Today marks the 116th birthday of musicologist, lecturer, and promoter Anneliese Landau (1903-1991), who worked in early German radio, the Nazi-era Jewish Culture League, and the Jewish Centers Association in Los Angeles. In these roles, Landau came to know many significant historical figures: among them, the composer Arnold Schoenberg, conductor Bruno Walter, and rabbi-philosopher Leo Baeck. Lily E. Hirsch’s new biography of Landau offers fresh perspective on the Nazi period as well on musical life in southern California. It is also a unique story of survival: an account of one woman’s confrontation with other people’s expectations of her, as a woman and a Jew.
Our thanks to Lily Hirsch for sharing her poignant memories of meeting Landau’s living relatives during her research for this book.
On August 2, 2017, I boarded a plane bound for Edinburgh, Scotland. I would be meeting Spedding Micklem, his daughter Noami, and nephew Ben Paechter, as well as his son, Sam—living relatives of Anneliese Landau. In writing Anneliese Landau’s biography, covering her remarkable life in Nazi Germany and after in Los Angeles, I relied on Landau’s own unpublished memoirs—careful to balance her voice and view of herself with the facts I gleaned from documents collected at the Akademie der Kuenste in Berlin as well as elsewhere. I was lucky to have these sources, especially since the writing of memoirs has in the past been predominantly a male enterprise. But, in Spedding’s grey, stone two-story, Landau’s life became real in a way no written document could support. There, anecdotes unfurled slowly and I could leisurely peruse Landau’s collection of music records and notes, shelved in Spedding’s home. Over dinner, with the family, I found at my place setting a napkin ring with the name Grete, Landau’s sister—a ring Landau would have taken with her when she escaped Nazi Germany (Grete herself never did). Later, the family played for me a video they had made the day before, while I had been delayed en route in Dublin, of Spedding playing the piano as Noami’s son David sang Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte. This was the song collection, they knew I knew, that Spedding had played for Landau with her nephew Gerd during her first visit with the family in the UK after the war.
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On August 6, the next day, I went with Spedding to a production of Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre, part of the Edinburgh festival. Spedding’s former neighbor, he explained, had been one of the festival’s founders, the émigré composer Hans Gál. The music was meaningful—both Landau and her mother before her had been able to appreciate the genius of Wagner’s work, despite his anti-Semitism. I had even found a record of that particular opera in Landau’s collection the previous day. A second layer of significance: that day, August 6, twenty-six years before, Landau had died. I was with her family, enjoying music she loved, on the anniversary of her death. As scholars, we are supposed to remain objective. But, in the writing of biography, certain aspects of a person’s life inevitably attract us. We are dealing with people, after all, messy and entangled. In Edinburgh, I felt lucky to know this family—that they trusted me with Landau’s story, their story. And I feel lucky to have been able to write about Landau. Her story has fresh relevance today, with anti-Semitism visible in new ways. And she herself is a woman to admire—persistent and wonderfully stubborn in her devotion to a life of music.
This guest post was written by Lily E. Hirsch, author of A Jewish Orchestra in Nazi Germany: Musical Politics and the Berlin Jewish Culture League.