© 2019 by ALEXIS RODDA

Egon Lustgarten

Artist in Exile

In 1929, after viewing the score of an opera named Dante im Exil, well-known conductor Joseph Krips exclaimed: “You may quote me that this is the best opera of the 20th century!” The opera was composed by Egon Lustgarten, a scholar, composer, and musician born in 1887 in Vienna, Austria. Lustgarten was intricately woven into the musical ethos in Vienna in the early 20th century.

 

One of the surviving photos of him from the Lahr von Leitis Archive features him shoulder-to-shoulder with other musical greats, such as Anton Webern, Ethel Smythe, and Paul Hindemith, all presenting their compositions at a chamber music festival in 1922.

 

Photo Courtesy of the Lahr von Leitis Archive

Though Lustgarten continued to compose—he even staged a small semiprofessional production of his opera Helga Hal in 1945—financial difficulties plagued him for the rest of his life, and few seemed interested in his compositions. His music was strongly influenced by late Romantic composers like Brahms, Wagner, and Schubert, and over the course of the war and postwar years, his music had fallen out of style. His compositional voice did not resemble the modernism of Schoenberg, nor did it share the sweeping quality of Korngold’s grand Hollywood scores. Despite Lustgarten’s resilience and perseverance, his music is now virtually unknown and his catalogue of work lies in obscurity.

I first came across Egon Lustgarten’s works while performing with Elysium Between Two Continents, an organization founded in 1995 by Gregorij von Leitis and Michael Lahr to illuminate the rich heritage of writers, composers, and intellectuals who were persecuted by the hate-driven regimes of the mid-twentieth century and forced to emigrate. In their collection of historical documents are the letters, musical manuscripts, and lectures of Egon Lustgarten. In January 2018, I traveled to Munich to work in the Lahr von Leitis Archive to examine and document many of Lustgarten’s musical materials and letters.

Photo courtesy of the Lahr von Leitis Archive

In March 2019, I was award a Fulbright grant to travel to Vienna, Austria, to continue this important work. The Lahr von Leitis recently decided to house their collection at the exil.arte Zentrum (The Exiled Art Center), founded by Dr. Gerold W. Gruber. Under Dr. Gruber’s advisement, I will continue the exploration and excavation of the Lustgarten materials, both biographical and musical. In addition,  Michael Haas, founder and senior researcher at the exil.arte Zentrum, producer of the London Decca recording series Entartete Musik (“Degenerate Art,” as titled by the Nazis, and author of Forbidden Music: The Jewish Composers Banned by the Nazis, will support my Fulbright project and offer advisement in this topic area.

Please visit this page for updates as my research progresses, including blog updates about my time in Vienna!

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