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Monday, April 30, 2012

A Group of Jewish Singers of the Holocaust Era Now on Youtube

Louis Treumann in formal attire

Continuing with our project of releasing scarce recordings of European Jewish singers of the Holocaust era, we have uploaded 4 more on our YouTube page.  Several of these recordings are released for the very first time in digital format.

1. Louis Treumann:  The Reporter's Lied from von Suppe's operetta from "Fataniza".  This recording made in Vienna in 1903 is a G&S type patter song.  Self announced by Treumann, who created the role of Danilo in "The Merry Widow" it is an illustration of the man who was King of Operetta in Vienna at the turn of the 20th Century.  He was later killed in Theresienstadt Concentration Camp  by the Nazi's.

2. Grete Forst: Sings the "Puppenlied" from "Le Contes d'Hoffmann" by Jacques Offenbach.  This is Olympia's aris sung with great aplomb.  Grete Forst was one of the group of first tier lyric sopranos at the Vienna Hofoper/Staatsoper who happened to be Jewish and included Selma Kurz, Melitta Heim and herself.  After the Anschluss, she was unceremoniously forced onto a transport bound for Russia where she died in transit.

3. Rudolf Bandler: Sings Oscar Straus's 1903 cabaret song, "Die Musik Kommt" written for Wolzogen's Cabaret in Berlin.  It has essences of Mahler lieder infused in this over-the-top romp.  Bandler was Czech, but a German speaking Czech and spent most of his adult career in Vienna at the Volksoper and as a regular guest of the Hofoper/Staatsoper.  One of the finest Beckmesser's of his day, Cosima Wagner would not hire him as he was an observant Jew.  At the time of the annexation of Czechoslovakia he was in Prague as a stage manager and singer at the German Opera House there.  He was put on a transport and sent to the ghetto in Lodz Poland where he ran musicales to raise the morale of those in the ghetto.  He died in the ghetto in 1944.

4. Arnold Gabor:  sings "Cortigiani" from "Rigoletto" in this scarce VOX recording from 1923.  This record made in Berlin is interesting as it is in the Italian language, something that was rarely done in German of the time.  Gabor's story runs a little differently.  He came to the United States to escape the anti-semitism in Hungary.  He was the leading heldentenor of the Royal Opera in Budapest and sung only leading roles while there.  He came to American and resumed an operatic career, however, mainly as a character, or comprimario baritone.  He did sing Alberich and Beckmesser for a few performances at the MET and several of the other major houses of the Country, but never the great leading roles he sung in Hungary.  His European career came to an end with the Anschluss, as he was unable to return to sing.  He died in California, after a secondary career as a singing professor in Hollywood.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Bjorling Pirate Site, Claims Public Domain

Jussi Bjorling in concert at Carnegie Hall

Recently we have added a few of our extremely scarce recordings to YouTube and have met with resitance on a few of them from web representation outfits like IODA, who claim to represent recordings of an artist which was made in 1923 and the companies doors shut without the sale of their catalog in 1935. I also found resistance from other outfits claiming to hold copyrights on Mozart, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Halevy and Verdi. (All compositions prior to 1922 are in fact public domain in the Uinted States.) That said, I was amazed to learn of this web-site which boasts all of the Jussi Bjorling recordings on the site from 1920-1960 were in public domain and free to download.  Now a quick scan of the listings on the site one finds portions of the 1960 Reiner/Vienna Phil Verdi Requiem which is still in print on Decca and portions of the 1959 RCA Turandot with Birgit Nilsson which is also still in print.  There are also others, but these stick out like sore thumbs.  I know for a fact these are recordings still under copyright.  IODA also seems to represent the Interests of the Bjorling Family in sound recordings on the web.

Anyhow, in variant sound and for as long as it lasts before it is inevitably pulled from the web, here is the site, enjoy.  But realize nothing I can see about the listings on this site is public domain.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The True Story of the Martinu 2nd Violin Concerto, Heretofore Unknown

Autographed photograph of Bohuslav Martinu

One of the exciting functions of a Music Antiquarian is detective work.  I have a three page letter in our inventory by the Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu.  The letter written on July 31st, 1943 is to the pianist and conductor Paul Aron requesting that he send his completed piano score of an unnamed work to the violinist Ruth Posselt.  He mentions, ......Mrs. Burgin will play it next season, need the score as fast as possible to study it and correct the violin part.....  Of course this is entirely leading and research shows that Ruth Posselt, a world class concert violinist who was also the wife of Boston Symphony Orchestra Concertmaster Richard Burgin, never played a Martinu World Premiere.  Now Martinu, who came to America during the Second World War, not as a Jewish immigrant, but a conscientious objector had a very close relationship with the Boston Symphony Orchestra Music Director Serge Koussevitzky.  Koussevitzky through his Foundation, commissioned a number of Martinu's symphonic works of the period.  It is also known that Martinu spent part of the Summer of 1942 at his friend Emanuel Ondricek's home on Cape Cod where he worked on his 1st Symphony for Serge Koussevitzky.  The Posselt connection there is two-fold, first Ondricek was one of Ruth's violin pedagogues and second, he was married to Ruth's sister Gladys.  However, there is no mention in any of the Martinu biographies that the piece was written for Ruth Posselt.  As a matter of fact, Mischa Elman gave the World Premiere performance on December 31st, 1943.  The biographies and descriptions of the work vary, some say Elman contacted Martinu three months before the World Premiere and Martinu produced the work for him and then wrote some cadenzas for the piece with him.  Allan Kozinn's seminal work on Elman, Mischa Elman and the Romantic Style goes into some detail about how the work was commissioned by Elman in January of 1943 after hearing the World Premiere of Martinu's 1st Symphony in Boston several weeks before and includes details of their meetings.  However, based on the composer's oeuvre of unperformed works it seemed to make the most sense that the work described in the letter was in fact the Martinu 2nd Violin Concerto.  Further researched yielded the information that Ruth Posselt played the World Premiere of the Vladimir Dukelsky (Vernon Duke) Concerto with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.  

At this point I picked up the phone and called my friend Bridget Carr, the Boston Symphony Orchestra Chief Archivist to see what she knew and she referred me to Posselt's daughter Dr. Diana Burgin, who has spent years researching her parents careers.  My hunch proved correct, Martinu did write the 2nd Violin Concerto for Ruth Posselt, not Mischa Elman.  She became very interested in the piece during the Spring/Summer of 1943 and planned to play the World Premiere with Artur Rodzinski and the New York Philharmonic in the Fall.   This fact is confirmed in a letter by Artur Rodzinski to Orchestra Manager Bruno Zirato in the New York Philharmonic Archives, June 16, 1943 ...In case Martinu did not write a second violin concerto for Elman and in order to save Miss Posselt any embarrassing situation with Koussevitzky on whom she and her husband depend, and in order to still have a Premiere with our orchestra, I would suggest switching Posselt from her January date to any other date before December which you might find suitable....
(Thank you to Barbara Haws Chief Archivist of the New York Philharmonic)  

The letter is further evidence that the Concerto was in fact written for Posselt.  As the letter to Aron clearly states; Posselt will make corrections to the violin part as noted in the first paragraph and later goes on to say, Mrs. Posselt started to study and she needs the score, she has now only the violin part and there are the stands to reason that she was Martinu's choice for the World Premiere and not Elman.  However, the offer of the Dukelsky Concerto came along and it appears for political reasons she changed her plans and performed it instead with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. However, the Dukelsky Concerto though written for and rejected by Heifetz is dedicated to Posselt and bears her input in the cadenza, as well as corrections throughout the manuscript. (Information provided by Dr. Diana Burgin.)  Elman and Martinu had a group of mixed reviews after the Boston and Carnegie Hall Premieres, mostly good for Martinu and not as good for Elman, the best of which was Olin Downes who praised the work and playing. Posselt did in fact give the World Premiere of the Dukelsky Violin Concerto in Boston with Koussevitzky in December, 1943 and then played the Concerto in its' New York Premier on January 5th, 1944.  

Our letter will be available for purchase shortly, with a complete transcription and further details.

Dr. Diana Burgin is currently working on a biography of her parents.  We will bring you the details when the book becomes available!

Meanwhile, here is a Youtube clip of the first part of the first movement of the radio broadcast of Elman playing the World Premiere.  You can connect to the additional clips on the Youtube site.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Richard Breitenfeld a true Bel Canto Baritone

Richard Breitenfeld as Don Giovanni
Author's Collection

Richard Breitenfeld is another name best remembered by the collectors of rare acoustic vocal recordings.  However, in his day, he was the leading baritone at Frankfurt Am Main and a great favorite of the composers of his generation.  The baritone (1869-1942) was born in what is today the Czech Republic.  He studied with Johannes Ress in Vienna, also the teacher of Melitta Heim.  He made his stage debut in 1897 in Cologne as Di Luna in "Il Trovatore."  He created the baritone lead in Die Pompadour by Emanuel Moor while there in 1902.  He moved on to Frankfurt Am Main the same year where he sung for the next 30 years as a leading baritone.  In 1905 he guested at a Wagner Festival in Amsterdam and created Amfortas at the local premier of Parsifal.  His relationship with Amsterdam continued where he created the role of the Spielmann in Humperdink's Konigskinder for their local premiere.  While singing at Frankfurt the demand for guest appearances grew, Vienna, Munich, Karlsruhe, Stuttgardt, Wiesbaden and Zurich all sought his talent.  1912 brought the World Premier of the opera Oberst Chabert by Waltershausen where the baritone took on the title role and the role of the Count in Schreker's Die Ferne Klange.  1913 brought the World Premier of Zemlinsky's Das Spielwerk und die Prinzessin.  In 1915 after the battlefield death of the promising composer Rudi Stefan, Breitenfeld gave his time and sung in a three day festival in his honor.  In 1920 he was given the honor of singing in the posthumous premier of Stefan's opera Die ersten Menschen.  Frankfurt made a big deal of his 25th Season with the Company in 1927 with a performance to celebrate his artistry as Rigoletto.  He retired in 1932 and he was left alone by the Nazi's for nearly a decade.

In August of 1942, Breitenfeld discovered his building in Frankfurt was to be "cleansed" of all Jewish residents and he wrote to the theater and the mayor asking them to stop his eviction and deportation to a camp.  He was nearly 73 years of age at the time.  Neither interceded and he and his wife were loaded onto a train bound for Theresienstadt concentration camp, where he was murdered in December of that year.

Breitenfeld who was considered one of the finest Wagner heldenbaritones of his day in German speaking World.  He made not less than 21 sides, one was unpublished, interestingly it was Amroftas Act III aria from  Parsifal.  Most likely it was not issued due to pressures brought on by the Wagner family, as Parsifal was still a sensitive subject when he made the recording in 1913 and he has violated the Bayreuth ban when he premiered the role in Amsterdam.  The recording we offer in what we believe to be the first time in electronic form is Rodrigo's death scene from Don Carlo.  The two sided record was not in very good condition and is incredibly rare.  It includes the recitative through "O Carlo Ascolta".  Here you hear a baritone with an incredible legato line and a Bel Canto technique that few of his era maintained.  He also has a superb trill during the course of the aria.  This recording rates on up there with those of Mattia Battistini for his technical prowess.

Alexander Kipnis sings Cardinal Brogni's aria in an all new transfer

Kipnis as Cardinal Brogni at the Teatro Colon
Author's collection

If there was a singer ripe for a biography, it is Alexander Kipnis.  While his recordings are still well known and highly regarded by fans of historical opera recordings, nothing has been published on his life, except internet biographies.  His son Igor, the harpsichordist had been working on such a book prior to his death but unfortunately it was never printed.  All of that said, Kipnis lived an extraordinary life, from the Jewish ghetto of the Ukraine, to decorated opera singer, he triumphed where many before him had failed. (He was a huge success at Bayreuth and Siegfried Wagner even conducted several of his recordings!)  When one reads what one can of his life story, he made his way to the top on raw talent, a lucky break and an uncanny intelligence.  One of the interesting facts that is not well known is that Kipnis spent 9 years in the United States from 1923 to 1932.  Initially he arrived with a German touring company and at the end of their run received a contract from the Chicago Opera.  He applied for citizenship in the United States and it was granted.  When he returned to Germany in 1933 to sing with the Berlin Staatsoper, things became more and more intolerable there for Jews.  Felix Weingartner, who was the Generaldirektor of the Vienna Staatoper knowing Kipnis and the situation in Berlin in 1935 offered him a contract with the Vienna Staatsoper, first as a guest and later as a full member of the Company.  Kipnis needless to say  readily accepted.  He stayed with the Company until the Anschluss in 1938 and was able to leave Vienna with his family bound for America with his American passport.  The rest is opera history.

The recording we offer with this blog post is Kipnis's Homochord recording of Cardinal Brogni's aria "Si la Rigeur" from Halevy's La Juive. (He sings in German, "Wenn ew'ger Hass" here.) The Berlin recoding made on September 9, 1923 is known, however, in the past, the transfers have been noisy, dull and in some cases not properly pitched.  We offer the recording to you in the best sound transfer to date.