Toch, Ernst

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Toch, Ernst

Toch, Ernst, eminent Austrian-born American composer and teacher; b. Vienna, Dec. 7, 1887; d. Los Angeles, Oct. 1, 1964. His father was a Jewish dealer in unprocessed leather, and there was no musical strain in the family; Toch began playing piano without a teacher in his grandmother’s pawnshop; he learned musical notation from a local violinist, and then copied Mozart’s string quartets for practice; using them as a model, he began to compose string quartets and other pieces of chamber music; at the age of 17, he had one of them, his 6th String Quartet, op. 12 (1905), performed by the famous Rosé Quartet in Vienna. From 1906 to 1909 he studied medicine at the Univ. of Vienna. In 1909 he won the prestigious Mozart Prize and a scholarship to study at the Frankfurt am Main Cons., where he studied piano with Willy Rehberg and composition with Iwan Knorr. In 1910 he was awarded the Mendelssohn Prize; also won 4 times in succession the Austrian State Prize. In 1913 he was appointed instructor in piano at Zuschneid’s Hochschule für Musik in Mannheim. From 1914 to 1918 he served in the Austrian army during World War I. After the Armistice he returned to Mannheim, resumed his musical career, and became active in the modern movement, soon attaining, along with Hindemith, Krenek, and others, a prominent position in the new German school of composition. He also completed his education at the Univ. of Heidelberg (Ph.D., 1921, with the diss. Beiträge zur Stilkunde der Melodie’, publ. in Berlin, 1923, as Melodielehre). In 1929 he went to Berlin, where he established himself as a pianist, composer, and teacher of composition. In 1932 he made an American tour as a pianist playing his own works; he returned to Berlin, but with the advent of the Nazi regime was forced to leave Germany in 1933. He went to Paris, then to London, and in 1935 emigrated to the U.S.; gave lectures on music at the New School for Social Research in N.Y.; in 1936, moved to Hollywood, where he wrote music for films. He became a naturalized American citizen on July 26, 1940. In 1940-1 he taught composition at the Univ. of Southern Calif, in Los Angeles; subsequently taught privately; among his students were many, who, like Andre Previn, became well-known composers in their own right. From 1950 until his death, Toch traveled frequently and lived in Vienna, Zürich, the MacDowell Colony in N.H., and Santa Monica, Calif.

Toch’s music is rooted in the tradition of the German and Austrian Romantic movement of the 19th century, but his study of the classics made him aware of the paramount importance of formal logic in the development of thematic ideas. His early works consist mostly of chamber music and pieces for piano solo; following the Zeitgeist during his German period, he wrote several pieces for the stage in the light manner of sophisticated entertainment; he also composed effective piano works of a virtuoso quality, which enjoyed considerable popularity among pianists of the time. Toch possessed a fine wit and a sense of exploration; his Geographical Fugue for speaking chorus, articulating in syllabic counterpoint the names of exotic places on earth, became a classic of its genre. It was not until 1950 that Toch wrote his first full-fledged sym., but from that time on, until he died of stomach cancer, he composed fully 7 syms., plus sinfoniettas for Wind and String Orch. He was greatly interested in new techniques; the theme of his last String Quartet (No. 13, 1953) is based on a 12-tone row. In the score of his 3rd Sym. he introduced an optional instrument, the Hisser, a tank of carbon dioxide that produced a hissing sound through a valve.

Among the several honors Toch received were the Pulitzer Prize in Music for his 3rd Sym. (1956), membership in the National Inst. of Arts and Letters (1957), and the Cross of Honor for Sciences and Art from the Austrian government (1963). An Ernst Toch Archive was founded at the Univ. of Calif., Los Angeles, in 1966, serving as a depository for his MSS. His grandson is the noted American writer Lawrence Weschler.


dramatic: Opera: Wegwende (1925; unfinished; sketches destroyed); Die Prinzessin auf der Erbse (Baden-Baden, July 17, 1927); Der Fächer (Königsberg, June 8, 1930); The Last Tale (1960-62). F i 1 m : Peter Ibbetson (1935); Outcast (1937); The Cat and the Canary (1939); Dr. Cyclops (1940); The Ghost Breakers (1940); Ladies in Retirement (1941); First Comes Courage (1943); None Shall Escape (1944); Address Unknown (1944); The Unseen (1945). Other: Incidental music for stage and radio plays. ORCH. : Scherzo (1904); Piano Concerto (1904; not extant); Phantastische Nachtmusik (1920; Mannheim, March 22, 1921); Tanz-Suite for Chamber Orch. (1923); 5 Pieces for Chamber Orch. (1924); Concerto for Cello and Small Orch. (1924; Kiel, June 17, 1925); Piano Concerto (Düsseldorf, Oct. 8, 1926; Gieseking, soloist); Spiel für Blasorchester (Donaueschingen, July 24, 1926); Narziss (1927; not extant); Gewitter (1927; not extant); Komödie für Orchester (Berlin, Nov. 13, 1927); Vorspiel zu einem Märchen (for the opera Die Prinzessin auf der Erbse; 1927); Fanal for Organ and Orch. (1928); Bunte Suite (1928; Frankfurt am Main, Feb. 22, 1929); Kleine Theater-Suite (1930; Berlin, Feb. 9, 1931); Tragische Musik (1931; not extant); 2 kultische Stücke (1931; not extant); Sym. for Piano and Orch. (Piano Concerto No. 2, 1932; London, Aug. 20, 1934); Miniature Overture for Winds (1932); Variations on Mozart’s Unser dummer Pöbel meint (1933); Big Ben, variation fantasy on the Westminster Chimes (Cambridge, Mass., Dec. 20, 1934; rev. 1955); Pinocchio,“a merry overture” (1935; Los Angeles, Dec. 10, 1936); Musical Short Story (1936; not extant); Orchids (1936; not extant); The Idle Stroller, suite (1938); “The Covenant,” 6th movement of 7-movement, collaborative Genesis Suite (Los Angeles, Nov. 18, 1945; not extant); Hyperion, dramatic prelude after Keats (1947; Cleveland, Jan. 8, 1948); 7 syms.: No. 1 (1949-50; Vienna, Dec. 20, 1950), No. 2, dedicated to Albert Schweitzer (1950-51; Vienna, Jan. 11, 1952), No. 3 (Pittsburgh, Dec. 2, 1955), No. 4 (Minneapolis, Nov. 22, 1957), No. 5, fephta, Rhapsodic Poem (1961-62; Boston, March 13, 1964), No. 6 (1963; Zürich Radio, Jan. 22, 1967), and No. 7 (1964; Bavarian Radio, 1967); Circus Overture (1953; Chicago, July 8, 1954); Notturno (1953; Louisville, Jan. 2, 1954); Peter Pan, fairy tale (Seattle, Feb. 13, 1956); Epilogue (1959); Intermezzo (1959); Short Story (1961); Capriccio (1963); Puppetshow (1963); The Enamoured Harlequin (1963); Sinfonietta for Strings (1964; Philadelphia, Feb. 13, 1967); Theme with Variations “Muss i denn zum Stadie hinaus” (1964). CHAMBER: 13 string quartets: Nos. 1-5 (1902-03; not extant), No. 6 (1905), No. 7 (1908), No. 8 (1910), No. 9 (1919), No. 10, on “BASS” (1921), No. 11 (1924), No. 12 (1946), and No. 13 (1953); Kammersymphonie (1906); Duos for Violins (1909; for open strings only in the pupil’s part); Serenade for 3 Violins (1911); 2 violin sonatas (1913, 1928); “Spitzweg” Serenade for 2 Violins and Viola (1916): Tanz Suite for Flute, Clarinet, Violin, Viola, Bass, and Percussion (1923; excerpts choreographed as Der Wald, Mannheim, Nov. 19, 1923; Münster, Oct. 29, 1924); 2 Divertimenti for String Duos (1926); Studie for Mechanical Organ (1927); Cello Sonata (1929); 2 Études for Cello (1930); String Trio (1936); Piano Quintet (1938); Dedication for String Quartet or String Orch. (1948); Adagio elegiaco for Clarinet and Piano (1950); 5 Pieces for Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon, 2 Horns, and Percussion (1959); Sonatinetta for Flute, Clarinet, and Bassoon (1959); 3 Impromptus for Solo Violin, Solo Viola, and Solo Cello (1963); Sinfonietta for Winds and Percussion (1964; Zürich Radio, Nov. 11, 1967); Quartet for Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon, and Viola (1964). Piano: Melodische Skizzen (1903); 3 Preludes (1903); Impromptu (1904; not extant); Capriccio (1905; not extant); 3 sonatas (1905, not extant; 1905, not extant; 1928); Stammbuchverse (1905); Begegnung (1908); Reminiszenzen (1909); 4 Klavierstücke (1914; not extant); Canon (1914); 3 Burlesken (1923; includes the popular Der Jongleur, publ. separately); 3 Klavierstücke (1924); 5 Capriccetti (1925); 3 Originalstücke für das Welte-Mignon Klavier (1926); Tanz- und Spielstücke (1926?); Kleinstadtbilder (1929); Fünfmal Zehn Etüden, 50 études (1931); Profiles (1946); Ideas (1946); Diversions (1956); Sonatinetta (1956); 3 Little Dances (1961); Reflections, 5 pieces (1961); Sonata for Piano, 4-Hands (1962). VOCAL: An mein Vaterland, sym. for Soprano, Mixed and Boy’s Choruses, Orch., and Organ (1913); Die chinesische Flöte, chamber sym. for Soprano and 14 Solo Instruments (1921; Frankfurt am Main, June 24, 1923; rev. 1949); 9 songs for Soprano and Piano (1926); Der Tierkreis for Chorus (1930); Das Wasser, cantata for Tenor, Baritone, Narrator, Flute, Trumpet, Percussion, and Strings (Berlin, June 18, 1930); Gesprochene Musik for Speaking Chorus (Berlin, June 17, 1930; includes the famous Fuge aus der Geographie, publ. separately in Eng. and Ger. eds.); Music for Orchestra and Baritone Solo on Poems by Rilke (1931); Cantata of the Bitter Herbs for Soloists, Narrator, and Chorus (1938); Poems to Martha for Voice and String Quintet (1942); The Inner Circle, 6 choruses (1947-53); There Is a Season for Everything for Soprano, Flute, Clarinet, Violin, and Cello, after Ecclesiastes (1953); Vanity of Vanities, All Is Vanity for Soprano, Tenor, Flute, Clarinet, Violin, and Cello, after Ecclesiastes (1954); Phantoms for Solo Voices and Chorus (1958); Lange schon haben meine Freunde versucht for Soprano and Baritone (1958); Song of Myself for Chorus, after Whitman (1961); Valse for Speaking Chorus (1961; in separate Eng. and Ger. eds.); folk song arrangements.


The Shaping Forces in Music (N.Y., 1948; new ed. by L. Weschler, 1977); M. Hood, ed., Placed as a Link in this Chain: A Medley of Observations by Ernst Toch (Los Angeles, 1971).


C. Johnson, The Unpublished Works of E. T (diss., Univ. of Calif., Los Angeles, 1973); L. Weschler, E. T, 1887-1964: A Biographical Essay Ten Years after His Passing (Los Angeles, 1974); J. Diane, The Musical Migration and E. T.(Ames, Iowa, 1989).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

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