shostakovich might like it but it's without latter's biting satire. The earlier symphonies are more optimistic, still 1920s upbeat, which is nice too. Well-constructed attractive music. Thanks again, Tzadik.

Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot for Schulhoff's discs. I am amazed at how well you write commentaries to your posts! It is a pleasure to read them!


quantum said...

Muchísimas gracias por dar a conocer estos compositores y su música. Excelente blog...

Tzadik said...

Hola Dr. T, sí tengo los discos Ullman algún lugar-sin embargo, podría estar en tantos lugares :( Esto es más la música que voy a tener en mi mente por ti. Tengo que admitir que sólo he oído realización de Cooke de la Mahler sin terminar un par de veces. Creo que debería ir a escuchar otra vez! Todo lo mejor y gracias por su entusiasmo y apoyo continuos mi querido amigo en la música! TZ

Tzadik said...

Anon, thank you for the comments. Yes the Sextet is a masterful one. I do hope you find the symphonies rewarding as well. NP for the lossless files, I have decided that (some) posts I want to have as lossless, discs that I too shall revisit quite a lot on my computer. Others will be lossy at times too, it all depends.. TZ

Tzadik said...

Bruce you are welcome, thanks for the comment. I find Schulhoff to be mostly satyrical, however it is hard to 'compete' with the likes of DSCH at all times, no? ;) And your hearing is rather intact too! TZ

Tzadik said...

Piterets it is always nice to hear from you friend. As always you are very welcome. And thank you for such a nice compliment :) I only wish I could land a job w Gramophone or American Record Guide etc...

Btw, have you ever heard of the composer Paola Prestini? Enjoying her stuff these days I must say


Tzadik said...

Hola Quantum, Usted es amigo de bienvenida, agradable que puedo hacerme cargo se quiere nueva música! saludos

Unknown said...

Good day. Is there any chance of getting this album re uploaded. The links are expired. Thank you.