Radio as a producer of music and a witness to contemporary events Preserved in unique snapshots.
In Volume 4 of our Gewandhaus Edition series, we do the triple jump, so to speak, through three different decades in German history – specifically to the years 1939, 1944 and 2011. Different though the prevailing social conditions might have been, the roles of radio as music producer and contemporary witness remained the same. That is true despite the fact that recording techniques changed from mechanical disc cutters to the first generation of magnetic tape recorders and then digital recording.
Beethoven’s works are involved in all three cases, and in passing we cannot avoid speculating whether Beethoven’s Ninth was appropriated by the Nazi regime. On the other hand, may not Beethoven’s message of joy have been a glimpse of light that conductor Hermann Abendroth and the Gewandhaus Orchestra wanted to give the people on the first New Year’s Eve of the war in 1939?
We will let the facts speak for themselves and would like to welcome you to thrilling episodes in the history of the Gewandhaus Orchestra.
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 –1827)
Schlusschor über Schillers „Ode an die Freude“ für Orchester, vier Solostimmen und Chor aus der Sinfonie Nr. 9 d-Moll, op. 125
Lea Piltti, Sopran
Charlotte Wolf-Matthäus, Alt
Heinz Matthéi, Tenor
Josef Greindl, Bass
Gewandhausorchester Leipzig I Gewandhauschor Leipzig I Chor des Reichssenders Leipzig
Dirigent: Hermann Abendroth
Aufnahme einer Liveübertragung des Silvesterkonzertes aus dem Neuen Gewandhaus durch den Reichssender Leipzig am 31. Dezember 1939
Originalquelle: Sieben Rundfunkschallplatten von innen nach außen abtastend
(Matr.-Nr.: 56977-56983) aus dem DRA Frankfurt
Mitternachts-Geläut der Deutschen Glocke am Rhein (St. Petersglocke des Kölner Domes) Originalquelle: Rundfunkschallplatten aus dem DRA Frankfurt
Ludwig van Beethoven
Sinfonie Nr. 8 F-Dur, op. 93
I. Allegro vivace e con brio
II. Allegretto scherzando III. Tempo di Menuetto IV. Allegro vivace
Dirigent: Hermann Abendroth
Rundfunkaufnahme für die Sendereihe „Musik zur Dämmerstunde“, ausgestrahlt über den Deutschlandsender am 27. Dezember 1944
Aufnahmeort: Concordia-Festsaal Leipzig-Gohlis
Originalquelle: Rundfunk-Magnetband 77,1 cm/s aus dem DRA Frankfurt
Paraphrase über den Anfang der 9. Symphonie von Beethoven
Dirigent: Riccardo Chailly
Ein Auftragswerk des Gewandhauses zu Leipzig 2010
Aufzeichnung der Uraufführung am 6. Oktober 2011 im heutigen Neuen Gewandhaus Leipzig
Booklettext und Redaktion: Dr. Steffen Lieberwirth, MDR
Digital CD-Remastering: Matthias Helling, DRA
Fachberatung: Jörg Wyrschowy, DRA · Claudius Böhm, Dr. Jens-Uwe Völmecke
New year’s Eve 1939 – half an hour before midnight
The calendar says December 31, the last day of 1939. On account of the war, only one daily newspaper is available in Leipzig. A small cultural report tends to be drowned out by whole pages of virulent war propaganda and obituary notices for the fallen, but its content is a ray of hope in comparison with the sabrerattling slogans of Hitler, Goering and Gauleiter Martin Mutschmann, the Nazi regional leader in Saxony. It announces that the “New Year celebration of Grossdeutscher Rundfunk” will come from Leipzig on that first New Year’s Eve of the war.
„This year‘s New Year celebration of Grossdeutscher Rundfunk is being broadcast from Leipzig; Professor Hermann Abendroth and the Gewandhaus Orchestra, the Gewandhaus Chorus and the choir of Leipzig‘s national broadcasting station will perform the ‚Ode to Joy‘ closing chorus from Beethoven‘s Ninth Symphony on New Year‘s Eve at 11.30 p.m. (…)“
“Ode to Joy” as a radio message throughout Germany
For this radio transmission, Abendroth has engaged first-class soloists: the soprano Lea Piltti from the Vienna State Opera, the contralto Charlotte Wolf-Matthäus, the tenor Heinz Matthéi from Lübeck and the bass Josef Greindl, who would be acclaimed as Hunding in Bayreuth a few years later. For Leipzig-based Frau Wolf-Matthäus, appearing with the Gewandhaus Orchestra is almost a routine matter, for the celebrated oratorio singer has since the early 1930s taken part in the Bach cantatas under the baton of Karl Straube and broadcast Europe-wide (Gewandhaus Orchestra Edition vol. 3).
What is more, the Finnish singer Lea Piltti began her European career at the Gewandhaus in 1933. On the other hand, Heinz Matthéi and Josef Greindl are making their Leipzig debut, and performing at the Gewandhaus for the first time this New Year‘s Eve. We learn how radio listeners might have planned New Year’s Eve at their radio sets by searching through yellowed radio magazines. All broadcasting stations in the German Reich are broadcasting their respective light programmes until 11.30 p.m. In the case of Leipzig, there is “dance music for New Year’s Eve”. Half an hour before midnight, broadcasts switch over to Leipzig as the transmitting station, and via transmission lines to the New Gewandhaus, where conductor Hermann Abendroth and the Gewandhaus Orchestra are already tensely awaiting the command “Silence! On air!”.
The transmission of Beethoven‘s message of joy on New Year‘s Eve 1939 is of such significance to the Leipzig station that it records the live broadcast.
For recording purposes in 1939, broadcasters use disc cutters that engrave the signal onto warmed wax masters. Cut at a speed of 76 cm/s, the duration of the final movement of the Ninth of more than twenty-five minutes means that seven such matrixes have to be ready for recording it.
Record label on the playable side and further information on the blank side
of the first of a set of seven radio discs
The matrixes are then used to press a very limited number of shellac discs for broadcasting and archiving. Fortunately, all seven shellac discs survived the turmoil of the Second World War and the postwar period, and are today carefully preserved as master recordings at the German Radio Archive in Frankfurt am Main.
After seventy-five years, these unique specimens have been made available to us to be reproduced with the aid of today‘s technology for our CD release.
But let us return to the listening experience on domestic radio sets that New Year‘s Eve 1939. At midnight, after the joyful final notes of the Ninth have died away, the impressive tolling is heard of the bells in Cologne Cathedral, including St Peter‘s bell, the largest freely swinging church bell in the world.
The first day of the war year of 1940 opens with the actor Heinrich George reading the 1812 declaration of beliefs by the Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz. Although the recording of it has also been preserved at the German Radio Archive, we deliberately refrain from including it here because its martial tone glorifies war.
Searching for details
The search for further documentation in the Gewandhaus Archive turned up references by the Gewandhaus archivist Claudius Böhm that make clear how difficult it is to classify that New Year’s Eve Concert in terms of Gewandhaus history, although the documentary and artistic value of the recording is in no way diminished or called into question.
In order to understand, it is necessary to look back to the year 1918, when the Allgemeine Arbeiter-Bildungs-Institut, a night school for workers, arranged a “celebration of peace and liberty” at the Alberthalle in Leipzig’s Krystallpalast on New Year’s Eve. On hearing Beethoven’s message of joy from the Ninth Symphony that evening, almost three thousand listeners remembered the fallen and hailed the longawaited end of the First World War. On the rostrum was conductor Arthur Nikisch and that night was the germ of a tradition which was deliberately taken up again after the Second World War and has been continued annually by the Gewandhaus Orchestra ever since.
But the New Year’s Eve Concert of 1939 took place in a completely different environment.
The Nazi doctrine, its machinery of power and its contemptuous racial ideology did not spare the richly traditional Gewandhaus, and the institution was subjected to restrictions.
The Gewandhaus Chronicle (which records the history of that era) notes:
“The first step was the rigorous restriction imposed on the authority of the Gewandhaus management. They could take no independent decisions as to the fate of the Gewandhaus Orchestra, because the Directors were systematically replaced with new members who had pledged allegiance to the state. Even prominent figures like the publishers Max Brockhaus and Anton Kippenberg were not able to prevent the ruthless operations of the authoritarian party apparatus.”
They had probably realized their omnipotence soon after the Nazis seized power, when Brockhaus could not hold on to Gewandhaus Orchestra conductor Bruno Walter even temporarily because the authorities objected to Walter’s Jewish origins. Leader Leo Schwarz was the second prominent member of the orchestra to fall victim. He was dismissed without notice a year later. The musicians of the Gewandhaus Orchestra refrained from responding publicly to any incident. The Gewandhaus Chronicle has this to say: “The relative safety now enjoyed by the musicians after the Great Depression, during which their insecurity had been evident despite their status as civil servants, probably induced a few to turn a blind eye to the politicization of their positions. The orchestra was highly esteemed by the Nazis, rather like the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.” That explains the political interest that Grossdeutscher Rundfunk had in relaying the performance from the Gewandhaus just before midnight in the evening radio programme with perhaps the highest listening quota. We have been unable to find concert programmes and admission tickets for the New Year’s Eve celebration, either in the Gewandhaus Archive or the Leipzig Archive. That leads to the assumption that it might have been an event restricted to the Leipzig city council or Reichsrundfunk employees, meaning that only high functionaries and their invited guests would have been given seats in the Gewandhaus. It is doubtful that the Gewandhaus management felt like celebrating this transition to 1940, since the city council, which for almost two hundred years had been admirably sovereign in decision making, was now legally governed by and acted in accordance with Nazi policy. The initial insecurity as to the future of the house became a certainty in September 1940. According to documentation on the Gewandhaus Orchestra, “The Gewandhaus management is now to be transformed into the ‘Gewandhaus in Leipzig’ foundation incorporating all capital, the concert hall and the land it stands on. The trustee is the Lord Mayor of the city of Leipzig, who will supervise management, appoint members and the chairman of the board as well as sign contracts with the conductor and the managing director. The publisher Anton Kippenberg remains chairman of the board by virtue of his international reputation, having founded the Inselverlag in 1905 and directed it ever since.“ Kippenberg had to passively watch as ever more Gewandhaus musicians were conscripted and sent to the front from month to month.
“… posterity will judge!”
With those words, General Clausewitz ended his “declaration”. Five years have passed since actor Heinrich George uttered that proclamation, exploited as propaganda by the Nazis, during the Reichsrundfunk New Year’s Eve programme. Five years during which Germany has become unrecognizable. The heavy bombing has cost Leipzig the New Theatre and the New Gewandhaus, both traditional venues for the Gewandhaus Orchestra. But the orchestra plays on, partly using borrowed instruments. And again it is a Beethoven symphony that speaks to the people. The year is 1944. It is December again. For the last four months, the Gewandhaus Orchestra – turned into a “studio orchestra” as it were – has been performing its own series of concerts for Grossdeutscher Rundfunk. The hastily equipped Concordia banqueting hall attached to a brewery restaurant in the Leipzig suburb of Gohlis serves as a makeshift studio. Each Friday from 5.15 to6.30 p.m., the Berlin Deutschlandsender broadcasts a programme entitled “Music for the twilight hour” from this venue. (Gewandhaus Orchestra Edition vol. 1)
This event is captured by tape recorders, which since 1942 have been increasingly replacing the old disc cutters. In terms of audio quality, this novel technique is a quantum leap, additionally allowing longer works like complete symphonies to be recorded. How often during this “Total War” will this technically enhanced radio sound have been interrupted by alarm sirens?
“A masterpiece has emerged” Kurier, Vienna
The third piece on our CD on the Beethoven theme ventures a leap into the present and leads us into the current New Gewandhaus on Augustusplatz.
Riccardo Chailly has been conducting the Gewandhaus Orchestra since 2005.
When, in the presence of Gewandhaus musicians, I told him that there was a live recording of the final movement of the Ninth in the Radio Archive, he was initially surprised, but then enthusiastically came up with the spontaneous idea that it would be marvellous to supplement the historical recordings on the CD with a premiere of him conducting Friedrich Cerha’s Paraphrase on the beginning of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at the New Gewandhaus in 2011.
That would be a bow to Beethoven that points into the future. We learn the details from Cerha himself:
“When an inquiry came from the Gewandhaus Orchestra asking me whether I would be interested in a commission for a short piece which could be played before Beethoven’s 9th Symphony and which should if possible refer to it, my first reaction was a definite no; I did not want to write music about someone else’s music. But against my will, I was haunted in the following days by the beginning of the symphony; it kept going round in my head and I could not stop it. Ever since I heard the work for the first time as a child, a particular part of it has fascinated me: from the mysterious descending fifths and fourths over a tremolo up to the powerful resolution of the cadential ending. That material began to transform itself in my head and to propagate itself like a mycelium. “The elements varied more and more until their origin became unrecognizable. Out of the nebulous ideas of my imagination and without my writing a single note down, the dramatic concept of a piece gradually emerged. I finally accepted the commission. I sat down and feverishly began with the first draft of the piece. “The first version of any of my works is always the shortest. Pieces mostly expand at the fair copy stage, on one hand because items that initially are simply juxtaposed demand connecting passages, on the other because the imagination does not end at the first concept but keeps on opening new gates. All the same, the whole piece lasts no longer than fourteen minutes. “The harmony is derived from the chain of descending fourths that form the first motif in the 9th Symphony. The orchestral forces correspond to those of Beethoven, although the three percussionists naturally perform on different instruments. “I very much hope that the yawning gap between my paraphrase and his work will not be felt to be an unbridgeable canyon between alien elements, but be perceived as related and accessible.”
Critics at home and abroad have been loud in their praise of Cerha’s masterpiece. The Vienna newspaper Die Presse wrote enthusiastically:
“Such obsessions are known by all music lovers. A genius can dispense with them in a creative way – or better: benefit from them. Cerha let the empty fifths, the austere descending fifths and fourths haunt his imagination. As in Beethoven, but naturally in an entirely different way, they gradually condensed into immense bursts of concentrated sound and sparked off hot waves of heightening tension. “The first of them leads to a kaleidoscopically fanned out, highly refracted echo of Beethoven’s tensely rhythmic cadence. The last one leads to powerful outbursts from the percussion section – with special emphasis on the timpani that requires virtuosic agility in the player. That is duly supplied by the Leipzig timpanist. And overall, the discipline and tonal beauty that marks the Gewandhaus musicians’ playing can be described as excellent. The quiet, subtly layered bodies of sound out of which Cerha’s composition emerges – and into which they sink back again, arched over by the gentle sound of bells – are depicted with extreme sensitivity by the orchestra in response to Chailly’s clear gestures. The sense of sensual euphony rules throughout, dark and rich in tone, and remains the trademark of the orchestra. “Tradition for the future. Those who can create such traditions assert themselves as unmistakable – and offer contemporary composers a noble forum with a difference. “Friedrich Cerha seemed moved by the enthusiastic applause. For the previous quarter of an hour, the audience had been noticeably spellbound by the dramatic events. The new Paraphrase on the beginning of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is indeed a successful venture, gripping and logical in its development, yet scintillatingly colourful. Many would have liked to have pressed the repeat button.”