The forgotten years …

Timeline of the Leipzig Radio Choir  1924-1933

by Rüdiger Koch



The Leipzig Radio Choir 1928-1930 with music director Alfred Szendrei in front of the Old Stock Exchange, from which broadcasts were made.
Photograph: MDR Choir archive – Johannes Mühler
The name Leipzig Radio Choir will hereinafter be used as a generic term for all phases of the choir’s development. The term Radio Choir of Leipzig will be used in reference to the period from 1946 until 1991. Where a name is commonly used for a particular period, it should not be understood as denoting a separate choir that bears no relation to the choir that preceded or followed it.


The secret of an old photograph  [I-01]

As a board member of the MDR Choir, Rüdiger Koch, the writer of this text, made a remarkable discovery while sorting the MDR Choir archive in March 2002: among the books and files containing old accounts, correspondence with record companies and other event organisers; among the choir’s financial statements, certificates and medals there was a yellowed envelope that had some photographs inside it.

One of the pictures immediately captivated its viewer. It had been taken in front of the Old Stock Exchange in Leipzig and showed Alfred Szendrei, the music director of the Central German Broadcasting Company (MIRAG) amid 58 ladies and gentlemen of varying age.

www-Foto-rThe back of the photograph was labelled as follows:
“The part-time radio choir of Leipzig 1928 1930
under Alfred Szendrei,
photographed in front of the ‘Old Stock Exchange’
in which performances took place.

Max Richter, L.-N 22 Geschw.-Scholl-Str. 12“.

The old photograph was a signal from the past to start shedding light on the obscure early years of the Leipzig Radio Choir’s history.

An array of questions arose:
What was the choir in the picture called?
What duties did it perform for MIRAG?
Might it be possible, after such a long time, to find out the names of the choir members shown in the picture?
Was the period to which Richter dated the photograph reliable?
Can a linear development be traced from this choir through to the founding of the Radio Choir of Leipzig in 1946?

In view of the scaffolding that can be seen erected around the Old Stock Exchange, the date of the photograph could be put back to the spring of 1926.


The MIRAG Symphony Orchestra with Alfred Szendrei in front of the Old Stock Exchange in Leipzig
Photograph from 1926
Source: the MDR Orchestra archive

In order to ascertain the identities of the pictured singers, the photograph was presented to five former members of the Radio Choir of Leipzig individually. They all spontaneously pointed to the same young man, the seventh gentleman from the left in the back row, who faces the camera with a friendly and confident expression. They all reacted with virtually the same words: “Well that must be Dr Weise!”

A further copy of the old photograph had been inherited and preserved by the singer’s daughter. Weise had diligently written the following details on the rear of the photograph:
“The Leipzig Oratorio Association in front of the Old Stock Exchange (Naschmarkt) May 1, 1926, about 60 strong; director: Alfred Szendrei”

This stroke of luck verifies, and indeed pinpoints, the date of the old photograph. This hitherto anonymous choir did in fact have a name: the Leipzig Oratorio Association.

So what functions did the Leipzig Oratorio Association have to perform for MIRAG? What was its repertoire? When was it founded? How did it develop?
The objectives to which Szendrei aspired in founding his choir are stated in his own memoirs (TRIANGEL 2/1998 – 7/1998), in which he also describes the choir’s repertoire for the first two MIRAG seasons. On this basis one can deduce that the Leipzig Oratorio Association had been founded as early as 1924 or 1925. The memoirs furthermore contain detailed information on the choir’s repertoire, fully backed up by contemporaneous programme listings, most notably in Die Mirag, a radio programme guide that circulated in Leipzig.

Incidentally, the choir photograph of May 1, 1926 was shown in an edition of Die Mirag in June 1926, which also referred to the choir as the Leipzig Oratorio Association. At this stage of the investigation into the history of the Leipzig Radio Choir there were two secure “bridgeheads”: the inception of the Leipzig Oratorio Association in 1924 or 1925 and the re-establishment of the Leipzig Radio Choir in 1946. Each landmark was thereafter taken as a starting point in an attempt to bridge the gap between the two. It was encouraging to find numerous similarities between the line-up of the newly founded choir of 1946 and that of the Leipzig radio station’s choir of 1941 (which was disbanded in 1942).





More Chapters of the Choir Timeline  1924-1933

   [I-01] The secret of an old photograph
[I-02] Radio – the new medium of the 1920s
[I-03] Alfred Szendrei: Radio music in theory and practice
[I-04] The evolution of MIRAG: from house ensemble to symphony orchestra
[I-05] Vom „funkischen“ Singen: Die Leipziger Oratorienvereinigung
[I-06] Dr. Helmuth Weise: Rundfunkchorsänger der zwanziger und fünfziger Jahre
[I-07] Das Ende der Ära Szendrei und das Ende der Leipziger Oratorienvereinigung
[I-08] “An den Pranger mit Dr. Szendrei!”


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