Schulhoff, Tokayer, Korngold and Weill are the focus of “Voix Étouffées,” a concert at Haller Lake United Methodist Church on Friday.
Not long after Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933, Jews in all walks of life were denounced in that nation, barred from their occupations, robbed of their possessions and eventually deported, incarcerated and murdered.
Among them were Jewish musicians — teachers, instrumentalists, singers, conductors — condemned for a “degenerate” influence on German culture and forbidden to perform in public. Composers could not copyright their works, let alone hear them played in concert.
For the four remarkable men at the center of “Voix Étouffées (Stifled Voices): Schulhoff, Tokayer, Korngold & Weill — Four Composers the Third Reich Tried to Silence,” personal and musical destiny was radically altered from what it might have been.
‘Voix Étouffées (Stifled Voices): Schulhoff, Tokayer, Korngold & Weill — Four Composers the Third Reich Tried to Silence’
7:30 p.m. Friday, May 27, at Haller Lake United Methodist Church, 13055 First Ave. N.E., Seattle; $5-$20 by free-will donation (hallerlakemusic.com).
“Voix Étouffées” — a concert at Haller Lake United Methodist Church this Friday, May 27, of solo piano, piano and violin duets, and songs for soprano — underscores how Nazi oppression disrupted artists in different ways.
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Born in Austria-Hungary, Erich Wolfgang Korngold was a musical genius lavishly praised by Mahler, Strauss and Puccini. He wrote his first orchestral score at the age of 14 and his first opera at 23.
Lured to Hollywood twice in the 1930s, Korngold wrote music for the Errol Flynn hit “The Adventures of Robin Hood.” While in the U.S., his country was invaded by Hitler, forcing Korngold to remain. Though he would have a major hand in redefining the cultural potential of film music (winning an Oscar in the process), Korngold still wrote for the concert hall.
Kurt Weill, born in Germany, is best known for collaborations with Bertolt Brecht (“The Threepenny Opera”), though he also wrote for orchestras and piano. He fled Germany in 1933 and made his way to New York, where he won the first Tony Award for Best Original Score (for “Street Scene,” with lyrics by Langston Hughes).
Erwin Schulhoff, a Czech composer, studied with Debussy and toured as a concert pianist. A jazz lover and Dadaist, Schulhoff relished the incongruent appeal of fusing jazz with art music, as with the sideways ragtime of his “Tempo di tionfox a’ la Hawaii,” part of the “Voix Étouffées” program.
“Schulhoff delighted in staying up all night at jazz clubs and dancing with cocktail waitresses,” said pianist Karin McCullough, part of the ensemble for “Voix Étouffées.” “But the Nazis did not like the idea of foreign influences.”
Schulhoff was arrested and sent to Wülzburg concentration camp, where he composed there until his death in 1942.
The least familiar of the “Voix Étouffées” composers is Alfred Tokayer, whose “music is something the world almost didn’t get to hear,” McCullough said.
That’s because most of Tokayer’s work remains unpublished. A composer, conductor and orchestrator, Tokayer was stripped of German citizenship in 1934. Moving to France, he faced anti-immigrant resentment and anti-Semitism, choosing a two-year stint in the Foreign Legion rather than an internment camp.
Returning to an occupied France, he was arrested by Nazis and died with his parents at Sobibor in 1943.
Reached in Narbonne, France, Tokayer’s 89-year-old daughter, Irene Currie, said she was not with her father when he was arrested.
“In those days, you knew your loved ones were gone, and you had to surmise they had been slaughtered or gassed, because you never heard from them again. It was many, many years later when I found out what happened.”
Once Currie learned Tokayer’s fate, she began thinking about a box of her father’s unpublished music sitting in her basement for decades. It was time to draw attention to them.
With interest from pianist Bertrand Giraud and other musicians, performances of Tokayer’s music have begun sprouting all over Europe. A CD, “Alfred Tokayer: Oeuvres completes,” was released in 2012.
Currie was happy to send a delighted McCullough copies of Tokayer manuscripts for a Seattle performance.
“Of course,” she said. “I want to get his music out there as much as possible.”