Arthur Chitz (1882-1944)

Music historian, composer, pianist and conductor Arthur Chitz’s successful career was tragically cut short when he was unable to escape Germany before the Holocaust. He is presumed to have died in a concentration camp in Riga. Chitz’s music was sadly forgotten after the war until musicologist Agata Schindler worked with his family to recognise his work. His compositional output includes a Sinfonietta, string quartets, vocal works, piano pieces, incidental music and other chamber music.

Born in Prague to a German-speaking Jewish family, Chitz studied composition, violin and piano in Prague, Frankfurt am Main and Vienna, getting his PhD in 1905. He married Gertrud, an artist, singer and pianist, in 1907. After moving to Dresden and studying engineering, Chitz decided to dedicate his life to music rather than follow into the family chemical factory business. As a musicologist he made important contributions to scholarship on Beethoven’s early music, discovering some previously unknown scores in Beethoven’s papers. These discoveries were premiered in April 1915, and Chitz’s research was published in German and French magazines. Chitz was drafted into the German Army during the First World War; he was awarded the Saxon Silver Cross.

A successful performer, accompanist and arranger, Chitz played chamber music with the Dresden Quartet and in a piano trio. He toured Europe with singers including the soprano Sigrid Arnoldson and buffo tenor Hans Rüdiger, the latter performing a selection of German and Silesian songs arranged for piano and voice by Chitz (published in 1923 by Anton J. Benjamin). Chitz also accompanied the von Schuch siblings – singers Liesel and Kate and cellist Hans ­– the children of Ernst von Schuch, director of the Dresden Opera. Chitz worked as musical director and composer of incidental music at the Dresden Schauspielhaus, and as harpsichordist at the church, Kreuzkirche; he conducted in Berlin in 1932.

Following Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor in 1933, antisemitic laws restricted every aspect of Jews’ lives in Germany. Chitz was forbidden from performing in two concerts in Dresden in April 1933, and he was forced to retire from all aspects of musical life in May. Because he had converted to Protestantism two decades earlier, Chitz could not join the Kulturbund as it was only available for Jews; but he was similarly barred from the Reichskulturkammer and all other aspects of musical life because he was considered Jewish under Nazi law. He was listed in several antisemitic Nazi publications which identified Jewish musicians, including the Lexicon der Juden in der Musik. Nevertheless, Chitz chose to remain in Germany, though he sent his children to Prague. Letters from his daughter suggest that Chitz tried to leave Germany, but it was already too late; Arthur and his wife were unable to find transport out of the country.

In 1938 Chitz was arrested and taken to Buchenwald. After a month he was released and Chitz and his wife were ordered to give up the apartment that they had lived in for thirty years. They were forbidden by law to sell or donate their possessions, which included books, instruments, scores and his wife’s paintings (though he did appear to have arranged for some of his scores and his piano to be looked after by a friend). They were taken to an Altersjudenhaus (Old Jews’ House), where Chitz continued to compose in private. In 1942 the couple were transported to a ghetto near Skirotava in Riga. After its liquidation in November 1943 survivors were transported to Riga-Kaiserwald, a concentration camp. It is likely that Chitz died in this camp. His wife later died during a Death March from Riga to Dresden in 1945.

The only record of Chitz’s death appears in an anonymous obituary in the Neues Deutschland in 1947. The article praises his work as a musician, conductor and Beethoven scholar. Some of Chitz’s papers found their way to the Dresden Theatre archive, though most of his work did not survive; he had tried to give his scores to the von Schuchs for safekeeping, but they were lost along the way.

A bench in Mystic town cemetery in Connecticut was erected in memorial of Arthur and Gertrud Chitz by their family, and performances of Arthur’s music have taken place in the USA and in Germany since 2000. Brass plaques outside the Chitz family house commemorate the composer, as do plaques in the Dresden Theatre and the Semper Opera House. The Slovak-Czech docu-drama In Silence honours Chitz’s life and his son published his own memoirs, Starting Over: The Life of Hermann Ernst Sheets in America in 2007.

Adapted from Agata Schindler, A Tiny Teardrop: The Devastating Impact of Nazism on the Lives of Musicians in Central Europe (1933-1945) (Bratislava: Hobodné Centrum, 2016) by Abaigh McKee.

Dr Arthur Oskar Chitz

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