Wednesday, 22 February 2017

IN REMEMBRANCE: STEFAN ZWEIG'S RELATIONSHIP WITH RICHARD STRAUSS & HIS ESCAPE FROM NAZI GERMANY

Stefan Zweig
Today's Quote of the Day comes to us from famed 20th century Austrian writer and librettist Stefan Zweig, and has been selected in honor of the 75th anniversary of his death, observed this 22nd day of February, 2017:


“Never can the innate power of a work be hidden or locked away. A work of art may be forgotten by time; it can be forbidden and rejected but the elemental will always prevail over the ephemeral.”

- Stefan Zweig

It has been some three quarters of a century since the literary and musical spheres lost one of their most influential champions – he who excelled in both arenas as a writer and as librettist – setting to parchment often sordid tales of the ever changing, frequently vitriolic world in which both song and prose routinely draw their influence.

Zweig's final farewell: his "Declaração"
(suicide note; Zweig titled the letter in
Portuguese in an effort to alert the Brazilian
authorities of the nature of his and his wife's
death upon discovery of the bodies; the rest of the
letter is in Zweig's favored tongue: German.
Read a translation of this note here.
It would be on a winter’s eve – the 22nd of February in 1942 – that author and librettist Stefan Zweig and second wife Elizabeth Charlotte “Lotte” Altmann sat together for what would be the couple’s final moments on earth. Zweig would pen his “Declaração” – his declaration – of intended suicide from his home just outside of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil (a place of exile for the couple, who had fled Salzburg following Hitler’s rise to power in 1934 and which would prove to be a most providential move for Zweig: following a rise in National Socialist sentiment, Austria would find itself annexed by the German Third Reich in 1938. For Zweig, who was born of Jewish parents, and therefore was himself, Jewish, the move would be a matter of life and death).

The couple would remain always one step ahead of Nazi troops, first by fleeing Salzburg for England, followed by a transatlantic move to New York City in the United States as German forces steadily crept westward. Finally, the couple would settle on the German-colonized town of Petrópolis just outside of Rio, where both husband and wife would ultimately meet their end. Zweig, would express in his (brief) handwritten final note (written in his favored language of German) his sorrow over his 'personal loss' and the “destruction”  of pre-Nazi Europe, calling it his “Spiritual Homeland;” his gratitude for the sanctuary offered him in Brazil, and of his ultimate yielding to hopelessness in what must have seemed to Zweig to be a most unfruitful – and relentlessly cruel – chase. He writes:

“…to start everything anew after a man’s 60th year requires special powers, and my own power has been expended after years of wandering homeless. I thus prefer to end my life at the right time, upright, as a man for whom cultural work has always been his purest happiness and personal freedom — the most precious of possessions on this earth.
I send greetings to all of my friends: May they live to see the dawn after this long night. I, who am most impatient, go before them.”

Stefan Zweig and wife Lotte
Both Zweig and Lotte would self-administer a lethal dose of Barbiturates, and, with hands entwined, would breathe their last breaths, succumbing to overdose on the very eve the ‘Declaração’ was written – 75 years ago today.

Zweig’s influence in the literary world during the mid-twentieth century (and later, during the latter twentieth and present century following the digitization of the writer’s works translated from their original German into English) is undeniable. His resulting fame allowed him to hobnob with many of the era’s most prominent thinkers and practitioners of the finer arts – enjoying relationships with the likes of famed psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud and dramatist Arthur Schnitzler to developing a close association with the composer Richard Strauss.

Zweig would also bequeath unto the musical sphere an impressive, and much coveted – collection of autographs (music manuscripts), featuring the works of many of Western Classical Music’s most beloved composers - of Bach, Haydn, Beethoven, Wagner and Mahler (just to name a few), including a thematic catalogue of Mozart’s works – penned in the composer’s own hand (Mozart's
 "Verzeichnüß aller meiner Werke"). This particular collection, aptly called “Stefan Zweig Collection” can presently be found at The British Library.


Extract from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's highly prized "Verzeichnüß aller meiner Werke,"
just one of many original autographs from the Stefan Zweig Collection currently held in the
possession of The British Library.

Perhaps most applicable to the sentiment provided by Zweig in the featured “Quote of the Day” above, is the writer-cum-librettist’s association with Richard Strauss – who was then serving as the first president of the Reichsmusikkammer (the Reich Chamber of Music, otherwise known as the "RMK") under Reich Chancellor Adolf Hitler and Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels.

Strauss counted himself among several accomplished German conductors/composers to make the controversial decision to serve their ‘Fatherland’ from the podium, in what they considered (or claimed) to be an apolitical effort to preserve and glorify German artists and German music. Although the position of President of the RMK was formed only months after the Nazi’s seizure of power in 1933 (and thus could be considered still in its founding stages), Strauss’ decision to remain in Germany following a period of escalating National Socialist sentiment and during the first two years of Nazi rule remains a topic of hot debate.

Reich Chancellor Adolf Hitler and Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels
would briefly champion the works of Richard Strauss - going so far as to refer
to the German-born composer as "The Most Venerable Tone Master."
Zweig, who had provided the libretto for Strauss’ 1934 opera Die Schweigsame Frau (The Silent Woman), and later, incognito, for the composers' 1938 opera Friedenstag (Peace Day) following the death of Strauss' go-to librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal, was famously forgiving of Strauss, claiming necessity in the RMK for the composer:

“…to be co-operative with the national socialists was furthermore of vital interest to him, because in the national socialist sense he was very much in the red. His son had married a Jewess and thus he feared that his grandchildren, whom he loved above all else, would be excluded as scum from the schools; his earlier operas tainted through the half-Jew Hugo von Hofmannstahl; his publisher was a Jew. Therefore, to him it seemed more and more imperative to create support and security for himself, and he did it most perseveringly.” 

This sentiment would be repeated following a ‘Denazification Trial’ held against the composer after the war, during which time it was declared that Strauss was found to be “exonerated in his Denazification Trial as innocent of any ties to the Nazi State.”

Richard Strauss
The fact was, although Strauss once claimed of politics and of the war “I just sit here … and compose; everything else is irrelevant to me,” the composer made no qualms about his support for his newfound confidante and librettist in Zweig, following a seismic fallout with the Nazi-ran press, who lambasted the RMK President for his association with a “Jew.” (It didn’t help that several members of Strauss’ family were themselves Jewish).[see footnotes] According to Zweig’s own memoirs, Strauss defied societal convention by refusing to withdraw the opera and insisting on publicly crediting Zweig as the works librettist. Surprisingly, Reich Minister Goebbels – and, initially, even Hitler himself – were willing to placate Strauss (then an international sensation - and a German one at that), albeit temporarily, in an effort to promote German music and artistry. Such placitudes would prove to be short lived: following the interception by Gestapo Officials of correspondence exchanged between composer and librettist in which Strauss decried both the Nazi regime and his position within it (which was presented to the Reich Chancellor via Goebbels), Strauss was forced to resign from his post as president of the Reichsmusikkammer under the guise of “ill health.”

Die Schweigsame Frau would be banned by the Reich after only three performances, reemerging only after the close of the Second World War, some 12 years after it’s premiere at the Dresden Semperoper in June 1935. Its post war revival would be held at the very same venue in 1946.

Listen below to hear German Tenor Fritz Wunderlich &  Soprano Ingeborg Hallstein perform "Du süssester Engel"
from Richard Strauss' Die schweigsame Frau:



Footnotes:

Although Strauss’ ‘involvement’ in the Third Reich – not to mention Zweig’s defense of the composer - remains a subject of much debate, it is worth noting that Richard would make use of ‘connections’ made whilst serving as RMK President in Nazi Germany, most notably appealing to Hitler Youth leader Baldur von Schirach for protection for himself and his daughter in law, who was Jewish, and for his grandchildren (who were identified as Jewish under Nazi Racial Law) during the infamously bloody Kristallnacht. He and his family were granted temporary protection by Schirach.

Zweig would cite Strauss’ intimate ties to Germans of Jewish faith as evidence of a thoughtfully manifested plan to serve the Reich in an effort to safeguard his relations from attacks by the Nazis.

Coming soon to Unraveling Musical Myths:



-Rose.

2 comments:

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    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello Anonymous,

      Thank you for your kind comment and for adding my blog to your blogroll. I am pleased to have you as a reader!


      Kind Regards,

      Rose

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