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...
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
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
"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
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
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