Thursday, June 22, 2017

Von Einem: Concerto for Orchestra

Gottfried von Einem, 1944
Born into a wealthy Austrian family (his mother was a baroness), Gottfried von Einem (1918-1996) spent his formative years in Germany. The young man did not have an easy time of it under the National Socialist regime. His interest in the Entartete Musik of Stravinsky, Schoenberg and Hindemith (with whom he wanted to study, but whose exile from Germany prevented that ambition) antagonized the Nazis, as did his love of jazz. Despite his problems with the authorities, von Einem managed to achieve some success as a composer in these years. Herbert von Karajan commissioned him to write a Concerto for Orchestra, which was premièred in April, 1944. With its syncopations and sly allusions to "Jeepers Creepers" in the fast outer movements, it quickly landed its composer in more hot water. Propaganda Minister Goebbels himself ordered that this recording be made for "study purposes":

Gottfried von Einem: Concerto for Orchestra, Op. 4
Saxon State Orchestra, Dresden, conducted by Karl Elmendorff
Recorded July 25, 1944
Deutsche Grammophon set DGS-10, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 50.59 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 33.30 MB)

It seems unlikely that this recording was intended for public consumption, but it did achieve limited circulation after the war, notably in the USA in London Gramophone Corporation's short-lived series of Deutsche Grammophon album sets. The Gramophone Shop Supplement of October, 1949, lists the set at $8.93 (a tidy sum in those days), and offers this in review: "It bears signs of nearly every well known composer of the 20th century, from Mahler, Strauss and Hindemith to Bartók, Stravinsky and even Morton Gould. The texture is essentially light, and occasionally sardonic, while the orchestration is extremely deft. Perhaps the best thing about this music is its very eclectic qualities, and he who has a sense of humor may find some quite enjoyable moments." Irving Kolodin, writing in the Saturday Review of August 27, 1949, was much less charitable, saying, "no tunes seem to occur to him. It is a hash of rather meaningless counterpoints and orchestral effects, without even the seasoning that sometimes makes hash a filling, if not palatable dish." Good old Irving - he never pulled punches!

The Concerto for Orchestra does not appear to have been commercially recorded since, though a live performance by Jeffrey Tate and the London Symphony is now available on YouTube, and makes for an interesting comparison with the present recording - for one thing, the last minute or so of the piece was apparently changed when published (in 1951).


  1. Alternate links:



  2. Recorded 5 days after the Hitler assassination attempt failure.

  3. Thanks, Bryan - This must be a rare item. The only von Einem record in my collection is a circa 1960 piano concerto recording, also on DG.

  4. Dear Bryan, Thank you! Goebbels' politicking over von Einem is just bizarre... what a story! Best wishes, Nick

  5. Thanks a lot Bryan for that rare work and good recording.
    This completes perfectly the von Einem recordings under Ferenc Fricsay.