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Pfitzner began his career in 1894 as an unpaid conductor at the Mainz theater. This is where he had his first opera performed ("Der arme Heinrich"). After some teaching and a few more conducting jobs, he went to Strasbourg from 1908-1918; there, he was director of the music school, chief conductor of the concerts and of the Opera. This is where he composed his masterpiece, the opera Palestrina. After Word War I he went to Berlin and Munich for more teaching duties. As he was a devout follower of Hitler and the Nazi party, he got some official appointments after 1933. All this came to an end in 1945 with the demise of the IIIrd Reich. In his last years he lived in abject poverty and was forced to beg support from that erstwhile despised Jewish rival, the famous conductor Bruno Walter.
Apart from his operas, Pfitzner wrote a handful of orchestral and instrumental music, including a couple of symphonies, a piano concerto and 2 violin concertos. One can get occasional hearings of his huge cantata, "Von deutscher Seele" (of the German soul). His very personal style was derived from Schumann and Wagner. In his works he was striving to achieve a new direction while preserving the classical and romantic tradition. His opera Palestrina describes the plight of the composer and his inspiration in times of political and social upheaval. This deeply serious and rather long work (where there is a single female role amongst about 25) never fails to make a deep impression on its listener. The 3 preludes (one for each act) of Palestrina are often given as a kind of standalone concert suite (of about 30 minutes duration).
(Contribution by François Juteau <"firstname.lastname@example.org"@total.net>.)
In a reaction John M. Williams <email@example.com> writes:
That Pfitzner bio is rather irresponsible. He was not a blind follower and devotee of Hitler. This is received info at its worst. In his polemical articles he clearly advocates music of german sensibility, not exclusion or aesthetic sterilization. He was asked compose music for a production of "A Midsummer Night’s Dream." He refused, saying that he could never equal Mendelssohn. Now that is not a Nazi!
François Juteau reacts:
I just read the comment by one "John M. Williams" regarding my modest contribution on Pfitzner in your site. I do maintain that Pfitzner was a blind follower of Hitler, a notorious anti-semit who, however, was a friend of sorts of the conductor Bruno Schlesinger aka Bruno Walter who conducted the first performance of "Palestrina" in 1917 (Munich) - at least until the dawn of the IIIrd Reich. During the nazi era he obtained great influence on the musical world and exerted official functions for the regime. The demise of the IIIrd Reich not only deprived him of his functions (and revenue) but also had a severe impact on his sanity. He died a half-crazed pauper.
I certainly do not mind criticism on my input, but I do not deserve the "irresponsible" label and the "received info" accusation that is thrown gratuitously at my effort. Imperfect and short-shrift it may be, but sincere it was and a result of many readings and music-listening from my part. A university-dweller and book-monger I may not be (like Mr. Williams) but a sincere and informed music-lover I am, undoubtedly.
You can read more of my input (in French only, unfortunately) on my personal website: http://www.netrover.com/~fjuteau/index.htm "Le Discophile Virtuel" (website has disappeared [JS]).
Irene Lawford <Irene.Lawford@btinternet.com> reacts as follows:
Yes, he was at first a great Nazi sympathiser. In fact, when he was ill in
hospital in 1921 (I think), Hitler came to visit him. However, he was currently
being published by a Jewish publisher, Henri Hinrichsen, proprietor of C.F.
Peters, Leipzig, who was supporting him with generous financial help for very
many years. The reason Pfitzner dropped into poverty was because he eventually
said that National Socialism was stupid and hence lost his "job for life" in
Munich. You can read a whole lot more about this when my book is published in
February 2000. It is called "Music Publishing and Patronage", C.F. Peters: 1800 to the
Holocaust, published by Edition Press, ISBN 0-9536112-0-5. 350 pages, 32
illustrations. The price is £25.00. Pre-paid orders to me will give you a 20%.
My book is now fully described on my website. The URL is http://www.btinternet.com/~irene.lawford/.
Pfitzner was visited by Hitler at the hospital in 1923. Throughout the rest of the war, Pfitzner greatly admired Hitler, and wrote many letters asking to meet him again. Hitler, however, denied his requests, because Pfitzner was a backstabber, and an unreliable ally. In addition to being associated with Hitler, Pfitzner applied to be court composer of the Nazi party, but was denied for the position. He did however become Reichskultursenator. In addition to being so closely associated with the Nazi party, Pfitnzer was a confirmed anti-semite. In 1920 he wrote an anti-semetic book, and in 1930 published a declaration saying Jewry might pose "dangers to German spiritual life and German Kultur." But, Pfitzner had an extremely high view of himself, and felt free to make certain exceptions, supporting some Jewish students and distant family members. I got all this information while doing a report on Pfitzer, mostly from the book "Composers of the Nazi Era."