Excerpted from a letter sent to Joseph Marx by Ernst Fischer (a famous Austrian politician and renowned [Karl] Marxist) on 11 May, 1962, celebrating Marx's 80th birthday:
"Your music reflects the Austrian landscape: the vineyards, the golden leaves of autumn, the brilliant sky overhead, melancholy and kindness, vitality and life, a dream, romantically bewitching Austria. Your strength of character cannot be contained by the borders of this land; you rejected all devils' bargains, and made no concession to conquerors and rulers. Your imagination is not a retreat from reality, and what rings the truest, is a courageous heart. It is also the wellspring of your mood, which is in opposition to Austrian sloppiness, namely attacks against all overblown, disrespectful dialog about authority. Your rapier wit always complements your gentlest music. You not only have rhythm; you've also got guts. And that, in this place, is to be praised above all else. Therefore, thank you, dear Sir, for your artistry and your courage."
It isn't widely known outside Austria that for decades in his homeland, Joseph Marx has been closely associated with the Nazi regime. This belief led to "denunciations" as well as labels such as "Marx, the Nazi boot-licker" or "Nazi-lover." Some even believe Marx was a card-carrying Nazi.
Artists such as Richard Strauss, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Hans Pfitzner, Walter Gieseking or Oskar Sala have also been connected to the Nazi regime. Each case has its own unique circumstances. A fundamental lack of information concerning the events and background of the times, paired with a reluctance to air out the veil of history in an attempt to unearth unorthodox truths, and to examine each issue from all sides, is often at fault. Also the modern, widespread tendency toward political correctness as well as the temptation - mainly out of laziness - to be in agreement with the majority, has as its unavoidable result, that an unbiased discussion of such a subject is practically impossible.
The following observation is presented in the form of a comparison of questions and facts that will serve as clarification of not only this subject, but can also be partly transferred to other artists of that era, and should help the reader form an objective opinion. The information collected here is drawn from the biographies and writings listed in the "Bibliography," and also relies heavily on dozens of interviews I conducted with persons who worked and interacted privately with Joseph Marx. In addition, I will use the contents of over one hundred letters written over a period of fifty years by Marx himself as a basis for my future updates. A final discussion will close this chapter.
Was Marx a Nazi sympathizer or at least, a conformist?
As an outspoken individualist and completely devoted to art and music, Marx never in his life joined a specific political movement. Based on his conservative views of tonality and composition, and his long-established position as one of the leading music teachers in Austria it was in the Ministry of Propaganda's best interests to exploit Marx for specific political purposes (as it happened with many other artists and cultural figures of the time). This is most evident in that Marx presented lectures in which he especially praised the performance activity and the multi-faceted nature of musical life in the Nazi state. It must be noted that in these lectures Marx avoided concrete political pronouncements and limited himself to the evaluation of efforts in the musical arena particularly in the areas of cultural and musical heritage and suggestions pertinent to that; in other words, to themes over which he could exercise his own judgment.
In the interests of self-preservation, Marx, a well-respected figure throughout Austria long before the Nazi seizure of power, had to conduct himself diplomatically and trod a very dangerous balancing act. The Ministry of Propaganda had the means and the power to place uncooperative artists in the worst possible situations, in which performances or exhibitions of their works would be banned. Far-reaching measures were in place, through which people could simply be removed from their jobs and their assets seized, and all too often notes and manuscripts would be confiscated; compositions and literary works by many non-Jewish artists were also burned or otherwise destroyed and lost forever.
The opposite happened to many artists during World War II (Berger, David, Egk, Gerster, Kurt Hessenberg, Höffer, Höller, Pepping, von Reznicek, Trapp, Weismann, Zilcher) - including Marx - contributions were paid them, in an effort to keep them working and to use their reactions for political purposes (compare to "Musik im NS-Staat" by Fred Prieberg, p. 267). The possibility that Marx accepted this contribution as payment for his lectures is not evident in any extant sources. It is all too often forgotten that at that time, Marx the composer, who for decades was the ambivalent central figure of tonal music in Austria, was under constant threat of displacement by proponents of the rapidly developing Avant-garde. It can be deduced that he sought to use his lectures as a platform for the advancement of his own musical viewpoint, with which he went so far as to try to be a positive legislative influence on the cultural development of the populace. This, from Marx's point of view, had nothing to do with the current political system, rather he stood - independent of political world-views - only for the maintenance of cultural, artistic and spiritual interests.
This must be drawn from one decisive point: that between 1935-45, Marx - precisely during the time in which central Europe, under the influence of the Third Reich was slowly being dragged in a warlike direction far removed from artistic and sensitive climate (which Marx recognized early on) - composed in a purely traditional style ("... in modo antico", "... in modo classico", Old Vienna Serenades), not only in reaction to the music of the Avant-garde and as a pedagogical guide for young composers, but also because he believed that in this way he could protect and bring through a dark age the high spiritual standards which he had always championed.
In light of this situation, it is interesting that Marx, in the final days of the Nazi regime, turned down numerous invitations to speak with patently absurd excuses that were completely unacceptable to the Reich Propaganda Office, for example, "I have to administer a test" or better still, "I don't have any money for carfare," to which the propaganda office, by the way, promised to send him a train ticket.
From my conversations with Marx's surviving friends the following impression is formed. Marx had to have been a charismatic and free-spirited non-conformist, who in meetings with Nazi functionaries "spoke his mind" with no regard for consequences and "in now way allowed himself to be taken advantage of". One of my interviewees told me a number of anecdotes that proved beyond all doubt that Marx was a master of irony and was not afraid to make Nazi functionaries "look like fools". Also, in many of his letters Marx indicated his displeasure about Austria being swallowed by the Nazi regime.
Additionally, in the last part of his life after World War II Marx repudiated much of what he had said during his service in the Nazi regime's propaganda program. If from this one gathers that Marx always sought to conform and subordinate himself to the current political landscape - a further assumption - , with respect to the above arguments and in light of the era's overall complex obligations between politics and art only one conclusion can be reached. It allows one thing to be said with certainty, namely that in the fifties, Marx began a slow retreat from public life and focused himself on his never-conquered inner connection with nature and its mystical connection with art. Marx described this directly in the revealing ORF interviews from 1952, saying that he had remained fundamentally connected with Nature during his entire life, and this connection had sustained his well-known effusiveness. Also his many private papers from the 1950's prove that he always sought to propagate music and culture as innate and undeniable expressions of personal and artistic human freedom. And as it will be shown later, there was yet another, more convincing reason, that in some situations Marx acquiesced to party plans for the development of culture and music.
At this point it should be briefly mentioned that even before his philosophical studies, Marx already had a metaphysical worldview. In many private letters Marx, who placed a high demand on the cultural level of a nation and was universally recognized as a literary and artistically educated person, expressed his sorrow over the rampant decay of values between the two world wars and the accompanying waning of concern for ethics and spiritual matters. It should also be noted here that in the majority of his letters Marx expressed the heartfelt wish to see his distant friends more often, so that finally, they could again have the deep discussions that he treasured so much.
Is it coincidence that many representatives of the Avant-garde, whom Marx ignored or attacked in his role as music critic, were Jews?
Marx constantly strove to meet the high ideals of "lofty art" in the manner of the traditional masters he revered: Mozart, Haydn, Schubert, Beethoven, Brahms, etc. His famous motto "Not everything that has been composed should be called music" is indicative of his viewpoint that music should play within the borders of tonality, although he did expand those borders somewhat, and not only in selected passages of his own work, but ironically also in the evaluation of modern works, as Marx also praised the works of those Modern composers who at least included tonal elements in their pieces (it is interesting in this situation that he once sought to bring Schönberg to the Vienna Academy of Music). His extreme criticism of the Avant-garde manifested itself long before the birth of the anti-Semitic Nazi regime.
On the other hand, Marx had many friends among atonal composers that went much deeper than a "peaceful coexistence". Many of his students who had already broken away from the tonal System during their educations, later reported that their relationship with their teacher Marx was always marked by mutual respect and understanding, and they were grateful for the comprehensive musical education that he provided. Marx's students and other survivors told me that many Jews were also among his large circle of friends and acquaintances.
When questioned about it specifically, they maintained that Marx showed absolutely no tendency toward racism or anti-Semitism, but that there was never a more open-minded, dearer man, for whom a person's race or origins made no difference. Erich Wolfgang Korngold, as we know, who throughout his lifetime was a friend of Marx's, happened to be Jewish - as was Franz Schreker, who likewise belonged to Marx's closest circle of colleagues and friends. In addition, the titles of Marx's compositions and his song texts contain not even the remotest hint of Nazi, or indeed anti-Semitic sentiment. Further, I have in my possession a collection of letters in which enduring friendships between Marx and numerous colleagues and friends who were persecuted and expelled for their Jewish beliefs are documented.
Yet another interesting example of Marx's versatile personality is found in a conversation with a family with whom Marx had been close friends for many years, and who told me that he used his position as district music director, as was his official title for a while, to help Jews.
New information, supported by countless letters and documented evidence readily found in the collections of the National Library casts him in a completely different light - that Marx constantly did all in his power to reestablish performances of the works of Jewish composers in Austria's concert halls.
This would have been a further reason for his occasional acquiescence to the plans of Nazi functionaries; if he had openly rebelled against them, he could have certainly kissed his influential position in the music world goodbye, that had made it possible for him to assist those countless (not a few from Jewish refugees) inquiries. Korngold is the best-known example, but there are many letters from Jewish artists, who sought assistance from Marx even long after World War II. The sheer number of requests and thank-you letters shows that Marx had to have been not only the court of last resort, but the first for his Jewish colleagues and students. One can only guess at the difficult and likely critical situations in which Marx had to maneuver himself, as he showed the countless artists who had flown Austria or had been driven out by the Nazis ways to regain a foothold in their homeland.
A definitive impression begins to form of Joseph Marx's character, for as has already been mentioned in his biography, Marx gave extra lessons to many of his students who needed them, indeed often holding private, free sessions during his free time. Based on his enormous willingness to help and the high esteem in which he was held, it is all the more astounding, indeed almost unbelievable that he has been labeled a Nazi sympathizer for so long.
A further piece of highly interesting information: As it was related to me by a number of Marx's surviving students, his Jewish students especially revered Marx. Not a few of his Jewish students and friends traveled from America back to Austria after the war solely to visit their highly-regarded teacher and friend Joseph Marx, as was the case with Herbert Zipper. That Marx was revered by the great majority of his students and was honored up until his death with countless letters and visits from all parts of the world is already known, but from whence his enormous esteem for his Jewish students comes, is uncertain. I was unable to find absolutely clear evidence of Jewish ancestry in Marx' family. My research cannot confirm or deny evidence of a Jewish forefather; if one exists, it must be in the distant past.
In the meantime, a newly disclosed packet of letters has brought to light that Marx assisted numerous Jewish families who enlisted his aid by securing homes and positions in foreign lands, which means that he has rescued them from deportation. In addition Marx, as evidenced by his letters, constantly did all in his power to see to it that combat soldiers whom he knew personally (for example, his students), and their units would be entertained, among other things by the organization of musical events that the troops attended, and in which they often participated.
Marx's house maid who experienced him in the years 1938-43 (Austria was taken over by the Nazi regime in March 1938), reported to me that Marx never supported those Austrians who followed the Germanizing of Austria by the Nazi propaganda machinery. The "Hitler salute" was not tolerated in Marx's house. Also, the Austrian National Library possesses numerous letters of the conductor and composer Roderich Mojsisovics-Mojsvár, all of which are signed with "Heil Hitler!", except for those written to Marx!
There is more: Letters from the Polish music theorist Zofia Lissa to Marx indicate that following World War II, he also sought with extreme dedication to reestablish Polish musical life, that had suffered so terribly under the Nazis. As a reminder: We are discussing the same person who is still branded a Nazi collaborator in many poorly informed circles of the Austrian music world!
Is it not an indication of a nationalistic viewpoint that the beauty of Austria is the subject many of the songs written by Marx, and in his lectures and writings he many times spoke of the meaning of "German Culture"?
As is suggested above, Marx spoke highly of the great worth of "German Culture". Could one from this, at least, deduce a tendency towards a national socialistic viewpoint? This point is mentioned, only because Marx was first and foremost an artist and creative person, who owed much of his inspiration to Austrian culture and, indeed, the entire realm of German-speaking poets, composers and thinkers.
It is a generally recognized and acknowledged fact today, that because of the politically charged atmosphere of that decade, not only Marx, but many other important artists, musicians and literary figures of his time were persuaded to mouth the party line, without being accused of having an overly zealous association with the Nazis. If this is a legitimate question, would it not be analogous, for example, to reach the grotesque conclusion that also the etymologists and assorted clubs who for years have sought to preserve the purity of the German language, should also be accused of having a strong nationalistic, perhaps even Nazi Attitude?
If one considers that the bulk of his songs were written long before the rise of the Nazi party, many of the poems that Marx set to music are about brotherly and mystic love, as well as a profound connection to Nature. In addition, Marx also composed songs to poems in which allegiance to the Fatherland plays an important role. Is it a legitimate deduction from this, at least, that Marx could have been sympathetic to the Nazi cause? Marx's patriotism was also limited in this case to the homage of natural beauty, and the already discussed cultural inheritance imparted by German speaking poets of earlier eras, that he himself so often praised and that one can recognize in his works; Marx always placed the quest for "Beauty" in the forefront and dismissed any composition that relied solely on intellect as "non-art". Therefore the inspiration for his vocal works, that is, the poem, had to meet his high standards. He supported self-imposed high expectations of his works in the midst of their Impressionistic tonal world, that are especially evident in his hymns for Autumn (his favorite season), and in the enthusiastic descriptions of his impressions of his many visits to Italy. Marx himself mentioned a decided affinity for the Mediterranean many times in the ORF interviews (partly because one grandmother was Italian, and his mother was half-Slavic), as well as his preference for composers like Albéniz and Respighi hints that, in Marx's case, the accusation of overdeveloped patriotism is overblown and unfounded.
The main problem has two sides: Musicology and cultural policy.
Musicology: In the years 1905-09, Marx has made huge experiments by working with thousands of subjects of different ages and different levels of education. These experiments showed him that tonality most probably is a universal law deeply connected with human perception and psychology. His scientific argumentation in his dissertations and other articles about the human perception of the triad and other structures of harmony, and about the tendency of the human mind to automatically "transform" dissonances to euphonic chords like the Major triad is, by the way, quite convincing and was later partially confirmed not only by modern science but also by the fact that tonal triads can be found in all musical cultures of the world including the "primitive" tribes. Marx's experiments that were unprecedented until that time and that widely developped Riemann's theories of the 19th century, were worked out with Alexius von Meinong and Vittorio Benussi who were among Austria's leading experimental psychologists of that era. After evaluating all the results in 1909, Marx literally HAD TO believe that all atonal, polytonal and other possible ways of "intellectual construction" of tone structures must be "against a universal principle". Therefore, he was scientifically and musicologically convinced that tonality is the only valid system, and he remained true to these principles until his death, although he was himself very flexible with dissonant harmonies, not only in some of his own works that include many dissonant chords but also as a jury member in competitions when he occasionally praised works by composers of the Avantgarde. Marx allowed dissonances and even atonality as long as the "composed atonal structure at least created an interesting sound effect", which was, in his opinion, true with the latest works of Scriabin, for instance.
Nevertheless, it was certainly unfair of him that he sometimes abused his authority to put obstacles in the way of young Avantgarde musicians, but one should be aware that Marx was just one of the leading figures of a whole Austrian generation who did that. And so we have to talk about the second side of the problem: Cultural politics. The Austrian music between 1922 (when Marx became powerful and at the same time the twelfe-tone music was founded) and approximately 1960, was divided into two groups, the tonalists and the members of the Second Viennese School of Arnold Schoenberg (including their following younger generation). The atonalists (many of which, ironically, were formerly taught by Joseph Marx!) were also powerful. They also had important representants in functionary roles of Austria's cultural and musical life. There was an open battle between the two groups.
Eventually, there are two things Marx can be accused of:
1. He occasionally abused his authority in order to suppress the Avantgarde in the open battle between tonal and atonal Austrian musicians.
2. He allowed the Austrian ultra-nationalist government (1933-38) and the Nazi regime (after 1938) to abuse his high position to some extent. And he used some opportunities of giving speeches in order to recommend a return to tonal music and traditional values that are connected with this music.
However, let's take a look at Strauss, Furtwangler, Karajan, Clemens Krauss and many many others. In the "Archive of Documentation" of the "Austrian Resistance" against the Nazi regime (this archive is generally accepted as the most important database serving to decide whether any person between 1933 and 1945 was "politically innocent" or not), there are a hundred pages exposing proof of the "guilt" of EACH of these composers and conductors. Amazingly, the archive doesn't mention a single negative word about Marx. Nevertheless, parts of the Austrian music scene still believe that Marx was a powerful Nazi sympathizer, and this mistake was intentionally created by an Avantgarde generation after Marx's death who then suppressed performances of his music and spread around Nazi accusations against him although everything untrue (as you can read in the other parts of this article) and although he, already dead, was unable to defend himself. And this was shameful of THEM.
Huge parts of the Austrian music scene still believe the Nazi lies about Marx, but why? Because Austria has a HUGE problem with its own Nazi history of the period after 1938 (when Austria was taken over by Nazi Germany). Almost every Austrian has or had relatives who became an active Nazi after Austria had been "swallowed" by the Nazi regime in March 1938. Austria never resolved this moral issue until today. So this topic still is a kind of taboo in Austria, and it's totally different from Germany where the last two generations have accepted and exposed all of the guilts of their fathers and grandfathers by making hundreds of TV documentations, exhibitions and other stuff.
As one can see, the frequency of performances of Marx's music in the last five or perhaps even six decades is directly connected with a serious political-historical problem in Austria that is still unsolved, and the open battle between tonalits and atonalists that was won by the atonalists after Marx's death in the 1960s, made it even worse. Today, Austria is a country of "political correctness". Cultural institutions get almost frightened when their hear the word "traditionalist" because for them, this word is connected with the bad image of an "Austrian ultra-nationalist", "Nazi bootlicker" etc. Only in the last few years, Austria became more relaxed; one can say that there is now a kind of "renaissance" of late-romantic tonal music in Austria, which had been actively suppressed over decades after the second world war and especially after the tonalists lost their power with Marx's death, who was apparently the last one among the powerful representatives of the tonal Austrian composers born in the 19th century.
This is why many open-minded Austrians wrote to me that they are so grateful that someone supports this process of "freeing the mind" and exposes the truth about Joseph Marx after such a long time of lies and unconfirmed rumors. And each of them says: "Unfortunately, a website like yours is a typical German product. It would still be impossible to do that in Austria." (One must know that I live in Germany).
Finally, the high quality of Marx's music -no matter if we're talking about his Lieder, his piano and chamber music or his orchestral works- has always, until today, been undisputed among musicologists, critics and performers of all eras, even among the atonalists many of which were taught by Marx and admired him for his enormous knowledge and mastery, although he was their biggest opponent! However, due to the worldwide success of his Lieder in the first half of the 20th century, he widely remained known as a "song composer", and nobody asked if he has ever composed anything else, which was, as already indicated, due to the fact that there has been no active promotion of his music in Austria in the last four or so decades because of the huge power of Austria's second Avantgarde generation who suppressed all tendencies to a renaissance of traditionalist/purely tonal music. Eventually, my website as the first internationally available source of information about Marx's entire work, changed these things a little bit and made Marx "presentable" in today's Austria, and hopefully it will also re-establish his fame as one of the most interesting symphonists of the entire late-romantic era whose works have been performed by the greatest conductors of the 20th century (Clemens Krauss, Fritz Reiner, Arthur Nikisch, Ferdinand Löwe, Felix Weingartner, Oswald Kabasta, Robert Heger, Karl Böhm, Zubin Mehta, Marek Janowski and many others).
The preceding evidence shows that the accusations against Joseph Marx are based largely on a distortion, or at least ignorance of, many factors. One gains the impression that those who laid the foundation for these accusations did not take into account the entire course of events, but rather had to have pulled events out of context. This may have been done with the intent to sow a specific opinion about Marx that the true circumstances of his time can hardly reflect, and cannot in any way do a complex personality like Marx justice. But one must also guard against judging those instigators of these widely held, rash beliefs in a similar, biased manner: After all, prior to the establishment of this Internet site, there existed no comprehensive, published body of research in which all of the above facts were assembled and available in their entirety. It is for exactly this reason that I have written this essay: to enlighten and recall that the quest for truth is always the best way to illuminate and observe things from all sides, to remain ready to challenge long-held beliefs, even to completely reconsider them. At any rate, one occasionally has to throw some old ways of thinking overboard and thus remain open to abandon accepted truths, rather than to choose to believe only what makes us comfortable. And, ironically, many find this unbearably difficult. But to summarize objectively: Who would want to be trade places with someone who, already long before the rise of National Socialism, had led a public life, and was automatically under pressure after the takeover of the Nazi regime? Is it possible to render an objective verdict on people like Joseph Marx for the difficult decisions such as what they had to make in that time, the weight of which we today can't comprehend, in some way judge them? Now is the time for Joseph Marx to receive the well-deserved praise that Austrian music of the 20th century, as well as uncounted musicians the world over, owe him.
With heartfelt thanks to Mrs. Rosemary Hilmar from the Austrian National
Library (Manuscript Collection) for her untiring work in the development of the collections of musicians' correspondence administered by the National Library, Vienna.
For further investigations, check out her incredibly large
Database of musicians' correspondence.
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