The fate of some musicians from 1907

My last post about the number of solo piano concerts included a list of names and the information I could find to determine whether they were “dilettantes” or professional musicians. I wanted to find evidence for the opinion expressed by some critics, who seemed to conflate women, the “proletariat” and mass-produced aspects of music (such as pianos) into a single frightening menace. Their ideological assumptions made them draw conclusions which they had already unconsciously formed. But the data does not back them up. What I found was that most of the soloists from 1907 in Berlin could be accounted for: they did not just return to their home town and set up shop as a piano teacher, but instead had a career in music. This is an example of what this data can be used for. It’s true that I’ve always just liked making lists, but these lists can also help rewrite music history.

Here’s another example of uncovering some music history we should know about. While trying to track down the remaining pianists (and I was able to strike two more off my list), I found information on at least 30 musicians from 1907 in the University of Hamburg’s online dictionary of musicians persecuted during the Nazi era (Lexikon verfolgter Musiker und Musikerinnen der NS-Zeit). The following are just the people who were killed.

On 21 October 1907, violinist Helene Fürst and pianist Helene Schaul gave a concert of Bach, Mozart, and Schubert sonatas. Both of these musicians later perished in Auschwitz in 1944.

Helene Fürst in the periodical Berliner Leben, 1905

The composer and pianist James Simon was also killed in Auschwitz in 1944. Besides playing on two chamber music concerts in 1907, he put on a concert of his own compositions, which included a piano quintet and some lieder. Simon, who taught at the Klindworth-Scharwenka Conservatory, was also a musicologist who had a doctorate and had written several books.

Another composer, James Rothstein, died in the Polish ghetto of Łódź/Litzmannstadt in 1941. The 29 January concert of his works, which he conducted, got a negative review in Die Musik. However, he went on to conduct his Double Concerto at the Berlin Philharmonic in 1915. He also worked as one of the composers for the Berlin Überbrettl cabaret in 1901, wrote an opera called Ariadne auf Naxos in 1903, and composed music for films.

Gisela Springer, in Berliner Leben, 1903

I had been puzzled about the lack of information about the pianist Gisela Springer. She gave three concerts in 1907, which were in January, November, and December. In subsequent years she appeared as soloist with the Berlin Philharmonic in 1912, 1916, and 1921. It is thought that she also died at the Łódź/Litzmannstadt ghetto.

I found three more musicians on my list who were killed during the Holocaust, all singers. The most famous, Ottilie Metzger-Lattermann, had participated in a concert at the Zoo’s Exhibition Hall on 21 January. She died sometime in February 1943 in Auschwitz.

The soprano Fanny Opfer gave a concert on 28 November of new Lieder by Robert Kahn, Erich J. Wolff, and Karl Kämpf. She died on March 1944 after a year and a half in the ghetto at Theresienstadt.

Finally, the baritone opera singer Juan Luria gave a concert with the cellist Joseph Malkin on 18 November. He was killed at the Sobibor concentration camp in Poland in May of 1943, when he was 80 years old.

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3 comments

  1. Debunking the chauvinism of critics seems a very valuable bi-product of inveterate list making. Connecting the dots in revealing the half-truth undergirding a widely-held view offers a case study in historiography for future researchers.

    List on!

  2. On the subject of lists, the Nazis seem to have maintained a morbid attention to detail, despite treating their victims as nameless cattle. But, I have to say, it is details like the ones in your post that actually make the horror and tragedy of the holocaust so vivid. It’s not the mind-numbing six million figure that needs repeating over and over, but the individual stories that bring the pain home.

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