Compact Discoveriesģ
a series of one-hour radio programs produced, written, hosted, and edited
by Fred Flaxman

©2014 by Fred Flaxman

Program 237
"Hans Pfitznerís Cello Concertos"

MUSIC: excerpt from Pfitzner: Cello Concerto in A Minor, Op. 52: Fourth Movement: Allegretto, performed by Alban Gerhardt, cello, with the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, conducted by Sebastian Weigle [Hyperion CDA67906, Track 6]  [over the following]

Hello and welcome to Compact Discoveries. Iím your guide, Fred Flaxman. Stay with me for the next hour and weíll listen to three beautiful cello concertos together. They are all by the same German composer ó Hans Pfitzner ó who lived from 1869 until 1949.

MUSIC: fades out

It is unusual for a composer to write three cello concertos. Relatively few major composers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have written more than one cello concerto.  Shostakovich wrote two, as did Saint-SaŽns, Schnittke, Kabalevsky, and Villa-Lobos. But who else wrote three?

I like to discover beautiful, romantic, tuneful music by composers most classical-music lovers have never heard of.  Usually I talk about a composer like that at the beginning of the program. But in the case of Hans Pfitzner, Iím going to do just the opposite. I want you to enjoy the music without the prejudice you might develop were I to tell you first about the person.

So letís start right away with Pfitznerís Cello Concerto in A Minor, Opus 52. Although it doesnít sound anything like a 20th Century composition, much less like one written in the middle of World War Two, it was completed in 1943 and published the next year. It is in four movements. The cellist for all three concertos youíll hear in this hour is Alban Gerhardt. The Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin is conducted by Sebastian Weigle.

MUSIC: Pfitzner: Cello Concerto in A Minor, Op. 52, performed by Alban Gerhardt, cello, with the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, conducted by Sebastian Weigle [Hyperion CDA67906, Tracks 3-6]

Hans Pfitznerís Cello Concerto in A Minor, Opus 52. Alban Gerhardt was the cellist. The Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin was conducted by Sebastian Weigle.

Pfitznerís wrote a much earlier Cello Concerto in A Minor, which was only published after his death. It was written in 1888 when he was still a student. In order for the work to be performed when he wrote it, it needed approval from the director of the music school. But the director was unimpressed. He said that Pfitzner had made what he considered to be an elementary error by using three trombones in a cello concerto.

Pfitzner then tried to get support for the work from the composer Max Bruch. But that also failed. So Pfitzner recycled a few musical ideas from the concerto in his first opera. But after that the manuscript to the Cello Concerto disappeared. This loss greatly disturbed him, since he believed that the concerto contained worthwhile music.

Pfitzner remembered one of the beautiful themes from that concerto, and he recycled it many years later when he wrote the Concerto in A Minor, Op. 52, which you just heard.

Both Pfitzner and the lost two-part A Minor Cello Concerto survived World War Two, and the concerto was found after Pfitznerís death in 1949. Youíll hear it next. Listen for the same theme in this early composition that you heard in his Opus 52 work.

MUSIC: Pfitzner: Cello Concerto in A Minor, Op. post., performed by Alban Gerhardt, cello, with the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, conducted by Sebastian Weigle [Hyperion CDA67906, Tracks 1 & 2]

Hans Pfitznerís Cello Concerto in A Minor, Op. post., performed by Alban Gerhardt, cello, with the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, conducted by Sebastian Weigle.

Pfitznerís Cello Concerto in G Major, Opus 42, was written almost a half-century after the piece you just heard. It was completed in 1935. Once again we hear Alban Gerhardt, cello, with the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, conducted by Sebastian Weigle.

MUSIC: Pfitzner: Cello Concerto in G Major, Op. 42, performed by Alban Gerhardt, cello, with the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, conducted by Sebastian Weigle [Hyperion CDA67906, Tracks 7 - 11]

Hans Pfitznerís Cello Concerto in G Major. The soloist was Alban Gerhardt. The Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin was conducted by Sebastian Weigle.

Although Pfitzner turned out to be an ardent German nationalist, he was born in Moscow in 1869. His father was working there as a violinist in a theater orchestra. But Hans was just two years old when the family returned to Frankfort, the city that Pfitzner always considered his home town.

During the Nazi era, Pfitzner, who was not Jewish, was at first regarded sympathetically by important figures of the Third Reich. But he soon fell out with high-ranking Nazis, who were alienated by his long musical association with the Jewish conductor Bruno Walter. He incurred extra wrath from the Nazis by refusing to obey the regime's request to provide incidental music to Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream that could be used in place of the famous setting by Felix Mendelssohn. Mendelssohn was unacceptable to the Nazis because of his Jewish origin. Pfitzner maintained that Mendelssohn's original score was far better than anything he himself could offer as a substitute.

Pfitzner and Hitler met during a hospital visit in 1923. Pfitzner was recovering from a gall-bladder operation when a mutual friend arranged a visit. Hitler did most of the talking, but Pfitzner dared to contradict him regarding a homosexual and antisemitic Austrian philosopher, causing Hitler to leave in a huff. Hitler said that he wanted "nothing further to do with this Jewish rabbi." But Pfitzner was unaware of the comment and believed Hitler was sympathetic to him.
Hitler, however, saw to it that the composer was passed over in favor of party hacks for positions as opera director in DŁsseldorf and a high post with the Berlin Municipal Opera.

Pfitzner viewed Jewishness as a cultural trait rather than a racial one. A 1930 statement that caused difficulty for him was that although Jewry might pose "dangers to German spiritual life and German Kultur," many Jews had done a lot for Germany and that antisemitism per se was to be condemned. He was willing to make exceptions to a general policy of antisemitism.
 
Pfitzner's biographer wrote that Pfitzner was the only composer of the Nazi era who attempted to come to grips with National Socialism both intellectually and spiritually after 1945. In 2001 another writer examined the ideological tug-of-war of the composer's involvement with the Nazis. She concluded that, although the composer was not exclusively pro-Nazi nor purely the antisemitic chauvinist often associated with his name, he engaged with Nazi powers he thought would promote his music. He became embittered when the Nazis found his music to be of little propaganda value.

In any case, the story of Hans Pfitzner proves once again that to appreciate good music, you must separate the art from the artist. Good composers are not necessarily good people, and in many ways they are just as imperfectly human as the rest of us.

This is Fred Flaxman, your guide to good music, but not necessarily good people. Thanks for listening to ďHans Pfitznerís Cello ConcertosĒ on this hour of Compact Discoveries.

ANNOUNCER (Tana Flaxman): Compact Discoveries is made possible in part by an anonymous donor from Palm Beach, Florida. And by the financial support of Isabel and Marvin Leibowitz, Art and Eva Stevens, and ArkivMusic dot com, the online store for classical music CDs, DVDs, downloads, and over 10,000 on-demand reissued titles. Thatís A-r-k-i-v Music dot com.

Program Ends at 63:1