Jonathan Schaeffer: a Glimpse into Erwin Schulhoff’s Life        

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In 1901, Louise Wolff spent time trying to convince Antonio Dvorak to examine her son, Erwin Schulhoff, for his extraordinary talent displayed at a young age. Antonio Dvorak who wasn’t too fond of child prodigies tested young Schulhoff on his ability to recognize pitches and harmonies. Schulhoff must have impressed Antonio Dvorak because he was rewarded with a recommendation for private piano study at Prague Conservatory. Schulhoff studied at Prague Conservatory until 1906 and continued to study piano, theory, and composition in Vienna with Max Reger until 1910.

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The period in Cologne between 1911 – 1914 would mark Schulhoff’s final student teachings where he studied piano, composition, and conducting under the direction of Carl Friedberg. (

Two of Schulhoff’s biggest inspirations were Richard Strauss and Claude Debussy. Early on in Scholhoff’s music career, he was entranced with Strauss’ music. Early compositions of Schulhoff’s, around the year 1906, show traces of Strauss’ influence. Strauss would continue to influence Schulhoff until 1912 when he heard Claude Debussy’s music. Schulhoff’s composition changed in his works in early 1913 where he employed quartal harmonies, parallel chords, and whole-tone scales. Along with new compositions, the young musician sought out Debussy for composition lessons. Schulhoff became the newest pupil of Debussy but their relationship did not last long. Debussy was keen on teaching Schulhoff rules and concepts that the young composer had already moved past in his own compositions. (

Schulhoff’s falling out with Debussy would not be the biggest moment in his youth. Schulhoff was drafted to the Austrian Army when the First World War broke out. He fought in Hungary in 1916 where he dealt with a shrapnel wound to his hand and would fight in Russia through to the end of the war. The war caused Schulhoff to grow angry. This caused two things. Politically, he became a committed Socialist and musically, he sought to push past his Romantic style of compositions in turn for a progressive composition style. ( Through the early point of Schulhoff’s life, the world and society around him heavily influenced his music which is a key theme throughout his life.

With the conclusion of the War, Schulhoff moved to Dresden where he resided with his sister, Viola. In Dresden, Schulhoff became interested in left-wing politics and the visual arts through his friend Otto Dix, a painter. Furthermore, Schulhoff started to explore the atonal music of the Second Viennese School around the year 1919. Schulhoff was very interested in “music of the future after hearing Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire. He held a series of concerts inspired by the Vienna Society for Private Musical Performances where he presented works by himself, Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern along with a handful of other avant-garde composers. Also, Schulhoff had become attracted to the Dada movement in Berlin through George Grosz, a mutual friend. Schulhoff would help to organize the first Dada movement in Dresden. In 1921, Schulhoff married Alice Libochowitz and the couple moved to Berlin in 1922 where he attempted to make a music category to the Berlin Dada movement. (

Dada introduced Schulhoff to new forms of art such as American ragtime, dance music, and Jazz. His friend Grosz had shared his phonograph records of American music with Schulhoff. In the 1920’s jazz had become a large source of inspiration to Schulhoff and was integrated into many of his works. In 1923 Schulhoff would return to Prague. Along with his return, Schulhoff pushed aside his interests in atonal expressionism for his intensified interest in jazz as well as French neoclassicism and Slavonic folk music. For Schulhoff the next decade in Prague would bring success. His compositions were widely performed and were published by Universal Edition. Unfortunately, Schulhoff struggled financially and was unable to secure an academic position that could have made his situation comfortable. (

Schulhoff would become well known internationally throughout the music world as both a pianist and a composer. He appeared in concert at Paris and London in 1927 and toured Germany and the Netherlands in 1930. The tour featured one of his works Double Concerto which he was one of the soloists. His compositions made frequent appearances at the annual festivals of the International Society of Contemporary Music. Schulhoff’s compositions were also played at the summer festivals of contemporary chamber music in Donaueschingen in 1924 and 1925. Schulhoff was also a fan of the radio where his concerts were broadcasted in Prague and London. He would also write a piece specifically for radio titled Concerto for String Quartet and Wind Orchestra. (

The final decade of Schulhoff’s life brought on declines in his professional and personal life. Universal Edition, his publishing company, dissolved his contract in 1931 because Schulhoff was too prolific of a composer. Schulhoff’s progressive composition style fell out of style because his blend of jazz and classical music was no longer fashionable in the 1930’s. His forms of income were starting to dry up and Schulhoff wrote music under pseudonyms, worked for the radio, and appeared as a concert pianist between 1933 and 1935 for a left-wing cabaret theatre called Liberated Theatre. Schulhoff’s home life declined in parallel fashion to his musical career. His mother passed away in 1938 after an increasing straining relationship. His wife became ill while Schulhoff concurrently became romantically involved with his student which lead to divorce. (

Throughout his life, Schulhoff had been an outspoken socialist but he skewed even father left in the 1930’s towards communism. In 1931 Schulhoff joined the “Left Front and joined a workers’ theatre group. In 1933 he traveled to the Soviet Union as a delegate to the workers’ theatre competition. He also performed at a handful of concerts in Moscow and Leningrad. Upon his return to Prague, Schulhoff explored his new political ideology in his music writing cantata for soloists, choruses and wind ensemble in 1932. Furthermore, Schulhoff focused on composing symphonies which were meant to be accessible and to convey political meaning in his programs. ( Life in the Czech Republic became very precarious for Schulhoff and his family due to the abrupt Nazi occupation of the country. Schulhoff, who was Jewish, quickly began the process to emigrate to Great Britain, France, or the United States. With the Nazi grip strengthening, Schulhoff quickly turned to apply himself, his wife, and son for Soviet citizenship. Schulhoff was approved as a Soviet Citizen and went to pick up his visa to emigrate on June 13th, 1941, but, the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22nd left leaving the country an impossible task. Schulhoff was arrested the following day but not for being a Jew, but for being a Soviet Citizen. Unlike Schulhoff’s father who would be sent to the notorious Theresienstadt camp, he was sent to a work camp in W??lzburg, Bavaria, where he died of tuberculosis in August 1942. ( Society and Jazz in the Weimar Republic

The Weimar Republic spanned from 1918 to 1933, or when the Third Reich came to power. The Weimar Republic can be split up into three periods, 1919 – 1923, 1294 – 1929, and 1930 – 1933. The first period was marked by bad economic troubles. Hyperinflation made it hard for the average German to afford a loaf of bread. The economy was so unstable that the price of bread could rise drastically as you are waiting in line to buy it.(PSD) The first period also held a handful of revolutions. In March of 1920, the Kapp Putsch was an attempted coup which aimed to overthrow the Weimar Republic and insert a right-wing government in its place. The Hamburg Uprising was a ploy by the KPD (German Communist Party) to take their turn at overthrowing the Weimar Republic in October of 1923. The uprising lasted no more than 24 hours. In that same year, another coup named the Beer Hall Putsch took place. This coup was lead by the NSDAP party, or the Nazi party. Hitler would lead the coup with approximately 2000 Nazis by his side. They tried to seize power in Munich on November 8th of 1923. The coup was a failure and Hitler, along with other powerful NSDAP members, served time in jail. During this time in jail, Hitler would write his Mein Kampf which would become the backbone of National Socialist ideology. The second period was marked by France and Belgium withdrawing from the Ruhr.

The Rhur was occupied as a response to the Weimar Republic for defaulting on their reparation payments in the early 1920’s even though the payments were to be spread out over several decades. In the political sphere the Center-Right would begin to dominate control of Government and slowly phase out the SPD (Social Democratic Party of Germany). The last period of the Weimar Republic is the coming to power of the Third Reich. With Hitler’s failed coup at Beer Hall Putsch he looked to legal means for coming to power. While Hitler was gaining popularity through his nationalism and anti-semitic ideals he never gained a full majority vote. The NSDAP did have the most percentage of the vote, around 40 percent. With that, the Weimar Republic ended and the Third Reich had begun. (Class lecture)

The Weimar Republic was a melting pot of new musical ideas and styles. On the heels of national romanticism, Weimar opened its doors to a stream of progressive/avant-garde artistic experiments. This included Neue Sachlichkeit (new objectivity), 12 tone composition, flirtations with jazz, and a take on music-theatre. Music thrived throughout the Weimar Republic, but Berlin was the center of the music scene in Germany. Some of the most influential composers of the period lived in the city. Some of the major composers included Kurt Weill, Hanns Eisler, Ernst Toch, and Ernst Kreneck. Despite the ideals of rising National Socialism, Berlin was accepting of foreign composers including Bartok, Stravinsky, Ravel, Honegger, and Prokofiev. Their music was performed frequently throughout Berlin.

It is easy to focus on the progressive music and composers of the Weimar Republic, but that doesn’t paint the whole picture about not only music in Weimar but also the politics. There was also a conservative group of musicians in Weimar who wanted to preserve classical music and who were against progressive music. One of the most outspoken conservative musicians was Hans Pfitzner. He also took a conservative stance in the political climate. Pfitzner viewed the German defeat from WWI as a national catastrophe with severe implications for the future survival of Germany’s musical heritage.(Music in the Third Reich, 3) The emotive language employed by Pfitzner provided strong resonances in conservative circles and formed one of the major theoretical works to influence Nazi musical aesthetics.(Music in the Third Reich, 4).

Pfitzner, being an anti-semitic, would accompany Hitler’s eventual Degenerate Art Exhibit where he denounced Jewish composers. The idea of Jewish composers being lesser than their German counterparts was not a concept formed only by Hitler. Through the lens of Pfitzner, that idea was already bubbling in the early stages of the Weimar Republic. In a 1920 issue of German Renewal an anti-semitic journal, Reinhold Zimmermann published an article titled The Spirit of Internationalism in Music where he pushed beyond Pfitzner. Zimmermann claimed that there was an international Jewish conspiracy that was keen on destroying the national identity of German music. Zimmerman, unlike Pfitzner, attacked the achievement of specific Jewish composers Mahler and Schoenberg, citing them as negative forced. Zimmerman went as far as to claim Schoengerg had a role in persuading Walter Rathenau, a German foreign minister, to implement the Versailles Treaty through Schoenberg’s harmonic experiments. (Citation for the article) The ideas of Pfitzner and Zimmermann were echoed in the works of some contemporary music historians. In Karl Storck’s 1922 The Music of the Present, which was the final volume of his History of Music, he discussed the fight against German music carried out in the interests of an international artistic mud. In the text, Storck gave Pfitzner approval for his opposition towards musical futurism and concurrently condemned Schoenberg for pursuing ‘tonal chaos’. Like Pfitzner, Storck tried to make a distinction between the individual Jew and Judaism. Storck praised Mahler for fighting for the cause of German music, but argued that his compositions were entirely removed in the ethos from the true German spirit.(Cited article)

The work of Pfitzner, Zimmermann, and Storck didn’t gain much traction in the early years of Weimar. Their ideas of composing only true German music and preserving the music of the past greats was thwarted by the installments of Melos and ISCM. Melos was a magazine founded by Hermann Scherchen in 1920. It was used to promote the latest German and international contemporary music. A couple years later, (ISCM) the International Society for Contemporary Music was established that endorsed friendly musical co-operation between all European nations. The conservative musicians did not have any musical organizations to the scale of Melos or ISCM to spread their message until the mid 1920’s. In 1924 the Bayreuth Festival re-opened for the first time in ten years that caught the eye of many Germans. After a performance of Die Meistersinger, the audience sang a hearty rendition of the German national anthem Deutschland uber alles (Germany above everything). Over the following years since its re-opening, Bayreuth became to represent a symbol of extreme nationalism. (Music in the Third Reich, 6) Hitler would visit Bayreuth in 1923. At Bayreuth, he gained wholehearted approval from the Wagner family. A year after Hitler’s visit to Bayreuth and being publicly endorsed by the Wagner family, confrontation against the cultural atmosphere of the Weimar Republic was intensified by a series of events in the musical world. This would ultimately lead to the ostracization of Germany Jews from the music scene from the Degenerate Art Exhibit.

If music created by Jewish composers was ousted by German nationalist composers and the National Socialist party, how was Jazz viewed? How did Jazz infiltrate Germany Society? How did Jazz shape progressive and avant-garde composer in the Weimar Republic?

The conclusion of the First World War created German territories west of the Rhine that had been divided into multiple zones of occupation from British, Belgian, French, and American forces. These territories would be Germany’s first exposure to Jazz music due in part to foreign soldiers residing in Germany looking for and sharing entertainment. The over 100,000 American soldiers that occupied these territories brought over American culture. Journalist Harry A. Frank noted that the Americans “commandeered the poor man’s drinking-places and transferred them into enlisted men’s barracks. We shooed the rich man out of his sumpturous club and turned it over to our officers.

We allotted the pompous Festhalle and many other important building to the Y.M.C.A., and ‘jazz’ and ragtime and burnt-cork jokes too the place of Lieder and Mannerchor.(cite) There have been other accounts from the German press and in memoirs of musicians having heard and learned jazz from American troops.(cite) This influence also passed down stream to neighboring cities such as Bonn, Cologne, and Wiesbaden. This idea of jazz spreading from American occupied zones is cemented by the fact that the first extended discussion of jazz music in Germany is published in the city of Cologne in June of 1919. The author of the German written essay on jazz music in Germany was George Barthelme. Barthelme has a unique standpoint because he had been in New York to experience American jazz greats like James Reese Europe.

He writes: “Jazz is a worldview and therefore to be taken seriously. Jazz is the expression of a cultural epoch, the victorious battle of the elementary forces of the soul over the redemptive form. [ . . . ] Jazz is thus . . . a musical revelation, a religion, a worldview, like Expressionism and Impressionism. But these two are only partial. Jazzism by contrast is total, is the higher unity, the Hegelian synthesis. But its synthesis lies ultimately in the negation of any synthesis. It doesn’t bring together, it disperses, isn’t solution but dis- solution. It is analysis driven to the extreme. In Jazzism form cedes to chaos, law to anarchy, the rule to incidence or coincidence. Jazzism is amorphous music. It is the negation of all musical syntax and stylistics, likely also of musical notation, which, however, can’t be heard. It is the transvaluation of all values of tone and tempo. It is anti-­, anti-­, anti-­: Anti-­ Wagner, Anti-­Strauss, Anti-­Reger, even Anti-­Debussy. As such musical Bolshevism. Or a big joke to find out what you all can offer an audience of the 20th century while still getting paid.(cite) It is clear that Barthelme thinks that jazz should be taken seriously. He also notes that jazz is a different type of music that Germany has not been exposed to before, calling it Anti-Wager, Anti-Strauss, and even Anti-Debussy.

Jazz Bands in Germany would begin to pop up along the Rhine. The very first jazz band to advertise in Der Artist was Jackson’s Jazz Band.(Cite) Other jazz bands that advertised in Der Artist were The Harlington Jazz Band, Original-Jazz Band, and Jimmy’s Jazz Band all of which originated in Wiesbaden.(cite) The Jazz Band Duet and Harry Johnson’s Original American Jazz Band originated in Bonn. Also in Wiesbaden, an advertisement was found for a jazz band called the “Negro Orchestra, a group from New York featuring 35 black performers. Jazz band and Jazz musicians were present in Germany from at least December 1919 and onward in Wiesbaden. The German knowledge and experience of jazz varied between person. A German who was not living in or near Wiesbaden may not have had any idea what jazz was. Geography played a large role into defining jazz in Germany.

In Berlin, jazz was not associated with jazz bands or groups of musicians but instead was associated with dance. Popular songs in the early 1920’s using the word “jazz was labeled as a “three step dance. (cite) A duo Bella Chitta and Arthur Dolores used jazz to describe their dance. The duo printed and advertised a poster that defined jazz as the “newest fashionable dance.(cite) (should I put the picture in or not?) Referring to jazz as a dance instead of music was common in 1919. The jazz dance has popped up throughout Europe in the late 1910’s as well as the early 1920’s.(cite)

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Jonathan Schaeffer: A Glimpse into Erwin Schulhoff's Life        . (2020, Mar 07). Retrieved from