Richard Neutra, whom I wrote about in this week’s issue of The New Yorker, arrived in Los Angeles well before the great wave of émigrés who fled Hitler’s takeover in Germany and the subsequent Nazi incursions on Europe. He established himself in the city in 1925 and became a citizen in 1929. Although he was Jewish, he does not appear to have identified strongly with the sufferings of Jews back in Austria and Germany. The author Lawrence Weschler — who, as the grandson of the composer Ernst Toch, grew up in the émigré milieu — asked Neutra’s widow, Dione, about this in an interview for the UCLA Oral History Program: “Some people who were nominally Jewish became much more Jewish as a result of the Nazis coming to power . . . Was there anything like that going on with your husband?” Dione answered: “No, he was so overwhelmed through his, you know, trying to make a living, trying to keep his head above water, that I don’t think that he was very aware of it.” In this respect, Neutra was very different from Arnold Schoenberg, another Viennese native, who arrived in Los Angeles in 1934. Schoenberg re-converted in Judaism, removing the umlaut from his name in the process, and embraced Zionist politics. He had been fiercely prescient about the rise of anti-Semitism in Austria and concluded at a quite early date that Hitler was planning a Jewish genocide.
Given that disparity, it’s perhaps not surprising that no strong connection existed between Neutra and Schoenberg. Nonetheless, there were several interesting links between the two. Neutra may have encountered Schoenber in childhood; according to the historian Thomas S. Hines, his brothers made music with the composer and his pupils. Then, in March 1913, Neutra attended the famous “scandal concert” at the Musikverein, perhaps the most violent event in the early history of musical modernism. Hines quotes a fascinating description of the event from Neutra’s diary — a source I’ve seldom seen cited in the Schoenberg literature. It reads:
Right at the beginning, a few people began to bawl and scream, there was talking and yelling and knocking about. The rabble just had the feeling that there was someone to butcher in a cheap manner, someone there for the taking. It was . . . shocking to witness . . . At times I thought I would jump out of my skin. After the Schönberg symphony [the Chamber Symphony No. 1], which despite everything made an impression of power and of an artwork on me, a hellish racket broke out. In the second gallery, a few people were thrown out after hard scuffles. Berg’s ‘Lieder’ were interrupted by roaring [and] neighing. Earlier [Adolf] Loos had almost engaged in acts of violence. Schönberg screamed threats into the auditorium. The ‘Lieder’ were completed. Then all limits broke. People challenged each other, were torn apart, screamed, laughed, howled. Arthur Schnitzler sat across from me in the second box. Someone yelled to the audience to behave in a civilized manner or leave. Someone yelled back ‘rascal.’ The former jumped down into the crowd, slapped the supposed man who had insulted him in the face. The whole assembly followed these acts anxiously. Then some more shouting. A uniformed commissioner screaming something . . . my whole body trembled out of rage. The musicians left the hall. The mob had succeeded in breaking up the concert.
Neutra appears to have witnessed the altercation between the writer Erhard Buschbeck and a doctor-composer named Viktor Albert, which led to a court case. Indeed, various witnesses reported that Adler had hurled the epithet “Lausbuben” at Bruschbeck, making the latter feel compelled to strike back.
When Schoenberg came to LA, he appears to have approached Neutra about the idea of building him a modern house. A 1936 letter in the Schoenberg archive, to the Viennese architect Heinrich Kulka, reports: “I will probably have the opportunity to build myself a house here, and you will understand how it pains me that Loos is longer alive, or that I cannot ask one of his pupils, such as you, to build. I would nonetheless like to obtain a modern house and to that end I am in contact with two modern architects. One is an American, but the other is Richard Neutra, who comes from Vienna and whom you probably know. He is evidently also from the Loos circle and makes very lovely houses, even if he is consciously a little more doctrinaire than Loos, and not uninfluenced by Bauhaus principles. Still, he has, ever, Viennese taste and knows what a creator needs.
Nothing came of that contact. Schoenberg ended up settling in a roomy Spanish Colonial house on North Rockingham Avenue, where he remained until his death.
Neutra would undoubtedly have been delighted to take on a Schoenberg commission. Even more gratifying would have been the plum assignment to build a house for Thomas Mann. The two made contact a as early as 1938, well before Mann had moved to Los Angeles. Neutra took the great author on a driving tour of modernist houses in Los Angeles, possibly including the Lovell Health House. Mann reacted negatively in his diary: “Kubischer Glaskasten-Stil, unpleasant.” Later, there are stories that Neutra pursued Mann so avidly that the latter became exasperated. Dione Neutra reports an incident at the house of the bestselling author Vicki Baum: “My husband cornered Thomas Mann and talked to him for at least a half an hour, and finally Vicki Baum sent somebody and said, ‘For heaven’s sake, get that Neutra off Thomas Mann’s back. There are other people who want to talk to him, too..’ And we were never invited again.” The émigré architect built Mann’s house instead — a sleek but in no way cubistic structure that now belongs to the German government. Nonetheless, some friendly contact remained; in 1949, Mann went to a gathering at the Neutra VDL House in Silver Lake. In 1954, after he had left America and gone into exile once again, we find him reading an unidentified manuscript by Neutra — mostly likely Survival through Design, which was published that year.
from Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise https://ift.tt/2W6Bzbg