Erwin Schulhoff

Erwin Schulhoff

Erwin Schulhoff (June 8, 1894August 18, 1942) was a composer and pianist.


Born in Prague of Jewish-German origin, Schulhoff was one of the brightest figures in a generation of European musicians whose successful careers were prematurely terminated by the rise of the Nazi regime in Germany. The contributions made by many of these musicians, including Schulhoff, have largely languished in obscurity ever since, despite their pivotal importance to the development of classical music during the early 20th century.

In his youth, Schulhoff studied composition and piano in Prague, Vienna, Leipzig and Cologne, studying with Claude Debussy and Max Reger among others. He began to embrace the avant-garde influences of jazz and Dadaism in his performance and writing after World War I. He was one of the first classical composers in Europe to find inspiration in the rhythms of jazz music. Schulhoff was a celebrated keyboard virtuoso and made extensive tours of Germany while also venturing farther afield to France and England.

In the 1930s, Schulhoff ran into mounting personal and professional difficulties. Because of his Jewish descent and his radical politics, he and his work were blacklisted as "degenerate" by the Nazi regime. He could no longer give recitals in Germany, nor could his works be publicly performed.

His Communist sympathies, which became increasingly visible in his works, also brought him trouble in Czechoslovakia. In 1932 he created a music version of "The Communist Manifesto" (Op. 82). Taking refuge in Prague, he found employment as a radio pianist but earned barely enough to cover the cost of everyday essentials. When the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia in 1939, he had to resort to performing under a pseudonym. In 1941, the Soviet Union approved his petition for citizenship, but he was arrested and imprisoned before he could leave Czechoslovakia.

In June 1941, Schulhoff was deported to the Wülzburg concentration camp, near Weißenburg, Bavaria. He died on August 18, 1942 from tuberculosis.

Musical style

Schulhoff went through a number of distinct stylistic periods. His early works exhibit the influence of composers from the preceding generation, including Debussy, Scriabin, and Richard Strauss. Later, during his Dadaist phase, Schulhoff composed a number of pieces with absurdist elements; notable among these is "In futurum" (from the "Fünf Pittoresken" for piano) -- a completely silent piece made up entirely of rests that anticipates John Cage's "4′33″" by over thirty years. [cite web|title=Erwin Schulhoff: In Futurum|url=] (Schulhoff's work is itself predated by Alphonse Allais's "Funeral March for the Obsequies of a Deaf Man", written in 1897; unlike Allais's and Cage's pieces, however, Schulhoff's composition is notated in great rhythmic detail, and employs bizarre time signatures and intricate, though silent, rhythmic patterns.)

Schulhoff's third style period dates from approximately 1923 to 1932. These were his most prolific years as a composer, [cite web|title=Erwin Schulhoff: Czech Contemporary Composer|url=] , and the pieces composed during these years are generally the most frequently performed of Schulhoff's works. Examples include the "String Quartet No. 1" and Five Pieces for String Quartet, which integrate modernist vocabulary, neoclassical elements, jazz, and dance rhythms from a variety of sources and cultures.

The final period of his career was dedicated to pieces classifiable as socialist realism, with Communist ideology frequently in the foreground.

In general Schulhoff's music remains connected to Western tonality, though -- like Prokofiev, among others -- the fundamentally triadic conception of his music is often embellished by passages of intense dissonance. Other features characteristic of Schulhoff's compositional style are use of modal and quartal harmonies, dance rhythms, and a comparatively free approach to form. Also important to Schulhoff was the work of the Second Viennese School, though Schulhoff never adopted twelve-tone serialism as a compositional tool. [New Grove Dictionary of Music, 2nd ed.]

elected works

*"Symphony No. 1"
*"Symphony No. 2"
*"Symphony No. 3"
*"Symphony No. 4"
*"Symphony No. 5"
*"Symphony No. 6 "Svobody" for chorus and orchestra
*"Piano Concerto "Alla jazz"
*"Double Concerto for Flute, Piano and Orchestra"
*"Concerto for String Quartet and Wind Orchestra"
*"Suite for Chamber Orchestra"
*"String Sextet"
*"Divertimento for String Quartet"
*"5 Pieces" for string quartet
*"String Quartet No. 0, op.25"
*"String Quartet No. 1"
*"String Quartet No. 2"
*"Concertino" for flute, viola and double bass
*"Divertimento" for oboe, clarinet and bassoon
*"Suite for Violin and Piano"
*"Violin Sonata No. 1"
*"Cello Sonata"
*"Hot Sonata" for alto saxophone and piano
*"Piano Sonata No. 1"
*"Piano Sonata No. 2"
*"Piano Sonata No. 3"
*"5 Etude de Jazz" for piano
*"6 Esquisses de Jazz" for piano
*"Suite dansante en Jazz" for piano
*"Fünf Pittoresken" for piano
*"Bassnachtigall" for contrabassoon
*"Ogelala", ballet (fr)
*"Flammen", opera
*"Sonata Erotica" for female voice solo

See also

* Julius Schulhoff, the great-uncle of Erwin Schulhoff
* Eye music


External links

* [ A Comprehensive discography by Claude Torres]
* [ JMI newsletter: CD review]

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