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!
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)
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..