Erwin Schulhoff – His Legacy Survives

Erwin Schulhoff didn’t survive the Holocaust. But his music did. Schulhoff was a Czech composer who wanted to bring music into the future. In the 1920s he regularly associated with Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, and Anton Webern. 

He was successful as a composer and a concert pianist. For a while. Schulhoff was also Jewish, and an outspoken Communist. He was high on the Nazi’s cultural blacklist. His music was forbidden in Germany, and then Austria after annexation. And finally, in Czechoslovakia where Schulhoff was trying to live in seclusion. 

He had applied to emigrate to the Soviet Union. But just days before his scheduled departure, Schuloff and his son were arrested. They were sent to Wülzburg prison where he died of tuberculosis.

Before the rise of the Nazis, Schulhoff’s future looked bright. His works collected here have an exuberance to them. 

The Concerto for Piano and Small Orchestra, Op. 43 was written in 1923. While it has some highly chromatic passages, Schulhoff refrained from 12-tone technique. Instead, he chose to blend free-ranging harmonies with dance club jazz. And it works. 

Piano Dominic Cheli gives an electrifying performance. He keeps the energy level high, and the music bouncing along. He is also outstanding at playing the Suite for Piano, Left Hand. Surprisingly, this 1926 work doesn’t seem to be a Paul Wittgenstein commission. But it’s on par with that level of musicianship.

The Five Pieces for String Quartet and Sonata No. 2 for Violin and Piano are also included. These modernist compositions sound as fresh and challenging today as when they premiered in the 1920s.

This is an excellent overview of Schulhoff’s works. The Nazi suppression of Schulhoff’s music removed it from circulation. And it’s only been in the last decade or so that attention has returned to Holocaust composers. 

An excellent recording of music that deserves to live again.

Shapeshifter — Music of Erwin Schulhoff
Artists from the Colburn School; James Conlon, conductor
Delos DE 3566

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