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ClassicsOnline Home » TOCH: Tanz-Suite / Cello Concerto
Ernst Toch was among the most neglected composers of the 20th century. He was born in Vienna and lived in Berlin from 1929 until he was forced to emigrate in 1933, eventually settling in the United States. However, in the United States Toch’s music did not achieve the level of success it had enjoyed in Europe. The Tanz-Suite and Cello Concerto, written in Mannheim in 1923 and 1924, are the perfect demonstration of how Toch’s music came to terms with all modern musical trends in an idiosyncratic and creative way, without being completely committed to any one. Since the 1990s there has been a gradual revival of interest in Toch’s work, in which Spectrum Concerts Berlin has taken a decisive part.
By John H. Beck (Author and former director)
WGBH in Boston and WNYC in New York
By Catherine Milligan
The performance by Spectrum Concerts Berlin is masterful, and displays wonderful energy and brilliance from all players.
By Phil Vendy
A four-star CD…think of the luminous qualities of a painting by Klee or Feininger; Toch, musically, sits on that wavelength.
As the six-movement Tanz-Suite unfolds, you find yourself listening with growing intrigue. The instruments scout around, romp with each other now and then, often go off on their own, but always sound as though they have come together with the interests of something civilized at heart.
The [Cello] Concerto’s four movements have similar percussive statements; both in terms of instruments and in the way Toch requires them to be played. The movements are more clearly defined than in the Tanz-Suite, with stronger individual voices and louder conversations, but the players retain their air of collective civilization even as they warm to their own considerable complexity, if not virtuosity.
The twelve named members of Spectrum Concerts Berlin really bite into their parts, and it’s hard to imagine Toch being presented in better form. For the entire near-60 minutes, almost equally divided between Tanz-Suite and the Concerto, this music is ever-changing, tightly controlled, constantly exploring new sonorities and textures, never resting for long enough to develop any particular themes. It is stimulating right to the end, not conventionally melodic, but on the conventionally-acceptable side of modernism. There is more than enough of interest to warrant repeated listening, and nothing that you wouldn’t be happy to hear again.
Ernst Toch (1887-1964)
Tanz-Suite, Op. 30 • Cello Concerto, Op. 35
Silence is part of music's morality. One does not hear the unwritten works and the creative silence but they influence everything which will be written afterwards. They are part of the artistic essence and character of an artist just as much as the works which were finished. The same holds true for Ernst Toch. His works fall into two large groups, works composed up to 1938 and those composed after 1945. Having lived in Berlin since 1929, Toch left Germany shortly after the National Socialist party took power and emigrated, via Paris, to London. before finally settling in the United States.
Born in Vienna, Toch received the Mozart prize in 1909 and the Mendelssohn prize in 1910. He was, to a large extent, self-taught. Not only was he able to claim a place for himself in the vivacious music scene of the early twentieth century, but developed into one of the most often performed serious composers through his sheer creative energy and intellectual scope. This was the state of his reputation at the time he left Berlin in 1933 to finish and synchronize his great music score for Katharina die Große (Catherine the Great). He would never return to Germany or Austria again. Ernst Toch died at almost 77 years of age on 1 October 1964, in Santa Monica where, after a two-year period in New York, he spent altogether 28 years, the longest period living in one place in his whole life.
The fact that Toch could not achieve the level of success in the United States that he enjoyed in Europe was accepted by him as a fate largely shared with other immigrants. His music, which came to terms with all modern musical trends in an idiosyncratic and creative way, without being completely committed to any one, seemed certain of broad acceptance, as had happened with Igor Stravinsky and Paul Hindemith. Yet Toch was not good at selling himself. "He could not even promote a glass of water" (Herbert Zipper). He initially concentrated his energies on rescuing his relatives, amid the developments in and around Germany, from Nazi-persecution and helping them to emigrate to America. He later became deeply depressed as he was not able to save numerous relatives from the Holocaust. From 1938 to 1945 Ernst Toch wrote almost nothing that he wanted to conceive and elaborate on, writing practically only film scores from which he was able to earn a living for himself and his family.
The Tanz-Suite, Op. 30, and the Cello Concerto, Op. 35, written in 1923 and 1924 in Mannheim, where Toch had been a professor of composition at the Musikhochschule since 1913, are associated with his successful career during the 1920s; they show his individual and integrating position amid the different currents and trends of the post-war period of disruption. The Cello Concerto was published in 1925 by Schott in Mainz. The score bears the following imprint: "Awarded a prize in the 1925 publishing-house competition".
In his Tanz-Suite for chamber ensemble, with prominent percussion, Toch comes to terms with contemporaries such as Igor Stravinsky and Béla Bartók. Bartók composed his Tanz-Suite like Toch in 1923; Stravinsky had compiled already before the First World War excerpts from his ballets into suites for concert performance. Toch's Dance Suite consists of six characteristic movements of different lengths, written like miniature dance scenes, structured in short but distinctive sections which are partly repeated and varied. One can imagine various kinds of choreographies: a ballet with a fantasy story (the music assumes a narrative quality over a longer period), an abstract ballet which leaves the responsibility for the inner coherence to the music, or a piece in the mood of Oskar Schlemmer's Triadic Ballet, replacing human dancers with movable puppets. All three types were cultivated during the 1920s, and Toch was more or less focused equally on all three forms (even if the Triadic Ballet only appeared a few years after the Tanz-Suite).
A concert performance without the visual aspect of the dance gives the listener not only the opportunity of free association but also draws one's attention to the musical structure such as the relationship between solo phrases and duos, trios and ensembles. The dance is sublimated in itself, the individual actions of the protagonist, the Pas de deux, Pas de trois and group dances. The art of dance has thus become music with its complete spectrum of expressions from the elegaic to the grotesque. The beginning is conceived as an overture; the finale is a great waltz scene. Calm and animated, melancholic and serene, with intervening alternating bitter-sweet and ironic phrases. Toch's Dance Suite comes at the point of intersection of several tendencies of the 1920s. The composer was on the promising path to success.
The Cello Concerto, Op. 35, combines modernity with musical immediateness, thus being close to Paul Hindemith's chamber works for solo instrument and ensemble. Despite its symphonic dimensions it was composed as a chamber concerto for a soloist and eleven players. Toch took up a trend which was expressed in Schoenberg's and Schreker's Kammersymphonien and in Alban Berg's Kammerkonzert. All these works aimed at transparency, clarity of musical movement, distinctness of each single incident and at inner logic. Toch also enriched his instrumentation with an unusual display of percussion.
The first movement impresses with a delicate and subtle texture where the main events return again and again, only to integrate themselves back into the filigree texture. The soloist has the leading part, playing now and then by himself, most of the time as first among equals. The whole movement is composed like a multilayered dialogue, like finely illuminated dialectics between the individual and the whole. The fast second movement is one of those pieces which one would describe as 'motoric'. Toch's kinetic energy occurs when quick march-like rhythms meet unbroken elements which can build up to a perpetuum mobile. In contrast the third movement starts more introspectively with a cello solo, an expressive melody. The solo part gradually fans out into a complete ensemble of the strings before the oboe introduces an additional melody. The brilliance of the last movement comes from the virtuoso collaboration of the individual players and the ensemble.
English translation: Markus Koch
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TOCH: Tanz-Suite / Cello Concerto