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I. INTRODUCTION

Born into a middle-class Jewish family in Vienna, Ernst Toch was initially self-taught as a composer, learning from the works of earlier composers. Appointed professor of composition at the Mannheim Musikhochschule, he won a significant place for himself in Germany as a composer, developing from a conservative style to something more approaching that of Hindemith. In 1933 he left Germany, where his music had been proscribed, and the following year moved to the United States, finally settling in Hollywood, where his music for the cinema provided a ready income. The lack of wider interest in his concert work in America brought disillusionment, but this did not prevent him composing seven symphonies, among other works, during the final years of his life. [1]
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 · (Edited)
II. BIOGRAPHY

Ernst Toch today is a little-known composer who had really been quite famous back in his old country. Vienna-born (1887) and largely self-taught, Toch had grown into one of the stand-out fixtures on Weimar Germany's modernist Neue Musik scene during the decade and a half after the first world war. A fervent experimentalist (though one firmly planted as well in the Great German tradition of his heroes Mozart and latterly Brahms), he was regularly featured in all the avant garde festivals, where among other things he virtually invented rap music by way of his hugely popular 1930 composition "Geographical Fugue" for the new medium of spoken chorus ("Trinidad, and the big Mississippi and the town Honolulu and the lake Titicaca…"), a piece subsequently championed by no less a figure than LA High School's own John Cage.

His chamber operas and string quartets were in regular rotation (as were his pieces for mechanical piano), his cello concerto had been premiered and then regularly performed by Feuermann, and his piano concerto was performed over 50 times by Walter Gieseking (and indeed slated to have been thus performed in London late in the spring of 1933, that is until Hitler ascended to power, at which point the dutiful Gieseking dropped the piece from his repertory and never performed it again).

Toch seemed to realise instantaneously upon Hitler's rise to power in January 1933 that it was time to leave, and taking advantage of the fact that he'd been selected to represent Germany at an international musicological conference in Florence that spring (one of two such envoys, the other being Richard Strauss), he simply never returned, travelling instead to Paris, from where he sent his wife Lilly a pre-agreed all-clear cable signalling that she should join him with their young daughter, a cable which read in its entirety, "I have my pencil." As if that was going to be all he was going to need.

Alas things would not prove so simple. From Paris the family made its way to London (where Toch got some work scoring films, notably including the Bertold Viertel-Christopher Isherwood Little Friend, the collaboration that would later prove the basis for the latter's slim novel, Prater Violet). But there wasn't enough work to live on, so by the autumn of 1934 the family was on the move again, first to New York and then to LA where he threw himself into teaching (Andre Previn, among others) and film-scoring (the studio heads quickly pegged his modernist idiom as perfect for chase scenes, such as the sleigh chase at the end of Shirley Temple's Heidi, and horror effects as in the Hallelujah chorus in Charles Laughton's Hunchback of Notre Dame, with its screenplay by Bruno Frank). Toch's efforts in this regard were all the more frantic in that - back home his large family (he had over 60 cousins) were now clamouring for help in escaping, and every single such affidavit had to be secured by a separate surety bond (in the end, fully half of the cousins would nonetheless perish).

Meanwhile, pencil or no, Toch's personal creative wellspring began to run dry, and by the war years he was producing hardly any work of his own. On the far side of the war, however, his inspiration began to resurge, specifically around a series of works that summoned the image of the rainbow on the far side of the flood. He affixed lines from Eduard Moerike, a beloved German romantic poet - "Only through my tears can I see the beloved light of the sun" - as motto to a fresh string quartet opus 70 in 1946.

And then, following his survival of a shattering heart attack in 1948, which he took as a sign, he gave up all his extraneous pursuits and poured himself back into his own work, in a veritable 15-year frenzy, as if making up for lost time, generating seven symphonies, a final opera, and countless chamber pieces. To his highly autobiographical Third Symphony, which garnered the Pulitzer Prize in 1955, he appended a motto from Goethe's Young Werther, "Of course I am a wanderer, a pilgrim on this earth, but can you say that you are anything more?" (thereby seeming to meld both his Wandering Jewish and Classical German origins). Notwithstanding Toch's late life surge in productivity, which lasted through to his death in LA in 1964, he would sometimes refer to himself as "the world's most forgotten composer," a wistful joke that betrayed a certain painful validity. Perhaps owing to the fierce independence of his creative path (he was a follower of no school), his work got dismissed as too traditional by avant-gardists and too avant-garde by traditionalists. But with the passage of time, those artificial distinctions are beginning to fade, and Toch's oeuvre is being reassessed, as all oeuvres in due time should be. [2]
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 · (Edited)
III. RECOMMENDED LISTENING

Here is a quick run through of my favorite Toch compositions:

Symphonies: Toch did not visit the symphony until the age of 64 because the form was considered by many to be dead. Nevertheless, Toch's seven essays in the genre (all composed in the last 15 years of his life) have the energy of a franctic man that has too much to say in too little time. All seven are unique in their own way, which is why I place Toch's 20th century symphonic cycle above even Shostakovich's.

Symphony No. 3. This is definitely a highlight of Toch's oeuvre, an autobiographical symphony that won the Pulitzer Prize for its use of unusual instruments such as the Hammond organ in the orchestra. The best recording of this piece - the one that made me realize that this symphony was a masterpiece - goes to Steinberg and the Pittsburgh Orchestra, recorded in this CD. A close second goes to Alun Francis and the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, who bring a significantly faster and thus more urgent version. I think this definitely reflects the mindset that the composer was in while composing it, trying to get all his ideas across in such a small amount of time. Overall, however, I fully recommend Francis' recording because it comes with the rest of his symphonies on this CD. Great playing throughout.

The 5th is also a very worthwhile symphony, stamped with Toch's trademark late style.

Steinberg's rendition of the 3rd:

Highlights include Toch at his most playful, at 3:50 and 5:50-8:45, respectively.

String Quartets: Toch's first efforts at composition came through copying Mozart string quartet scores for a few measures, then trying to finish the piece himself. When one asked Toch whom his teachers were, he would promptly answer Bach and Mozart. Learning from past greats, Toch had achieved a unique style which was his to keep.

Toch's string quartets can be divided into two time periods. The first nine are his traditional, tonal quartets, melodious and a joy to hear. The subsequent three come after Toch had started experimenting with the 12-tone technique, but still maintaining an evocative voice throughout that can be heard in both periods. In my opinion, the 9th is Toch's best traditional quartet and the 11th the best modernist. These two CDs are unrivaled:

https://www.amazon.com/Ernst-Toch-String-Quartets-Nos/dp/B000063DLM
https://www.amazon.com/Ernst-Toch-String-Quartets-11/dp/B00005NY42


A very fine work, completed just hours before Toch left from London to New York.

Thank you for reading. As you can see, CPO has done a lot as far as recording Toch's music goes. Now it is time for us to do our part as music-lovers and generate interest in this composer.
 

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I listened to his Cello Concerto, Piano Quintet, String Quartet No. 11, and Symphony No. 3. I did enjoy all of them and found parts of the quintet and quartet particularly interesting. I will listen to the 9th quartet and try another symphony.
 

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Last days were too busy to me, I'm checking this thread only right now, Thank you for your posts :cheers:
Better late than never. Toch is a great composer that sadly doesn't generate much interest (even here to an extent). I recommend his string quartets nos. 9 and 11, and Symphony No. 3. Jephta (Symphony No. 5) is his second-greatest symphony in my view. But by all means, choose your own path to explore Toch's ouevre. I am just pointing out a few of my favorites.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 · (Edited)
Excellent. I have his complete string quartets on CPO; alas, only available as individual disks and not as a box set. Or so it was last time I checked. Highly recommended.

-09
Yes, sadly CPO hasn't release all of Toch's string quartets in a single release as they did with his symphonies. It would definitely be a good idea but it's probably too late by now.
 

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Yes, sadly CPO hasn't release all of Toch's string quartets in a single release as they did with his symphonies. It would definitely be a good idea but it's probably too late by now.
Perhaps this will help, ( take a bit of work)
If you go to the Presto website you can find the barcodes from the recordings, copy/ past them to BookButler site and perhaps you can find them as CD.
 

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I thought I would revive this thread since I'm revisiting the symphonies, and I've wanted to explore more of his music. The first symphony moves along briskly, propelled by some wonderful writing for winds, strings and brass. I'm eager to hear some of his chamber music, and vocal works as well.



All seven symphonies were written during the last 15 years of his life.
 

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I've been waiting for CPO to bundle their quartet recordings into a box re-issue so I can buy it. I'm listening to the 3rd symphony at the moment. This is some excellent symphonic music. It's colorful, mysterious, and very pleasant on the ears. He writes great stuff for the wind section.
 
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