Richard Fuchs was a German Jewish architect, artist and composer who founded the Baden-Wurttenberg branch of the Jüdischer Kulturbund (Jewish Cultural League). Fuchs was interned in Dachau concentration camp before escaping to New Zealand after Kristallnacht in 1938. Persecuted in Germany for being Jewish, and shunned in New Zealand for being German, much of Fuchs’ works have sadly never been performed. His large-scale work Vom Jüdischen Schicksal (The Jewish Fate) was due to be performed in 1937, but the performance was cancelled at the last minute by the Reichskulturkammer for unspecified reasons, although historians and musicologists agree that it was likely because his musical style was ‘too German.’ Although Fuchs is largely unknown, efforts have been made to perform some of his compositions in recent years. Fuchs is one of many aspiring musicians, artists and composers who survived persecution in Nazi Germany but were sadly unable to re-institute their careers after the war.
Born in Karlsruhe, Baden in 1887 to a musical family, Fuchs played the piano from a young age and studied at his local music school, Hochschule für Musik Karlsruhe, before training as an architect. His brother, Gottfried Fuchs (1889-1972), was one of the most successful German footballers of his time. Richard fought for the Germans in the Battle of the Somme during the First World War (for which he received the Iron Cross) and served as a war artist. He also composed music for pleasure. Some of his earliest surviving compositions are a Piano Quintet (1931), String Quartet (1932) and his Symphony in C minor for large orchestra (1932-33). Fuchs sent his compositions to leading conductors including Wilhelm Furtwängler and Felix Weingartner but although he received positive feedback, no conductors expressed an interest in performing his compositions. Programming a work by an unknown Jewish composer in 1930s Germany was likely not a wise career move for these conductors.
Nazi antisemitic legislation prohibited the performance of works by Jewish composers in public places and stated that Jewish musicians could only perform in Jewish venues to Jewish audiences. The Jüdischer Kulturbund was therefore set up to provide opportunities to Jewish composers, musicians and actors, but it gave the false impression that Jewish culture would be allowed to survive under Nazi rule. Fuchs’ music was performed in Kulturbund concerts, and he was also active in the Karlsruhe branch of the B’nai B’rith (Jewish Service Organisation), although he was not especially religious.
Vom Jüdischen Schicksal, Fuchs’ choral work for four soloists, choir and orchestra set texts by Karl Wolfskehl, a contemporary German Jewish poet, and Susskind von Trimberg, a thirteenth-century German Jewish minnesinger (troubadour). Some of the lyrics can be interpreted as defiantly anti-German, such as the following excerpt, from Wolfskehl’s Die Stimme spricht:
Ever driven forth and scourged with hate
What fearful right have ye to take our tears?
Crouching all day to prey upon our fears?
And watch us scowling by night always terror torn!
To wailing, oath and prayers, ye, ye gave us only scorn: Nothing we heard but hatred, shrieking cry, -
And still we do not die!
Fuchs’ music, however, was emphatically German in its style, evoking the music of Schumann or Brahms. Vom Jüdischen Schicksal revealed Fuchs’ background in nineteenth-century German romanticism, and does not employ Jewish modal writing at all.
Fuchs received a prize for his composition from the Reichsverband der Jüdischer Kulturbundes in Deutschland (Reich Association for the Jewish Cultural Alliances in Germany), the reward being a subsidised performance – a substantial undertaking given the size of the choir and orchestra that would be required to premiere Vom Jüdischen Schicksal. The work was rehearsed and programmes were printed, but at the last moment the performance was banned by the Reichskulturkammer. Nazi propaganda dictated that Jewish music was ‘degenerate,’ and ‘un-German,’ and it has been argued that the work was banned because it was not Jewish-sounding enough; it was too ‘German’ in style. The work can also be described, however, as ‘Resistance music’ because Fuchs was making a defiant claim that he was German first and Jewish second.
Fuchs was arrested and sent to Dachau after Kristallnacht in 1938. His family was sponsored by friends in New Zealand and granted visa and immigration papers in time to escape via England (where he met Ralph Vaughan Williams and showed him his compositions). The Fuchs family arrived in New Zealand in 1939, but the composer was declared an enemy alien later that year when the Second World War broke out. Fuchs found musical life in New Zealand frustrating, as there were few resources at that time for large-scale performances of western classical works; there was no national orchestra, for example, until 1946. Fuchs did enjoy playing chamber music with other European refugee musicians, however.
Sadly, Fuchs often faced the irony of being discriminated against for being German. Moreover, German romantic music was not popular in New Zealand, and when Fuchs died after a short illness in September 1947, he had only heard a small number of his works performed. Since his death however, there has been some attempt to revive his compositions. Fuchs’ ‘New Zealand Christmas Carol’ was performed for the Queen on her visit to New Zealand in 1954 by a children’s choir, and has since become the composer’s most widely performed work. Students at Fuchs’ alma mater, the Hochschule für Musik Karlsruhe, performed some of his chamber music at a concert in 2007, and a CD of his vocal music, In a Strange Land, was released in 2011. Fuchs’ grandson directed a documentary film, The Third Richard (2008), about the composer’s life and music, in which some of Fuchs’ music can be heard.
Vom Jüdischen Schicksal finally received its premiere in New Zealand in 2015.
By Abaigh McKee
Haas, M. (2016) ‘Restoration – Restitution’ [unpublished paper] UK.
Petrescu, C. L. (2010) Against all odds: models of subversive spaces in Nazi Germany (Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang)
Sedley, S. (2007) ‘Richard Fuchs: Composer/Architect’ Crescendo 77, 17-24.
The Richard Fuchs Archive Trust website (2009) available at www.richardfuchs.org.nz/index.php (accessed 5/12/2016)