Verfasser Dr. Thomas Leibnitz.
I. Youth and Education
Gottfried von Einem was born in Bern on January 24 1918 as the son of the diplomat William von Einem, who had been stationed in Switzerland since 1914 as military attaché to the Austrian Embassy. Gottfried’s mother, Gertha Louise, was descended from the house of Baron Riess von Scheuernschloss, an officers’ family from Kassel. It was not until the age of about 20 that Gottfried was informed of the identity of his biological father, Count Laszlo Hunyady.
The von Einems, after temporary sojourns in the Salzkammergut and in Bad Kissingen, moved to Malente in Schleswig-Holstein in 1922. The insulated world of the well-to-do diplomat’s family significantly shaped the boy’s childhood and early youth. Despite the very active social life he experienced, he suffered from loneliness and turned at an early age to music: “I noticed that the world of sounds was endlessly important to me – in fact, life-altering. It was actually clear to me from the earliest childhood years that I would enter upon the career path of the composer. By the age of five, I had already articulated my wish to be a composer with complete clarity.”
The very first, most basic music study was undertaken with his elementary school teacher Kahl, who was eventually succeeded by the piano teacher Käthe Schlotfeldt. The young Einem made quick progress on the piano, and displayed a special predilection for improvisation. Indeed the earliest attempts at composition came from this period, even though most of the basic theoretic principles of music were as yet still unknown to him. Einem was to comment later that hearing George Friedrich Handel’s “Messiah,” Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Richard Wager’s “Valkyries” were early concert experiences that left a profound mark on him.
Einem attended high school from 1928 until 1937, first in Plön and then later in Ratzeburg; he traveled frequently during his vacations. After passing his German graduation exams, he also earned the equivalent of an Austrian secondary school degree by taking additional tests. A visit in 1934 to the Bayreuth festival left a deep impression on him. He was also equally excited at this age by the music of Gustav Mahler, whose Ninth Symphony he described in his diary as the “most brilliant symphony of recent times”; Mahler’s works were not allowed to be performed during the Third Reich.
II. Rehearsal Pianist in Berlin
After the satisfactory completion of his secondary school studies, Einem traveled to Vienna in order to fulfill his compulsory military service requirements – he was still an Austrian citizen. As he was declared unfit for service within 14 days, nothing else stood in the way of his career in music. He moved to Berlin in order to study with Paul Hindemith; this study was never realized, however, because Hindemith was suspended from musical activity at the instigation of Joseph Goebbels. So began the “Berlin study and wandering years,” as the composer himself would later refer to them.
Einem was able to acquire practical musical training very early on. Through the help of the singer Max Lorenz, Einem was named rehearsal pianist and assistant to Heinz Tietjens at the Berlin Opera. “What I learned about the stage, I learned from Tietjen, and my operas are, I think, dramaturgically very well-constructed. My work with the stage was the deciding factor . . . In my scores, I always give performers directions regarding breathing, dynamics, tempo. Arturo Toscanini, Richard Strauss, Dimitri Mitropoulos, Bruno Walter, Hans Rosbaud, Herbert von Karajan, Karl Böhm and Wilhelm Furtwängler were the ones who opened my eyes. I owe everything to this practical training.”
Einem refused a later offer from Tietjen to be the music director of the City Theater in Kassel; he felt himself dedicated exclusively to the career path of a composer.
Starting in 1938, Einem was Tietjen’s assistant at the Bayreuth Festival. Einem’s mother was a good friend of Winifred Wagner, and Einem himself had known Richard Wagner’s grandchildren for some time: Wieland, Wolfgang, and especially Friedelind, with whom he had a year-long, rather turbulent relationship. This friendship with the Wagner family was not enough, however, to protect Einem from a temporary arrest by the Gestapo. The reasons behind the arrest were never revealed, but Einem suspected that internal party intrigues were possibly involved. The oppressive experience of the prisoner who does not know why he is imprisoned was later used by Einem in his opera “Der Prozeß [The Trial].”
III. Study with Boris Blacher
In 1941, Einem began taking composition lessons with Boris Blacher, whose Symphony Opus 12 had already impressed Einem in 1938. Blacher valued counterpoint studies above all else; his students had to attain complete and precise mastery of strict counterpoint as outlined by Johann Joseph Fux. Einem ultimately felt that it was fortuitous that his original plan to study with Hindemith had not worked out. For the rest of his life he was to be of the opinion that only through a solid, disciplined education in the classical genres could one find legitimate, yet personal and creative solutions in music composition.
“The co-ordinates to which one orients oneself with regard to the boldness of musical language must be decided individually. Yet only when one has undertaken the strictest study – and this I’ve experienced myself – can one, depending on one’s talent, embark on larger forms. Naturally, we also worked through harmony and pursued studies of musical form . . . Blacher came to me at exactly the right time, because I had worked industriously before, but was self-taught. I had worked on folk song arrangements, even little contrapuntal forms like canons, but everything was done without correction, which is very dangerous, because how can one know what one is doing wrong, if no one is there to explain?”
Boris Blacher was to become – outside of the composition lessons – a close, personal friend who was, in many ways, responsible for some of the most important turning points in Einem’s life. Through Blacher, Einem came to know his first wife, Lianne von Bismarck; she was a pianist and also took composition lessons. Additionally, it was from Blacher that Einem received the impetus and the Libretto for his opera “Dantons Tod [Danton’s Death]”, which established his world-wide reputation.
IV. First Successes as a Composer
During his studies with Blacher, Einem composed what he deemed to be his first mature work, worthy of the label opus number 1: the ballet “Prinzessin Turandot [Princess Turandot]”. The suggestion that led to the work came from Werner Egk, who was a friend of Einem. Egk had written a ballet himself that was very often performed with Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana”; wanting to rid himself of this coupling, he asked Einem to write a suitable work. Blacher suggested the text of Luigi Malipiero’s opera “Turandot,” which he adapted together with Einem. The composition was finished in 1942/1943 (now with the title “Princess Turandot”), and was to be premiered in Frankfurt, but eventually instead found its first performance in Dresden under the direction of Karl Elmendorff. The resonance the piece had with the audience at the 1944 premiere was – in Einem’s own words – “phenomenal.” “Princess Turandot” was the first in a string of subsequent ballet compositions: “Das Rondo vom goldenen Kalb [The Rondo of the Golden Calf]”(1952), “Pas de Couer” (1952), “Glück, Tod und Traum” [Happiness, Death and Dream] (1954) and “Medusa” (1957).
Nearly one year before the premiere of “Princess Turandot”, Einem presented another work to the public: the “Capriccio” for Orchestra, opus 2. The conductor Leo Borchard led the first performance with the Berlin Philharmonic in March 1943. The triumphant success of the work caused Herbert von Karajan to request another orchestral piece of Einem, which he could perform in his own Philharmonic concerts. Karajan, who had worked at the Berlin Opera since 1938, just like Einem, thereby gave the impetus for the “Concerto for Orchestra”, opus 4, the composition of which was overshadowed by the increasingly dramatic war situation. The slow movement, which Einem gave to Karajan for study immediately after its completion, was destroyed during a bombing raid on Berlin; fortunately for the composer he had kept a second copy for himself.
In April 1944 (Einem was working at the time as musical consultant at the Dresden State Opera), the “Concerto for Orchestra” received its premiere in Berlin, and was scathingly critiqued by the press, which rejected the jazz passages in the last movement as “cultural bolshevism”; jazz was considered “degenerate music” and was forbidden. The Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, wanted to personally examine the validity of this reproach, and ordered that a recording of the work be produced, so that he might make his own judgement. In the end, the investigation was lost in the disorder of the final phases of the war.
Einem had a close relationship to jazz, which also played an important roll in his opera “The Trial.” “It was through Blacher that I came into contact with this exciting and tremendously enriching new music. Blacher was in England before the war and had studied Jazz intensively there. After he returned to Berlin and I began to study with him, he also made me familiar with jazz. We regularly listened together to foreign “enemy radio stations” as a kind of ritual, chiefly news, but also forbidden music, for example Mahler, but also jazz . . . Listening to this music naturally had a very strong effect, because it had to do with an inner opposition, and opposition to a system which had declared itself against this music.”
V. World-wide Success of the Opera “Dantons Tod [Danton’s Death]”
Ausschnitt aus “Dantons Tod”
Einem spent the last few months of the war during the spring of 1945 in Ramsau near Schladming, in Styria, an area which was far removed from the tumult of the war’s end. Because he had never been a member of the Nazi party, he was named local police chief by American occupation troops and as such, was asked to investigate former SS troops. Einem immediately resigned the post: “Because denunciation was part of my job, I simply quit.”
During this time, Einem busied himself intensively with his first opera, “Danton’s Death.” He had already come across Georg Büchner’s text in 1944 while in Blacher’s library, and had immediately recognized it as fascinating opera material. Blacher adapted the text into a Libretto; composing the stage work took almost three years, a time characterized by the uncertainty of the early post-war years. In 1945 Einem decided to study composition temporarily with Johann Nepomuk David in Salzburg. In 1946 he married Lianne von Bismarck, whom he had already known since 1941, and was also given several prominent positions in public musical life: consultant to the Board of Directors of the Salzburg Festival as well as of the Vienna Konzerthaus Society.
The composer himself saw “Danton’s Death” as a coming to terms with the very recent past, as a discussion of the phenomenon of totalitarianism, which was personified in the work in the figure of Robespierre. “I’ve never written an opera that didn’t have a direct relationship to the time in which it was written . . . I’ve always found it important that that which one experiences and lives through in a certain time must be noted in the creative world. In this way all of my operas are reflections of the time in which they were created.”
Egon Hilbert, the head of the Austrian State Theater Administration, came to know “Danton’s Death” in 1946 and recommended the work to the Salzburg Festival Board of Directors in the same year; it was decided that the work would be performed during the following year’s festival. Einem had originally wanted Otto Klemperer to be the conductor of the premiere, but for reasons of health, this was not possible. In his place came Ferenc Fricsay, an at the time largely unknown Hungarian conductor who led the preparations to Einem’s great satisfaction. The premiere of the opera took place under Fricsay’s direction on August 6, 1947. It was a tremendous success, unanimously well-received by critics, the public and by musical colleagues. It was called a great moment of musical history; Werner Egk stated that he had “fallen to the floor in wonderment of this masterpiece” and Carl Orff declared the work a “splendid piece with all of the merits of a youthful composition.” In quick succession, the opera was performed by houses in Vienna, Hamburg, Berlin, Hannover, Stuttgart, Paris, Brussels and New York – Gottfried von Einem was transformed overnight into one of the most famous and revered composers of the present.
Einem also made his mark as a composer of the concert scene. Year after year, one premiere followed another: “Orchestra Music”, Opus 9, under the direction of Karl Böhm in June 1948 during the International Music Festival of the Vienna Concert House Society; the “Serenade for Double String Orchestra”, opus 10, led by Ferenc Fricsay in Berlin (beginning of 1950); the “Hymn” for Alto, Chorus and Orchestra opus 12 in March 1951 conducted by Fritz Lehmann in the Vienna Konzerthaus. The ballet “The Rondo from the Golden Calf” proved especially successful (premiered at the Hamburg State Opera in 1952); the work was performed for altogether 17 years, moving to the Vienna Volksoper after the premiere in Hamburg, then to the Theater an der Wien in Vienna, and finally to the newly rebuilt Vienna State Opera.
VI. The Bertolt Brecht Incident
Einem first came into contact with Bertolt Brecht through their mutual friend, Caspar Neher, who knew Brecht from their school days together. The poet turned to Einem with the request that the latter acquire an Austrian passport for him. Though Einem knew only the poems, and not Brecht’s theater pieces, he promised to help, and in return asked for Brecht to write a work for the Salzburg Festival. Thus the plan for the “Salzburger Totentanz [Salzburg Death Dance]” came about, which was to replace the annual production of Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s “Jedermann [Everyman]”.
While the plans for the production were becoming specific in 1950, there arose vehement opposition to the naturalization of the poet as an Austrian citizen; not only literary Brecht-adversaries such as Hans Wiegel and Friedrich Torberg, but also Salzburg politicians fought against Brecht’s moving to Salzburg. After a long dispute, Brecht ultimately decided instead to choose East Germany as his place of residence. In the aftermath, Einem was suspected of being a communist, and was declared “a disgrace for Austria.” While he began an emotionally-charged fight against these accusations, he was expelled from the Salzburg Festival Board of Directors in December 1951, an organization he had belonged to since 1948, based on his “poor conduct” and his “introduction of the Trojan Horse in the form of a communist.” Satisfaction in that matter came too little too late, when – decades later – the former Salzburg governor and later Prime Minister Josef Kraus explicitly apologised to him for the events surrounding the incident with Bertolt Brecht.
VII. “Der Prozeß [The Trial]”
Einem was introduced to the work of Franz Kafka by the director Oskar Fritz Schuh, who suggested that the composer read the novel “America”. As material for an opera, however, Einem found “The Trial” more suitable. Here he saw – as he did earlier with “Danton’s Death” – the possibility of making a profound artistic statement about current events. “Trials, by which I mean also accusation, defence, and judgement, are important themes not only in this piece, but actually in all my operas.”
Boris Blacher, this time collaborating with Heinz von Cramer, again prepared the libretto; Einem began the composition in 1950. It was not possible to construct an “opera plot” in any literal sense from Kafka’s novel. Instead, the opera consists of a series of pictures based on quotes from the book. These images are moments in the protagonist Josef K.’s life of suffering, images which, on the surface, seem to have little to do with one another and which play against the constant blend of a tangible foreground coupled with a vague, incoherent background. Every one of the nine pictures is built on a specific rhythmic motive and exhibits an unique musical language, so that the scenes are sharply delineated from one another. There was much speculation about the use of a twelve-tone row in the first picture, though to call Einem a serialist would be a misnomer; the dogmatism of the Second Viennese School was something Einem never wished to emulate.
“The Trial” was completed in 1952 and premiered as part of the Salzburg Festival on August 17 1953. Arthur Schuh was responsible for the staging, Caspar Neher designed the sets, Karl Böhm conducted, and Max Lorenz sang the part of Josef K. This work also proved to be a great success, and received further performances on numerous European stages.
VIII. Organizer and Music Pedagogue
Einem’s plans to settle down permanently in Salzburg were finally discarded in 1953, when the composer received several attractive offers, including the invitation by Karl Böhm to be the musical consultant to the Vienna State Opera. At the end of 1953, the Einem family, which consisted then of Gottfried, his wife Lianne, and their son Caspar, born in 1948, moved to the Austrian capital.
In Vienna, Einem achieved a prominent position in the city’s cultural and social life over the course of several years, one which provided him with influence and power over cultural and political concerns. “I never exploited this position for myself, however; I used it constantly to advocate others.” Einem won the Music Prize of the City of Vienna in 1958, and in 1960 he became a member of the Board of Directors of the Vienna Festival. A tragic event overshadowed the year 1962: the death of his wife Lianne, who was “the one constant factor” in the composer’s eventful life.
Starting in 1962, Einem became a professor at the Vienna University for Music, a position he would hold until 1972. After a long period of hesitation, Einem decided to take the position, but did so only after laying down several conditions: he wished to teach only at home, and not at the University itself, he refused to have more than six or seven students, and he would only give individual lessons. As a teacher of composition, Einem insisted upon the mastery of traditional counterpoint, just like his teacher, Boris Blacher.
A “solid classical basis” seemed to him indispensable; he categorically rejected what he called “free-floating dilettantism.” “My instruction was tailored individually; the aspects I concentrated on depended on the level of talent. A large portion of the work together was spent on analysis of the great masters – Debussy, Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Wagner, Bruckner.” Students of Einem who have made a name for themselves in the contemporary music scene include Heinz Karl Gruber, Dieter Kaufmann, Brunhilde Sonntag, William Fischer and Klaus Peter Sattler.
While in Vienna, Einem also took on the financial and copyright problems of his colleagues by serving as the president of the AKM (State Authorized Society for Authors, Composers and Publishers) for five years, between 1965 and 1970. Under his leadership, the organization, which had previously been torn apart by internal strife, underwent a considerable consolidation of opinion. A significant and constant concern of Einem’s was the unconditional respect of a composer’s intentions and the sanctity of a written work; this opinion led him to vehemently protest the reconstruction of the fragmented third act of Alban Berg’s opera “Lulu.”
The composer had a particular affection for the “Carinthian Summer” festival in Ossiach, probably because of his predilection for intimate performances. In 1969 he helped found the festival, and after 1981 he came to Ossiach and to Villach every summer without fail to attend performances – often premieres – of his works. Einem was the most frequently performed contemporary composer at the Carinthian Summer, an honor which meant a great deal to him: “It is a place where one feels oneself to be floating a few centimeters above the ground. And there are familiar people there to stimulate my work – that’s why I feel so at home at the Carinthian Summer.”
IX. “Der Zerrissene [Torn Apart]”, “Der Besuch der alten Dame [Old Lady’s Visit]”, “Kabale und Liebe [Intrigue and Love]”
Einem’s third opera, based on the eponymous comedy by Johann Nestroy, was designated by the composer as his “Viennese” opera. It was begun in 1961, and was dedicated to the memory of his wife, Lianne. Einem once again asked Boris Blacher to adapt the text into a libretto; this time, though, Blacher at first refused. In his opinion, Einem did not have an “Austrian” idiom, and moreover comic opera inherently contained a great risk in and of itself. Einem was nevertheless eventually able to convince Blacher to adapt the play.
In contrast to the two previous operas, which revolved around male protagonists, the figure of “Kathi” stands in the limelight of “Torn Apart.” The composer himself understood this opera as “the grand song of the institution of marriage,” in which he returned to traditional operatic forms.
The premiere of “Torn Apart” took place on September 17 1964 at the Hamburg State Opera. Though the public acclaimed the new work, the Opera House’s director Liebermann decided to remove the production from the season’s program after only three performances due to the negative press reaction.
Einem was already familiar with Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s “The Old Lady’s Visit” since 1956, but it was not until eleven years later that he realized his plans to turn the work into an opera. Boris Blacher, who was also initially opposed to adapting this work into a libretto, ultimately shortened and tautened the text, an adaptation for which Dürrenmatt’s consent had to be obtained. Dürrenmatt was subsequently invited to Vienna, so that he could get to know Einem as well as his music by hearing a performance of the composer’s “Danton’s Death,” especially scheduled for him by the Vienna State Opera. Afterwards, he spontaneously decided to undertake the task of adapting the text himself.
For the libretto, Dürrenmatt cut nearly a fourth of his original text, a parable about the amorality of a seemingly upstanding man of the petty bourgeoisie whose weak character is exposed by the seductive offer made by Claire Zachanassian, a woman obsessed by revenge. In the new version, the figure of the “Old Lady” was made central. In his setting, Einem again stayed true to his essentially tonal musical language. The result was the partial rejection on the part of specialists, but broad and sustained approval on the part of the general public.
The premiere took place on May 1971 in the Vienna State Opera; it was one of the most triumphant successes of Einem’s entire career, in no small part thanks to a very prominent cast: Christa Ludwig as the “Old Lady” and Eberhard Wächter as Ill. Shortly thereafter the opera was performed in Berlin, Graz, Mannheim, Karl-Marx-Stadt (now Chemnitz), Dortmund, Oldenburg and Munich. After “Danton’s Death,” it proved to be Einem’s most popular work.
Friedrich Schiller drama of the same name – was entrusted to Lotte Ingrisch, Einem’s second wife (the marriage took place in 1966). In collaboration with Boris Blacher, a libretto was
The preparation of libretto to “Intrigue and Love” – based on the produced, the dramatic core of which was a familiar topic from Einem’s earlier operas: “What interested me about the material was the exaggerated attitude to a hypocritical society and a volatile form of human relationships”. The premiere in Vienna on 17 December 1976 (staged by Otto Schenk, conducted by Christoph von Dohnanyi) corresponded particularly with Einem’s strict conception of loyalty to a work, something he expected not only of himself, but from all the colleagues he worked with. The opera was dedicated to the then Austrian President, Rudolf Kirchschläger, and his wife.
X. Scandal about “Jesus’ Wedding”
That Einem’s career as an operatic composer was not always marked by success, but could also at times give rise to scandal, was made clear by the events surrounding the premiere of his mystery opera, “Jesus’ Wedding”, which took place at the Theater an der Wien on May 18 1980. The libretto of the opera was written by Lotte Ingrisch. Misunderstandings – in part, an intentional wish to misunderstand – of this mystically and symbolically conceived text culminated in accusations of blasphemy as well as violent public demonstrations, abusive letters and even death threats.
The work on “Jesus’ Wedding” was the first large project Einem undertook together with his wife. He had been fascinated for decades by Jesus Christ and his Sermon on the Mount, for him one of the “greatest documents of mankind.” Lotte Ingrisch made the Christian concept of salvation central to the plot. Following the tradition of the mystery play, allegories came on stage personified by actual characters; thus it came that Jesus was married to a female version of death incarnate, which was intended to be understood as a mystical act. “It is this wedding of polar opposites, the union of love and death, which saves man from his own mortality (Lotte Ingrisch).”
Even before its premiere, church representatives as well as journalists created a derisive atmosphere regarding the work by quoting excerpts from the text that were taken out of context, and by denouncing Einem’s new opera as an enemy to the church and to religion in general. The tensely anticipated premiere under the direction of David Schallon was a complete scandal: Organized screams disrupted the performance, and stink bombs and tomatoes were thrown.
The negative reaction in Vienna had a devastating effect on the further reception of the work. The State Theater in Hannover was the only opera house that showed any interest in further performances, which took place in November of 1980 conducted by George Alexander Albrecht. Here, too, press conferences and heated public discussions took place, though the debate, all things considered, was conducted on a higher level than in Vienna.
XI. Symphonic Music, Chamber Music and Songs
Though Gottfried von Einem principally saw his calling in the field of music drama, concert music nevertheless makes up a significant and striking part of his total output. All categories are represented: large-scale symphonic forms (including “Symphonic Scenes for Orchestra”, 1957; “Dance-Rondo for Orchestra”, 1959; “Night Piece for Orchestra”, 1960; “Bruckner-Dialogue”, 1974; “Munich Symphony”, 1983), piano and violin concertos, works for vocal soloists and orchestra, chamber music for various numbers of players and an extensive collection of songs. A high point in the long series of commissioned works that Einem composed was the Cantata “An die Nachgeborenenen [To Posterity]”; it was written for the 30th anniversary of the United Nations in New York and received its premiere on October 24 1975.
Einem himself felt that the variety of the forms he employed reflected his continual search for something new:
“I can always motivate myself when I am writing something new. That’s why I have always chosen very different kinds of forms and written over a hundred songs.”
Despite this, Einem did establish a continuity in the technical elements of his compositions:
“I can’t speak of creative periods, stylistic differences, interruptions or breaks in my work. There are, of course, changing colors. But the most significant thing is that one remains true to his diction and to his technique. There is, unfortunately, too much nonsense practiced with technique and with personal idioms. I can’t stand that. For me, music technique is a gospel, and tonality is part of that gospel.”
XII. The Last Opera: “Tulifant [Tulifant]”
The suggestion for the composition of “Tulifant” came from Franz Häussler, the businessman director of the United Stages Vienna. He and Peter Weck were searching for a new work from the artistic couple Einem/Ingrisch, even though the United Stages Vienna had specialized in the performances of musicals. Einem suggested a chamber opera, in which the orchestra consisted of about 20 musicians. Even though the work was completed in 1984, it could not be performed in the intended venue Theater an der Wien; the musical “Cats” had proved an exceptionally long-running success and prevented all other works from being staged. Finally, on October 31 1990, “Tulifant” received its premiere in the Vienna Ronacher Theater.
Einem’s seventh and last opera was based on the thoughts of the priest and philosopher Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), who was burned at the stake. The story unfolds in a symbolic, fairy tale realm, and uses allegory to articulate the battle between good and evil, albeit with direct reference to the present. The author, Lotte Ingrisch, continued Austrian traditions dating back to Mozart’s “Magic Flute”; within the framework of a fairy tale, concerning the adventures of the child hero Fridolin and his battle with “Wüsterich”, the personification of belief in progress, present-day issues are metaphorically presented, especially concerns about the conservation of nature and the environment.
Einem himself designated “The Tulifant” as his “green” opera. Compositionally, he returned to the simplest elements – easily “singable” themes, a traditional aria structure and a chamber-sized orchestration are the predominant characteristics of the composer’s last statement in the field of music drama.
XIII. In the Crossfire of Politics, Media and Ideologies
Gottfried von Einem was a fighter; with regard to his opponents, he was rarely known to mince words. In fact, he could approach – and sometimes overstep – the boundaries of coarseness. Despite this, he and above all his music were often accused of complacency, of a lack of readiness to challenge the prevailing trends and preferences of the audience. He was a colorful personality in a political respect: his friendly relations with politicians of different parties aroused suspicion, and many were unable to understand how Einem could display public sympathy for exponents of the left side of the spectrum (especially Bruno Kreisky) as well as for leading candidates of the conservative camp. Clearly, many of Einem’s contemporaries lacked the insight that what stood behind such conduct, which in Austria was very unusual, was not political fickleness, but rather a liberal attitude that did not concern itself with party boundaries.
Einem was especially argumentative when it came to confronting narrow-mindedness and its cultural and political manifestations, whether emanating form the conservative faction of the Catholic Church or on more artistic grounds, from advocates of the compositional avant-garde, who considered every “concession” to the public’s listening habits and preferences an unforgivable aesthetic sin. One example is the conflict of opinions over the 1971 premiere of the very successful opera “Der Besuch der alten Dame [The Old Lady’s Visit].” The ideologically argued critique written by Theodor W. Adorno raised the objection that the opera served only to satisfy the musical requirements of the bourgeoisie and that it occasionally used avant-garde musical language merely as camouflage: “If von Einem’s music doesn’t sound quite as amiable as that of Strauss or Puccini, this serves to prove to the audience that it may be listening to advanced composition; otherwise, listening to this music might well cause a guilty conscience” (Hans-Klaus Jungheinrich).
Einem himself was also not known to walk on eggshells around his opponents of the musical avant-garde either; he called his contemporary Karlheinz Stockhausen the “most vainglorious brat” he had ever met. Einem’s rejection of advancing modernity in music, which used noise as a compositional tool, was often expressed in somewhat drastic formulations:
“I love a well-sung phrase, or a beautifully-played string movement. Why should one always have to mistreat an orchestra, so that they have to scrape their bows on the ground or in a filled or empty toilet?”
He judged the media’s role in the public reception of the avant-garde as central: “If certain people in the press didn’t feel it their duty to messianically discover new directions in music, than maybe this musical falsehood would cease to exist altogether.”
During the conflict triggered by the mystery opera “Jesus’ Wedding,” Einem committed himself to a liberal and individual interpretation of the Bible’s message. He had no patience with the church-led protests against his work, which were supported by the Austrian Cardinal König and the German Bishop Karl Lehmann, the latter of whom was generally considered quite liberal:
“The official churches, regardless which ones, be they the aggressive ones of the near Orient or other ones, are representatives of a human defect.”
Established in the art world, yet the target of derision from the leading circle of music critics; friendly with politicians of all parties, yet constantly ready to make pointed political statements; an advocate for the role of contemporary music in cultural life, yet in dramatic contrast to certain manifestations of the avant-garde – these contradictions form the portrait of Gottfried von Einem and his role in Austrian cultural life. In a laudation given on his 75th birthday, Erhard Busek (another friend from the political arena) tried to sum up Einem:
“He is not a resident of the ivory tower, but rather an activist, who stands directly in the middle of all our lives. We see in him not a dreamer, but rather an alert observer and shaper of every event.”
XIV. Role Models, Friends, Enemies
Within his relationships to various friends, certain preferences, interests and occasionally even partisanship manifested themselves. Gottfried von Einem’s circle of friends extended well beyond musicians and was a reflection of his broad interest in creativity of every kind.
Visual art ranked almost as highly as music, and the most significant name here was that of the set designer Caspar Neher: “Next to Boris Blacher, the relationship with Caspar Neher was the deepest and most creative friendship of my life.” Neher designed the sets for the operas “Danton’s Death,” “The Trial” and “Torn Apart”. The artistic understanding between the two was one of congenial, like-minded intuition; discussions and detailed explanations were never necessary:
“One never had to explain very much to him – three or four key words, and he understood.”
At Einem’s request, Neher was called to Salzburg, where he received much praise for his redesign of the Felsenreitschule [Summer Riding School]. His early death in 1962 was one of Einem’s most devastating experiences.
Einem’s friendships with Oskar Kokoschka, Fritz Wotruba and Max Weiler, if not as intensely personal, were marked by deep mutual respect. Einem had felt close to Kokoschka, a “figure of the century,” since his Salzburg years. He had long discussions with Wotruba about the question of what man was able to gain through art, and considered a bronze stele by the sculptor as among the most precious works of art in his Rindlberg house. Max Weiler was a fellow member of the Artistic Senate; it was here that they came to know one another and began their friendship, one which called for few words, as Weiler was “one of the quietest people that I have ever known.” Einem saw Weiler’s paintings as translations of musical concepts such as line and counterpoint into forms and colors.
Einem’s compositional role models were to be found in the past. Though wary of being thought iconoclast, he considered Bach, Mozart, Schubert and Mahler as the creative figures against whom he measured himself. He treasured beauty in Mozart, a principle which was not dominant in the contemporary aesthetic:
“Beauty, in my opinion, is what one needs as comfort, not only in times of difficulty, but also for its own sake.”
With Bach, Einem was fascinated by an “immense gestural power”, which he felt expressed itself in Bach’s energetic handwriting. Finally, the multifaceted and mysterious realms of Mahler’s music made a great impression on him; during the Third Reich, he listened to BBC broadcasts of Mahler’s music, thereby risking the punishment meted out to listeners of “enemy radio broadcasts.”
It would distort a portrait of Einem were one to avoid mentioning the personal enemies which he made in the music world:In most cases, the confrontational atmosphere came from Einem himself. One of the biggest names whom the still young composer set himself against was Richard Strauss. For all his brilliance, Einem maintained, Strauss was “an opportunist through and through.” As a member of the Salzburg Festival Board of Directors, Einem forbade performances of Strauss’ work, which deeply angered the aged composer. Einem was also not on the best of terms with his composing colleague Friedrich Cerha, whose reconstruction of the third act of Alban Berg’s opera “Lulu” Einem considered sacrilegious:
“I left the Artistic Senate the moment that the composer Friedrich Cerha joined it.”
Near the end of his life, Einem summed up many of the relationships he had had:
“I was often quite unbearable, particularly also to my closest friends and partners. Today, I regard this not from some lofty perch, not with detachment, but certainly with clarity.”
XV. The Last Years
In his last years, Einem permanently left the big city in favor of the country. Starting in 1973, Einem and his wife Lotte Ingrisch had spent large portions of the year living on their estate in Rindlberg in the Waldviertel, a place where the composer especially appreciated the quiet:
“I couldn’t have written the operas and other works I wrote here without this peace. The nights were unbelievable.”
Einem’s “Waldviertel Songs” were inspired by the Waldviertel and its pristine beauty; the songs were written in 1983 as a result of a commission from the Governor of Lower Austria, Siegfried Ludwig. The construction of a new road eventually spoiled the Rindlberg estate for the couple. In the middle of the 1980’s, they started searching for a new residence in the countryside, and eventually found a “wonderful old house” in Oberdürnbach near Maissau. It was here that Einem spent his final years.
In the summer of 1995, Einem published his memoirs entitled “Ich hab’ unendlich viel erlebt” [I have lived to see so much] With this candidly told story of his life, he was able to sum up many things – his artistic work, the position of opera in the musical life of the present, and above all, his numerous friendships with notable personalities who left their mark on him, including Wilhelm Furtwängler, Caspar Neher, Herbert von Karajan, Arturo Toscanini, Karl Böhm, Friedrich Cerha, Helmut Wobisch, Ingmar Bergman, Otto Preminger, Fritz Wotruba, Max Weiler, and Oskar Kokoschka. Einem left his artistic legacy to the Archive of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde [Society of Friends of Music] in Vienna.
The composer made clear at the end of his life that he had never feared death. Transcendent experiences, which he had together with his wife, contributed to this:
“Experiences on the borders of parapsychology, which in the last few years have been increasingly frequent, have brought me to believe that I have no reason to fear the transition into death. Lotte and I have had wonderful experiences of a transcendental nature in Rindlberg. It is likely that the absolute quiet of the place was essential. In the Waldviertel at night I experienced the most remarkable things, sounds, which were truly not of this world.”
Gottfried von Einem died on July 12 1996 in Oberdürnbach.
XVI. Righteous among the Nations
In December 2002, Gottfried von Einem was named a “Righteous among the Nations” receiving the highest honour that the State of Israel gives to non-Jews.
With an announcement on 12/4/2002 from the Embassy of the State of Israel, the Israeli Holocaust Memorial Organization Yad Vashem posthumously honoured Gottfried von Einem with the title “Righteous among the Nations”.
Those so honoured belong to a group who, from February 1943 until the end of the war, contributed to helping Konrad Latte survive the period of his persecution. In so doing, these helpers risked their own lives, as well as those of their families. During a ceremony on Friday, December 6th, 2002 at 11:00 AM in the Church of the Justice Department’s Tegel Correctional Facility on 39 Seidel Street in Berlin, the Envoy of the State of Israel, Mordechay Lewy, discussed the effect of the honourees and presented their relatives Yad Vashem medals and certificates.
The Church of the Tegel Correctional Facility was chosen to host the event as its former Reverend, Harald Poelchau, was also honoured by Yad Vashem in 1971. Among others, it was he who was the deciding factor in Konrad Latte’s survival. Gertie Siemsen, also an honouree, was at that time his closest co-worker; furthermore, Willy Kranz, similarly honoured, leased the Berlin prison’s cafeterias. The Yad Vashem memorial service was run under the auspices of the Senate Committee for the Justice of Berlin.
Yad Vashem, the agency dedicated to the perpetuation of the remembrance of the martyrs and heroes in Jerusalem is both a memorial organization and simultaneously a centre for research, which focuses on the fate of European Jews during the Nazi era. Among the agency’s principal tasks is to commemorate and demonstrate its thanks to those people who, of their own accord, tried to save Jews, despite the danger to their lives and to those of their families. Yad Vashem does this with the title of honour “Righteous among the Nations”: the title comprises medals and certificates, as well as a permanent inscription of the recipient’s name on the memorial wall in the “Garden of the Just” in Yad Vashem. It is the highest honour that Israel confers on non-Jews. Nearly 19,000 women and men from all parts of Europe have received the title; among them are 400 Germans.
Berlin, December 2002
© All Pictures: Einem-Chronik – Dokumentation und Deutung