The Magazine

Sour Notes

Exile from Europe to Southern California wasn't all sun and fun.

Nov 2, 2009, Vol. 15, No. 07 • By JOHN SIMON
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Typical of Stravinsky s financial acumen was, after the copyright on his European works had lapsed, the reorchestration of them in a less lush, though perhaps less attractive, mode: In this way he not only regained the copyright but, with the spare orchestration, extended performability to numerous smaller aggregations.

Dorothy Lamb Crawford has been a teacher, lecturer, and broadcast interviewer in music, as well as singer and opera director, and is the author or coauthor (with her husband) of two previous books on music. Ironically, she has reversed the journey of the Windfall migr s: After 24 years in Southern California she now resides in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Along with some notable quarrels, she also tells us about a good deal of socializing and solidarity in this migr ghetto. Besides Klemperer, there were seven other conductors, including the great Bruno Walter; pianists, including Arthur Rubinstein; and violinists, including Joseph Szigeti. Also two master cellists, Emanuel Feuermann and Gregor Piatigorsky, and in Santa Barbara the legendary soprano and teacher Lotte Lehmann.

Figuring here, too, are the Parisianized Pole and wartime American exile Alexandre Tansman, and a bit further north, Darius Milhaud and the Europeanized (but repatriated American) George Antheil. All of these musicians fraternized with the migr writers, such as the Mann brothers, Thomas and Heinrich, Bertolt Brecht, Franz Werfel (married to Alma Mahler), Alfred D blin, Lion Feuchtwanger, Erich Maria Remarque, Ludwig Marcuse, and the director/critic Berthold Viertel, who was married to the fabled hostess, memoirist, and Garbo scriptwriter Salka Viertel.

The musicians also socialized with movie people, and not just the Germans or Austrians like Max Reinhardt and his son Gottfried, William Dieterle, Ernst Lubitsch, and Billy Wilder, but also earlier immigrant and American movie stars. There are amusing accounts, such as that of a dinner party where the rigid Dr. [Thomas] Mann was delighted with [Charles] Chaplin, laughed like a schoolboy and lost a little of his German dignity. Chaplin admitted to not having read a single line of Mann s, but was very pleased with him as an audience and put on a Big Show --as the equally delighted Ernst Toch reported to Clifford Odets.

But it was far from all parties and fun for the migr s: A great many of their hopes were dashed by the film industry. Toch, who dreamed of a genuine film-opera ( of its essential success there is no question ), found that Paramount wouldn t let him orchestrate his own music, and inflicted intolerable deadlines. He accepted every kind of movie work, most of it uncredited, to help his 69 cousins stuck in Nazi Austria, and toiled on low-budget films at Columbia, Paramount, and Fox, enduring someone else s getting credit for an Oscar nomination owed him.

In those days, said Alexandre Tansman, who beat it back to postwar Paris as soon as possible, Hollywood was a kind of contemporary Weimar. All the European elite were in Hollywood or somewhere on the Californian coast. Or as the composer Ingolf Dahl put it in later years, It is still a bewildering fact that the city with perhaps the greatest number of important composers per square mile has a public musical life in inverse proportion to its resident talent. This was in reference to concert and opera; in the picture business, things were worse yet.

As someone at Universal Pictures recalled, Music was at the bottom of the heap. . . . Keep that goddamned music down was a popular battle cry. Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco said that music was considered a necessary evil, less important than automobile and airplane noises, and that to complete a score in the shortest time, up to 13 composers would labor on it simultaneously. One MGM executive asked him to compose for an intimate scene a 3-and-a-half minute violin sonata in the style of Oh, you know, Brahms, Franck, and maybe a little Debussy.