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Gifted Composer, Silenced by Holocaust

Erwin Schulhoff

Erwin Schulhoff

Santa Fe Chamber Fest, Wednesdays at 8:00 pm


Antonín Dvořák must have been impressed by 7-year-old Erwin Schulhoff.  Dvořák sent the youngster to a prominent teacher in Prague. When the boy turned 10, Dvořák recommended he attend the Prague Conservatory.

Dvořák wouldn’t be the only major composer in this story. When Schulhoff was barely a teenager he studied with Max Reger in Leipzig. When he was not quite 20, he moved to Paris to take lessons from Claude Debussy.

One could infer, just by the people who associated with Erwin Schulhoff, that his talent was rare. As far as history is concerned, however, he never entered the ranks of major composers. It leads one to wonder why.

The first setback was World War I. Schulhoff was drafted into the Austro-Hungarian army. He served in multiple campaigns, suffering shock and injuries.

According to ORT, Schulhoff emerged from the War a left-leaning activist. Still he submitted his first works for publication and began to play jazz. Players like Paul Hindemith premiered his works.

By 1941, Hitler was on the move. Erwin Schulhoff, a communist Jew, needed to leave. Having recently been granted citizenship by the Soviet Union, he prepared to move his family there. He shipped his music ahead, but never made it himself. On June 22, 1941, Hitler invaded Russia. The next day Schulhoff was arrested in Prague for being a Soviet citizen.

In 1942, Erwin Schulhoff died of tuberculosis at the Wülzburg concentration camp. His memory was all but erased, leaving one question unanswered: if Schulhoff had been able to flourish as a musician and composer, would he have enjoyed a wider reputation among performers today?

For pianist, composer, and Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival Artistic Director Marc Neikrug, there is no question: “Schulhoff clearly had a talent on the level of every great composer that we play.”


Hear music by this early 20th century artist Erwin Schulhoff on Wednesday’s broadcast from the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. The program includes music by Beethoven and begins at 8:00 pm.

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