Julius Burger

(1897-1995)

           The rise of Fascism in Germany of the 1930s led to the most catastrophic war the world has ever experienced. Intolerance and hate were used as a blunt instrument to turn man against fellow man and resulted in tens of millions of deaths. In 1933, the Nazi Regime began passing legislation against German citizens of Jewish decent which limited everything from the occupations they could hold to which parks they could visit. Thus began one of the darkest chapters in human history in which an entire generation of musicians, composers, artists and writers were forcibly suppressed, exiled, or murdered in pursuit of a twisted racial ideology.

 

            Many eminent intellectuals and artists of this period were able to flee the ever increasing oppression of the Nazi Regime in occupied Europe. Figures such as writers Bertolt Brecht, Lion Feuchtwanger, Thomas Mann; Composers such as the father of Hollywood music-Erich Korngold, Hanns Eisler, Kurt Weill, and Arnold Schoenberg, among countless others.

           

            Another figure managed to escape the madness which was engulfing continental Europe but whose truly remarkable compositional talent was seemingly lost to the ages and was only rediscovered in the final years of his life.

 

                     

             Julius Burger was a gifted musician, conductor, repetituer, and composer who studied under renown composer Franz Schreker as well as Engelbert Humperdinck-composer of the opera Hansel and Gretel. His talents, not only for composing but also for conducting, gained the attention of eminent conductors Bruno Walter(who recommended Burger for an apprenticeship at the Metropolitan Opera) as well as Otto Klemperer(whom Burger assisted for a time at the Kroll Opera house in Berlin). Mr. Burger also had some early commercial success in composition-writing two pieces for famed Austro-Hungarian tenor, Joseph Schmidt.  Burger’s compositions are grounded in late Romanticism. Comparisons in Burger’s musical output can be drawn to the great Austro-German masters such as Erich Korngold, Franz Schreker, Alexander Zemlinsky, and Franz Schmidt. One can also hear influences of Gustav Mahler as well as elements of French impressionism, especially prevalent in Burger’s orchestral lieder.

 

            But success was short-lived under the increasingly hostile regime and Burger fled continental Europe for good in 1938 when, on a journey to Vienna to vote against the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany, he spotted a newspaper headline proclaiming ‘Austrian Chancellor meets with Hitler. Instinctively, Burger and his wife fled to London where he continued work as an arranger for the BBC. Burger eventually settled in New York City and worked as a repetituer and assistant conductor for the Metropolitan Opera; having all but given up on a career as a composer until he began preparing his will with friend and lawyer, Ronald Pohl. Mr. Pohl recognized the extraordinary beauty of Burger and arranged for selections of his music to performed by world famous St. Luke’s Orchestra in Lincoln Center. It is because of Mr. Pohl’s efforts we now have the privilege of performing and premiering some of Mr. Burger’s extraordinary works.

             Voices of Exile: The Jewish Experience was a recent festival launched by Rediscovered Beauty in association with Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall MN and was dedicated to sharing the life and work of Julius Burger. This festival saw the US premiere of works Vier Heitere Lieder, Two Songs For Baritone And Orchestra, and his solo song Goodbye Vienna. After much consideration, Mr. Pohl has agreed to install Burger's manuscripts on permanent loan at the archive at the ExilArte Centre founded by esteemed musicologist Gerold Gruber and Senior Researcher- eminent scholar, musicologist and record producer, Dr. Michael Haas. 

More Information

Biographic article on composer Julius Burger

Biography of Julius Burger by Malcolm MacDonald

Toccata Classics label release Julius Burger: Orchestral Music

ABC News' "Person of the Week" segment with the late Peter Jennings Feat. Burger & Pohl

New York Times Article from February 1993

Zigeunerlied - Sung by Joseph Schmidt
00:00 / 00:00

Zigeunerlied by Julius Burger circa 1930

on the Parlophon label

One of two commercial successes 

before his exile in 1938

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© 2019 by Ryan Hugh Ross