The German composer no-one wanted to know

The German composer no-one wanted to know


norman lebrecht

April 02, 2022

The buried story of Hans Winterberg is finally coming to light… and on record.

‘One of the greatest symphonists of the 20th century,’ is the claim.


  • Akutagawa says:

    Isn’t this just a rehash of the Berthold Goldschmidt story, only this time with a weird contract and a supposed embargo? At best, there’ll be a brief flurry of interest, a couple of articles in the arts sections of the Observer and the New York Times, and maybe even a live performance or two, which will break even with only the greatest of luck. And then the caravan will move on, leaving Herr Winterberg, like Herr Goldschmidt, undeservedly, but nevertheless most assuredly, dead and forgotten.

    • Peter Kreitmeir says:

      I I hope not and certainly not as long as I – as Winterberg’s grandson – live. His music will speak for itself, I’m sure.

      • ruben Greenberg says:

        I would love to play your grandfather’s chamber music. I hope it’s still published. If not, can we get hold of it through you?

  • John Borstlap says:

    Michael Haas’ work cannot be esteemed enough.

    The conventional music histories have distorted the reality of the last century under the influence of historic occurrances and also modernist ideologies of progress. Haas’ Viennese Exil Arte Centre is working on the extensive excavation of musical reality of that period:

    Whether Winterberg is ‘one of the greatest symphonists of the 20th century’ remains to be seen, more important is that the music is heard, so that it can be evaluated – such marketing slogans only create prejudices.

    • Akutagawa says:

      “The conventional music histories have distorted the reality of the last century under the influence of historic occurrances and also modernist ideologies of progress.”

      Is this actually true though? I totally agree with you about Michael Haas, and I avidly bought the Entartete Musik CDs when they came out in the 1990s, but the more I listened to them, the more I came to disagree with the unspoken assumption that lay behind the whole project, namely that this was the music that should have been canonical, and would have been had it not been for an unholy alliance of Nazis and dodecaphonists. Put simply, I’ve listened to Haas and Krása and Schulhoff and now I’m being told that I must listen to Winterberg because he’s one of the great symphonists of the 20th century, but I just don’t feel anything when I listen to their music. Admiration for their craft, certainly. But no visceral response. Tell me, what exactly am I missing here?

      • John Borstlap says:

        I cannot say anything about Winterberg, but concerning Goldschmidt and Schulhoff: the first is often as grey as Schoenberg, and the second is neoclassical which is something like a niche interest (like Stravinsky’s). Still, they are so much better than the conventional music history attempts to create a 20C ‘canon’.

        The radiance of much older repertoire comes from its saturation with triads, a custom which eroded in the last century. Triadic music is nicer on teh ear and thus, for many people more appealing.

        • ruben Greenberg says:

          Schulhoff is very original. He isn’t the first composer to use dance rhythms, but does it in his own very unique way. His music is difficult , but also enjoyable to play. I suppose for some people, certain pieces are too enjoyable to be any good.

          • John Borstlap says:

            I agree with you on Schulhoff. He’s brilliant. But so is Goldschmidt, in his own way.

      • Peter Kreitmeir says:


      • Michael Haas says:

        I’m pleased everyone is so complimentary about the “Entartete Musik” series, but its raison d’être was never to prove that this was music that belonged in the canon. It was music that was lost and highlighted a plurality of developments that was stymied. If Krása, Schulhoff, Klein and Pavel Haas (no relation, by the way) had lived, Prague would have been as vibrant in the early 20th century as Berlin and Vienna – even Paris, where much of their influence came from. Goldschmidt, on the other hand, was a child of his time, but in England he changed – his opera Beatrice Cenci and Mediterranean Songs are not so far away aesthetically from Britten and Tippet. In fact, Beatrice Cenci received a fantastic performance at the Bregenz Festival just before the pandemic struck. I started the series because there was, in the 1980s, a huge amount of discussion on art banned by the Nazis and what was clled “the literature of exile”. Music, beyond possibly Kurt Weill, was never mentioned in this context. It seemed strange and when dug deeper, it emerged that the reason music had been excluded from the conversation was, (to quote on important German musicologist) “had these composers not been Jewish, the Nazis would have loved their music”. They offered no expression of resistance or rebellion, only the pitiable display of assimilation that the post-war generation of German musicologists simply could not stomach. It was “the wrong sort of modernism”. Some of the music that was lost really does deserve, and is achieving a more established place in the repertoire. Indeed, there is more and more Zemlinsky, Schreker, Korngold, Braunfels to be heard these days and I personally don’t believe their place in the canon inappropriate. Janáček broke with the Germanic school of Czech music of Suk, Smetana, Dvořák and a generation of Czech composers followed. Martinů is the only one who is known today. I believe that Winterberg will come through as the representative of a generation of composers that grew out of Czechoslovakian self-assertion, and the irony in his story, is his ultimate refuge was in the Germany that only a few years before had murdered his mother and his teacher. Give it time. The piano concertos are new and wonderful, and in light of the fact that I don’t think a recently composed piano concerto has been able to establish itself in the repertoire, (or at least, not since Shostakovich), Winterberg may have something to offer audiences and jaded musicians alike.

    • Peter Kreitmeir says:

      That was said by someone who has heard the music live and heard a great many orchestras play live. Marketing or not, the music has to be heard before it can be evaluated. We’re working hard on it.

  • Karl F. Miller says:

    What about the release of his two symphonies; Symphonic Epilogue; Ballade and Stationen on my label, Pierian 0054/55

  • Steven Holloway says:

    Those who would like a fuller account of Winterburg’s life and difficulties might look for the extensive article Michael Haas has posted on his blog, Forbidden Music, which is also the title of his book on that subject.

  • J Barcelo says:

    This could be interesting; hope the music is worth the hype. I picked up a disc of his music on the Toccata label and it is quite enjoyable. I’m glad the embargo on his music was lifted and I can’t understand why it was there in the first place.

  • Bebulerly Syllables says:

    It never fails that these promo videos for composers’ works consist of 90% talking over the music. It’s so irritating. Get rid of the talking heads and their tedious blah-blah-blah and just let us hear the MUSIC that is alleged to be the topic of interest so that we may evaluate it for ourselves. We don’t need everything spoon-fed to us verbally, thanks.

    • Peter Kreitmeir says:

      You’re right, you can really do without my mustard oin the video 😉

    • John Borstlap says:


      But such videos are meant for the people with an interest in the subject but who don’t hear music, only the sound it makes.

  • BrianB says:

    Reading the headline I thought this was about PDQ Bach.

  • Stephen Mitchell says:

    My goodness! Sends me scuttling to the computer to see what music by him I can find. Certainly want to hear the piano concerto (number 1… there are more?!). So tragic that evil ideology gets in the way of beautiful art…

    • Peter Kreitmeir says:

      Meanwhile you can find some music by Hans Winterberg on Spotify and all the others. For the piano concerto no1 you must wait 1 more month. On 6th of may the CD will appear by Capriccio label. Yes thre are some more piano concertos composed by Hans Winterberg 3 or 4…