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The Lost Movements of Ernst Toch’s Gesprochene Musik

Raz, Carmel A.

Gesprochene Musik, by Ernst Toch (1887–1964), is a forgotten milestone in the history of electronic music.1 A three–movement suite consisting of spoken music for choir, it is one of the few paradigmatic representatives of the genre of Gramophonmusik, which made use of prerecorded gramophone discs in a concert setting. The work was premiered in 1930 at a Berlin festival devoted to new music, in a concert featuring original works for gramophone playback by two rising stars of the German contemporary music scene, Toch and Paul Hindemith. The pieces were performed only once, yet through the intervention of a young John Cage, the score of the third movement of Gesprochene Musik, the “Geographical Fugue,” appeared in Henry Cowell’s journal, New Music, five years later. Although Cage published the piece in the context of a collection of music written expressly for gramophone, his version led the “Geographical Fugue” to receive a new lease of life as a purely acoustic choral showpiece performed live, which would, ironically, become Toch’s most famous work.

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January 27, 2017
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