The Wild Sound of the '20s - 1923

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October 29, 1923 - a date steeped in history. In the midst of a year of political and economic crisis, the age of public radio...

October 29, 1923 - a date steeped in history. In the midst of a year of political and economic crisis, the age of public radio in Germany was ushered in with the first broadcast of the "Berliner Funkstunde", from the attic of an office building on Potsdamer Platz. The composers assembled on this album not only profited from these developments, but also, in part, actively shaped them.

The composer Ernst Toch experienced the crisis year of 1923 in Mannheim, where his "Dance Suite" op. 30 was premiered on with great success. In this work, Toch was able to realize his interest in cross-disciplinary collaboration and new forms of expression. His imaginative use of instruments is one of the most fascinating aspects of the suite.

The "Frauentanz" for soprano, flute, viola, clarinet, horn and bassoon op. 10 by Kurt Weill, written in the summer of 1923, reflects the interest in chamber music line-ups typical of the time. The decisive factor was not only a new ideal of sound and expression, but also the experience that in times of crisis, pieces with small ensembles had better chances of being performed.

Ernst Krenek had found essential impulses for his work in Berlin; when the crisis came to a head in the summer of 1923 he composed the "Three Mixed Choirs" a cappella op. 22 on poems by Matthias Claudius. Krenek designed these folksong-like works written by a lyricist from the epoch of Empfindsamkeit as parables.

For the festive concert celebrating the 50th anniversary of the unification of the cities of Buda and Pest to form the capital and residence city of Budapest in the autumn of 1923, Béla Bartók created his "Dance Suite" for orchestra - a "rather touchy issue", as the internationalist-minded composer explained in a private note.


Given [the events of 1923 in central Europe], you might imagine a CD of mostly German music entitled 1923: Wild Sound of the 1920s might sound a bit, well, wild. Far from it. If anything, it shows the opposite: surrounded by violence and the threat of chaos, the four composers represented here by works they composed in 1923 responded by raising their art to the nth degree of refinement and subtlety. Take Ernst Krenek, a composer who nowadays is remembered for a smash hit opera about a Black jazz musician, and for writing later in life some of the most fearsomely intellectualized, complex works in the entire history of music. He’s represented on this disc by three settings for choir of the 18th-century poet Matthias Claudius, of a ravishing otherworldly beauty caught to perfection in these performances.

Kurt Weill, known to the world for his bitingly satirical music dramas, appears as the composer of seven exquisitely allusive, bittersweet songs based on medieval German poems. Ernst Toch’s Dance Suite is a brilliantly imagined set of six “character” pieces for just a handful of instruments, with titles like The Red Whirling Dance and Idyll. Standing somewhat to one side of all this German romantic/modernist intensity and compression is the Dance Suite by the Hungarian composer Béla Bartók, with its rumbustious evocations of Balkan and North African Music.

The occasional whiff of expressionist harshness or a gently satirical distortion of a waltz shows these composers were not completely cocooned in their composing studios. They were alert to the jarring, shifting currents outside. But what the CD reveals most strongly is how much these composers were focused on their own internal, imaginative world – and how much they cared about craftsmanship. Every bar in all four pieces is exquisitely made, and that quality is caught in the performances, which are all of enormous refinement.

-- The Telegraph

The year 1923 was a year of crisis in Germany; inflation was heating up and far right-wing parties were jockeying for power. In October, the first broadcast of public radio in Germany took place from the “Berliner Funkstunde” station on Potsdamer Platz. This provocative new disc from the Choir and Symphony of Bavarian Radio includes four works written a hundred years ago by a group of innovative composers who all made use of the new, disruptive technology of radio.

Kurt Weill’s Frauentanz is a suite of seven medieval songs, scored for soprano, flute, viola, clarinet, horn and bassoon. Weill helped to create the familiar soundtrack for Weimar Berlin, and this performance by Anna-Maria Palii and the fine instrumentalists of the Bayerischen Rundfunks orchestra provides the authentic feel of a society that was becoming increasingly decadent and hysterical in 1923 and beyond.

Ernst Toch’s Dance Suite is another clever and imaginative piece with interesting orchestration: flute, clarinet, violin, viola, double bass and percussion. The Berlin sound is also evident here, something a bit harsh and raw, in contrast with the softer-focused, more lyrical and pastoral modernism of Paris.

The Ernst Krenek work is a bit of a surprise: his 3 Choruses for a cappella choir . The ‘antique’ sound of these pieces remind me of two of my favorite works: Vaughan Williams’ G minor Mass, from 1921, and Heitor Villa-Lobos’s Missa São Sebastião, from 1937. All three provide old wine in new bottles: ancient cadences with a modernist twist.

The final work on the disc is probably the best known: Bela Bartok’s Dance Suite for Orchestra. This is an orchestral showpiece, a kind of try-out for his Concerto for Orchestra written more than two decades later. Both pieces treat orchestral instruments in a solistic, virtuosic way. The source material might be folkloric, but this is definitely written in a modernist idiom.

Inflation, far right-wing agitation, disruptive technology: yes, we’re talking about 1923, not 2023. And the music on this disc is as fresh and forward-looking as some of the best music written today.

-- Music for Several Instruments (Dean Frey)

Product Description:

  • Release Date: January 20, 2023

  • UPC: 4035719002065

  • Catalog Number: BRK900206

  • Label: BR-KLASSIK

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Period: 20th Century

  • Composer: Bela Bartok, Ernst Krenek, Ernst Toch, Kurt Weill

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks

  • Performer: Korbinian Altenberger, Benedict Hames, Natalie Schwaabe, Bettina Faiss, Lukas Richter, Guido Marggra


  1. Tanz-Suite, Op. 30

    Composer: Ernst Toch

    Performer: Korbinian Altenberger (Violin), Benedict Hames (Viola), Natalie Schwaabe (Fflute), Bettina Faiss (Clarinet), Lukas Richter (Doublebass), Guido Marggrander (Percussion)

  2. Frauentanz, Op. 10

    Composer: Kurt Weill

    Performer: Anna-Maria Palii (Soprano), Benedict Hames (Viola), Natalie Schwaabe (Flute), Bettina Faiss (Clarinet), Ursula Kepser (French horn), Jesús Villa Ordóñez (Bassoon)

  3. Choruses (3), Op. 22

    Composer: Ernst Krenek

    Ensemble: Bavarian Radio Symphony Chorus

    Conductor: Howard Armann

  4. Dance Suite, BB 86a

    Composer: Béla Bartók

    Ensemble: Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra

    Conductor: Cristian Maacelaru