Message from the Wagner scholar Barry Millington:
In addition to the fourteen songs by Alma Mahler published in her lifetime, several dozen more – perhaps as many as one hundred – were written and have been lost or destroyed. One of those ‘lost’ songs, Einsamer Gang (Lonely Walk), has recently been discovered and will be given its UK premiere performances by Rozanna Madylus and Counterpoise at the Wagner 1900 conference in Oxford (April) and at the Newbury Spring Festival (May).
Einsamer Gang is one of three songs composed by Alma Mahler in 1899–1900, before her lessons with Alexander Zemlinsky and before her introduction to Gustav Mahler.
The facts of the affair are incontestable, the letters available for public scrutiny.
In 1924, a philosophy professor at the University of Marburg made love to the brightest student in his class. He was Martin Heidegger, 36 years old and married, on his way to becoming a force in his field. She was Hannah Arendt, 18, Jewish with mousy hair, probably a virgin. Heidegger abused his power and position to take advantage of a besotted student. By today’s terms, he was a sexual predator.
He went on to formulate his quasi-existential theory of Dasein (being there). In April 1933 he was made rector of the University of Freiburg, revealing himself as an enthusiastic supporter of the Nazi regime. Arendt had to leave Germany, finding refuge in 1941 after many wanderings in New York, where she taught philosophy at the New School and mingled with Manhattan’s intelligentsia.
Incomprehensibly, perhaps unforgivably, Arendt maintained an epistolary romance with the odious Heidegger throughout the Nazi years and beyond. In a 1953 diary entry, she describes Heidegger as a fox trying to lure prey into a trap in which he is already trapped. Was she a willing participant in his mind games? Or a victim of Stockholm Syndrome, where the kidnap victim falls in love with her captor? Either way, the affair is profoundly instructive as a case history in the present #Metoo hysteria, an academic anatomy of mental anguish and physical abuse.
The Israeli composer Ella Milch-Sheriff has turned it into a two-act drama at Regensburg Opera, fittingly indeed in a small town in Germany. The title, The Banality of Love, is a play on Arendt’s famous phrase ‘the banality of evil’, by which she (mistakenly) described Adolf Eichmann at his Holocaust trial.
From the opening scene, the story has little to do with love. Heidegger uses physical force and personal charisma to rip young Arendt away from the attentions of a besotted fellow-student and make her his mistress. Her intellectual development, harnessed to her erotic education, is yoked to Heidegger’s powerful mind. Without actual violence, Heidegger subjects her to varied forms of abuse and captivity.
Milch-Sheriff mitigates the harshness of their connection with sparkling wit. Heidegger, lecturing his class, accompanies himself on a mandolin like a medieval Minnesinger. Snatches of Wagner, Mahler and Bernstein afford a musical context to this cultural confrontation. The opening phrase of Deutschland Uber Alles mutates in a minor key into a morbid stain of spreading evil. The war of ideas is fought out by an excellent orchestra in a score of considerable sophistication.
Regensburg, a town of 100,000, has an elite singing ensemble. Its newest recruit, Sara Maria Saalmann, in her early twenties has a stage presence that belies her slight form. The eye is magnetised by her subtle movements, the ear by her serene handling of a complex phrase. This young soprano will go far.
Vera Semeniuk plays the older Arendt with more sympathy than the score allocates to the role; Angelo Pollak reveals no redeeming features in the younger Heidegger; Adam Kruzel as the older Heidegger appears as corrupted in body as he is in mind. The house was almost full for the performance I attended and the opera will remain in repertoire for the rest of the season, 12 performances in all.
At a time when ‘new’ opera is synonymous with the abstractions of Kaija Saariaho and George Benjamin, this pulsating, all-too-human drama contends with current and recent conflicts of mind, body, gender and nation. It’s one of those rare operas that has something pertinent to say about our present confusions.
The former principal bassoonist of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra has settled his case for unfair demotion.
John Wetherill, 63, claimed in 2012 that the Indy and its Polish music director Krzysztof Urbanski were engaged in a strategy to ‘move out and replace’ senior players like himself with others much younger and cheaper.
Wetherill was demoted to second bassoon and filed suit for age discrimination.
The ISO said his claims were ‘outlandish’ and ‘baseless.‘
Settlement was finally reached on February 12. Wetherill had sought compensation for lost wages, mental anguish and legal fees. The agreement states that each party will ‘bear its own costs and expenses, including attorneys’ fees.’
I’m listening to Liza Ferschtman’s fine new recording on Challenge Classics of the violin concerto by Erich Wolfgang Korngold. I cannot listening to it without the memory, unbidden, of the vicious reviews it received in New York, where the critic Irving Kolodin called it ‘more corn than gold’, an epithet that has stuck for seven decades.
Korngold in 1947 was trying to rebuild his pre-War reputation as a serious composer after spending a comfortable decade in Hollywood and the jackals were waiting for him to fail. The concerto, premiered by Jascha Heifetz, contained – to be fair – some fairly corny clips from recent film scores.
Olin Downes in the New York Times found that ‘the facility of the writing is matched by the mediocrity of the ideas. ‘ But it is Kolodin’s comment in the now-defunct New York Sun that killed the concerto stone-dead and, with it, any hopes that Korngold cherished of a reputational revival. He died a decade later, all but unperformed.
It took 30 years for Korngold’s music to return to the concert hall, and it was the much-maligned violin concerto that led the way, in the hands of Itzhak Perlman and his generation. Today, the concerto is not just popular but almost respectable. What struck Kolodin as corny is now regarded as core heritage, the source of the John Williams school of film composing. Nevertheless, we still can’t hear it without the critic’s killer comment coming to mind.