Elysium-between Two Continents Presents Stefan Zweig & Frederic Chopin
"Suffering and Longing in Exile"
A Musical-Literary Collage
A review by Nino Pantano
In its brochure, The Austrian Cultural Forum New York is described as "the main cultural
embassy of the Republic of Austria in New York and the United States. Christine Moser,
director of the ACFNY, is dedicated to showcase Austrian art, music, film, theater, and
literature, presenting "as much from our cultural past as necessary and as much
contemporary art as possible".
Their architectural landmark building in Midtown Manhattan, is located around the corner
from MoMA. The ACFNY’s facilities house a multi-level gallery space, a theater, and its
own library. They host more than 100 free events annually and the ACFNY is one of the
most important places to experience Austrian art, culture and tradition for an American
On the evening of Thursday, February 16th, Elysium-between Two Continents presented
Stefan Zweig and Frederic Chopin in A Musical-Literary Collage entitled "Suffering and
Longing in Exile." The musical selections were provided by the brilliant Chopin expert
Marjan Kiepura and the literary passages were presented in German by the eloquent
Gregorij H. von Leitis with visual translations projected on screen.
Stefan Zweig (1881-1942) and Frederic Chopin (1810-1849) were two sublimely gifted
human beings who were exiled from their birthplaces and as "wandering troubadours,"
desperately sought to preserve the best of what they lost through writing and composing.
Chopin died in Paris age 39 of tuberculosis and Zweig took his own life 75 years ago in
Brazil on February 22, 1942. Chopin left Poland at age 20 with the failure of the"
November uprising". Stefan Zweig was relatively successful and content until the age of
52 when Austrian Jews led a secure rewarding life with theatre, cultture, strong family
ties and bourgeoisie respectability. With the rise of Hitler and Nazian/Fascism, the veneer
of contentment was shattered with hatred and anti-Semitism exploding. Zweig who
sought a world based on pacifism fled to London, then the United States and finally Brazil.
The relative peace in Brazil could not stifle his sense of loss for the"Old Vienna" of his
youth, just as Chopin never forgot his beloved Poland with a outpouring of Mazurkas and
Polish peasant themed pieces recalling golden and vibrant memories of the peaceful
Poland of his youth.
Deputy Director Christian Ebner made introductory remarks and presentation explanations
were made by Michael Lahr. Mr. Lahr is the Executive Director of the Lahr von Leitus
Academy and Archive, Chairman of the Erwin Piscator Award Society and member of the
Advisory Board Nietzsche Forum in Munich.
The program began with Chopin specialist and pianist Marjan Kiepura who proudly told the
audience of his Polish roots from his father Jan Kiepura, the internationally acclaimed
tenor from the Metropolitan Opera. Marjan Kiepura, born in Paris, lives with his wife, the
vibrant Jane Knox Kiepura, who greatly assists him in his endeavors as lecturer and
researcher, in New York City and Littleton, New Hampshire. Kiepura's new Chopin CD
"Images of a Homeland" has become an Internet YouTube favorite.
The first selection was Prelude Op. 28 No. 15 in D-Flat major, "Raindrop" which was
played tenderly and nimbly, flooding the room with melody, taking us all through Chopin's
music towards the light of freedom. George Sand, Chopin's lover at the time, called it
"Raindrop" because it reminded her of the storms in Valdemossa in Mallorca, Spain.
This was followed by the Mazurka in A-minor, Op. 68 Number 2. The Polish peasant
dances in the 60 plus Mazurkas Chopin composed in exile, represented the idealized and
free Poland he was forced to leave. Mr. Kiepura's fingers adroitly floated over the keys a
combination of insouciance and Polish brio!
The Artistic Director and narrator, Gregorij H. von Leitis who recently received the Medal
for Science and Art from the President of the Republic of Austria has been acclaimed for
his concept of socially relevant theatre.
Mr. von Leitis, in a clear, resonant and impassioned voice read in German from Stefan
Zweig's works which were translated on a screen on stage. Zweig's words are very
relevant today and his flatly refusing to acquiesce towards the Fascist state were stated
with a will of steel. I thought of the Italian film "The Garden of the Finzi-Contini's" where
the Italian Jews tried to maintain their charmed and enlightened life as the dark shadows
of Fascism made their world more obsolete until the death trains arrived. I also heard
echoes of young Anne Frank's writing "despite everything, I still believe people are really
good at heart".
Stefan Zweig lamented the treatment of the natives that Columbus discovered in his
journeys. He felt that the "Lust for gold" replaced the humanitarian treatment that should
have been shown. Zweig laments "Only the misfortune of exile can provide the in depth
understanding and the overview into the realities of the world".
Marjan Kiepura returned with the Waltz in A Flat Major Op. 69, No. 1 (L'Adieu) played with
the perfect balance of soul and sweetness. Chopin was enamoured of Maria Wodzinska in
Poland and later after their meeting in Dresden, his feelings were much deeper and
Chopin asked for her hand in marriage. Maria's parents felt a composer's income was too
uncertain. On their parting, Chopin handed her this music which Maria Wodzinska later
As a tribute to his Hungarian born mother, the great operetta soubrette soprano Marta
Eggerth (1912-2013), Kiepura played a composition by Hungarian composer Bela Bartok.
Romanian Folk Dance No. #3 (Der Stampfer) with its modernistic chords, it still retained
the folk lore vitality of its subject and was played with charisma and aplomb by Marjan
The final selection was Chopin's Mazurka in A minor Opus 17 No. 4 which was like the
Studebaker of its day. (A car made circa 1947 that was at least 50 years ahead of its
time). According to Mr. Kiepura, this Mazurka is actually written like music composed a
hundred years later, dissonant and chromatic, it proved to be a revelation. Perhaps it is
safe to speculate that this piece, with its clashing of chords and dissonance, was both
rage against the destruction of freedom in his homeland or the birth pangs of a future
"new order". Marjan described this unique piece with vivid authority mixed with wonder.
Kiepura's masterful playing evoked Scriabin in its inner combustion. This piece truly
represents its message of the tormented refugee!
Both Marta Eggerth and Jan Kiepura were famous film and opera/operetta stars in Europe
and found a haven in the United States. Both had some Jewish ancestry. Jan Kiepura was
a lead tenor at the Metropolitan Opera and Marta Eggerth was in Hollywood films and
Broadway. They later toured the world in Franz Lehar's "The Merry Widow".
Mr. von Leitis returned to the stage for the concluding reading. He captured the very
essence of Stefan Zweig. The fall of Austria dismayed Zweig and even though he found
relative freedom and comfort in Brazil, it was too late in his own life to change. He and
his wife ended their journey that fateful day seventy-five years ago. Had they remained
in exile three more years, they would have witnessed a new dawn. Mr. von Leitis brought
to life the soul of Stefan Zweig by his expressive cadences and mellifluous tones. He was
the messenger of the truth and the dying of the light during those unspeakable times.
Stefan Zweig describes the tensions he experienced in a letter to journalist Joseph Roth:
"We must make in spite of the leitmotif of our life, we must know human beings and
must love them nonetheless".
With these brilliant essays on the life and death of Stefan Zweig intertwined with Chopin's
music, the evening came to a close. There was long lasting applause and cheers for
Marjan Kiepura and Gregorij H. von Leitis.
In the audience and at the wine reception afterwards, we met acclaimed (Cole Porter)
cabaret pianist the effervescent and ever chic Steve Ross, cruise ship pianist Stacy Ward
MacAdams looking resplendent is his Florentine cape and the vibrant Tomoko Mazur, wife
of the late great New York Philharmonic conductor Kurt Mazur. It was also nice to greet
rising chanteuse Anna Schumann who is preparing a show on screen legend Marlene
"Suffering and longing in Exile" was under the patronage of Dr. Charlotte Knobloch,
President of the Jewish Community of Munich and Upper Bavaria.
Special thanks to Christine Moser, Director of the Austrian Cultural Forum in New York,
Deputy Director Christian Ebner and their entire team. We will long remember the
eloquent readings by Gregorij H. von Leitis and the pianistic brilliance of Marjan Kiepura.
It was a truly splendid evening, both gratifying and moving. In a strong sense in our
complex world of today, Stefan Zweig and Frederic Chopin still live on and inspire. They
make us all, with the invaluable assistance of their disciples Gregorij H. von Leitis and
Marjan Kiepura, seek out our better angels.
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