Monday, June 22, 2009

The Music of Alfred Tokayer


ALFRED TOKAYER: (1900-1943) A COMPOSER CAUGHT IN THE MAELSTROM OF HISTORY

Sixty eight years after Irene’s father’s deportation to Germany in 1943 his yellowing manuscripts are coming to life with a CD made of his compositions. The process was started in 2006 by my son and daughter, Peter and Cathy, who met up with three very fine and well known Canadian musicians, Norman Hathaway, violinist, Catherine Wilson, pianist and Leslie Fagan, soprano who gathered some other musicians and shortly thereafter from these ageing manuscripts put together a concert in Toronto of several pieces. This concert represented the first hearing of this lovely music, and for us, and I know for many in the hall, it was a moving experience.

In the meantime in France a concert pianist, Bertrand Giraud, who was giving a concert in our home town in southern France, Rieux-Minervois, met with Irene and took copies of the manuscripts back to Paris, was impressed and in collaboration with Amaury du Closel, a well known conductor prepared a CD in 2007 of about twenty pieces. This preparation kept Irene busy researching libraries in England, France, Morocco and Germany about her father’s past and including finding another manuscript (added to the CD) and copyright evidence of other pieces that as yet we haven't recovered.

In May 2008 we attended our first a concert in Paris of some pieces of Alfred Tokayer’s music. Amaury du Closel had written a book entitled The muffled voices of the Third Reich (The Voices Stifled by the Third Reich). It provided the basis for the formation of the ensemble of musicians who have since undertaken an ongoing series of concerts to present this music in towns and cities throughout Europe. As of June 2009 there have been approximately 15 concerts, 12 by ensemble Voix Etouffées, and three independently by the pianist, Bertrand Giraud. These concerts have taken place in France (Paris 3, Rieux- Minervois, Orleans), Germany (Koethen, Magdebird, Halberstadt, Rostock, Permasens), Roumania (Bucharest), Austria (Vienna) and Poland (Auschwitz). The program for the remainder of the 2009 season and 2010 will be announced shortly.

Irene was hoping that someday she would just hear this music and what has occurred has exceeded her wildest dreams.



The following history of Alfred Tokayer was written by Amaury Du Closel
“Alfred Tokayer, conductor, composer, born march 21, 1900 in Koethen”- an entry as banal as this could well have been found, among thousands of others in the DICTIONARY OF JEWS IN MUSIC’, published in 1940 by Theo Stengel and Herbert Gerigk. This sinister pamphlet clearly reflects the single-mindedness with which Nazi Germany, basking in the glow of its victories, applied itself to the persecution of Jews on every level of the social scale. By making itself the instrument of a policy which used denunciation in the service of the Final Solution, and targeting, in particular, the musical community, it contributed to the deportation and assassination of countless musicians, many of whom were simple folk -from music teachers to Cabaret artists - who had neither the means, nor the contacts which might have allowed them to take the road into exile. Some years ago the German musicologist Eva Weissweiler, attempted to discover the fate of almost two hundred of those victims whose story ends in most cases with the mention “died. in Riga, in Majdanek, in Auschwitz”. Alfred Tokayer died in Sobibor” Yet Alfred Tokayer was the victim of another denunciation, that of the country in which he sought shelter with his daughter – France.

That it should have taken 65 years for his music to be revived, says much about the efficiency of the cultural policies of the Nazis, which for a long time survived the collapse of the Third Reich. When Hitler published “Mein Kampf”, he seized on a theme that had become central in German debate since 1918: that of its cultural identity. The revolutionary movements following the defeat, the humiliation of the Treaty of Versailles and the economic crisis which followed, the occupation of the Ruhr by French Troops, all contributed, and in particular in the more conservative classes, to the fear that due to the influence of foreign forces, Germany was about to lose its soul. In this fertile and paranoid soil, a new nationalism developed and found its way into the musical sphere. In 1919 Hans Pfitzner denounced not only the influence of Bolshevism and Americanism but also of “Degeneration” that were becoming aspects of modernity in theArts.

In the chapters dealing with Modern Art, Hitler, in Mein Kampf used the terms “bolshevist” and “degenerate”. These concepts were distilled into anti-Semitism: Bolshevism becoming the weapon by which the Jews seek to dominate the world, and “Degeneration” the natural proclivity of the Jewish Race that would make it “the destroyer of culture” When he came to power, the cultural policies of the Nazis where built on these theories and would soon, as early as the end of 1933, result in a cultural apartheid. An organisation named “Juedischer Kulturbund” was created in Berlin and other German cities. It was reserved for Jews only, a farce, since after the Nuernberg laws of 1935, Jews had already become second class citizens who were no longer permitted to perform in German Opera Houses and Concert Halls. In May and June 1938, when the Reich stepped up its campaign of anti-Semitism, an exhibition named Entartete Musik (Degenerate Music) organized by friends of Alfred Rosenberg and modeled after the Exhibition Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) held the previous year in Munich(1937), decried the influence of the Jews on German music.

Alfred Tokayer did not wait for the Kristallnacht to leave his homeland.. He was born in Koethen, a town in Sachsen-Anhalt - where Johann Sebastian Bach was chapel master at the court from 1717 to 1723 - into a Jewish family originating from Bistritz, a town in Transsylvania at that time part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but today part of Roumania. There, the family lived in abject poverty, in conditions resembling those described 40 years later by Albert Londres in his book, ‘The Wandering Jew’, in which he investigates Jewish populations all over the world. This poverty, coupled with the fear of pogroms, and repeated violence against Jewish communities in the easternmost sector of the empire, led many families at the turn of the century to seek a better life in Western Europe. This was the case of the family of Norbert Glanzberg, future composer of songs for Edith Piaf and Yves Montant. Coming from Galicia that family settled in the town of Wurzbuerg in Germany in 1910. Moritz Tokayer, future father of the composer, is ahead of this wave by almost 20 years, arriving in Berlin in 1891. In 1899 he marries Gertrud Simon, a cousin of Bruno(Schlesinger )Walter. The couple settles in Koethen where Alfred is born on March . It is there that he begins the study of music. During the year 1919/20 he continues at the Hoch’sche Konservatorium in Frankfurt where he also attends courses in philosophy and economics, subjects he had studied at the university of Berlin the previous year.

It must be said that much of the life of Alfred Tokayer is almost devoid of documentation, because many archives have either been lost during his exile, or destroyed in the war. For example, it has been impossible to retrace his whereabouts between 1920 and 1924 at which time he obtains his first professional engagement at the Opera of Bremen. We know that he studied piano, chamber music, accompaniment, orchestration, conducting and composing with some of the most prominent musicians of the time, among others, Ernst Toch, a great and as yet too little known composer who was forced to flee Germany in1933.


In Bremen, where he remains until 1930 he is conductor and voice coach. The musical director of the Opera is none other than Manfred Gurlitt, the creation of whose opera “Wozzeck’ unfortunately coincided, that same year, with the work of Alban Berg . In 1938, when he can no longer exercise his profession, Gurlitt emigrates to Japan. Alfred
Tokayer, is voice coach and conductor of operetta and light musical entertainment, and is well received by the critics of the day. In 1927 he marries a colleague, the singer Lucie Rena.

From 1931 to 1933, they are both engaged at the Volksoper in Berlin. Alfred Tokayer collaborates with Max Reinhardt, Oskar Strauss, Theo Mackeben, the brothers Vladigerov. He becomes voice coach to Kaethe Dorsch and again conducts operetta and light music (Note: Kaethe Dorsch was then to Germany what Gertrude Laurence was to the English speaking public). Like many musicians with modest incomes, he works on orchestrations, in particular the operettas of Kuennecke. Lucie, while being the understudy of Kaethe Dorsch, helps make ends meet as an usherette at the cinema.

When Hitler comes to power, and the Chamber of Music of the Reich is put into place, Alfred Tokayer is most likely deprived of any remaining possibility to exercise his profession. Simultaneously, the application of the legislation depriving Jews of legal status gets underway, making his family one of its first victims. On Mai 5, 1935 their German citizenship, so proudly acquired in 1919, is cancelled and their possessions given to “more deserving” Aryans. On december 16, 1935 the once prosperous business built by Moritz Tokayer is forced into bankruptcy.and the family takes the road into exile: Alfred flees to France, his parents to Yugoslavia.

The waves of immigrant musicians, mostly Jewish, who arrive as conditions in Germany worsen, are not welcomed into the French musical community. On November 26, 1933 the composer Florent Schmitt interrups a concert of the works of Kurt Weill at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees with cries of “Long live Hitler! We have enough bad musicians in France without taking in all the Jews of Germany”, and some journalists, in the name of defense of the national culture, support this view, denouncing the “vulgarity” of the songs of Silver Lake, performed that night by Madeleine Grey. Reviewers like Rene Dumesnil, Alfred Bruneau, Pierre-Octave Ferroud, Lucien Rabatet lead the charge in attacking “this Jewish-German Virus, ..this large contingent of émigrés”, “these germs of decadence brought with the invasion of the German Jews.” A hitherto latent anti-Semitism is suddenly revealed and not only in musical circles, but in the society as a whole. Even the “anti-boche” feelings of World War I are revived. When rules and regulations are put in place to restrict employment for foreign musicians, “to work at all is something of a tour de force”, writes the composer and conductor Hans Walter David ) as early as 1933. He continues:…”first of all, there is a large stamp in my passport stating that all professional activity is forbidden. Furthermore, the exercise of the profession is dependant on a membership in a professional association: conductors need to be members of the conductors’ guild, composers of the association of authors etc.
Since these organisations admit only French citizens, the immigrant alien is excluded from all work, from all income.”

And yet, Tokayer seems to adapt reasonably well to his new life in Paris. He keeps in contact with his fellow immigrants, but gravitates to French musicians such as Manuel Rosenthal and Reynaldo Hahn. Through them, he meets the countess Lili Pastre who during the occupation sponsored and protected many Jewish artists in her property at Montredon near Marseille. She provides him with some income, and also finances the education of his daughter, Irene, who has come to join him in 1938. He accompanies recitals, works on arrangements, among others, for the composer Maurice Thiriet, who wrote much of the music for the films of Marcel Carne. While prisoner of war in Germany, Thiriet will lend his name to several Jewish composers working underground, among them Joseph Kosma, so that they might receive the copyright income that is otherwise blocked by the Sacem .(Societe des Acteurs, Compositeurs et Editeurs de Musique) Why would Tokayer have registered his works with the SABAM (Society of Belgian authors and composers) when he was living in Paris? One might guess that his candidature (if there was one) was rejected, because of policies put in place by SACEM to discriminate against composers, especially Jewish, fleeing the Nazi regime. A subsequent study on the spoliation of Jews led by Jean Matteoli states: “ For ten years prior to the arrival of the Germans in Paris, the management of the Sacem, targeted foreign members thought to be too numerous in the society. This Xenophobia led to the implementation of discriminatory rules, which caused several foreign composers living in France to join more liberal organisations, in Belgium or Italy”. In the case of Tokayer however, these questions must remain hypothetical.

In 1936 Tokayer is called to London to orchestrate and conduct the music for the film “The Robber Symphony” directed by Friedrich Feher ) This is to be the first film – before Walt Disney’s “Fantasia” to be based on music. The film, at the time, is not well received (it has to-day ardent defenders) yet the music is unanimously applauded. While in London, he meets one of his fellow-students, the conductor Heinz Unger, who had made his debut with the Berlin Philharmonic in 1919, but was forced into into exile in l933. In 1948, he creates and becomes musical director of the North York Philharmonic Orchestra in Toronto. It seems both Unger and Tokayer were students of Ernst Toch.

At the end of 1938 he is chosen to participate in the broadcast of laureates organised by Radio 37. This private radio station had been opened the previous year by Jean Prouvost, director of the daily ‘Paris Soir’ and folded with the arrival in 1940 of the German troops in Paris. In a letter dated December 27, 1938, Tokayer alludes to the concert that was broadcast from the Tour Eiffel. The letter also mentions the various steps he is undertaking in order to bring his parents to France. In this he receives help from Marcel Monteux, the son of the industrial who founded a large shoe manufacturing industry, an art lover whose villa in Antibes was decorated by Ker-Xavier Roussel a painter of the Nabi school of Art, and who, in 1931, sponsored La Chienne by Jean Renoir. Another source of help is a Mr.Singer the nephew of the Princess Polignac, nee Singer whose salon played such a great part in musical creation in France between the two wars. His efforts seem to have been succesful, since in 1940, when he joins the Foreign Legion, Moritz and Gertrud Tokayer reside at 12, Rue Fenoux in the 15th arrondissement. In the same letter, Tokayer mentions that he is rehearsing Offenbach’s “La Chatte Metamorphosee” for the New Year’s concert, probably in his own arrangement for 2 pianos and four voices.

When war is declared on September l, l939, Alfred Tokayer, considered an enemy alien, is interned in the camp of Sourioux, near Vierzon in the Cher that was originally built to house Spanish refugees. Here he shares the fate of several composers –Erich Itor Kahn, Marcel Rubin, Louis Saguer, Eric-Paul Steckel, Rudolf Goehr……all interned to allow the French authorities to determine “ who presented a danger to the country and who could be used in the war effort”. Voluntary engagement in the Foreign Legion reduced official suspicion of any fifth column activity. Like many others (Max Deutsch volunteered as soon as war broke out, as did Erich Itor Kahn, Paul Arma or Joseph Kosma but who were rejected as physically unfit) Tokayer joins the Legion on December 8 1939. He arrives at the Legion Headquarters -Sathonay - on december 17 and remains there until March 1940: it is probably here that he writes the Cantique de Sathonay. He is then sent to Sidi-Bel-Abbes in Algeria, and later to Khenifra, in Morrocco. He is assigned to teach music at the conservatory of Meknes where he also conducts, in 1940 ,“Une Journee de mon Enfant” for a local station of Radio Maroc.

When he is demobilized in 1940, he settles near Limoges where friends and colleagues from Paris had fled. He continues to make music, gives concerts, plays the village harmonium, brings music into a nearby home for Jewish refugee children, even mounting a production of Offenbach’s “Chanson de Fortunio”. In 1942, the Allies land in North Africa and the Germans reply by invading the whole of France. The anonymity of a large city now looks safer and he decides to return to Paris. The Abbe Robert, priest of the village where he had found refuge and who has become a friend, helps him acquire a false identity. Now called Andre Tharaud he returns to Paris with his partner, Mado. Early in 1943, he leaves Paris again, hoping to reach England via Portugal. He and Mado are arrested at the demarcation line. Mado is freed, but Alfred Tokayer is sent to the camps of Beaune-la-Rolande and Drancy- where, by miracle, he meets his parents, Moritz and Gertrud. A few days later all three board the convoy to Sobibor….


It is to-day impossible to ascertain whether the pieces on this recording constitute the entire musical output of Alfred Tokayer , especially since the only work preceding his exile is ‘Das Lied vom Wein’. All others were composed later. We know that when he registered his work with the SABAM on July 18, 1939, almost all the other pieces on this recording had already been composed. These include the four melodies that constitute the suite Une Journee de Mon Enfant: Teddy, Quand je suis mechante, Hirondelle and Berceuse. The Symphonic Suite, based on the same work dates from 1936 and does not seem to have been registered with the SABAM. La Petite Musique pour Clavecin et Orchestre a Cordes is composed after 1939. The orchestrations for 2 of the songs, “Arriere Ete” and “Une Femme a Passe” are added in that same year. This catalogue of works created in exile, which includes most of the vocal pieces, could be seen as, a hommage to its adoptive country, because the influence of the French School of that day is so profound. There are echoes of Ravel, the Group of Six, especially Poulenc. Alfred Tokayer masters the French language very shortly after his arrival. He choses French texts for all his works: Maurice Merillot, “Une Journee de mon Enfant” Theophile Gautier, the Belgian poet Fernand Severin, Emile Pauly and his partner, Mado. He is determined to adapt to his new life and to become part of French musical life. Yet his music has echoes of his family’s roots in central Europe. In particular, some of the orchestrations of “Journee de Mon Enfant” evoke strong memories of Gustav Mahler. This piece is, incidentally, rather unusual: each movement starts with a song and continues with several progressions played by the orchestra; yet the songs are not a central theme upon which variations are built and the Suite takes on the form of a collage. The seven songs, in their brevity, are inspired by the French model. Their somber aspect leads us to believe that they are composed after 1940 and reflect the dark side of the times.

The Stifled Voices of the Third Reich have long been relegated to silence. Many composers who became the victims of the brown terror were not only eliminated from the world of the living, but also from the memory of generations that followed. To this day, perseverance and a solid dose of optimism are required of a family who dares demand that the voice of the victim be heard. Thanks are due to Irene and her children, the descendants of Alfred Tokayer, for finding a way.
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