Born in Hamburg in 1903, Berthold Goldschmidt's early private musical studies revealed a talent for the piano and composition. In 1922 he joined Franz Schreker's composition masterclass at the Hochschule für Musik in Berlin; among his fellow students were Alois Hába, Karol Rathaus and Ernst Krenek. Following his studies in composition and conducting, Goldschmidt, like many composers of his generation, first earned his living as a coach and assistant conductor in opera houses. In 1925, as an unpaid coach at the Berliner Staatsoper, he assisted Erich Kleiber in the preparations for the premiere of Alban Berg's Wozzeck. He later served as house composer and musical adviser to the stage director Carl Ebert in Darmstadt, where he also conducted opera.
Goldschmidt's first public success as a composer came in 1925, when he was awarded the coveted Mendelssohn Prize for his Passacaglia for Orchestra, Op. 4. Erich Kleiber was so impressed with the youthful work that he included it in one of his Staatskapelle concert programs. His First String Quartet, Op. 8, led the following year to a contract with Universal Edition, then the leading publisher of contemporary music in central Europe. It was, however, the premiere of his first opera, Der gewaltige Hahnrei, in Mannheim in 1932 that firmly established Berthold Goldschmidt as "one of the great hopes of German music," in the words of musicologist Hans Redlich. The work was praised by public and critics alike, and was programmed by Carl Ebert for the 1932/33 season at Berlin's Städtische Oper. Tragic historical developments intervened, however, and Goldschmidt, a Jew, found his conducting career abruptly at an end and performances of his works banned in his native Germany. Several very difficult years followed in which Goldschmidt earned his living giving piano lessons before a frightening Gestapo interrogation in 1935 drove him to leave Germany for England. Many of his early manuscripts, including a Requiem, a piano quintet and the award-winning Passacaglia, were lost, as Goldschmidt had left them for safekeeping with a friend whose house was destroyed during the war.
In England, opportunities for work were few, and Goldschmidt survived initially by giving lessons in lieder interpretation. He continued to compose, writing among other works his Second String Quartet and the Ciaccona Sinfonica. In 1938 he received a commission from the Jooss Ballet to compose music for a new ballet, Chronica, which recounted the rise and fall of a dictator. The controversial theme met with empresarial resistance and Jooss transferred the action, at the last minute, to the Renaissance, leaving Goldschmidt's completed music with an incompatible theatrical production. Criticism followed and Goldschmidt returned to giving lessons to survive.
His fortunes changed for the better in 1944 when, through an acquaintance from Berlin, Goldschmidt was offered a post in the European Service of the BBC compiling the musical programs to be broadcast to Germany. The position ended in 1947, although Goldschmidt continued to work for the BBC's German Service, composing incidental music for various drama productions, among them a shortened version of Shelley's The Cenci.
Goldschmidt's conducting career resumed as well in 1947, when he became an opera coach at the first Edinburgh Festival. His big break came when George Szell, who had been scheduled to conduct the performances of Verdi's Macbeth, cancelled at the last minute and Goldschmidt stepped in to save the day. His success provided a sufficient nudge to relaunch his conducting career and appearances followed with many of London's major orchestras, including the premiere of the completed verion of Mahler's Tenth Symphony, which Goldschmidt himself had prepared together with Deryck Cooke.
Despite the victory of his opera Beatrice Cenci in the 1951 Festival of Britain competition, interest in Goldschmidt the composer was practically non-existent. A post-war avantgarde movement dominated by atonality left Goldschmidt's supposedly traditional music out in the cold. With little outside inspiration, Goldschmidt all but ceased to compose, writing only his three large-scale concerti for violin, clarinet and cello from 1952 to 1955, his collection of six Mediterranean Songs in 1958 and several smaller works for voice and piano. It was not until 1983, when a chance event led to a run-through at London's Trinity College of his opera Der gewaltige Hahnrei, that Goldschmidt's star began once again to rise. In 1984, the composer received a commission for a clarinet quartet and was invited to the United States for a concert of his chamber music at the Pasadena Conservatory in California. Simon Rattle gave a performance of his Ciaccona Sinfonica at the 1987 Berliner Festwochen, and his opera Beatrice Cenci received its premiere - nearly forty years after its completion - in a concertant performance at London's Queen Elisabeth Hall in 1988. On 1 December 1992 Berthold Goldschmidt's Der gewaltige Hahnrei received its sixty-year-long-awaited Berlin premiere before a cheering audience in the Philharmonie. Most recent premieres include a highly acclaimed performance in France of his Violin Concerto, completed in 1955.
Spurred on by this renewed interest, Berthold Goldschmidt began once again to compose, completing the commissioned Clarinet Quartet in 1983, a Piano Trio, a piece entitled Belsatzar for a cappella choir and Intrada for wind band in 1985, and continuing on to produce various chamber works including his Third and Fourth String Quartets.
Berthold Goldschmidt is as lively and active today as at any time in his long and varied career. He continues to compose every day, takes zealous interest in preparations for performances of his works and tirelessly gives interviews to the growing number of international journalists who are taking an interest in the fascinating story behind his "rediscovery".
More than half a century after his first promising successes, Berthold Goldschmidt has, it seems, finally begun to receive the long-awaited recognition his unique and invaluable contribution to the music of our century so richly deserves.
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