Berthold Goldschmidt is belatedly recognised as one of Britain's finest modern composers. In the last interview before his death he told Edward Pearce about neglect and rediscoveryby Edward Pearce / December 20, 1996 / Leave a comment
He died on 17th October, aged 93. Berthold Goldschmidt had been actively composing music in his second musical career for about ten years. His first career began in Germany where he was born in 1903 and continued in England where he came in flight from the Nazis in 1935.
The second career has been almost triumphal, including an ardent reception at the Wigmore Hall last year for his fourth quartet. It merges with retrospective admiration for the work of the first career, including rave reviews for the recording of his operas Der gewaltige Hahnrei and Beatrice Cenci.
How he came to England is a story in itself, which he described to me earlier this year when I visited his flat in Belsize village where he has lived for 61 years.
Being Jewish in Hamburg in 1935, he was paid a visit by the Nazis. Why, they asked, did he not respond with a “Heil Hitler” salute?
“I thought we weren’t supposed to do that,” he replied. The subject was changed. How did he make his living? “I have piano pupils.”
“Ah, how much do you charge?”
“Three marks! But my daughter is charged five marks.”
From which contact, conversation took on a gentler form until the Nazi official leaned across the table and hissed: “Get out of here!”
He got out, came to England, and for 25 years worked steadily and with solid recognition. He was part of British musical culture, a prize-winning composer of opera, a conductor-in the mainstream.
But from the early 1960s until well into the late 1980s he was an unperson musically. Goldschmidt was told by the avant-garde establishment in Britain and abroad that he was not wanted, would not be performed and that his music would be sent back unconsidered.
He was a musician good enough in his German days to have worked as Erich Kleiber’s assistant, to have won the Festival of Britain Opera prize (with Beatrice Cenci) in 1951, to have worked with Deryck Cooke on the assembly from fragments of Mahler’s Tenth Symphony, to have written long ago his cello concerto for Emanuel Feuermann.
The man himself was impressive-short, vigorous, bright-eyed, making a half-hearted attempt at crustiness which quickly gave way to friendly and cheerful animation once talk was underway.
He told me of a letter by Sir John Drummond, the former head of Radio Three, to a Goldschmidt…