Dmitri Smirnov
A Geometer of Sound Crystals:
A Book on Philipp Hershkowitz

(studia slavica musicologica, vol. 34)
ISBN 3-928864-99-8

see also: 
Introduction to Herschkowitz
Corrections and Index
Herschkowitz: On an invention of Johann Sebastian Bach (1967-70s)
Herschkowitz: Three-part Invention in F minor (1967)

to purchase the book click here and send a mail: Ernst-Kuhn-Verlag@t-online.de
Website:  http://www.vek.de
An Introduction to Herschkowitz1
“The Great Masters (we are speaking only about the greatest – there are only a few) are a handful of aristocrats who have entered into the history of music like into a tavern.”
Philipp Herschkowitz 2

I have never in my life met such an extraordinary person as Philipp Moiseyevich Herschkowitz, nor am I likely to ever again.  He was a man of sharp intellect and great learning; and he combined a deep love of true art with a merciless irony, which was directed at everything and everyone around him.  His clever remarks, serious as well as humorous, would instantly become anecdotes that would go round the whole of Moscow.  He lived in a minute one-room flat with his young wife Lena and their cat Kisik, and could barely make ends meet.  They refused to make him a member of the Union of Composers, ‘Muzfond’3 would have nothing to do with him, and those who could have helped to support him, or even just lend him some money, steadily became fewer and fewer in number.  He would spend days poring over a volume of Beethoven sonatas or a score by Mahler or Schoenberg, making ever more unique discoveries, which would one day, he thought, go to make up a book – his life’s work.

    Sometimes he gave lessons, but he would always say: “I do not have any pupils.  I am my only pupil.”  When someone once called himself a pupil of

1  This Introduction is based on my article ‘A visitor from an unknown planet: Music in the eyes of Filipp Herschkowitz’ (see Bibliography, p. 150).
2  Philipp Herschkowitz: On Music, vol. I, (Moscow, 1991), p. 315 (in Russian).
Institution offering subsidies, medical aid etc, to musicians.

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his, without failing to point out that Herschkowitz was Webern’s pupil, Philipp Moiseyevich exclaimed indignantly: “So in this case it turns out that I am a ‘shoe-horn’! 1  That’s rather unpleasant... Moreover, this ‘heel idea’ is not appropriate for Webern.  Or to be more precise, it is very inappropriate for Webern.”  In the USSR, the fact that he studied in Vienna with such a famous figure seemed utterly unreal to many people, and was enough to make people look at him as a being from another planet.  As it happens, he really was no more than an accidental visitor from an unknown planet in that country.

   Favin (or Fabish) Herschkowitz was born in the Rumanian town of Yassy, into the family of a button merchant, on 7th September 1906 (25th August according to the old calendar).  He studied at the conservatoire in Yassy (where he claimed he was well taught in harmony) and in 1927 he entered the Vienna Academy.  There he studied with Josef Marx, who had become friends with Schoenberg because of their shared interest in painting (“Both painted pictures”, said Herschkowitz, “I don’t know who was the worst”).  In 1928, at the age of 22, he adopted twelve-tone technique for his compositions.  His earliest mature composition, Fugue for chamber orchestra, appeared in 1930.  From 1929 to 1931 he studied with Alban Berg (“who taught nothing”) and then, from 1934 to 1939, with Anton Webern, at the same time working as a proof-reader at Universal Edition (from 1931 to 1938) and attending conducting courses under Hermann Scherchen (1932 onwards).  Webern gave him a diploma – a scrap of paper that he himself had drawn up – which said that Herschkowitz, having studied composition with him for many years, deserved a fervent recommendation.  “With all my conviction I obviously consider him first of all as a composer of prominent talent, this has to be valued very specially.  I am sure that we have to expect from his gift – in

Here Herschkowitz refers to himself as a mere ‘shoe-horn’ and Webern as the ‘heel’ being squeezed into the shoe: in other words he is only ‘a vehicle for Webern’s ideas’.

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any field of music, and especially in composition and theory (as well as in teaching and scientific research) – something exceptionally important.” 1  With this diploma in hand, Herschkowitz escaped from Hitler and Nazi Vienna to Bucharest and in 1940, he moved to the town of Chernovtsy (Czernowitz), which Stalin had just joined to his Empire.

     He taught harmony at the college of music in Chernovtsy whilst continuing his activity as a composer.  On 22nd June 1941 he was going to make his public debut as a conductor, however, the Germans invaded the Soviet Union on the same day and the concert did not take place.  Herschkowitz fled again and spent six years in evacuation in Central Asia, mainly in Tashkent, where Mukhtar Ashrafy, the Uzbek ‘caliph’ of music, made him a member of the Union of Composers in 1942.  He would not let him into ‘Muzfond’, however, so he was unable to borrow money.  At some point in 1946, Herschkowitz moved to Moscow.  He was not reinstated in the Union of Composers (a campaign had begun against cosmopolitans, which expressed itself mostly in the persecution of Jews), although he was, on the other hand, accepted into ‘Muzfond’ this time.  His works were not ideologically approved by the musical authorities and therefore were not performed.  The names of his teachers meant nothing in Moscow at that time, and a quarter of a century later the name of Schoenberg was used ‘to frighten little children’.  Herschkowitz mantained his living editing and orchestrating film scores for the Symphony Orchestra of Cinematography.

     By the 1950s however, musicians had started to become interested in the New Viennese School, and the presence of a ‘living witness’ in Moscow played a decisive role.  It was Herschkowitz who directly influenced young composers in a ‘pernicious, noxious and corrupting’ way by wanting to escape from the suffocating, although in many respects comfortable, prison of

  Signed:  Doctor Anton Webern, Maria Enzersdorf, near Vienna, Auholz 8, <9th of September 1939>.  On Music, vol. I, p. 351.

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‘socialist realism’.  The so-called Underground Division in Soviet music had started with the notable contribution and participation of Philipp Herschkowitz.  A whole Pleiad of composers, musicologists and performers had their eyes opened, thanks to him, and were indebted to him for their accomplishments and development.  Not all of his relations with these people were trouble-free.  With some he broke off all contact, and it is difficult to judge objectively who was at fault.1

     Despite his unfixed social position during the 1960s, Herschkowitz gave a lecture-series on the musical views of Anton Webern at the Leningrad Composers’ Union (1966) and then later at the Yerevan and Kiev conservatories (1967-69).  In the 1970s he published two of his most important articles – unquestionably the best contributions to Soviet musicology 2  – in the journal Uchenye zapiski tartuskogo universiteta: trudy po znakovym sistemam (Tartu University Scholarly Notes: Studies in Semiotics), whose print-run was never more than 100 copies.  Herschkowitz also wrote a series of compositions

1   The list of people who came into contact with Hershkowitz is as follows: the composers Andrei Volkonsky, Edison Denisov, Alfred Schnittke, Sofia Gubaidulina, Nikolai Karetnikov, Boris Tishchenko, Alexander Lokshin, Grigori Zinger, Mikhail Meyerovich, Alexei Muravlev, Valentin Silvestrov, Leonid Hrabovsky, Vyacheslav Artyomov, Vladimir Dashkevich, Alexander Voustin, Vladislav Shoot, Viktor Suslin, Elena Firsova, Boris Frankshtein, Leonid Gofman; the musicologists Mikhail Druskin, Natan Fishman, Yuri Kholopov, Mikhail Tarakanov, Mikhail Byalik, Ivan Khlebarov, Cypriana Drumeva, Semyon Vekshtein, Alexander Ivashkin; the performers Oleg Kagan, Natalia Gutman, Liza Leonskaia, Eliso Virsaladze, Liana Isakadze, Alexei Lubimov, Mark Pekarsky, Ivan Monighetti, Evgenia Alikhanova, Tigran Alikhanov and others.
  The tonal sources of Schoenberg’s dodecaphony and On an invention of Johann Sebastian Bach.  The editorial board of ‘Uchenzie zapiski tartuskogo universiteta’ refused to publish the third article, Dodecaphony and Tonality.  Note also his ‘Some Thoughts on Lulu’ in The International Alban Berg Society Newsletter, No.7, Fall 1978 (see Writings).

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during this time: a series of piano pieces; works for cello and piano; song cycles to verses by Paul Celan and Ion Barbu; and A Small Chamber Suite (a cantata) to verses by Frederico Garcia Lorca and Rainer Maria Rilke.
 His music was hardly ever performed; and whilst this upset him (“as long as my piece has not been performed or shown to anyone”, he would say, “it seems that it does not exist”), he considered his main compositions to be those about music; music itself followed in second place.  I have seen some of those scores fleetingly, but am convinced that they deserve the most serious attention.  One could say that they were written rather in the style of Schoenberg, but an extremely rigid discipline and a deep awareness of the compositional process lends them a particular value. 1

    As time passed, the Second Viennese School went out of fashion, without ever having come into fashion in the first place, and Herschkowitz was deserted by everyone: an eccentric that no one needed, who spoke in amusing paradoxes or dull truths.  He sought in vain for people who shared his views and people who would be able to understand him.  “I need someone to share my thoughts about music!” he would say over and over again; but his was a voice in the wilderness.  Unable to find a way out of this spiritual vacuum, he made an application to leave the country, but was refused permission.  In desperation, he even wrote a letter to Tikhon Khrennikov, the immutable leader of the Composers’ Union, in which he said that he was turning to him since they had something in common despite all their differences: the fact that their thoughts were expressed in musical notes.  Herschkowitz saw his life as a sonata; its exposition had taken place in Vienna, its development in the Soviet Union and it now required a reprise.  Khrennikov did not perceive the beauty

   Musikverlage Hans Sikorski are apparently planing to publish Herschkowitz’s Four Pieces for cello and piano. (Ed.)  However, this information has not been confirmed (DS).

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of this idea and dictated a formal reply to his secretary in which he said that such matters were dealt with by OVIR,1  and not him.

     These were hard times for Herschkowitz.  His application to OVIR was automatically followed by expulsion from ‘Muzfond’ and an order to pay back his huge financial debt.  The circle of his acquaintances narrowed drastically, the editorial board of Tartu Scholarly Notes returned his articles, his name was no longer mentioned anywhere and pronounced only in a whisper.  Anyone who tried to emigrate from the Soviet Union was treated in the same way – these people immediately became ‘black sheep’.  However, it seemed that Herschkowitz did not understand or did not want to understand this.  He was deeply hurt and he took this kind of treatment as a personal insult.2

    Finally, an invitation came from the Alban-Berg-Stiftung, who asked him for help in preparing Berg’s collected works for publication.  In December 1987, Herschkowitz left with his wife for Vienna, where he continued intensive work on his book and on the translation of his essays into German.  Within half a year he fell ill.  A brain tumour was diagnosed, but after three successful operations, his kidneys failed.  He died on 5th January 1989 and was buried in the Jewish cemetery in Vienna.

    After his death, Herschkowitz’s widow spent over 9 years completing work on the manuscript of his book (or rather four books) – approximately one thousand pages in total.  When most of the rough work had been

  Soviet visa office.
  Herschkowitz never forgave Yuri Kholopov for not including his name in a list of Webern’s pupils in his 1984 book Anton Webern, zhizn’ i tvorchestvo (Anton Webern, His Life and Creation).  However, later Kholopov redeemed himself by writing a brilliant essay V Poiskakh Utrachennoi Sushchnosti Muzyki: Filipp Gershkovich (Searching for the lost essence of Music: Philipp Herschkowitz), see Bibliography, p. 150)

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completed she wrote to me from Vienna: “As long as Philipp’s works remain unpublished, I mean all his works, whatever is said about Philipp, will only ever be words.  Without these writings of his, one could say that it is impossible to speak the truth about him”.1    With the greatest enthusiasm and using her own resources, she finally managed to publish his main works (finished and unfinished) as Philipp Herschkowitz: On Music, vol. I-IV, (Moscow, 1991-97).  However, they still remain unknown, not only because they appear as a great challenge to the reader, but also because nobody knows how to acquire them.

     As a true pupil of Webern, Herschkowitz saw Beethoven as the ‘highest point of development of musical form’.2  “Everything goes towards Beethoven and from Beethoven”, he would often repeat.  Taking Beethoven as a starting point and applying him like a standard to the work of other composers, there arose in his mind a strictly limited group of composers who were the ‘Great Masters’.  When Brahms was dropped from the canon, followed by Haydn, and finally his own teacher Berg, a ‘magnificent seven’ remained: Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner, Mahler, Schoenberg and Webern.  Of course, one can laugh at such a limited view of the history of music and at such a narrow understanding of what makes a ‘Great Master’.  What about all the others?  What is it that makes them worse composers?  Let us hear the words of Herschkowitz himself:

     “There are two kinds of composers: those who make music, and those who do something with music.  In order to count the first group on our fingers (I have in mind the last 250 years), we won’t have to bother with

From a letter dated 6th June 1989.
From ‘On an invention…’ On Music, vol. I, p. 198.

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our toes; the fingers on our hands are enough.1   The second group are all the rest – enough to create the population of a not exactly small country.

     The music of the first group is made with sounds, but exists independent of the sounds.  The music of the second group is made for the sake of sounds themselves.  The first is a 'fixed'world of crystals, the second – a world of (good and bad) porridge…

     The Great Masters make up a strictly organic chain.  They are always ‘innovators’ and never ‘avant-garde’…  Innovation is the only possibility of remaining on the rails of tradition.”2

    “The Great Masters have always known their predecessors: Beethoven was aware of Mozart, Wagner was aware of Beethoven and Mahler was aware of Wagner…

     …the Great Masters are distinguished from the others by the fact that when you listen to one of them, none of the others exist.  Bach is in no way less great than Beethoven, Mozart – no less than Bach.  When one listens to Tchaikovsky or Prokofiev, there are some bits one might like, but then one says that it is no worse than…

     After Webern, all composers tried to be new, thinking that music which was not new could not be music.  But Schoenberg, after all, was new on the basis of tradition!  That should not be forgotten!” 3

    Herschkowitz’s attitude to the works of the Great Masters was highly selective. “Beethoven has only six symphonies”, – he loved to say, or:

    “Beethoven is Beethoven in his piano sonatas beginning from the first; while in all his other cycles, in no way is he Beethoven from

There is no Russian word for ‘toe’ – the word for finger is used.
2   From a letter dated 16th July 1982.
3   From a conversation held on 28th July 1980.

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the very beginning.  I have a very specific litmus paper test for determining that.” 1

     Discovered by Schoenberg and developed by Webern during discussion with his pupils, the ‘litmus paper’ is a principle based on the two opposite conditions of musical structure: fixed and floating (originally in German  – ‘fest’ and ‘locker’), which make up the basic construction of form in the music of the Great Masters and which are most evident in Beethoven.  This geometry is not spatial but temporal; it turns temporal material into spatial material.2

     It is not all that easy to understand the difference between ‘fixed’ and ‘floating’.  Herschkowitz confessed that even he did not understand it at first, and could only grasp the idea when he stopped studying with Webern and began to do his own research.  He would often say: “It’s very important.  Whoever does not understand it is not looking at music in the right way!”
 By not adhering to this principle, the researcher is deprived of the most important instrument for music analysis, the comprehension of its structure and essence.  The composer who does not seek to break with the great musical tradition loses orienteering directions for their personal quest.  Thus, both researcher and composer run the risk of remaining on the level of amateurs.

    Herschkowitz developed and continued this principle, and we will really only be able to understand it when his works have been available and we can look at them in detail.  He talked of different levels of ‘fixed’ and ‘floating’, their mutual relationship in form, about their diffusion over an entire cyclical work and also about cycles of works in which they play a joint role.  At its most basic level, the principle looks like this: ‘Fixed’ denotes that which is linked to the main tonality, which the principal theme expresses best of all.

1   From a letter dated 8th April 1988.
  From a letter dated 16th July 1982.

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The principal theme, as a rule, is constructed in a ‘fixed’ way. Everything else – transition, subordinate (themes), development section – are built in a ‘floating’ manner, and furthermore they are built floating in varying ways.  There is a balanced relationship between the one and the other: “a less floating subordinate theme can correspond to a less fixed principal theme; a musical problem within a work can even stand the relationship of the two themes on its head: the principal theme can have a floating structure instead of the subordinate theme and, correspondingly, a subordinate theme can have a fixed structure.” 1

     This principle in its most complete state is the material concept of musical form, and music, the most immaterial of the arts, only becomes our full property in the presence of this concept. 2

     Herschkowitz left dozens of perceptive remarks about each of the Great Masters. Here are some of them:

     “...[Bach’s] work represents a map, on which there are still more blank spots than on the map of Africa in the 19th-century.  We must recognise, however, that Bach’s blank spots will never be completely understood.  And that is only because the greatness of a Great Master is endless.” 3

     “Beethoven is the same as Mozart.  Everything in Mozart is developed by Beethoven.  They are one and the same.” 4

     “The essence of Beethoven lies in the fact that he solved Mozart’s problems in a different way .” 5

1    ‘On an invention of Johann Sebastian Bach.’ On Music, vol. I, p. 198.
    ‘The tonal sources of Schoenberg’s dodecaphony.’ On Music, vol. I, pp. 18-19.
    ‘On an invention…’ On Music, vol. I, p. 213.
   From a conversation held on 28th July 1980.
   Conversation dated 31st January 1983.

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     “In the work of Wagner (which has been classified as romanticism, but which in fact represents a new height of classicism), form is fully restored to its rightful place as the prime force and essence of the art of music.  However, for a long time after Wagner, the concept of form remained emasculated and yielded to restoration only with difficulty.” 1

     “There are no longueurs in Wagner; it is we who have too much brevity.” 2

     “None of the Great Masters studied in the conservatoires apart from Gustav Mahler.” 3

     “Schoenberg, the musical Columbus of our time, actually discovered a new route to good old India when he discovered America…” 4

     “Webern!  He was the last Great Master of German music.” 5

     Whilst Herschkowitz had respect and even ‘compassion’ for many other composers like Haydn, Brahms, Schubert, Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev and Berg for example, he expressed his great regret for the unconscious, primitive and uncreative state of the ‘fixed and floating’ concept in their works.  Sometimes there was even a complete disregard for this principle, which is the main form-building force in a composition, the essence of the great musical tradition.  Many of these composers often served as the targets of his attacks:

     “Brahms could compose a principal theme, but he did not know what to do with it.” 6

1     ‘The tonal sources...’ On Music, vol. I, p. 18.
2    From a letter dated 20th December 1984.
3     Lesson 1 – 9th April 1970.
4    ‘The tonal sources...’ On Music, vol. I, p. 45.
5    Conversation dated 2nd July 1982.
6     Conversation dated 10th October 1983.

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    “…This is similar to Brahms’ music.  Form is not developing, but is being pulled like a thread, however it pulls very well.” 1

    “While Schumann and Mendelssohn – both stupendous talents – made their symphonies, sonatas et cetera like cheap popular prints, Brahms (like Wagner, but in a different way to Wagner) understood the essence of Beethoven.  However, this was not a creative understanding.  From his understanding of Beethoven, Wagner created the possibility of becoming Wagner.  Brahms never did away with his pointless desire to become a second Beethoven.” 2

    “Schumann is a composer from the GDR!” 3

    “Berlioz!  He is probably the worst of the famous composers.” 4

    “In the 19th century there was a bad composer called Cesar Frank.  He wrote cycles where the themes of the previous movements were repeated in the finale, and he thought that he surpassed Beethoven!” 5

    The chain of Great Masters broke off for Herschkowitz with the work of the New Viennese School.  On 31st January 1983, when he declared that he no longer considered Berg as a Great Master, he explained:

     “Schoenberg was already a great tonal composer, and for him it was easier than for Webern.  Webern was not, but in spite of this fact, he succeeded…  But Berg was too faithful to the letter of tonality, and therefore he was not a Great Master in spite of my all-good attitude to him as a person…”

1   Conversation dated 31st January 1983.
  From a letter dated 16th July 1982.
  Conversation dated 8th October 1982
  Conversation dated 28th July 1980.
  Conversation dated April 1970.

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    Other contemporaries fared worse:

     “Stravinsky made music out of ballets, as Shostakovich made his symphonies out of film music – the experience he gained from his activities as a ballroom pianist left its mark on his music.” 1

    “Shostakovich is just one great public place, while Stravinsky is just one great private place.”

    “Stockhausen is the same as Boulez but without the tail-coat.”

    “A hack in a trance”, “an omelette of egg-shells”, “musical wallpaper”, “music castrated from time” – these were the epithets he often applied to composers and their works.

    Herschkowitz considered that there was a decline or recession in the music of our times.  The desire to appear new and original at all costs had turned music into empty sounds and bagatelles, he thought, and was explained purely by a thirst for success that he called “non-Euclidean careerism”.  “The most old-fashioned and unoriginal epigonous music is that which strives to be new”, – Philipp Moiseyevich would exclaim.

    He was glad when he liked something in new Soviet music, something that, in his words, represented ‘an exhibition of talent’.  Without considering genius as the highest level of talent, he would call for a “rejection of talent”, and for composers to become “mountaineers”.  For the person “whose attitude to himself was as serious as his attitude to music”, he gave the following instruction: “Do not be kind to yourself; do not turn the ‘creative process’ into patting yourself on the head, do not let yourself be on familiar terms with music…  Talent is not a vice.  One can discard it for something more solid.” 2

1   Conversation of 8 October 1982.
2   Letter of 16 July 1982.

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    And in these words one can perceive a hope that this current decline in music is temporary, that the baton which was handed from one Great Master to another will some day be grasped by a new genius, so that the tree of genuine music will once again blossom.

    In our time – a time of vigorous artistic development – we must find a niche for Herschkowitz’s perhaps controversial views, since they shed light on many elements in music still relevant today.  The legacy of the brilliant scholar of music, Philipp Moiseyevich Herschkowitz, should not be buried and forgotten; and I would like to believe that we do not have to wait long before it becomes accessible to the musical community at large.

© by Dmitri Smirnov (text, photos, cover design) 1970/2003

Edited by Guy Stockton

see also:
Introduction to Herschkowitz
Corrections and Index
Herschkowitz: On an invention of Johann Sebastian Bach (1967-70s)
Herschkowitz: Three-part Invention in F minor (1967)

to purchase the book click here and send a mail: Ernst-Kuhn-Verlag@t-online.de
Website:  http://www.vek.de