Monday, May 31, 2021

The romantic who invented the Winnetou melody


By Elmar Krekeler

May 29, 2021


His music is wonderfully contemporary: the composer Friedrich Gernsheim was a Jew and a friend of Brahms, and was conducted by Mahler. Then the Nazis erased his works. A plea for his overdue return to the concert business.

Time and again - no, actually at every opportunity that arises - one has to point out that the anti-Semitism of Richard Wagner, his horrific pamphlet about "Judaism in music", should not be treated with a "Was just like that" sigh and a Shrug off shoulders.

Because Wagner's published hatred of Jews had consequences. For the lives of Jewish composers, for the fate of their works in cultural memory to this day.

There are many reasons why Friedrich Gernsheim, born in 1839 to an old-established Jewish family in Worms, was so thoroughly forgotten after his death in 1916. But it is also related to an entry in Hugo Riemann's music lexicon .

Gernsheim, a former child prodigy, much-played late romanticist, Brahms friend and successor to Max Bruch at the head of the Berlin Academy since 1890 , was, according to the 1901 edition of the standard work, "fair in all saddles and capable of diverse expressions", However, and thus Riemann Wagner's characterization of the typically Jewish in music varied only slightly, “without the convincing power of inner necessity”.

Gernsheim, who had prevailed, conducted by Mahler and Strauss and was celebrated in Dortmund with a two-day Gernsheim festival in 1914, could not be very dangerous during his lifetime. The National Socialists, however, were just making tabula rasa with Gernsheim's work. His notes were burned, banned from the libraries, Karl Holl's Gernsheim biography from 1926 was crushed. Gernsheim was no longer allowed to be played.

Only in the recent past has he met with renewed interest. Behind daring record labels and experimental and research-loving ensembles and interpreters, more and more musicians are venturing into the park of Gernsheimer music, which was believed to be dead and equipped with the most wonderful musical discounts. The songs are available (from the Gernsheim Duo), the violin sonatas (new from Christoph Schickedanz and Ernst Breidenbach ), the piano quartets (new from the fabulous Mariani Quartet ).

Discovering Gernsheim is much more than a historical exercise of reparation. It's great fun too. His music is accessible, to a certain extent barrier-free. One is greeted in unknown and familiar territory (in the first movement of his second violin sonata from 1885, Gernsheim invented the Winnetou melody a good eighty years before Pierre Brice saddled his black horse).

You don't have to acquire any knowledge beforehand. Sometimes it could even be a hindrance to impartial listening to know when Gernsheim wrote his fourth violin sonata , for example. It may be a challenge for every believer in progress, but to measure the musical value and grandeur of this extravagantly beautiful piece, which is full of inner necessity, it is completely irrelevant that it was composed in 1912 - Gernsheim once again fills the chamber music to the bursting point whose boundaries had long since been blown by the Schönberg School.

"Capable of manifold expression"

Gernsheim should definitely not be compared. Especially not with his friend Brahms, whose German Requiem he launched. The world of Friedrich Gernsheim - who was actually "fair in all saddles" and "capable of manifold expression" - was a very special, musically polyglot, only subtly progressing with its respective present.

Gernsheim, who made his debut with his own orchestral overture in Frankfurt in 1850 at the age of eleven, found his sound continent, his fundamental tone, as early as his sense of style, his sense of form. He was, what his teacher in Leipzig, the Salieri student Ignaz Moscheles, had warned him about early on - a romantic.

He explored the European continent and learned its languages. In addition to German, after the five years that he spent as an adolescent in Paris from 1855 (where he met Saint-Saens, Rossini, Lalo, Verdi and Wagner), he was particularly proficient in French.

Gernsheim was a melancholy melomaniac that was repeatedly incited to all sorts of rhythmic pelvic beating. Not a sprinkler, not an existentialist. A merger, a bridge builder.

People like to have him around, this Friedrich Gernsheim. Hopefully soon also in the philharmonics of the world.

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