Two Roads to Exile

Simon Wynberg

by Dr. Robert Tomaro

Walter Braunfels – String Quintet
Adolf Busch – String Sextet
by ARC (Artists of the Royal Conservatory)
on RCA Red Seal

German composers Adolf Busch and Walter Braunfels were linked in life by twin tragic destinies of Nazi persecution that decimated their careers. Now, happily, they are linked aesthetically and effulgently on this new release by RCA Red Seal. Their chamber music is performed exquisitely by ARC, one of Canada’s premier ensembles. Comprised of senior faculty members of the Royal Conservatory in Toronto, ARC breathes vibrant new life into these important and long neglected offerings.

The composers, who we find here on parallel musical roads, were actually quite different in life. Busch, a blond, square jawed Westphalian and a famous violin virtuoso, was universally hailed by the public and the Nazis, alike. Hitler dubbed him “our German violinist”. But Busch was a true Cosmopolitan and was horrified at the onset of anti-Semitic hatred. He would admonish audiences from the stage if he saw Nazi salutes in the house: “Go to your brown shirt meetings and do that, but not here”. He would rail at correspondence that closed with “Heil Hitler”, replying: “That’s not a German greeting as far as I am concerned”, both terribly dangerous practices at the time.

Braunfels, a pianist and a well-known opera composer, was half Jewish and his works were banned. Unable to bear the thought of leaving Germany, he moved to Lake Constance, where he was protected by the local Catholic Church in a kind of internal exile and was lucky to escape the camps. At war’s end, he was quickly rehabilitated due to his spotless record of non- collusion and resumed his professional status

When asked what attracted him to this project, ARC’s Artistic Director Simon Wynberg explains that, although there has been a good deal of attention paid to other German composers of that period: “what was compelling was the composers who left but whose careers were traumatized by the move. Weill, Korngold and even Schoenberg seemed to flourish in Hollywood, but not these two. They survived the war but then sort of fell off the map and died shortly thereafter.”

When asked to compare the two, he offered: “Busch was fond of counterpoint. He was a key follower of Reger but his music is light, with an impish sense of humor. Braunfels was more involved with the opera stage, so Richard Strauss and Wagner are quite prominent in his musical language. His music is very accessible and amiable as well as being incredibly rigorous and well crafted.”

Avid adherents of chamber music will roundly applaud ARC and their Artistic Director for giving us Two Roads to Exile. The resurgence and re-examination of these important works is long overdue.