How to say No to La Scala on the eve of its season opening

How to say No to La Scala on the eve of its season opening


norman lebrecht

December 05, 2013

Here’s a telegram the great conductor Erich Kleiber send to Milan in December 1938:

I learn at this time that the Teatro alla Scala has closed its doors to your compatriot Israelites. The music is made for all as the sun and air. Where you deny to human beings this source of consolation so necessary in these times so hard and this only because they belong to another race or religion, I can’t work either as a Christian and as an artist. I must therefore ask you to consider null and void my contract despite the pleasure I had in directing in this magnificent theater that recalls the most noble traditions of Italy. Erich Kleiber.



h/t: Tomislav Vichev


  • Tommy says:

    Thanks, Norman 🙂

  • Human being! First of all! Thanks Erich&Norm!!

  • Rosana Martins says:

    I’ve always admired Erich Kleiber as one of the best conductors of the century. My admiration for the human being now knows no bounds!

  • Brian says:

    Great man, great artist, great soul.

  • David H. says:

    Way to be, just human among humans. Bravo!

  • Tully Potter says:

    Not for the first time, Adolf Busch beat him to it, sending letters on 28 October 1938 to the Italian national concert agency Centro Lirico Italiano, Conte San Martino of the Santa Cecilia Academy and other Italian concert organisations, saying to the Conte that because ‘the Italian government has decided to imitate the barbaric methods of the Third Reich, by which innocent people are driven into misery, I see the proof that working for culture in a country where such inhumanity is possible has become altogether senseless’. This further boycott, coming on top of his boycotts of Germany (from 1 April 1933) and Austria (from 1936) cost Busch one of his few remaining sources of income. He himself and his quartet were incredibly popular in Italy. Busch’s letter to Centro Lirico Italiano was even more specific, mentioning the Third Reich’s ‘barbaric laws regarding the Jews’. Busch and Kleiber were not Jewish, by the way.

    • David H. says:

      You are mixing up the two brothers, conductor Fritz Busch and the violinist Adolf Busch. Also Busch didn’t exactly boycott Germany but was driven out under the most disgusting circumstances by a Nazi mob in Dresden, after he had been called to Göhring in Berlin and openly refused collaboration with the Nazi regime.

      A short clip about this, unfortunately only in German:

      Busch and Kleiber. Shaming all the collaborators in Germany by their humanistic example.

  • Gary Schneider says:

    Let us not forget Arturo Toscanini, also not a Jew, who cancelled out of his debut performances at Bayreuth in protest. And – volunteered and conducted the debut performances of the Palestine Symphony Orchestra (Now the Israel Philharmonic) in 1937!

  • Fabio Luisi says:

    Wonderful. Thank you Norman for having brought it to us.

  • Thanks Norman, what a great man!