1945 How it all began: A Migrant and His Muse
The creation of Musica Viva Australia was in many respects symptomatic of the story of Australia itself; it came into being as a result of the vicissitudes of modern European history, an instance of the impact of migration on Australia’s cultural and economic fabric, and the story of a remarkable individual.
In 1939 Richard Goldner, the younger son of Jewish Romanian parents, themselves immigrants to Austria, joined the growing exodus from Europe. This Viennese-trained musician, together with his brother and their wives, barely managed to escape the encroaching and horrifying spectre of Nazism in Europe and the tensions that propelled the continent into the dizzying destruction of the Second World War. It was this refugee, or ‘reffo‘ in the then Australian vernacular, who gave birth to Musica Viva Australia and began the shaping of one of the foremost cultural institutions in Australia and the world.
An examination of Goldner’s own memoirs, the reminiscences of his second wife, Charmian Gadd, and his son Peter, and the recollections of associates and past students suggest an intriguing portrait of the psychology of the man. He has been described as: generous, yet proprietorial; a loyal friend, yet unforgiving foe; demanding of talented students, yet a patient teacher of those less gifted; impatient and stubborn, particularly unwilling to suffer fools gladly and intolerant of ‘armchair experts’; sometimes ‘bristly’ and even obsessive, while at other times impulsive and innovative. He was also viewed by many as a sociable raconteur and somewhat of a dreamer. Perhaps such labels are of only limited use in depicting the complexity of any individual. In the many accounts of Goldner, however, there are motifs that recur again and again, highlighting his restless creativity, resilience, determination, unquenchable passion for music, particularly chamber music, and great love of teaching.
LIFE IN VIENNA
Born in 1908, Goldner grew up with his family in Vienna, the imperial, cultural and intellectual capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire before the First World War.
As children of poor family circumstances, Richard and his brother Gerard were forced to use their imaginations and creativity as the most available playthings. In early adolescence, Richard was the designer of pendants and brooches while Gerard brought the designs to life with his fretwork skills.
Richard later described himself as an inventive and creative spirit, even ‘an inventive crackpot’, while he considered his brother more patient and meticulous. This combination of complementary skills was later to prove immensely useful in their adult lives.
THE YOUNG MUSICIAN
Learning and playing music appeared to be part of a cultural heritage that was taken for granted by many Viennese. The city was filled with galleries, theatres, concert halls, several opera houses and outstanding orchestras. Most households of some financial means held salon evenings with music making a central part of the occasion. As Goldner recalled, there was ‘one violinist for every building in Vienna’.
From an early age he learnt the violin from a rather pitiable musician who gave lessons in return for a cup of ersatz coffee. Taking it more seriously from the age of 10, and playing with musical neighbouring children, he developed a nascent taste for string quartet repertoire. He felt that he had a special aptitude for teaching as well. He certainly seemed to gain a great deal of satisfaction and pleasure from the activity and this was to prove prescient for his later life.
Until the age of 14 or 15 he imagined for himself a career as a professional violinist. In adolescence, however, he was overcome by the seemingly overwhelming difficulties the task entailed. Deciding to study architecture at university, he nevertheless taught himself the viola, an act initially prompted by an infatuation with a young female cellist, but it was certainly an instrument whose sound inspired him. He learnt through a private teacher at the Vienna Conservatory where he once more played string quartets and developed quite an addiction to them. His natural curiosity and love of chamber music led him to attend student concerts where he admired the exceptional quality of ensembles coached by Simon Pullman, a teacher under whom he determined to study.
Architectural studies were rapidly discarded as his involvement in music expanded. Goldner found work as a substitute viola player after auditioning for the Vienna Opera and Symphony Orchestras. ‘Suddenly I was a professional musician.’ He found himself under the baton of some of the luminary conductors of the era: Bruno Walter, Wilhelm Furtwangler and Arturo Toscanini among them. He also became the viola player for an unusual instrumental combination, the Vienna Guitar String Trio (violin, viola and guitar). By far the most indelible influence on the young musician was his teacher and mentor Simon Pullman. ‘The day I entered the Conservatory and committed myself to the care of Simon Pullman was a milestone for me and the start of the most important and exciting period of my life in Vienna.’
TWO WORTHY INFLUENCES
Russian born, Pullman had graduated as a violinist from the St Petersburg Conservatory before finishing his studies in Paris. In this Jewish pedagogue Goldner found a kindred spirit. ‘As a man he was an extraordinary personality with immense erudition and a fascinating intellect.’ Pullman’s experimental techniques of chamber music coaching were extremely strict and demanding. He insisted that individual parts should be learnt as though they would be played in a soloistic style. There was tremendous attention to technique, tone production, vibrato, intonation, fingering and balance between parts.
Pullman confided his dream in Goldner and asked for his help in creating his own string orchestra ‘consisting of a multiplicity of string quartets as ‘germ cells’. This way one would be able to study each work separately with individual quartets before joining them together as a full ensemble’.
To some lesser extent, the conductor Herman Scherchen was also admired by Goldner for his orchestral pedagogy and conducting skills. Goldner played as principal viola in his ensemble called the Musica Viva Orchestra. Goldner’s creation and naming of Musica Viva was a tribute to these two men who had contributed so much to his development as a musician and teacher.
By the time Goldner had graduated from the New Vienna Conservatory, the planned Pullman Ensemble of seventeen string players was a reality. The commitment and idealism of its players was unbounded and it was with this ensemble that Goldner and fellow student, Teddy Salzman, who via the Palestine Symphony Orchestra was eventually to become cellist in the Musica Viva Players, spent a great deal of their waking hours.
A work of immense significance to Pullman and consequently to Goldner was the Great Fugue, op 133 by Beethoven. For Pullman its complexities as a musical work were fascinating and his almost ‘Talmudic struggle with the enigmatic mysteries of the Fugue’ struck Goldner as something like the struggle of the Fugue itself which was notoriously difficult to play and listen to. Thanks to the clarity of Pullman’s interpretation, it became one of the most successful pieces in the Ensemble’s repertoire.
As Goldner perfected his craft and participated in Viennese musical life, he also explored his inventive bent by developing his first commercial invention, a special mute for strings which could be rapidly operated without interruption to playing.
In conjunction with his work in the Pullman Ensemble and the Musica Viva Orchestra, and freelance work playing for amateur string quartets and religious services, Goldner supplemented his income with playing for the Sascha Tone Orchestra whose primary function was to provide music to synchronise with the films produced by the German UPA Film Company. In 1933 when the Nazis swept into power in Germany under Hitler, the Jewish population, who already faced significant social restrictions, were subjected to even greater anti-Semitism and persecution. German government controls now insisted on pure ‘Aryan’ participation in the orchestra. Courtesy of a payoff to a commissar who turned a blind eye and took a financial percentage from the Jewish musicians, they were able to assume false names and addresses; hence Goldner became ‘Gerhardt Schmidt’ at ‘Parazelsusgasse 4’.
On 12 March 1938 his precarious world collapsed with the Anschluss, the German occupation of Austria and its annexation to the German Reich. He recalled arriving for a rehearsal a few days after the invasion and being surrounded by a sea of black SA and SS uniforms and informed that he could no longer be employed. The terror of subsequent months was further heightened by the events of Kristallnacht (Night of the Shattered Glass) on 9–10 November. Throughout Austria and Germany more than a thousand Jewish synagogues, Jewish-owned stores, homes, hospitals and schools were attacked by SA paramilitary forces. Over 30,000 Jews were arrested and incarcerated in concentration camps. Going into hiding and avoiding the cattle trucks that would appear to round up Jews, Goldner chillingly recalled that neighbours and friends disappeared, never to be seen again.
Completely surrounded by fear and terror, the only thought was to escape. At this stage Jewish emigration was allowed and encouraged by the authorities. The Goldner brothers wrote begging letters to overseas acquaintances for help and applied from consulate to consulate for entry permits to another country. With each false hope and knockback Goldner and his Jewish musician friends developed an almost fatalistic approach to their situation and joined together on a daily basis to play chamber music, their only consolation in such desperate times.
Despite international calls to help Jewish refugees at the Evian Conference in June 1938, most countries were unsuspecting of Hitler’s planned ‘Final Solution’ and were reluctant to modify their already existing migration restrictions. Australia’s delegate at the conference was at pains to emphasise the country’s commitment to British migration and its unwillingness to import a potential racial problem.
However, following the events of Kristallnacht, John Mc Ewan, the Australian Minister for the Interior was willing to admit those ‘whose entry to Australia will not disturb existing labour conditions’ and to give special consideration ‘to individuals who have the capital and experience necessary for establishing and developing industries….the product of which would command a market within and outside Australia’. Besides being of good character and health these refugees were also to have the approved amount of landing money, 200 pounds and the support of individuals or an organisation in Australia.
And then for Goldner, his brother and their wives…a miracle. Through the aegis of overseas connections, the compassion of a German official, and the inspired idea of Gerard Goldner to include with their application some samples of the brooches that they might be able to use to begin a manufacturing business in Australia, they received permission to immigrate. However the nightmare of Nazi bureaucracy was not over. With restrictions on possessions able to be taken out of the country Goldner was relieved that he was permitted to take his valuable seventeenth century Grancino viola with him. He recollected that it was comically derided by a German official as old Italian junk: ‘It’s not even German and not new’.
Following a hazardous train journey to Genoa, the Goldners found themselves ensconced on a luxury Dutch liner for the initial phase of their sea voyage to Australia. Goldner spent his days practising English, playing chamber music with the musicians on board the ship and daydreaming about forming a Pullman Ensemble in Australia. ‘From day to day my dream became more elaborate and detailed and gradually developed into an obsession.’ After changing ships at Colombo, he arrived in Sydney on 23 March 1939. Goldner recalled it as the ‘the great moment, the monumental emotional experience, our feet in actual contact with Australian soil…the ultimate salvation, El Dorado after hell’.
A NEW LIFE – BUT NOT A MUSICAL ONE
No doubt Goldner’s feelings of reprieve were shared by the 5080 European Jewish skilled, middle-class refugees who also arrived in 1939. Yet, even in their new country, they continued to face hurdles. Dubbed the ‘thirty niners’, they endured the moniker of ‘reffos’ and were encouraged to speak English and assimilate as quickly as possible into their new country. The bureaucratic red tape and suspicion that greeted the migrants and made it impossible for them to practise their original professions also frustrated Goldner’s attempts to find employment as a professional musician. Offered the job as principal violist with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra at an ‘on the spot’ audition by conductor Percy Code, Goldner was thwarted by the dictates of the Musicians’ Union. As a foreigner he could not join the union until he was naturalised, a process that may have taken up to five years. Desperately needing to make a living, Goldner and his brother joined friends in an existing leather business called Modeltrim, adding handcarved art jewellery to their range.
Business developed strongly as the brothers had found a niche market for their products. Eventually splitting from their friends, they formed a new company called Natty Novelties, one of their most successful products being the Bluebird of Happiness brooch which decorated the bosoms of many fashionable ladies. As a flourishing business with more than 50 employees and new premises in the Strand Arcade they received publicity as an immigrant success story in the Cinesound newsreels.
Goldner recalled that as an immigrant he was treated well most of the time but occasionally felt like a curio. He set about acquainting himself with Sydney’s musical establishment, meeting the Director of the Conservatorium, Dr Bainton and most of the music teaching staff. He was in fact offered some teaching work but was unable to take this up because of his work commitments.
Fitting in some semi-professional chamber music playing, he still dreamed of forming an Australian Pullman Ensemble. Fortuitously he met a like- minded soul in Walter Dullo, a migrant who turned his skills to producing fine chocolates after being unable to practise as a lawyer. Dullo possessed an encyclopaedic musical knowledge which was to later be put to use in the creation of program notes for the Musica Viva concerts. Goldner established a strong bond with Dullo, sharing his vision, and ‘from then on we dreamed together’.
Larger historical events further delayed their dream’s fruition. Following the invasion of Poland by Germany in September 1939, Prime Minister Robert Menzies announced the beginning of Australia’s involvement in the Second World War. Regulations were enacted so that foreigners were required to register with local police, were restricted in travel, and were not allowed radios, binoculars or cameras. They were classed as ‘enemy aliens’ and viewed with suspicion. The Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbour in December 1941 and the subsequent fall of Singapore in March 1942, led to America’s involvement in the war. Australia was now placed on a serious wartime footing. Industries classed as unessential to war time operations were closed down.
A CHANGE OF DIRECTION
Goldner’s company was on the eve of ceasing to function when he was unnerved by a knock at the door and the appearance of a uniformed man. Acquainted only with the uniforms of SS and SA officers in his homeland, Goldner was momentarily in shock.
Introducing himself as Squadron Leader Russell Robertson, the visitor explained that he was attached to the technical service of the RAAF. Involved in an important defence project, Secret Project No. 3, Robertson was responsible for interviewing people of an inventive bent who may have been able to fulfil a pressing need. He explained that the military needed a fastening device that could be operated like a zipper. It would need to operate in three dimensions, be jam proof and could operate in the muddiest of conditions. Robertson left his card in case.
Amazingly, a few nights later, Goldner dreamt the solution and was able to develop it in a corporeal form, two coiled springs which knitted together. The Goldner’s factory was proclaimed a ‘reserved occupation’ and refitted to produce the fastener for the Australian and allied war effort under the name of a new company, Triflex.
Increasingly busy with the manufacture of his zip fastener and buoyed by the prospect of earning a considerable sum of money for the patent of his invention, Goldner planned a popular program for the first appearance of his Australian Pullman Ensemble.
With one stroke this plan assumed overwhelming importance when Goldner learnt from a Jewish magazine that Simon Pullman and his fellow musicians trapped in the Warsaw ghetto had been murdered in Treblinka. Encouraged in his project by his then wife, Mandi, and reworking the planned program of the first concert, Goldner felt compelled to include the Great Fugue (Beethoven) as a tribute to his former teacher and mentor despite Dullo’s misgivings.
THE CONCERT AGAINST THE ODDS
With the end of the war in August of 1945 his plans were finally able to be put into operation. Goldner gathered seventeen string players, the majority of them Australians, and rehearsed them for three months, initially as separate quartets before combining them with the double bass. His initial discouragement dissipated as intense rehearsals improved the standard of playing.
The main hall of the Conservatorium was secured for the concert on the evening of 8 December 1945. Undertaking the concert took all of Goldner’s savings at the time and a temporary loan. Proudly he called it ‘Richard Goldner’s Sydney Musica Viva’.
To his dismay, on the morning of the concert the city was disrupted by a power blackout, a common occurrence due to industrial disruption at the time. With the prospect of a cancelled concert and after disconsolately and aimlessly wandering through the city wondering what to do, he found himself in the office of Charles Moses, the general manager of the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). Marking the beginning of a period of cooperation with the ABC, Moses was enormously supportive and practical and declared that the concert must take place. He offered to arrange for an army generator for electricity, and lights with which to illuminate the musician’s stands. He suggested hurricane lamps and car headlights to provide illumination inside the foyer and corridors of the Conservatorium. Moses, recalled Goldner, ‘with one of his charming smiles and quite wicked inflection’ said ‘between us we must know a few pretty girls who could be usherettes to show people to the hall with torches’.
The concert, according to Goldner, was an outstanding success. Invitations had been sent to all his friends, acquaintances and ABC subscribers who passed them on to even more people. The hall was full to overflowing, leaving people without seats standing at the back. ‘Inside and outside the whole atmosphere seemed loaded with so much ‘electricity’ that I had the feeling that one could have lighted with it, the entire Conservatorium.’ After much consideration the final program included a Bach Violin Concerto, Mozart’s Fantasy no 1 in F minor for Mechanical Organ that Dullo had transcribed for string orchestra and, in tribute to Pullman, the Great Fugue of Beethoven.
Goldner felt vindicated in his efforts by both the standard achieved at the performance and the considerable size of the audience.
The concert proved a catalyst for the ongoing development of chamber music within the Australian classical music scene. Fired with optimism and messianic zeal, Goldner and his associates established the Sydney Musica Viva Society, a non- profit organisation for which Goldner acted as honorary Music Director. Drawing from the pool of 17 string players whom he had used at the ‘invitation’ concert, Goldner arranged a first subscription season of 10 concerts at the Sydney Conservatorium in 1946. He established a subscription list of approximately 900 by the end of the year, the overwhelming majority of whom were Central European migrants together with a small but significant number of appreciative Anglo-Australians. In following years, concert series were established in Melbourne and Adelaide.
THE PLAYERS AND THE SOCIETY
In the absence of any government or philanthropic financial funding, Goldner was eventually forced to modify the original dimension of his ensemble to a string quartet, piano and occasional guest artist. With the arrival of his former colleague, cellist Teddy Salzman and violinist Robert Pikler, recently released from internment in a Japanese prisoner of war camp, the Musica Viva Players personnel came together. From April 1948 to December 1950 it consisted of Robert Pikler – 1st violin, Eddie Cockman – 2nd violin, Teddy Salzman – cello and Maureen Jones – piano and Goldner himself on viola. Despite Goldner’s initial reluctance and doubts about his own playing ability, caused by a wartime machine accident, he joined as violist in addition to his role as honorary Music Director. Financial considerations and a paucity of experienced violists in Australia at the time left him no choice.
Ultimately, despite Goldner’s vision, enthusiasm and personal financial backing, the stresses and strains of such a pioneering operation proved overwhelming. Dependence on box office returns, an over-commitment to performance engagements, ineffective administration, and personal conflicts regarding artistic policy among players and executive resulted in a situation impossible to overcome. The Players disbanded and the Musica Viva Society entered what was fortunately only to prove a hiatus from the end of 1951 to 1954. Goldner himself retired from playing with the Players in 1951.
Goldner’s passions for inventing and music nevertheless persisted unabated. He incorporated his private teaching studio work with that of consultant and troubleshooter at an engineering firm at St Marys in the western suburbs of Sydney.
The dedication of a number of figures such as Charles Berg, Ken Tribe, Regina Ridge and Goldner himself kept the dream of Musica Viva alive during the cessation of its activities. A proposal by Fred Turnovsky, the Chairman of the New Zealand Federation of Chamber Music Societies, to partake in a tour of two international quartets provided the impetus to revive the Musica Viva Society in 1955.
Goldner’s commitment to the development of young musicians led him to initiate the formation of Musica Viva Younger Groups. Here, he often coached ensembles. In addition, he made available to them Australian and visiting overseas ensembles for informal performances at private homes. In 1958 and 1960 Goldner, in association with Ernest Llewellyn, the concertmaster of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, instigated a summer festival at Mittagong which provided opportunities for young players to take part in musical workshops with experienced performers. This subsequently evolved into the Easter Music Festival where professional players and listeners gathered together.
Meanwhile his restless and creative energies were also devoted to another long-term interest, invention. Goldner used his inventive skills to devise many devices. These included, among other things, types of sliding panelled doors which could be used as room dividers and on cupboards and a non- slip removable footing for the cello spike. Like his earlier invention of the Triflex fastener, in 1970 he was to make an international and commercial success of the ‘Playonair’ violin shoulder rest.
ANOTHER COUNTRY, ANOTHER CHAPTER
In 1967 however, he was somewhat disillusioned and disengaged with Musica Viva. Having expended almost all the wealth he had acquired, Goldner left Australia for America with only $1000 to commence a new chapter of his life.
He took up a teaching post first at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh where he was joined on staff by violinist Charmian Gadd whom in 1970 he married. In the same year he was awarded the Austrian Cross of Honour for Science and the Arts and selected to appear in the ‘Outstanding Educators of America’ for his contribution to music and his service to the community.
In 1977 he and Gadd moved to Bellingham and positions at Washington West State University.
THE FINAL YEARS
Goldner and Gadd returned to Australia in 1987 for family reasons. Here Goldner stayed for the remaining four years of his life. Even in these twilight years he continued private teaching and inventive work. He was in fact working on the design of a modified Playonair shoulder rest the very day he died at the age of 83, in September 1991.
Perhaps the final observation should be left to Richard Goldner himself, a man of restless and creative energy who needed only four hours sleep at night, a man who refused to seek impressive appurtenances, a simple man in taste and lifestyle, yet a complex character whose later life reflections point philosophically to the magic of happenstance:
‘My long life has been crowded with weird and wonderful experiences, some more incredible than others. Now with hindsight I can only marvel at how things have come together in the end, how the meandering threads in the fabric of life have crossed each other or unexpectedly connected.’
In the end, the creation of Musica Viva Australia was the consequence of the chance intersection of international historical circumstances with the deep individual energies that both created and drove this remarkable human being. Musica Viva Australia represents the ‘thread’ that this truly creative, resilient and dedicated migrant managed to weave in the face of his life’s recurrent obstacles – obstacles and challenges that for many others must have been overwhelming.
Penny Chapple is a music historian and education specialist. She worked with Musica Viva In Schools in the 1990s and wrote her Masters thesis on the organisation’s history.