Schulhoff, Erwin


Born in Prague on 8 June 1894. Thanks to a letter of recommendation by Antonín Dvořák, he was accepted as a piano pupil at the Prague Conservatoire at the early age of ten. He continued his studies in 1906 in Vienna, Leipzig (notably with Max Reger), and Cologne. After his military service in the Austrian Army during World War I, he was resident in Germany until 1924, where his interest was aroused by the radical direction taken by the avant-garde: Dadaism and jazz, but he additionally absorbed influences from impressionism, expressionism, and neoclassicism. He also struck up a lively correspondence with Alban Berg. A brilliant pianist, he was considered a specialist of Alois Hába's quartertone music. On his return to Prague, Schulhoff became the successor of Max Brod as the music critic of the newspaper Prager Abendblatt. After 1933, he was unable to continue his career in Germany due to his Communist convictions (he had notably set the Communist Manifesto to music) and his Jewish roots. The planned first performance of the opera Flammen in Berlin was cancelled. During the 1930s, Schulhoff underwent an artistic transformation; his symphonic jazz compositions were superseded by symphonies in the style of socialist realism. In 1941 Schulhoff acquired Soviet citizenship. The German declaration of war against the Soviet Union meant that he was now categorised as a citizen of an enemy nation. He was initially interned in Prague on 23 June 1941 and subsequently deported to the concentration camp Wülzburg near Weissenburg in Bavaria, where he died of tuberculosis on 18 August 1942.

e general rediscovery of his music began in 1988 with Gidon Kremer's recordings of his chamber music works. Compositions such as 5 Stücke (1923), Divertimento for string quartet (1914), and a variety of sonatas for various instruments demonstrate Schulhoff's great imaginativeness for the tonal characteristics of individual instruments. The composer's enthusiasm for aspects of the grotesque, satire, and Dadaism particularly comes to the fore in his smaller-scale works. Schulhoff sets texts by the Dadaist lyricist Hans Arp in Die Wolkenpumpe for baritone, four wind instruments and percussion (1922). In Bassnachtigall, three pieces for contrabassoon also dating from 1922, the composer added his own text in the provocative form that was customary in the infamously chaotic Dada concerts: "The spark of the gods can be present in both a liver sausage and a contrabassoon."

Schulhoff was one of the first composers to recognise the potential of dance music forms influenced by jazz within the realms of classical music. Compositions such as the jazz oratorio HMS Royal Oaks (1930), Hot Sonata for alto saxophone and piano (1930), and the grotesque dance Die Mondsüchtige (1925) with movement titles including "Ragtime," "Tango," "Shimmy," and "Jazz," which were provocative for their time, are now counted among the composer's best-known works. On the other hand, Schulhoff's opera Flammen (1929) displays a serious composer who is also capable of larger-scale forms. In this Mozart homage with a difference to a libretto by Max Brod, Don Juan becomes a victim of his own desires: the musical structure develops between the dualistic poles of man and woman, life and death, hope and resignation.

Selected works: Violin Sonata no. 1 (1913), Piano Concerto no. 1 (1913), Divertimento for string quartet (1914), Cello Sonata (1914), Sonata erotica for female voice (1919), Fünf Pittoresken for piano (1919), Symphonia Germanica (1919), 5 Études de jazz for piano (1910-20), Suite for chamber orchestra (1921), Ogelala, ballet (1922), Die Wolkenpumpe for baritone, four winds and percussion (1922), Bassnachtigall for contrabassoon (1922), Piano Concerto alla Jazz (1923), Five Pieces for string quartet (1923), String Sextet (1920-24), String Quartet no. 1 (1924), Piano Sonata no. 1 (1924), String Quartet no. 2 (1925), Concertino for flute, viola and double bass (1925), Symphony no. 1 (1925), Piano Sonata no. 2 (1926), Piano Sonata no. 3 (1927), Violin Sonata no. 2 (1927), Sonata for flute and piano (1927), Double Concerto for flute, piano and orchestra (1927), 6 Esquisses de jazz for piano (1927), Concerto for string quartet and brass orchestra (1930), Flammen, opera (1927-29), Hot Sonata for alto saxophone and piano (1930), Suite dansante en jazz for piano (1931), Symphony no. 2 (1932), Das kommunistische Manifest, oratorio (1932), Symphony no. 3 (1935), HMS Royal Oak, jazz oratorio for speaker, soprano, tenor, mixed choir and jazz symphony orchestra (1935), Symphony no. 4 (1937), Symphony no. 5 (1938-39), Symphony no. 6 Svobody for choir and orchestra (1940), Divertimento for oboe, clarinet and bassoon (date unknown), Suite for violin and piano (date unknown).