IN: Reviews

A Windfall of Musicians – Hitler’s Émigrés and Exiles in Southern California


A review of the new book by Dorothy Lamb Crawford

Price:  $35 * ISBN:  978-0-300-12734-8 Cloth Yale University Press, 336 pages with 27 b/w illustrations, index

This concise and well-written story of the migration of mostly Jewish musicians and artists fleeing Hitler’s onslaught in Europe and eventually “washing ashore” in Southern California is, in a word, essential.

Author/musicologist/historian and Cambridge, Massachusetts resident Dorothy Lamb Crawford has penned a highly readable and engrossing account of the cause and effect of the arrival on American shores of hundreds of persecuted European artisans, some well-known, others not, but all who, with their individual gifts of creativity and sheer determination to survive, shaped the music and arts scene in southern California from the late 1930s and ultimately to the present day.

Ms. Crawford begins by retelling in brief but heart-wrenching detail the individual pre-anschluss histories of over 32 composers, conductors, instrumentalists and pedagogues, recounting how each suffered at the hands of the growing menace of the Nazis.  Such personages as composers Arnold Schoenberg, Ingolf Dahl, Igor Stravinsky, Erich Korngold, and Kurt Weill, singer Lotte Lehmann, ‘cellist Emanuel Feuermann, and conductors Bruno Walter, Wilhelm (William) Steinberg, and especially Otto Klemperer, all have their harrowing tales of persecution told.

Courtesy Yale University Press
(l. to r.:) Otto Kemperer, Prince Hubertus von Loewenstein, Arnold Schoenberg, and Ernst Toch

This, as it turns out, acts as effective prelude to the main body of Ms. Crawford’s book, which then recounts the stories of several of the foregoing individuals in deeper detail.  We are told of Otto Klemperer’s transformative appointment as Music Director of the then-struggling Los Angeles Philharmonic and his astonishingly quick success in creating a first-class ensemble from one which was worthy but hardly world-class before.  Individual chapters shed valuable light on Schoenberg’s equally earth-moving influence upon the southern California artistic landscape and composer Ernest Toch’s surprisingly emblematic struggles to achieve recognition in Los Angeles’s high-art circles as well as in Hollywood film music.  Another chapter, intriguingly titled “European Composers in the ‘Picture Business'” chronicles the work of such musical luminaries as Franz Waxman (Wachsmann), Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Alexandre Tansman, Kurt Weill, and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco.  The coverage of these composers, and several others, is by no means cursory.  Ms. Crawford has delved quite deeply in her research, and more important light is shed here on an intriguing segment of film music composition than may have been shone before.

There is also a clear-eyed chapter on Igor Stravinsky, refreshingly free from idolatry, that fills in important gaps of the composer’s life and activities in California from shortly before his visit to the United States 1935 (occasioned by an invitation from Klemperer, who had championed Petrushka in his first season with the L.A.  Philharmonic in 1933) through the 1960s.  Stravinsky was generous in his support of his fellow Californian composers, and their debt to him for this was deep and acknowledged.

Ms. Crawford begins her book’s epilogue with the following words:

” Like Stravinsky, most of the émigrés discussed in this book

managed to find personal self-renewal through individual

journeys of discovery in their California lives.”

This estimable book tells us about these journeys in engrossing detail, but it does so much more.  It illumines the difficult lives of gifted artists who suffered painful separation from their native cultures and the loss of colleagues and family members to a violent and destructive regime of recrimination and death.  Despite this, most overcame these enormous setbacks.  Through sheer pluck, determination, and very hard work on the western shore of a foreign land – which, in retrospect, was fortunate indeed to have provided the haven which would nurture and value the work of this remarkable group of refugees – they struggled, prospered, and their works have endured.

Kudos to Ms. Crawford for telling these important stories in so thorough and compelling a fashion.  This is important music history, scholarly and fully researched, and told in a totally accessible and readable prose.  There is much to recommend this book, and much to be learned from it.

John W. Ehrlich is music director of Spectrum Singers, which he founded 29 years ago. He has been a singer and conductor in the Boston area for more than 30 years.


2 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. Note that the person on the far left in the photograph is not Otto Preminger, but Otto KLEMPERER.

    I guess some editor-type is not familiar with the topic of the page he was editing?

    Comment by Gene Poon — November 23, 2009 at 12:20 am

  2. Ed: With egg on our face, we correct an error that escaped us all, for quite a while.
    The fault is not one of lack of familiarity; it is name transference: over-familiarity coupled with carelessness.

    Comment by Bettina A. Norton — November 23, 2009 at 4:47 pm

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