Carl Schuricht and Boris Blacher

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Blacher came to Berlin as an architecture student but soon enrolled at the Hochschule für Musik. He was already a proficient pianist and violinist, and he had gained a special kind of practical experience when, as a sixteen-year-old in Harbin, he orchestrated such works as Tosca for the local opera company, which owned only piano scores. His father disapproved of his choice of music as a career, the maintenance checks were stopped, and Blacher made a living playing the piano in movie theaters and as a dance-band arranger. It was not a high-profile existence, but Blacher occupied himself usefully and happily, absorbing the new music and theater that was all around him in the lively Berlin of the 1920s and the early 1930s.

Under Nazi auspices, surprising as it now seems and surprising as it certainly was to Blacher at the time, a performance of his Capriccio for Orchestra was played in Berlin in 1935. It brought him attention as well as the first of many reviews that would pillory him as degenerate, corrupted by Stravinsky, Kurt Weill, and jazz, coldly intellectual, and undeutsch. Nonetheless, in 1937 the Berlin Philharmonic under Carl Schuricht programmed Concertante Musik, a ten-minute sparkler that is Blacher's most-played piece after the Paganini Variations. Because the Philharmonic, unused to playing new music, had trouble with Blacher's rhythmic irregularities, the performance was a mess, and Schuricht decided to repeat the piece. The story that got around, however, was that the encore was in response to the enthusiasm of the audience, whose reception was in fact very friendly, and as a result the Concertante Musik was repeated in severalimportant German cities.

That premiere should have been the turning point of Blacher's career, but it was not a time in which he could consolidate this, his first great success. It had taken courage for Schuricht to program the piece at all inasmuch as Blacher, in the six or seven years since his music had begun to be heard in Germany, was beginning to gain a reputation as a dangerous radical. His position was strange. His music was neither proscribed nor officially designated as entartet (degenerate) or as an example of Kulturbolschewismus, but it was accounted "unwelcome." It was performed, even at such official events as the Reich Music Festival, but it was also pretty consistently attacked for all the reasons that had come up in those first reviews of the Capriccio.

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