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German Brno.

Until 1945 Brno was the town with the largest number of German-speaking inhabitants anywhere on the territory of what today is the Czech Republic. According to accessible sources, up to 1918 Germans constituted as much as 70% of the overall population of Brno, and even after the establishment of the Czechoslovak Republic, when many Germans left, mainly to move to Austria while many Czechs came back from Austria, they continued to constitute almost a third. Up to 1918 it was the Germans who determined the character of Brno and the typical face of its cultural life, since the Czech element was in a minority here. In musical life, however, overlap between the two communities was far from rare. Czechs used to go to the German opera house and Germans to Czech concerts--mainly in the latter half of the 19th century, when the Czech society Beseda brnenska--the Brno Arts Association, developed into a major cultural phenomenon under the leadership of Pavel Krizkovsky and Leos Janacek. There were also plenty of bridges between performers, with German instrumentalists and singers quite frequently taking part in Czech concerts, and the orchestras of both communities helping each other out whenever necessary.

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Theatre and Opera

As in the rest of the Moravian towns, in Brno too the theatre was among the oldest of cultural institutions. Its history went back to the 17th century, although the Czech stage was very much younger, and not founded until 1884. The German theatre's first building was situated on Zelny trh. It suffered serious fires from time to time, a common hazard of the period, but these never interrupted its existence for long. In view of its geographical proximity, Brno early established contact with the Viennese theatres like the Court Theatre (Hoftheater) and the theatres in the suburbs. This was mainly a matter of tours by individual artists and ensembles, but there were also close ties in repertoire. Works that audiences had been able to see in the capital of the monarchy--above all spoken drama, but also singspiels and later opera--soon arrived in Brno, but we also find influence in the opposite direction, for example the effect of the Brno ballet company on the Vienna repertoire. Before his departure for Vienna the capellmeister Wenzel Muller (a native of Moravian Trnavka) worked in Brno, while conversely the theatre director Emanuel Schikaneder astounded Brno audiences with his huge theatrical spectacles at the end of his career.

Towards the end of the 19th century the Theatre on the Zelny trh was no longer large enough to satisfy public demand and so the Germans, on the initiative of the mayor Gustav Winterholer, decided to build a new theatre (today the Mahen Theatre). Construction started in 1881 to plans by the Viennese architects Ferdinand Fellner and Hermann Helmer. The Brno City Theatre was a first in Europe in being fully electrified. Its first director was Adolf Franckel. The gala opening on the 14th of November 1882 presented two works, the play Bei Frau Luna by Adolf Franckl himself and Goethe's Egmont. The theatre had a drama and an opera company. At the beginning it was mainly the drama company that made the box office profits, but later operetta established a strong position, and was particularly popular during the 1st World War.

German Opera and Operetta

Opera began to flourish here under director Adolf Baumann in the years 1890-1893. Baumann concentrated on staging the works of Richard Wagner (Rienzi, Die Walkure, Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg, Tristan und Isolde), but also organised an important Mozart cycle that included Idomeneo and Cosi fan tutte and the singspiel Bastien und Bastienne, Mozart pieces relatively rarely performed in Bohemia. Baumann's successor Andreas A. Aman, who was director until 1898, stayed with the Wagnerian repertoire, adding the later parts of the tetralogy (Das Rheingold, Siegfried and Gotterdammerung). It was under his auspices that the Ring cycle was first staged as a whole in Brno. Aman also discovered the famous tenor Leo Slezak and the baritone Rudolf Berger. The core of the opera repertoire continued to consist of German music. Only at the beginning of the 20th century was the repertoire enriched with non-German works (Niccola Spinelli, Umberto Giordano, Camille Saint-SaDns, later also Giacomo Puccini and Eugen d@Albert). In fact the core repertoire of all German opera houses was Richard Wagner, and in Brno too a Wagner cycle was presented in the 1904/05 season and Wagner's Ring cycle was almost continuously in repertoire. In 1910 Brno welcomed Wagner's son Siegfried, who conducted his own opera Banadietrich there. Premieres of works by local German-speaking composers also began to appear on the Brno stage, including pieces by Josef Gustav Mraczek and Max Oberleithner, for example.

As has already been indicated, operetta played a special role in Brno's musical life. The favourite composer in the genre here was Franz Lehar (in fact a native of nearby Komarno), as he was in Vienna as well. Close on his heels in terms of popularity came Oskar Straus and Leo Fall. The prewar period prefigured the approaching economic crisis, which naturally had an impact on the theatre as well. The director Julius Herzka, who headed the opera in the years 1910-1918, nonetheless tried to maintain the theatre at least on the existing level. His repertoire once again relied on Wagner, and he tried to lure celebrated operatic stars to Brno. In May 1911, for example, he presented the entire Ring in Brno, with Hermann Wiedemann from the Hanburg Opera in the role of Wotan. In 1913 German theatres everywhere celebrated the 100th anniversary of the birth of Richard Wagner, and Brno was no exception. The cycle started with Rienzi and ended with Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg. Up to the 31st of December 1913 only Bayreuth has the privilege of staging Parsifal. Brno was not as quick off the mark as Prague and many other German theatres that presented Parsifal immediately on the 1st of January, 1914, but it lagged by only four months and on the 8th of April, Parsifal was staged at the Brno City Theatre. The orchestra was specially reinforced by the Brno Philharmonic for the occasion and conducted by August Veit. Parsifal here enjoyed 6 absolutely sold out performances.

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The End of the Monarchy

The Brno company often visited Vienna and the population of Brno took pride in its successes. Pride, however, could not overcome economic depression and the imminent catastrophe of war (and of course a new competitor for theatre was appearing in the form of cinema). Theatre and opera were faced with a tough fight to keep their audiences. Despite the seriousness of the situation the Brno German Theatre was among the first to launch the 1914/1915 season, but under completely different conditions. The theatre ceased to function as an institution funded by the city and was transferred to autonomous management by its members. For economic reasons, the company was reduced in size, and of course many members joined up or were conscripted. The number of performance days was cut back, military uniforms became more common in the audience, but surprisingly the theatre held its own. The wartime audience was grateful for every diversion that the theatre could afford, and allusions to the current situation increased its confidence. During the 1st World War the soloist of the Vienna Court Opera and native of Brno Maria Jezitza, for whom Max Oberleithner had composed his opera Aphrodite, often appeared at the Brno theatre. The theatre's main magnet, however, was operetta--not only the works of Franz Lehar and Oskar Straus, but also of Edmund Eysler and Emmerich Kalman, who were later to be banned by the Nazis. Eysler and Lehar even directed their own works in Brno. In the war years the old subscription system was abolished and replaced by an open coupon system that allowed people to choose performances while assuring the theatre the same income. In the third year of the war, unlike in preceding years, there were performances in July and the director Herzka for the first time engaged Leopold Reingruber as permanent dance master. The last productions of the war years at the German Theatre included two new one-act operas by the Brno native Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Der Ring des Polykrates and Violanta. Violanta attracted significant interest from the critics, but the reaction of the public was unusually cool. The programme prepared for the 1918/19 season was never put on.

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German Brno in the Czechoslovak Republic

The collapse of the monarchy and establishment of the Czechoslovak Republic radically altered conditions in Brno. In December 1918 the City Theatre was transferred to the management of a Czech theatre company with effect from the 1919/20 season and the Germans had to go back to the small theatre in Zelny trh. This situation was supposed to last only for the next three years, after which the Germans would theoretically be able to apply for return of their theatre, but from the beginning it was clear to everyone that under the new political circumstances the Germans would never get their theatre back. It was an event that was hardly conducive to harmonious Czech-German relations. Although the Czechs allocated the Germans two performance days a week (Monday and Tuesday) at the City Theatre, this scarcely sufficed. The only option was to use the premises of the German House and convert them for theatre use until a new German theatre could be built. But that was never to happen. In the inter-war period the German company played in three different places (in the City Theatre on its allocated days, in the Theatre on the Zelny trh and in the German House), an arrangement that naturally had many disadvantages. Opera was the genre the worst affected and it was operetta that increasingly had to compensate for its box-office losses. The loss of a major part of the German public meant the beginning of the end for the German theatre in Brno, but even so there were some important events, such as the appearance of the Viennese Volksoper in November 1919 with Felix Weingartner and the production of Mozart's opera The Abduction from the Seraglio.

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There was not much left of the former mutual tolerance and even collaboration between Czech and German artists. Often, if the Czech public attended a German performance it was only to provoke clashes (and vice versa). Yet it was in the 1920s that works by Czech composers were presented for the first time by the German company, a development previously unheard of. They staged works by Smetana, Janacek and Dvorak, but also the most important composition by Frantisek Neumann (the head of the Brno Czech opera), the opera Liebelei, which was produced at many German opera houses at the time. The very first Czech opera to be performed on the German stage was Bedrich Smetana's The Kiss, in Ludwig Hartmann's German translation (as Der KuB) for the 100th anniversary of the composer's birth. The Czech company even lent costumes and its director Vaclav Stech designed the sets. The theatre made tactical attempts to establish contacts with summer theatres in Marianske Lazne and Frantiskovy Lazne, and in Moravian Ostrava, and to develop its existing tradition of co-operation with the theatre in Olomouc, which was also experiencing a crisis at the time. Every tour and appearance elsewhere meant more income for the company.

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Nor did the 1930s get off to a favourable start. The theatre tried to extract itself from economic crisis by appealing to a national spirit--anyone who feels for the nation will become our subscriber: "Are you already subscriber to the United German Theatres in Brno?" ("Sind Sie schon Stammsitzmieter der Vereinigten Deutschen Theater in Brunn?") or "The strongest unity of the Brno German community will be ensured by its theatre!" ("Den starkesten ZusammenschluB des Brunner Deutschtums bringt sein Theater zustande!") (1929/30). In Germany the National Socialist movement was gaining in strength and only a few theatres that embraced the democratic idea remained (one was the New German Theatre in Prague). The situation came to a head in 1938, when the two major political groups clashed in Brno--the nationalist group headed by Hans Baumann and the democratic forces. Aggressive nationalism won the day and strivings for a democratic theatre were smothered. The declaration of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia after the Munich Agreement meant the rupture of the last ties between Czechs and Germans. The Germans took over the running of the city and, after twenty years, regained control of the City Theatre. The newly appointed intendant Theodor Anton Modes and his supporters from Henlein's Sudeten German movement ruled them in the spirit of instructions from the Reich. The first season in the "liberated theatre" (befreites Theater) opened on the 6th of December, still in the German House, with Mozart's opera The Marriage of Figaro. In March 1939 the Germans ceremonially returned to their theatre with a production of Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg, with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and soloists of the Vienna State Opera under the baton of Leopold Reichwein.

Brno under the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia

The clock had been put back to the situation before the founding of an independent Czechoslovakia. In the new political order, the theatre community (Theatergemeinde) started once again to battle for audiences. This time publicity campaigns were focused on adherence to the German Reich and sentiments of unity with the German nation. The core repertoire had not changed very much. Once again we encounter Mozart, Lortzing, Wagner, Verdi, Puccini and Strauss, although the Jewish composers (Kalman, Eysler, Offenbach) were dropped. The greatest change, however, was in the function of productions. The aesthetic side often suffered, replaced by an orientation to propaganda or pure entertainment.

Hitler's favourite Franz Lehar became the most frequently performed operetta composer, and actually visited Brno several times in the course of the war. Modes nonetheless introduced a number of contemporary works into Brno repertoire, for example presenting the Protectorate premiere of Werner Egke's opera Die Zaubergeige (1940), or Ottmar Gerster's opera Enoch Arden (1941). From the 1942-43 season Brno had a new intendant, Fritz Gerhard Klingenbeck, who developed relations with Viennese and Reichsdeutsch artists still further. He was only to hold the post for two years but managed to attract incomparably larger audiences to the theatre than his predecessor. He deliberately changed the repertory, shifting it towards operetta at the expense of spoken drama. After what had been a gap of twelve years he presented Hans Pfitzner's opera Das Herz (1943) and Heinrich Sutermeister's Romeo und Julia (1942) again. A major fan of ballet, he brought the Brno public Tannhauser (1944) in the third "Paris" version, i.e. with ballet. The 1944/45 season was planned, but never launched. The company gave no more performances to the end of the war, some of the artists managing to escape in time, and the others being transported for forced labour. Thus the era of the German Theatre in Brno ended a year before the war itself.

German Music Societies and Orchestras

In Brno as elsewhere, music societies and choirs played an important part in musical life. In the German musical community the most important was the Liedertafel society (which had the same name as its model in Germany), from which the Czech society Beseda brnenska--the Brno Arts Association, which was later to have a crucial impact on Czech musical culture in Brno, split off in 1864. The Brno Musical Society (Brunner Musikverein), founded in 1862, made a major contribution to German concert life in Brno, and operated its own music school for training orchestral players and choral singers. The society experienced a particularly fruitful period under the leadership Otto Kitzler, propagator of the work of Anton Bruckner and Richard Wagner, who headed the society and the school in the years 1868-98.

The first Brno symphonic body was founded in 1902 from members of the theatre orchestra under the title Brunner Philharmoniker, with August Veit as its conductor. Its guest conductors included leading European figures, such as Gustav Mahler (1904), Felix von Weingartner (1910), Richard Strauss (1911, who directed his own Electra here in the theatre

in the same year), and Klemens Krauss (1924). The orchestra used the German House (Deutsches Haus), built in 1891, for its concerts. As in other Czech towns the German House fulfilled the function of centre of the local German cultural life. The largest hall in the Brno German House was equipped (as far as we can tell from reports in the press of the time) with an excellent organ. Max Reger, for example, gave an independent recital here. Today you will not find this grand building. Towards the end of the 2nd World War it was several timed damaged by air raids and in 1944 it was demolished.

A symphony orchestra was a necessity even under the Protectorate. The Regional Symphony Orchestra of the Brno NSDAP, founded in October 1939, carried on the tradition of the Brno Philharmonic. Nikolaus Janowsky was appointed as its principal conductor. During the season the orchestra gave between 5 and 7 concerts, concentrating on symphonies by Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms and Bruckner. Its guest conductors included names like Robert Heger, Hermann Abendroth, Hans Pfitzner, Franz Konwitschny, Peter Raabe and others, and prominent political figures attended its concerts. Just like the theatre, the orchestra's life came to an end in the summer of 1944.

The transfer of the German population was legalised by the Potsdam Conference but had started earlier with spontaneous and often violent actions in many places, and for many decades the theme of German culture in Bohemia and Moravia (and so in Brno as well) was to be taboo.
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Title Annotation:theme
Author:Pavova, Tereza
Publication:Czech Music
Date:Apr 1, 2006
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