His style was unique. He was not afraid of innovation which he expressed within the historical tradition of tonality...His independent musical personality had its roots in the past, but struck out boldly to find new paths for the future. He combined the grasp of the intellectual with the qualitative poise of his mid-European heritage. These were fused with a genuine attitude of the heart that did not hesitate to summon emotional forces to fulfill the dictates of musical language.
Prof. Saul Novack on Karol Rathaus

they don't know what pigeon hole to put me in...
Karol Rathaus

Rathaus, a prominent figure in the 20s was regarded as one of the nations most promising composers of Germany.
Born in 1895 (Poland) to Jewish parents, he showed his talents when he was 5 years old when he played piano by ear. Sources say that he actually started composing around his 7th. He studies music in Vienna and after his study he's invited to a select master class of Paul Schreker.
In 1919 the most important musical firm at that time, Universal Edition, accepts his first piano sonata for publication and also gave him a 10-year contract.
In the 20s his music gets more attention, polarizing critics. Conservatives call his 2nd Symphony 'too radical', but an author of a book on Richard Strauss calls him "one of the strongest hopes of our new music". Orchestral and stage works of Rathaus already were performed by George Szell, Eugen Jochum, Erich Kleiber and Wilhelm Furtwangler. In 1931 Rathaus publishes his first musical score for film (Die Koffer des Herrn O.F.).
With the Nazi threat surfacing, in the beginning, Rathaus is still able to compose. He finally leaves Germany in 1934, settles for two years in Paris and then moves to London. Here he composes a dance score for the Ballet Russe, which premiered at Covent Garden in 1937. In 1938 he finally emigrates to the US where he joins the music faculty of Queens College.
Besides being busy in both pedagogical and administrative duties, Rathaus continues to compose, often on commission from the New York Philharmonic and the St. Louisville Orchestra. Eminent musicians like the pianist Arthur Rubinstein programmed his works.
He maintains his interest for films too but extends his interest in composing music for documentaries on Palestine and the founding of the United Nations. Evidence for his musical skills he shows when the Metropolitan Opera in 1952 asks him to revise and restore the score for 'Boris Godunov' (Mussorgsky): the standard adaption, first revised by Rimsky-Korsakov was found to be 'too glossy'. Rathaus succesfully restores the order of sequence of scenes, removes most of Rimsky's additions but leaves the original orchestration almost completely intact. As a colleague said "What emerged was an authentic edition, lacking perhaps the brilliant gloss of Rimsky's version, but far truer to the intentions of the composer".
Rathaus died in New York at the age of 59, 1954, untimely and unexpected.

Rathaus's music is indeed hard to be 'categorized'. His works show many influences: Polish, Austrian and Jewish music, post-romantic music of Mahler and Schreker and even the early music of Schoenberg. Rathaus, as students remember, was able to play all of Chopin's works and many of Beethoven sonatas. One of major achievements is probably the score for the film The Brothers Karamazov: one scene is accompanied by an orchestra made entirely of percussion instruments.

Queens College - Faculty of music

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