Erwin Schulhoff, whose music was vilified by the National Socialists as “culturally Bolshevist” and “degenerate”, belonged to a “Lost Generation” whose lives were marked by war and persecution. He was regarded by the musical public as one of the most experimental composers of the 1920s and 1930s. He also appeared regularly as a pianist on concert stages internationally.
Erwin Schulhoff was born in Prague in 1894 and came from a Jewish family of musicians. Encouraged by Antonín Dvořák, he began piano lessons at the age of ten at the conservatory in his hometown, followed by studies in Cologne and Leipzig. The horrors of the First World War, which Schulhoff witnessed as a soldier in the Austrian army, marked a profound change in his life. Nevertheless, he found a way back to creative work. As an innovative performer – Schulhoff was considered a specialist in Alois Hába’s quarter-tone music – he championed the avant-garde following his return to Prague. His own works, many of which were lost in the turmoil of the Second World War, were often inspired by jazz and dance music. As he wrote in a short self-portrait, “I have an immense passion for fashionable dances (such as the foxtrot, the Boston, the Slingan, the Paso doble, etc.) purely due to their rhythmic exuberance and subconscious sensuality, which gives a phenomenal stimulus to my work”. The economic crisis at the end of the 1920s and the rise of National Socialism in Germany affirmed Schulhoff’s move towards communism. To escape racial persecution after the National Socialist occupation of his homeland, he took Soviet citizenship. But after the Wehrmacht invaded the USSR, even the new passport no longer protected him: shortly before he was able to escape to the Soviet Union, Schulhoff was arrested and deported. He died in the Wülzburg concentration camp in Bavaria on 18 August 1942.