Part II of Two
Part I can be read here.
Music Returned, Memory Saved
When in May 2018 Felix was appointed as the Germany’s Federal Envoy on Fight Against Anti-Semitism and for Fostering Jewish Life, the natural turn for his Quartet has become not only participation in many commemorative events in Germany and all over Europe, including Sweden, Italy, Austria, Poland, Croatia, France, Switzerland, but also focusing on Jewish composers. And not just on Jewish composers but on those of them who were living, creating and performing in those fifty most dramatic years of modern European history, from 1890 through 1940.
It is greatly beneficial for the cause that Felix and all three of his colleagues in the Quartet are specialising in historic music, in different ways. Matthias Hummel, who is also a founding member and concertmaster of a very well-known Concerto Brandenburg, concentrates on an archive research for the Quartet’s programs, which is an occupation of itself, as Matthias has told me when we were meeting up with the Quartet and I was invited to attend their rehearsal which was immensely interesting, as one becomes privileged to get as close to musicians’s ongoing creative dialogue as one can. I am very grateful to Felix and his Quartet colleagues for that memorable and distinct experience.
Felix Klein does a historical research on the musicians, composers, the circumstances of their lives, history of certain pieces and any other detail which can be found.
Waltraut Elvers, who plays viola in the Quartet, has studied and is specialising in early music which is very developed field of interest in Germany. Waltraut is also interested in a period instruments which come in a great accord with historic music. She also arranges some pieces for the Quartet.
Gabriella Struempel, who plays cello, is a member of the Brussels Philharmonic and is a baroque cellist.
It is also a very attractive and rewarding process of discovering the forgotten composers or some lost pieces of wonderful music. During their work, the members of the Quartet have re-discovered, for example, the completely forgotten strong, modern and very interesting pieces composed by Henriette Bosmans, the Dutch half-Jewish composer who died in 1952, and whose music was completely forbidden in the occupied Netherlands during the war. The same goes for Charlotte Schlesinger from Berlin who won the Beethoven Prize in 1927, but was forced to leave Germany in the 1930s, eventually emigrating to the USA where she worked and taught for about 40 years, before dying there in 1976. It is thanks to the German musicians of the Diplomatic String Quartet that Charlotte’s music has returned to her homeland today.
This ongoing discovery works sometimes brings true jewels – like it happened when Felix’s Israeli musician friend, a clarinettist Noah Ben Shalom who lives in Berlin has discovered and provided for the Quartet wonderful music works from the archives in Israel, as it has happened with the Fritz Lissauer’s concerts. Lissauer who died in 1937, and whose archive happened to be in Israel, now is returned to the public in the best possible way, with his music.
What all members of the Diplomatic String Quartet have mentioned to me, and what is clearly heard in their performances is that they are trying to have as many rehearsals as they can, and that they always decide and play in consensus in between themselves. Of course, it is the ground for any ensemble, but every musician knows how difficult it is to achieve.
This mutual respect is projected also to the subject of the Quartet’s music, which has become clearly articulated from 2018 onward. “While working in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs for a long time, being a special representative for the relations with Jewish organisations, and being involved in the matters of Jewish heritage and commemoration, I felt that something was missing there. What was it? Music! When I realised it and figured out the way to enrich our experience on the matters, everything went in its place momentarily. It is due to the obvious historical reason that we are focusing on those Jewish composers who have had such a tragic destiny – Felix tells me. – And it has to be said, from some perspective, the mission has as if built itself”.
I quite understand. Once, one gets into that world of unspeakable tragedies which were occurring on every metre literally, concerning the lives of the great Jewish musicians and their families as a part of the European Jewry, in the turmoils of the two world wars, the Nazi atrocities of all sorts and ways, yet before the military actions, then followed by the Final Solution, the Shoah and its consequences which have been undeletable from any life it has affected, ever, one understands that he or she has an overwhelming and rewarding purpose in life to live for.
Felix and I are sitting at his table, looking at a very thick volume. The volume was published in 1999. It is thoroughly commented by music historian Eva Weissweiller, notorious Lexikon der Juden in der Musik, compelled by the cursed Herbert Gerick and Theophil Stengel in the Third Reich in 1940. The manual of both moral and physical annihilation of the glory of German and Austrian music and culture in general of the second part of the XIX and the first part of the XX century. This volume was updated several times in the despicable Rosenberg Institute for the Research on the Jewish Question, and they have produced three editions of it. People worked hard, you see. Especially in institutions like that one in the Third Reich.
Many months passed from the moment I went through the pages of that infamous Lexikon of hate. And I still have the same sensation of overcoming chill while looking at and through it. And yes, I went immediately to see the entries referring to the members of my family, Rose. They were there, of course. Officiated as enemies of the Reich. I was trying to imagine how and what they were feeling while learning or perhaps , and most likely, seeing their own names, after decades of devoted all-consuming work and justified glory, to be listed in the volume the sole purpose of which was officially stated as ‘to eliminate the Jewish influence’, in this case, from the sphere of music. And this is in the countries in which music was a vital and inseparable, formatting tissue of life throughout the centuries. Until corporals got to the top.
Felix who is working with this book for years, also is treating it as if his nerves are open and hurt. It does hurt, does not matter how many decades have passed. Hatred always does if one is a normal adequate humane person. In such concrete form especially so.
There is also one not quite widely known historical fact about this embodiment of hate and manual for persecution. By 1943, the original Lexikon had become so popular throughout the Reich, especially in Germany and Austria, that there was a demand to print an additional edition of it in several thousands to provide that many extra copies to all those who wanted so badly to have it. I am still thinking: there is 1943, the huge and very demanding war is in its peak. And thousands and thousands of zealots in totally involved in the war on many fronts both Germany and Austria are agitatedly queuing for the thick volume with over 400 entries naming the Jews who did enrich and glorified, for that matter, their culture, in a sick inflamed fervour of a low, vulgar, blatantly primitive, elementary barbarity. I can see it, but I cannot get it. Seemingly, I have limitations for this kind of understanding. I can only observe and register it.
I’ve got an impression that the more Dr Klein and his friends and colleagues are searching the Lexikon der Juden in der Musik and similar documents of the terrifying time of the Nazi spell, the more they are motivated in their unique mission. And it is also a way of compensation for the terrible moral historical unfairness. “Just to think of how much those persecuted Jewish composers contributed to German and European and world’s music and culture before the Nazis came to power. It is impossible for them to be left forgotten. It is simply impossible” – says Felix Klein to me. He is absolutely right.
Favourites, Friends & Sense of Meaning
I am not surprised at all but am glad and feel at home while hearing that ‘perhaps, Felix Mendelssohn is my favourite composer, the one I feel very close to” from Felix Klein. Mendelssohn’s great sister, Fanny Hensel, nee Mendelssohn, too. And I cannot help it but the observation by the great Joseph Joachim comes to my mind immediately.
Just a year before his passing, in the end of his extremely rich musical career, the great violinist made one of his core beliefs and conclusions public, after a substantial consideration, emphasising on his own 75th anniversary at the public event in Berlin, in June 1906: “ The Germans have four ( best) violin concertos. The greatest, most uncompromising one is Beethoven’s. The one by Brahms vies with it with seriousness. The richest, the most seductive one was written by Max Bruch. But the most inward, the heart’s jewel, is Mendelssohn’s”.
The heart’s jewel. How precisely. It is exactly what Felix Mendelssohn’s music and legacy is. And it is a beautiful, unique, miraculous gift of destiny that Felix Klein plays the violin which great Jewish musician Joseph Joachim played, with their both such a tender perception of one and only Felix Mendelssohn, who in his turn, was the one who noted a 13-year boy Joseph Joachim, has become his mentor for the rest of Mendelssohn’s life and thus sculptured Joachim’s great career and legacy in music in so many ways. There are no coincidences like that in life. Only precious and rare life-threads of the highest order.
Among other Felix Klein’s beloved composers are also Erwin Schulhoff and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, two outstanding Jewish composers about whom one really needs to know to see the musical landscape of the XX century in its depth, variety and fine potency. In the variable and powerful world of Schulhoff, who was seriously ahead of his time, and who could produce so much more unless he died in the Nazi camp, Felix sees and feels, with admirable devotion, a truly high potency and the vision of the way in which music has developed after the terrible death of just 48th Schulhoff in the intermittent camp in 1942 in Bavaria.
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco was an embodiment of the finest Jewish Italian superb creative intellectuals who did compose his first opera on Niccolo Machiavelli’s play, and among whose myriad of students were such giants as John Williams, Henry Mancini and Andre Previn. All of them, and many more, just think about it. This is apart from Castelnuovo-Tedesco being the most important composer for guitar throughout the XX century, the main composer for Segovia, and any other notable guitarist, and the author of great music scores for several hundreds films during the golden age of Hollywood.
The same as Fritz Kreisler, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco who brought nothing but pride to music and culture of his motherland, had to run from his country which was of a vital importance for him, as Italy is for any cultural person, in 1939, after direct impact on him and his family of the racial laws implemented in 1938. It was his close friend and colleague Jascha Heifetz who helped Castelnuovo-Tedesco and his family to come and settle in the US in their run for life in 1939. Unlike Kreisler who just could not come back to Europe after the war, Castelnuovo-Tedesco visited Italy after the war, during the last twenty years of his life, quite often and regularly. He just couldn’t live and create without it, understandably. But like many of those deeply wounded refugee souls, he also just could not return permanently to his own country where he had to run from. The great Italian Jewish composer died and is buried in the USA, and his unique archive is also there, the same as the archive of the Mahler’s family, which is in Canada, not in Vienna.
I am truly glad that Felix Klein and his Diplomatic Quartet will become a Quintet for several very meaningful concerts and recording sessions in the coming season, joining forces with fantastic Italian guitarist, internationally renowned musician and wide-ranging humanist and intellectual prof. Giorgio Albiani in the series of concerts and recordings of Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco music in Italy in the spring and summer 2024. I think that Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco would appreciate our all’ effort not only to bring his music to the Italian audience and on the Italian soil, in his native Florence and Tuscany, and also his never-failed spirit and his humanity in this joint dedication to remember, here and now, not to shy away from the drama of history, but to face it with dignity and with all the beauty of his and the others’ great musicians whose deeply concealed pain was with them for the rest of their lives.
This is the same pain which many of us have inherited, and which transpires inevitably in the way of playing, thinking, feeling, and performing by outstanding Jewish musicians, some of whom are especially close to Felix Klein, in particular Itzhak Perlman and Gidon Kremer. And Felix is shining from inside when he is telling me about his ongoing friendship with internationally renowned Jewish Litvak violinist Daniel Hope who, being born and raised in South Africa, lives and works in Berlin. Felix perceives this part of current Jewish music life as ‘ it illuminates another chapter of living Jewish and world culture today”. Exactly so.
I appreciate the point, subtly made by my friend whose daily job is to reassure the flourishing of Jewish culture in Germany today, and to ensure the efficient battling of awoken again anti-Semitism, that many, including leading Jewish musicians today, 80 years after their predecessors had to run for their lives or did not manage to escape, with their lives broken cruelly and in a mean way, today choose to live and work in Berlin and Germany. We can see both meaningful and touching performances in Germany today. I can see Felix’s point very well. It is the case today, and I am aware of many details of it. At least, this is some kind of moral compensation. Or perhaps, balancing still that terrible, disastrous moral disbalance, the catastrophe that has become the result of the Nazi rule and its consequences for so many decades and among so many layers of societies in many countries, despite the rule itself lasting 12 years, three generations back. And we still need to fix it. Such is the power of moral degradation and acceptance of evil.
I think that this balancing towards the normal, natural relation and proportion between evil and good is the essential inner drive for Felix Klein’s and his Diplomatic String Quartet Berlin unique mission. Although they are much thought after, the Quartet does not outperform. They are giving 10-12 concerts a year, at truly special, meaningful events. They are always glad to perform at celebrations of Jewish cultural heritage and its living legacy, such as the Moses Mendelssohn Society ceremonies in Berlin, a very good the Felix Mendelssohn Festival of Chamber Music in Poland, Special Event on the occasion of return of the Max Liebermann paintings by Switzerland at the Max Liebermann Villa and Museum in Wannsee – what can be more symbolic in that entire thing, I was thinking while listening to Felix.
In coming 2024, the Diplomatic String Quartet will give a special concert at the opening of the Litvak Jewish Identity and Culture Museum in Vilnius, with the program that includes a beautiful Lullaby written by Litvak composer Joseph Achron, friend of Jascha Heifetz, who died in Hollywood in 1942, and a gentle homage by Frantisek Domazlicky to Felix Mendelssohn in Domazlicky’s own Song Without Words. Later on in 2024, the Quartet will perform at the ceremony of the Moses Mendelssohn Society Annual Medal to Jewish Intellectuals in Berlin, Memorial Concert at the Max Liebermann Villa and Museum in Wannsee, at the Music, Art and Memory concert in Florence, Italy, and at the bilateral Italian – German state ceremony of the 80th anniversary of the San Pancrazio Massacre in Italy, to name a few.
In front of our eyes, the legacy of many Jewish composers whose destinies has become painfully broken or distorted, is gradually builded back, with Diplomatic String Quartet Berlin looking for pieces of their music, finding it, restoring it, arranging it, and bringing it back to us, where it belongs. Lovingly, respectfully, subtly. Helping the memory of those people and their music to return, to live and to stay. This is a legacy of its own. A noble way for musicians to perform. And the noble way of life in general.
Sometimes, and there are some cases of which I know personally, there are sad occurrences when a fantastic instrument with a legendary history gets into the possession of somewhat morally questionable owners. But in the case of the old French violin made by the great master and coming to us from the mid-XVIII century, the instrument which once was in hands and played by the Jewish giant of music Joseph Joachim, this beautiful violin is in the best possible hands of Dr Felix Klein today, and it plays devotedly in a heart-tuned ensemble with his colleagues in the Quartet. Those are memory melodies, and they are heart- and mind warming. I am sure that very demanding professionally Joseph Joachim smiles approvingly when hearing the sound of his violin played in Berlin, the city where he lived for a long time and where he passed away, and elsewhere today, by the person who loves the heart-jewel-like tunes of Felix Mendelssohn as much as he did himself. These kinds of melodies are uninterruptible.
Inna Rogatchi ©
December 2023 – January 2024