Vom Jüdischen Schicksal (1937)

Recorded at St Andrews, The Terrace, Wellington, August 2014
Featuring Jenny Wollerman, Christian Thurston, Cantoris Choir, NZSM Orchestra, Donald Maurice - conductor

Vom Jüdischen Schicksal is the greatest triumph and the greatest tragedy of Richard Fuchs. The piece was composed for a competition for Jewish composers under the auspices of the deeply ambivalent Jewish Kulturbund, an organisation seemingly fostering "Jewish artists" yet imprisoning them in someone else's idea of who they were. Richard won the competition, a choral piece based partly on the writings of Karl Wolfskehl who ironically also ended up in the green desert of New Zealand. It was judged as "heroic and monumental" by some fairly substantial composers in Berlin. Scores were printed and a performance planned, although not a fully public one, the performance was only able to be attended by Jews. But then the Reich's Cultural Commissar, Hans Hinkel, banned it completely, it was not even able to be performed in private. This was a devastating blow to the 50 year old Fuchs. The only time Vom Jüdischen Schicksal was played during Fuchs's life was at his home in Karori when he played the piano parts to the almost blind fellow refugee Karl Wolfskehl, whose writings the piece was based on.

I always wondered why it was banned, after all a noted musicologist had observed that "Unfortunately Fuchs composed in the musical language of the perpetrator." So it was only upon hearing it for the first time that I realise how perverse the Nazis were and how brave my Grandfather was. He was a tonal composer, a throwback to an older musical order. There was nothing particularly revolutionary about Fuchs's music, his architecture and his compositions were unmistakably Germanic. Modernist tendencies were there but not overwhelmingly, and there was absolutely nothing "degenerate" about any of it. In fact his architecture was unwittingly praised by the Nazi Gauliter, (not realising Richard was Jewish) as the "best of Germany", and Richard himself was the best of Germany as well. Shortly after, Richard was identified as a Jew and his license to practice architecture was cancelled. For the Nazis to perceive Richard as a Jew and therefore an immigrant was ludicrous. The Fuchs family had been in Germany since the 17th century. Richard himself was not religious and apart from a Kaddish he composed for his Father's funeral he avoided anything liturgical or ritualistic. He composed songs and pieces celebrating German art, literature and music. He adored the most German of composers, Wagner, and he and his four brothers were named after Wagner's operatic heroes. His brother Gottfried represented Germany at football, the last Jew ever to do so, another brother Sigmund, pioneered group psycho-therapy. The Fuchs were patriots, and this is where the paradox lies. Richard's work was not banned for being "degenerate" or "Jewish" it was banned for being too German. By putting German text albeit on Jewish themes to the most Germanic music he could create, he had defiantly proclaimed "I am German". They didn't like a Jew being more Germanic than they were, a nightmarish joke. They would have preferred Richard to write hebraic texts in a Jewish key, (Minor supposedly) but to them Richard was appropriating their music.

The same argument surfaces even now. Nativism thrives in New Zealand and elsewhere as to who is allowed to use or incorporate indigenous music and art. Cultural appropriation is a dirty word. Of course it seems academic to listen to Vom Jüdischen Schicksal and merely think it is a footnote about a different time and place, but it is a universal story of refugees, people who are culturally alienated. Richard wrote music not to incite his audience but to comfort them. In times of strife, familiar traditions and not just religious ones, become vitally important. Sitting together listening to this music would have had a startling effect on the tiny audience that would have attended. It would have reminded his German Jewish audience who they were, far more vividly than Schoenberg and Hindemith. The fact that Fuchs' music is tonal, monumental and emotional does not make it the music of the perpetrator, any more than enjoying Wagner makes me an anti-Semite. It may be that the Nazis would have loved Fuchs, had they not known he was Jewish, but so what, they liked Beethoven as well. If it was the language of the perpetrator it was also the language of the victims. But I hate those terms. The Nazis and many Germans of the time believed they were the victims of a Jewish conspiracy, the Nazis were the ultimate whining self pitying soldiers of victim hood, a fearful mixture of cowardice coupled with violence, a disgusting double act. The same sort of hysterical rhetoric we now see directed at refugees with the same assumption that they must somehow prove their "innocence". Fuchs has been regarded by musicologists as a minor footnote, a skilled amateur, yet to me he is a revelation, confronting cruel paradoxes which were far more dangerous than the atonal experiments dabbling of an exile in Switzerland or America. Like Hans Fallada he was an internal exile, and though he was eventually forced to leave Germany he never really did. His short life in New Zealand was not a happy one.

I read somewhere that the "Germans will never forgive the Jews for Auschwitz", absurd, but it has an element of truth. Even Richard's first recital in Germany 60 years after his death was called a "Rehabilitation". Richard Fuchs was never sorry, not sorry he was Jewish, and certainly not ashamed he was German. In fact his pride remained intact as an enemy alien in New Zealand during the war. He protested he was Jewish, an anti Nazi, but to no avail. The Nazis may have defined him as an uber mensch, but at least the idiotic New Zealand bureaucracy had got closer to the happy truth, he was a German., It made no difference that he was Jewish, he was still under arrest.

Danny Mulheron, November 2015

Review – Michael Haas

Another important discovery was the German/New Zealand composer Richard Fuchs, who prior to 1933 had been a successful architect with a number of his buildings now under protected status in his native Karlsruhe. He was also an amateur painter, but beyond his profession and hobby, he was primarily a composer who had letters of recommendation from the likes of Wilhelm Furtwängler. Read more about him at Richard Fuchs Collection He was active in the Jewish Kulturbund and his large-scale work for chorus and orchestra entitled Vom jüdischen Schicksal – of Jewish Destiny, presented listeners with an unsettling challenge. If composers such as Zeisl, Rettich, Schoenberg, Toch and even Korngold dipped a compositional toe into the waters of 'Jewish' music, Fuchs offered a more disturbing dialectic. He took a Jewish setting by Karl Wolfskehl and set it to music that was defiantly German. As Prof.Tim Jackson observed in an accompanying documentary, Fuchs wrote music using the language 'of the perpetrator'.

Well, yes and no: he wrote the most 'German' music he could, which he set to the most Jewish German text he could find. The result was its banning by the Nazi authorities from performance at the Jüdischer Kulturbund. No official explanation was offered, but hearingVom jüdischen Schicksal it becomes quite clear that Fuch's sound-world of Schumann through a Wagnerian prism, was simply too shamelessly German and not sufficiently 'Jewish'. Jewish compositions for the Kulturbund were meant to distance themselves from German music. With vom jüdischen Schicksal, Fuchs simply put two fingers up to the Nazis in charge of the Kulturbund and its activities. The music reminded me of Ernst Pepping's Second Symphony. Certainly it's not what might be called the Late Romanticism of Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss, Franz Schmidt, Hans Pfitzner or Joseph Marx. Fuchs not only defied the Nazi unilateral declaration that Jews were not German, but did so using music that represented the height of Germany's musical dominance. It was a work of unashamed 19thcentury grandeur. We encountered a new aspect of 'Suppressed Music' once we recovered from the shock of hearing nationalist German music with a defiantly Jewish text. To call it 'the music of the perpetrator' misses the point: It was in every sense, Music of Resistance. Fuchs was not prepared to allow Hitler to determine Jewish claims to German identity. Vom jüdischen Schicksal was also a world premiere, having lain dormant since its rejection by the Kulturbund. There was a certain irony in its premiere taking place in a St Andrew's Church in front of a huge wooden cross.

Original article by Michael Haas http://forbiddenmusic.org/2014/08/27/conferences-august-2014/

Vom Jüdischen Schicksal (The Jewish Fate) English translation:

Movement 1: 'Und dennoch sind wir da!' (And yet we are here!)

Text: Karl Wolfskehl from ‘Die Stimme Spricht’ (The Voice Speaks)
Translation: Olga Marx

Always driven, always in the bite of the blast -
Was the burden of life ever bitterer on earth?
Has harsher yoke pressed on calloused shoulders,
The plough of dark Destiny cut deeper furrows?
Were death and dread ever quite so near?
And yet we are here!

And yet we lifted our foreheads over and over,
And yet our songs of thanks, our prayers and paeans mounted,
When air and light stole through a rift of the mouldy dungeon,
They found us bowed on the book, at God's work, the workers!
Our hearts did not break though our lot was austere,
And yet we are here!

Terrible Fate, you bring weeping and the lust to kill,
All day you crouch in corners, threaten and leer,
All night you gnash your teeth and lurk by our pallet.
When we sobbed, swore, implored, it was you who spoke.
Only Hatred replied with savage jeer.
And yet we are here! 

Yes, yet we are here, and must remain,
Sucking at pain as at honeycombs.
The others go - are allowed to! Our hour
Once shall bloom from a fertile wound.
Then we shall know why He suffered our tears.
Then, when the trumpet's holy Yes rings clear,
We shall be here!

Movement 2: 'Stimme der Vorzeit' (Voices of Antiquity)

Text: Süsskind von Trimberg, translated into German by Dr Bertha Badt-Strauss
English translation: Peter Dronke ('the Medieval Lyric', Boydell & Brewer, 1996)

Still with my art I undertake
the journey only a fool would make,
as nobles do not give me anything.
For this I shall now shun their court,
and I shall grow a long grey beard:
from now on I shall take the road
in the way an old Jew does.

My coat will have to be long,
I’ll wear a wide-brimmed hat,
my walk will have to be a humble walk,
and I shall seldom sing them another courtly song,
since noble lords bar me from what is theirs.

Movement 3: 'Aufbruch, Aufbruch' (Setting Forth: After the shower of meteors, October 1933)

Text: Karl Wolfskehl from 'Die Stimme Spricht' (The Voice Speaks)
Translation: Olga Marx

Keep as the last that is your own
A grain of earth from graves of kin,
Impatient flags will flutter soon
In morning wind that drives you on.

How far from you another's goal!
What bound you once has paled and died,
Hold thanks and favor in contempt,
The clasp of friendly hands - they lied!

Renounce the crooning forests, tracks
Of does, ravines where waters brawl,
The song of runes which told the course
Of cyclic changes to the scald.

Turn from the halls and streets, from rest
And clamour, guest and host. Oh, slight
The strain to leave another's draft
When the soul drinks the Lord's delight!

Put out your burning wish! How false
What yesterday was still sublime!
Who was allowed a night like this
Must wake until the hour chimes.

But none of us who wander east,
Not one forgets what once he heard:
A sound which sank into his heart,
The word of love, the word of words.

The word of love in years of youth,
The word of words the master said
Survive in us as sacred fire,
These two: our star, our guide, our bread!

Movement 4: 'Vor Ausfahrt' (Before the Exit)

Text: Karl Wolfskehl from 'Die Stimme Spricht' (The Voice Speaks)
Translation: Olga Marx

We write it on the door-posts
With our ancestral blood,
Remembrance shall not rust
In us, the lions brood.
Dawn glimmers in the east.
The rotted timbers crumble

And when the posts have tumbled,
The doors crash from the wall,
And those within - what shall
They do? They howl into
Their palms. We only laugh. 

The weary towers totter
And vanish in the river.
For years we watched them quiver,
Exulted in their end.
Let fall, let fall what must,
We stand we stand! The First! 

Why posts and doors and towers!
We are the threshold-guard.
Before we strapped our bundles,
Each hearth still held its flame,
We stirred, we stir the fires. 

Let every bond be broken,
All eyes shall look ahead.
With early green we bind
Our staff and sword and shovel.
We find and find and find!

Our task to tread the grapes!
Who bore them from the hill
Was avid for their sweetness
Praise him who struck him dead!
Day reddens in the east!