Jewish Museum Vienna: Ernst Toch’s Life as Geographical Fugue

Jewish Museum Austria (

The exhibition, “Ernst Toch. Life as a Geographical Fugue,” will be shown at the Jewish Museum Vienna from June 23 – October 31, 2010.

Born in Vienna in 1887, Toch was one of the most performed composers in Germany in the 1920s. Along with Paul Hindemith he was one of the main representatives of musical development within New Objectivity, and his works were a regular feature of German avant-garde festivals.

Together with Hindemith he was described by the New York Times at the 1930 Berlin Music Festival as “the protagonist of the new German scene” and enjoyed a successful tour of the USA in 1932. Toch’s Geographical Fugue, a “spoken chorus,” performed at the Berlin Music Festival, exerted a fascination on a young American musician by the name of John Cage.

A few years later, after Toch had fled from the Nazis to the USA, Cage conducted his translation of the Fugue. In spite of this support, Toch’s American exile turned into a disaster on both a personal and musical level. The publication and distribution of his works were thwarted. Despite three Oscar nominations, his financial needs required him to support numerous relatives in exile and condemned him to a grueling existence in Hollywood.

After World War II, Toch’s life itself became increasingly similar to his “geographical fugue.” On a restless odyssey between his old and new home, he wrote seven symphonies in fewer than fifteen years. His 3rd symphony won the Pulitzer Prize.

This  exhibition is a musical journey through the places where Ernst Toch, modernist and cosmopolitan, lived and worked. The numerous musical excerpts provide a new insight into the impressive oeuvre of one of the most important Austrian composers of the twentieth century.