European Emigrés & the Glyndebourne Festival

The Glyndebourne Festival is recognised as an international leader in operatic productions. Founded in 1934 and based in East Sussex, England, the festival owes its foundational success to artists who fled Nazi Germany and sought refuge elsewhere. Thanks to chance encounters and old friendships, Glyndebourne quickly progressed from idea to reality, with an exiled conductor at the centre of it all.

The conductor in question, Fritz Busch, was born on 13 March 1890 in Siegen, a provenance of then Westphalia, Germany. He came from a musical family.  His father was a violinmaker and fiddler and he and his brothers followed in their father’s footsteps. Brother Hermann Busch (1897-1975) was an accomplished cellist and brother Adolf (1891-1952), with whom Fritz was sometimes confused, was a violinist and conductor.  Other siblings in the family included two actors, Willi Busch and Elisabeth Busch-Krampe.

In 1906, Fritz Busch commenced his studies at the Cologne Conservatory under the conductor and personal friend of Johannes Brahms, Fritz Steinbach.  After completing his studies, he was appointed conductor of the Deutsches Theatre in Riga (1909-1911) where he gained considerable experience. He then toured as a pianist for a year, and the following year he began work as music director for the city of Aachen (1912-1914).

World War One interrupted his burgeoning career but upon the war’s end in 1918, he returned to Aachen to conduct the city’s Municipal Opera.  Shortly thereafter, he was appointed director of Stuttgart Opera where he remained for four years, leaving to succeed Fritz Reiner as conductor at Dresden Staatsoper in 1922.

During his tenure in Dresden, Busch became known for his choices of modern repertoire including works by Pfitzner and Hindemith as well as notable premieres of Strauss’s Intermezzo (1924), Ferruccio Busconi’s Doktor Faust (1925), Hindemith’s Cardillac (1926), and Kurt Weill’s Der Protagonist (1926).  His portfolio also included an array of more traditional repertoire and an increasing demand for his services meant a busy schedule in the years to follow.  This included his 1932 success conducting Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail at the Salzburg Festival.

Against the backdrop of the growth of the Nazi party in the early 1930s, Busch’s opposition to a dictatorship coupled with his promotion of progressive ‘modernist’ music led to his dismissal from the position as director of the Dresden Staatsoper in March 1933.  The dismissal was prompted by an incident involving Nazi party members protesting at a production of Verdi’s Rigoletto which Busch was conducting. He was replaced by conductor Kurt Striegler. Though this was a humiliating setback for Busch, he was urged to resume his post in a meeting with ‘Minister Without Portfolio’ Herman Göring.  Busch emphatically refused and left Germany shortly thereafter.  After a failed application for asylum in Switzerland, which included a recommendation by German novelist Thomas Mann, Busch set up a precarious residence in Scandinavia.  He never returned to Germany.

Despite many setbacks, Busch maintained a busy schedule and continued to conduct internationally, with several tours to South America.  This included an engagement with the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, Argentina which would become a regular engagement (1934-36 and 1940-47).  This employment would also provide Busch with much-needed political protection in the form of Argentinian papers in 1936.   Busch also began a long relationship with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra in 1934 which lasted until the end of his career (excluding the war years 1939-1945, likely due to the close proximity to Nazi Germany).

While Fritz Busch’s conducting engagements were primarily based in South America, his brother Adolf Busch was on tour with his string quartet in England (late 1933) where he became aware of plans for a new opera festival at Glyndebourne in East Sussex. The festival was in need of a conductor and this information was relayed to Fritz who, shortly after being mentioned to festival founder John Christie, was given the position.  This was a serendipitous occurrence as Busch’s connections in the opera world would provide the festival with choice picks for the positions of artist director and general manager.

For the position of artistic director, Busch suggested his German born colleague Carl Ebert (1887-1980).  Ebert started his training as an actor under tutelage of Max Reinhardt, and later transitioned into work as intendant at the Landstheater Darmstadt (1927-1931) and the Berlin Städtische Oper. While serving as the director at the theatre in Darmstadt, Ebert also employed the young composer and conductor Berthold Goldschmidt (1903-1996) to serve as his musical collaborator.

According to a recollection by his son Peter Ebert, the pair had a particular creative working process. He recalled this process in Daniel Snowman’s book The Hitler Émigrés:

While Goldschmidt performed at the piano, playing through the opera…my father stretched out on a…couch, first just listening, then making notes…following the music in the score as well as…reading the text and, finally questioning and arguing with Goldschmidt about the interpretation of each section.

From 1944-1947, Goldschmidt served as head of the BBC German service. He would later work with former colleagues, including Ebert, as a last-minute replacement conductor for the 1947 Glyndebourne production of Verdi’s Macbeth and also served as chorus master for several productions. 

Ebert’s work in his positions prepared him for an international career and like Busch, Ebert’s aversion to National Socialism and his promotion of ‘modern’ works, such as the premiere of Weill’s Die Bürgschaft in 1932, forced him into exile.  According to a BBC article on the history of Glyndebourne, Ebert was offered artistic control of the opera houses in Berlin by ‘Minister without portfolio’ Herman Göring, an offer he roundly refused. Shortly thereafter, he fled to Switzerland and then to Argentina.

Ebert and Busch were soon both located in Buenos Aires where they collaborated together, running Teatro Colon’s productions of Wagner operas from 1933-1936. Ebert then joined Busch to create the 1934 opening season of Glyndebourne Festival with successful productions of Mozart’s Le Nozzi di Figaro and Cosi fan Tutte. Ebert served as artist director of the Glyndebourne Festival from 1934-1939 and 1947-1959.

For the position of general manager, Busch suggested Sir Rudolf Bing (1902-1997).  Bing was born into a well-to-do Jewish family in Vienna. He first gained experience working in theatrical agencies in Vienna and Berlin before becoming an assistant to Carl Ebert at the Hessisches Staatstheater in Darmstadt (1928-1930). Later he went on to serve as assistant to the Intendant at the Charlottenburg Opera Berlin (now Deutsche Oper on Bismarkstrasse) until 1933. The following year he moved to England and, in 1935, was appointed general manager of Glyndebourne. He maintained the position until 1949. During the latter part of this tenure, Bing also aided in the creation of the Edinburgh Festival from 1947-49. He would later become general manager of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City (1950-1972), overseeing arguably the ‘Golden Age’ of the company.

Fritz Busch and Rudolf Bing at Glyndebourne House.

Fritz Busch, Carl Ebert and Rudolf Bing set forth in creating the foundations of the Glyndebourne Festival and launched the company onto the global stage with standard-raising productions of Mozart repertoire. The first four seasons consisted of productions of Le Nozze di Figaro (1934-37), Die Zauberflöte (1935-37), Cosi fan Tutte (1934-37), Die Entrführung (1935-37) and Don Giovanni (1936-37) to great acclaim.

Busch continued to conduct for Glyndebourne until 1939 but a casting dispute led to an eleven year hiatus from the festival. He resumed work with the company in 1950 until his death the following year. His career in music, from promoting the ‘modern music’ of Pfitzner, Hindemith, Weill, and Berg to his work in shaping the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra onto his important part in establishing the Glyndebourne Festival show the important contributions of refugees fleeing tyranny to the Western classical tradition.

Ryan Hugh Ross, 2019


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