One of the reasons for this Sunday feature is, not only to shed light on seldom performed pieces of music, but also to shed some light on those artists who have faded from recognition in the music world, or who have been long-admired by collectors and music historians, but not so much outside that realm.
Hans Erich Pfitzner (5 May 1869 – 22 May 1949) was a German composer and self-described anti-modernist. His best known work is the post-Romantic opera Palestrina, loosely based on the life of the sixteenth-century composer Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina.
Okay, that’s the broad-stroke description. What is between those lines is the fact that, aside from being a composer of some note (which has been going through recognition since the 1990s) Hans Pfitzer was also a conductor who recorded extensively in the early days of the 78 rpm record, but sadly did not make it to the lp era, having died in 1949. He was also one of the leading lights in the musical life of Germany in the 1920s, before the rise of Hitler. Where it gets murky is, during the early 20s, before Hitler came into power, Pfitzner was a supporter of National Socialism. And when Hitler came into power, Pfitzner thought it was a good thing. However, there was the issue of Jews, which Hitler professed a complete hatred of and which Pfitzner strongly objected to, since he had a substantial number of Jewish friends and associates. The matter came to a head when pfitzner refused to replace Mendelssohn’s incidental music to Midsummer Nights Dream with music he was asked to write. Because of that, he was stripped of much of his ability to teach, stripped of his prestigious posts and relegated to considerable less musical life until the end of the War. He occasionally conducted, but it wasn’t to the degree he had enjoyed before. And so his broadcast performances are rarities, to say the least.
If one can acknowledge the advances in technology by the Germans during this period, it would certainly be in the area of broadcasting and recording. BASF, the German chemical concern, was developing a method of preserving recordings on tape, in connection with German technology which developed the Tape Recorder and which began to be used around 1936. By 1942, when this performance of Schumann’s Overture to Genoveva was recorded, tape was standard operating procedure and even Stereo was being perfected. After the war, many of these performances were preserved and either released commercially or broadcast periodically. This performance was broadcast several years ago, as the announcement at the end indicates. Whether it has been issued via a collectors lp or CD I really don’t know. This one came from the source.
So, a rare performance by a legendary figure, recorded during a time of war and preserved by a method we would take for granted less than 10 years later.