The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

Jewish Identity and the Refugee Experience in the Music of Émigré Composers from Germany to Britain: The Cases of Franz Reizenstein (1911–1968) and Berthold Goldschmidt (1903–1996)

Berthold Goldschmidt (1903-1996) and Franz Reizenstein (1911-1968) were émigré composers from Germany who found refuge in Britain in the 1930s, forging notable creative careers. My paper considers their oeuvres in the broader context of the WWII Jewish refugee experience as a whole, and the way their music reflected and responded to their individual experiences of displacement, forced emigration and acculturation to a new home, as well as their engagement with Jewish tradition and identity. Goldschmidt, born in Hamburg, studied with Busoni and Schreker in Berlin, and assisted Kleiber in the premiere of Berg’s Wozzeck. Reizenstein studied composition with Hindemith at the Berlin State Academy, and piano with Leonid Kreutzer. Coming to Britain in the 1930s to escape Nazi persecution after 1933, both composers managed to restart their careers, Reizenstein continuing studies in London with Vaughan Williams at the Royal College of Music and piano with Solomon, and Goldschmidt working at the BBC and Glyndebourne. Both achieved successes with operas, yet Goldschmidt’s Beatrice Cenci, based on Shelley, despite winning the Festival of Britain Prize in 1951, was left un-staged for more than forty years. Reizenstein’s radio opera Anna Kraus (1952), was chosen as Britain’s entry for the Al Italia Prize, the protagonists of the libretto by Christopher Hassall, being concentration camp survivors in an English village setting. Goldchmidt’s chamber and vocal oeuvre also alludes to Jewish musical elements whilst Reizenstein was the arranger for an anthology of Sephardic music in the 1950s. Both composers adapted their music styles and identities to their new habitat, later receiving awards and commissions from their native Germany. My paper compares and contrasts the trajectories of their careers and music, yet also explores their individual responses to the trauma of persecution and displacement, and the role of Jewish identity in their musical achievements.