Wagner festival is named after a murdered Jew

Wagner festival is named after a murdered Jew


norman lebrecht

September 30, 2020

Leipzig has just announced an International Richard Wagner Festival with all 13 operas from 20 June to 14 July 2022.

All well and good, Covid permitting.

But what’s unusual is the the festival has been named in honour of Gustav Brecher, the city’s general music director who was abused and kicked out by the Nazis in February 1933 and erased from history. Brecher, who was Jewish, fled to Prague and, when it was occupied, to Ostend. When the Germans entered Belgium in May 1940, he died by suicide together with his wife.

He was 61, a world-class conductor who had brought major operas by Weill and Krenek to the stage.

This is Leipzig’s belated act of restitution.



  • ? says:

    was he murderd or he commited suicide ? sorry, but logic and facts aren t an act of restitution, are they

    • Geezer Butler says:

      Yes the header is very misleading. On doing a google search, suicide is confirmed, although it is unclear how, the why seems to avoid being captured by the Germans. Though as some folk have suggested they could have absconded to England. Staying in Ostend was a mistake.

  • Cubs Fan says:

    Covid permitting? That’s a frightening thought. I sure hope the 2021 Mahler Festival is still on – covid permitting!

  • Gaffer says:

    Could he not have got a rowing boat or rubber dingy and just paddled across the Channel to dear auld Blighty, thousands do so daily in 2020.

    At the very least the pair of them could have got the Ramsgate ferry.

    • Captain Birdseye says:

      Yes they could have got the Ramsgate ferry, just before Dunkirk, the channel would have been full of wee ships anyway so they could have thumbed a lift over.

      I cannot imagine anything worse than dying in a hole like Ostend. At least you can get fish and chips, candy floss and Rock on Ramsgate pier. However being classed as aliens in 1940 they would have to go through the refugee process and would most likely have been interned on the Isle of Man, until they got clearance.

    • I says:

      Such ignorance and lack of humanity

      • Captain Birdseye says:

        You are the ignorant one. The point is they could easily have escaped to England, it was obvious the Jerries would start a war. Our Winston said so in the 1930s.

        Remember it was Britain which fought the Hun alone in 1940.

        • Tanya Tintner says:

          What makes you think escaping to England was “easy”? My husband was allowed into England in December 1939 *only* by proving he was going to leave it again, ie, he first had to produce an entry permit for New Zealand. Furthermore, might these two not have had to produce passports to get on the Ramsgate Ferry (I don’t know, just asking) – but I’m sure German passports would hardly have been welcome. By the time Belgium was occupied, England was occupied with the problem of rounding up enemy aliens and either shipping them to Canada and Australia or sending them to the Isle of Man.
          It all looks so simple with 20/20 hindsight, doesn’t it?

        • Harold says:

          That ‘alone’ trope is so old and fallacious. It’s not possible to be alone with the largest empire in history, with men, materiel and resources joined from all its four corners into the battle. Let we ignore all the other allies too.
          Remember war myths have a fixed duration and Winston was half American.

    • Cynical Bystander says:

      What an appalling and shameful comment.

      • Alice says:

        What is shameful about getting a ferry to Blighty? They need not have done the other thing at all. Wise up. Capt Birdseye is right.

    • Bruce says:

      Hahaha. Effin’ hilarious.

  • John Rook says:

    Covid permitting? Governmental incompetence permitting might be nearer the mark.

  • kaa12840 says:

    belated act of restitution? When would it have been appropriate?

  • Morgan says:

    I think better a belated act of recognition and an honorable one.

  • Edgar Self says:

    A fitting tribute from the city of Mendelssohn-Bartholdi. Gustav Brecher’s performance of this ten-minute “Freischuetz” overture shows slow tempi existed before Klemperer and Furtwaengler. Is there a date or credit for this recording? The play[ng is a bit scrappy for the Gewwandhaus/ I didn’t know Brecher’s name or sad story. How many others must have shared his fate. Thank you. Norman, also for the photos and document.

    • Edgar Self says:

      Sorry, Arnold Zweig was German, Stefan Zweig was Austrian. He and his wife died February 22, 1942, in Petropolis, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, after previous stays in exile in England and New York. The films “Letter From an Unknown Woman” and “Grand Budapest Hotel” were based on his writings.

  • Edgar Self says:

    It’s evidently the Gewandhaus after all, in 1929, despite iffy horns and apoggiaturi in their quartet. Brecheer led the world premieres of Krenek’s “Johnny Spielt Auf” and Weill’s “”Mahogonny”. Richard Strauss conducted a tone-poem by Brecher before 1900.

  • Le Křenek du jour says:

    “Wagner festival is named after a murdered Jew”

    So is Christmas, for that matter — named after a murdered Jew.

    This is the West, sir. Appropriation begins at the beginning. The rest is denial. When things get a little out of hand, a touch of ‘Wiedergutmachung’. Then, with the zest of new-found virginity, the cycle begins anew.

  • fflambeau says:

    Note that many people in his day contemplated suicides because of the Nazi threat, even double ones. See Victor Klemperer’s diary published in English as “I will Bear Witness”: many of his Jewish friends committed suicide.
    He was Otto Klemperer’s cousin; “Colonel Klink” of “Hogan’s Heroes” fame was his nephew.

    Virginia Woolf and her husband also considered a suicide pact. Here is Woolf’s diary entry for June 7, 1940 which I have edited down:

    “Just back [from London] this roasting hot evening. The great battle which decides our life or death goes on. Last night an air raid here. …Question of suicide seriously debated among the 4 of us—R. Macaulay* the other—in the gradually darkening room. At last no light at all. This was symbolic. French are to be beaten; invasion here; 5th Coln* active; a German pro-Consul; Engsh Govt in Canada; we in Ireland. K.M.* gives us about 5 weeks before the great attack on England begins.”
    Virginia Woolf Diary at 292. *Dame Rose Emilie Macaulay (1881-1958) was an English writer and friend of Virginia Woolf. *5th column=collaborators. Woolf was fond of abbreviations. *Kingsley Martin. Woolf did not commit suicide at this time but drowned herself a few years later.

    I believe her diary contains her very best writing.
    Virginia Woolf, The Diary of Virginia Woolf, Vol. 5: 1936-41, ed. by Anne Olivier Bell & Andrew McNeillie. London: Viking Penguin, 1985.

    • Edgar Self says:

      Fflambeau, the German writer Stefan Zweig and his wife took their lives in Brazil after fleeing Europe. He left a poignant farewell … “We have gone on before you … ” Zweig was a librettist for Richard Strauss, continuing to advise and assist Strauss and another librettist even after his banishment. He wasn’t related to the Austrian writer Arnold Zweig.

      • fflambeau says:

        Good stuff, Edgar.

        The Woolf’s were also listed for arrest (and eventual elimination) in the famous Black Book, G.B. put together by top SS Nazi Walter Schellenberg. (This was predicated on the belief that the Nazis would not only attack Britain but eventually take it over). Another name on that list (over 2,000 people including N. Coward) was George Orwell’s first publisher, Victor Gollancz.

        Nazi Germany hurt lots of people, including Gustav Brecher. I think another fatality (maybe more than one) was Eric Kleiber who was a fantastic opera conductor who was dismissed for being Jewish and especially for conducting music of his friend, Alban Berg. I also think Carlos Kleiber’s somewhat strange career was a victim of the Nazis (long-term) and a main reason that he has been the only person in history to turn down the Berlin Philharmonic leadership.

    • tenorlove says:

      Werner Klemperer (Otto’s son) was not the only cast member of Hogan’s Heroes whose life was up-ended by the Nazis. Robert Clary survived Auschwitz, the only member of his family to do so. Leon Askin fled after being beaten; his parents were murdered in Treblinka. John Banner was in Switzerland when Austria was annexed; he never returned home, going to the US instead. His family was murdered in the Holocaust.

  • Alviano says:

    Poor guy. He gets run out of Leipzig, chased all over Europe, forgotten for 80 years, and now damned for not having made it to “the Land of Hope and Glory.” Shit, he should have just slit his throat in Leipzig while praying for oblivion.
    The only thing that bothers me in the original item is the reference to a “belated act of restitution.” Just give the city credit for doing the right thing and move on.

  • Gustav says:

    Sorry Mr. Lebrecht, but why are you reporting this topic with a sensational headline but without delivering facts?? The main reason why this Wagner Festival refers to Gustav Brecher is that Brecher also planned a Wagner Festival with all 13 operas from 1927 on, it was scheduled for 1933. The Nazis just took over his plans after he had to flee from Germany in 1933. The festival is NOT named after Brecher but there will be a supporting program in reference to Brecher.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Beautiful interpretation of the ouverture, just beautiful, and intensily felt.

  • Diane B says:

    At the same time let’s notice Wagner would not have node his approval ahah ! He would have had to accept his “reforming” by the modern world.

  • dgar Self says:

    Fflambeau, re suicide: “The only truly serious philosophical Attempting to answer the question whether life is or is not worth living is attempting to answer the greatest philosophical problem.” — Albert Camus

    Actually there are other problems, and more to Camus’s observation. ˙He himself did not resort to it but was instead the first philosopher to die in an auto accident, in the south of France, with his wife and another couple, one of whom was driving,.

  • Novagerio says:

    Otto Klemperer tells Peter Heyworth in his Conversations, that Brecher and his wife took a boat over the channel and vanished, never to be seen again.

  • Edgar Self says:

    The libretto Stefan Zweig wrote for Richard Strauss was “Die schweigsame Frau”, “The Silent Woman”. this one had a shadow. The small voice in the back of my mind says the original story datesback to Ben Jonson.