Articles written for AUFBAU by Leonard J. Lehrman

AUFBAU 65:25 December 10, 1999 p.14
[orig. title: Honoring Two German-American (Jewish) Masters
2 German-American (Jewish) Masters Honored:
Arnold Schoenberg and Kurt Weill]
The Legacies of Schoenberg and Weill
800 words by Leonard Lehrman

Recently [On the weekend before Thanksgiving] two New York institutions paid homage to [part of] the legacy of two [secular] Jewish composers who had fled Berlin for America during the Nazi period and never gone back: The Bard Music Festival in New York presented "Schoenberg and His World" at Alice Tully Hall, featuring works by Arnold Schoenberg and his disciples, while The Jewish Museum presented "Feminine Weills," drawing upon the distaff side of[Kurt] Weill.

Thibaud Trio achieves rare level of communication

Most impressive was the performance of the Schoenberg Trio by the Jacques Thibaud Trio (Burkhard Maiss, violin; Philip Douvier, viola; Uwe Hirth-Schmidt, cello), which has been performing, touring, and winning prizes since 1994, the year they were founded at Berlin's Hochschule der Kuenste. Playing without scores, they achieved a level of communication rare in renditions of this complex work-- among themselves, with the music, and with the audience, which responded accordingly.

Also impressive was Schoenberg student Leon Kirchner's First String Quartet (1949), only slightly marred in this performance by the need for tuning between movements, disrupting the carefully-crafted transitions from one mood to another.

[Kirchner's Harvard colleague, the late Earl Kim, was represented by a performance of his 1981 "Now and Then," on texts of Yeats, Beckett, and (in an uncredited translation) Chekhov.] Karen Wierzba was the [pale[ soprano soloist[, accompanied by flute, viola and harp, and by a slightly-larger ensemble] in the 1990 "Looking Back at Faded Chandeliers" by Leonard Rosenman, vigorously conducted by the 75-year-old composer himself.

The latter work, commissioned by the Arnold Schoenberg Institute, comprised settings of Albert Giraud poems (in their German translations by Otto Hartleben) not used by Schoenberg in Pierrot Lunaire, his classic sprechstimme settings of texts from the same collection. Surprisingly, Rosenman did not use Sprechstimme, but did effectively use a number of Pierrot techniques such as glissandos and flutter-tonguing. The gesture of sipping from a glass of Absinthe fell a little flat, though.

[Lou Harrison's 1975 "Praises for the Beauty of Hummingbirds" for flute, violin, viola, celesta, and percussion, took as much time to set up as to perform, while] three other Schoenberg students' works were played with sensitivity and strength by pianist Diane Walsh: John Cage's Two Pieces for Piano (c. 1935, rev. 1974), three selections from Adolph Weiss's Twelve Preludes (1927), and the middle movement from Marc Blitzstein's 1929 Percussion Music for the Piano--one looks forward to her playing of the other movements of this challenging work. Unlike most of the other composers on the program, Blitzstein did not use Schoenbergian serial techniques until much later--in his film score Surf and Seaweed and the operas Idiots First and Sacco and Vanzetti.

The chamber music program, designed as a foretaste of the same evening's American Symphony Orchestra recreation of Schoenberg's notoriously scandalous Vienna Musikverein concert of March 31, 1913, opened with the capable Ms. Walsh accompanying violinist Eugene Drucker in the Schoenberg Phantasy (1949).

[Weill at The Jewish Museum]

"Feminine Weills: From Berlin to Paris, New York and Hollywood" was the title of narrator Robert Sherman's and soprano Paulina Stark's lecture-recital at The Jewish Museum, in conjunction with the museum's exhibition, "Berlin Metropolis: Jews and the New Culture, 1890-1918" --on view through April 23, 2000.

Since the earliest work on the program dated from nine years after the ending date of the exhibition, this was more disjunction than conjunction, but Weill's nearly-indestructible music is never uninteresting, and Robert Sherman's informed, apt commentary is always a pleasure to hear. All but three of the songs were performed in English, with excellent diction, and committed delivery.

The narration promised to show Weill's "strong women," yet one was tempted to quip that the strongest element of the performance was the singer's last name. A laid-back three-piece band, led by lackadaisical pianist Melvin Strauss performing in cocktail style, opened, not very relevantly, with "Mack the Knife." Rarely-heard excerpts from One Touch of Venus, Love Life and Street Scene were most welcome, while selections from The Eternal Road and Johnny Johnson unwittingly displayed the composer's poor prosody in 1930s English.

[Marie Galante deserves to be staged in a modern English translation. (One was scheduled a few seasons ago, but canceled due to rights problems.) Word slips marred an otherwise effective "Saga of Jenny." "Pirate Jenny," sung in Marc Blitzstein's translation written for Lotte Lenya, was poignantly prefaced by Sherman's reminiscences of his 1972 interview with Lenya.]

In celebration of Weill's centennial in 2000, one can look forward to many more upcoming performances of his work: Der Jasager at the Japan Society and the operetta Der Kuhhandel at Juilliard in April, the complete Eternal Road at Brooklyn Academy of Music in February, and especially "Wall-to-Wall Weill" at Symphony Space March 25.

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