Louder than Bombs: Wartime Schubert and Braunfels

C. Michael Bailey By

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Not everything stopped while World War II raged. Conductor Wilhelm Furtwangler and the Berlin Philharmonic regularly performed and recorded until quite late in the war (when their concert hall was bombed), producing some of the most controversial and provocative Beethoven of the period, if not ever. Considered here is one recording of Schubert's Winterreise taped as Berlin was approaching its apocalypse and the music of Walter Braunfels, whose music was considered degenerate (Entartete Kunst) because of the composer's Jewish heritage and was thus censored by the Nazis. "Harrowing" might describe this music. There is a frantic desperation here. It is important listening to be sure.

Peter Anders/Michael Raucheisen
Schubert—Winterreise: In The Shadow of War

German composer Franz Schubert (1797-1828) composed his song cycle Winterreise (Winter Journey) in two parts between February and October 1827. The compositions were published the year of the composer's death. the song cycle was composed for tenor voice and piano, though is has been recorded in all vocal ranges. The songs were based on the poetry collection Die schöne Müllerin (1823). Schubert's collection is recognised as being important in the elevation to the accompanist to the level of the soloist, both roles challenging within a performance of the cycle. Winterreise is a monument in Western European and specifically German music.

This particular Winterreise is notable for a variety of reasons. Musically, it was the first recording that featured the tenor voice (Peter Anders) sung in Schubert's original keys. These were the last recordings that pianist Michael Raucheisen was able to make at the Reichsrundfunk (Reich Radio) in Berlin for his ongoing project Lied der Welt (Song of the World). These recordings were made in Berlin during the closing weeks of World War II between February 23rd and March 13th (Hitler's suicide being April 30, 1946 and VE Day, May 8, 1948). Recording was interrupted often by air-raid alerts. Drama was further intensified by the presence of Russian artillery 30 miles outside Berlin. Time was of the essence.

The performance is anything but ordinary. Anders and Raucheisen were down to serious and harrowing business recording what was already considered an important recording stylistically, if not historically. Anders muscular tenor was both brave and thoughtful, buoyed by Raucheisen authoritative and emotive playing. This is necessary listening like Furtwangler's Wartime Beethoven. Handle with care.

Kölner Rundfunk- Sinfonieorchester, Gunter Wand
Walter Braunfels—Te Deum

Braunfels composed his Te Deum in 1920-21 after the close of the Great War. It is a sprawling, four-movement piece based on the Te Deum laudamus ("Thee, O God, We Praise") a hymn composed by Sts. Ambrose (340-397) and Augustine (354-430) on the occasion of the latter's baptism. Like the Late-Romantic composer Anton Bruckner before him, Braunfels thought in cathedral terms when composing, building musical monuments full of drama and spectre.

Grand is conductor Gunter Wand, a great supporter of Braunfels, driving the Cologne Radio-Symphony Orchestra in this hugh, 73+ minute piece of music. Braunfels favored much brass, both high and low and soaring voices, a lot of them. The drama of the piece begins high and remains so until reaching a coda that is both stunning and cathartic. Braunfels was persecuted under the auspices of Entartete Kunst ("Degenerate Art"), defined by the Third Reich as, "Madness becomes Method," "Nature as seen by Sick Minds" and "Revelation of the Jewish Racial Soul." Historic perspective alone makes this music important, seasoning the already rich artistic movement held within.

Tracks and Personnel

Schubert—Winterreise: In The Shadow of War

Tracks: Gute Nacht (Good Night); Die Wetterfahne (The Weather-vane); Gefror'ne Tränen (Frozen Tears); Erstarrung (Numbness); Der Lindenbaum (The Linden Tree); Wasserflut (Torrent); Auf dem Flusse (On the Stream); Rückblick (Retrospect); Irrlicht (Will o' the wisp); Rast (Rest); Frühlingstraum (Dream of Springtime); Einsamkeit (Loneliness/Solitude); Die Post (The Post); Der greise Kopf (The Grey Head); Die Krähe (The Crow); Letzte Hoffnung (Last Hope); Im Dorfe (In the Village)Der stürmische Morgen (The Stormy Morning); Täuschung (Deception); Der Wegweiser (The Signpost); Das Wirtshaus (The Inn); Mut (Courage); Die Nebensonnen (The Phantom Suns); Der Leiermann (The Hurdy-Gurdy Man).

Personnel: Peter Anders: tenor; Michael Raucheisen: piano.

Walter Braunfels—Te Deum

Tracks: Te Deum laudamus; Judex crederis; Aeterna fac; Dignare Domine.

Personnel: Leonie Rysanek and Helmut Melchert: vocals; Gurzenich Chor - Kolner rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester, Gunter Wand, Conductor.

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