Friday Night Dialogues: Rediscovering the legacy of musician Arthur Chitz

COURTESY PHOTO
The Nov. 15 Friday Night Dialogues will share the story of acclaimed composer and musicologist Arthur O. Chitz.

Acclaimed composer and musicologist Arthur O. Chitz’s life was tragically cut short during the Holocaust and his musical legacy erased from history. On Friday, Nov. 15, at 7 p.m. at the library’s Friday Night Dialogues, Shelter Islander Paulann Sheets, widow of Chitz’s son, Hermann, will speak on the journey to bring his works back into the public sphere some 60 years after he was believed to have perished in a concentration camp near Riga, Latvia.

Dr. Chitz’s musical output was, by any measure, prodigious. His works included a Sinfonietta, string quartets, vocal and piano compositions, as well as incidental pieces and other chamber music. He was also an acclaimed pianist and the musical director for 13 years at the Dresden Schauspielhaus, for which he composed some 40 works. In addition, he was a noted musical scholar and researcher, having discovered some previously unknown Beethoven scores. He received the Saxon Cross of Honor 15 times for his musical and cultural contributions.

Although a convert to Protestantism in the early 20th century, with the rise of Hitler, Chitz was considered a Jew and his career was abruptly cut short as the Reich expanded its ethnic-cleansing policies. He was forced to resign from all aspects of public musical life in May of 1933 and his name and works disappeared from musical life in Dresden and Germany at large. His children managed to emigrate before it was too late, but Chitz and his wife, Gertrude, were caught in the ever-widening anti-Semitic crack down. He was sent to Buchenwald and ultimately, to the Riga-Kaiserwald Camp where he was believed to have perished. His wife died on a forced march from Riga to Dresden in 1945.

Through the efforts of German musicologist and author Dr. Agata Schindler, Chitz’s work, along with that of other forgotten artists of the era, was brought to light in a 1999 book, “Suffering, File Number Unwanted, Dresden Musical Fates and Nazi Persecution of Jews 1933-1945.” Dr. Schindler mounted an exhibition in Dresden on Chitz, which led to his family’s discovery of her work through the internet. Since then, many members of the Sheets family have travelled to Dresden to understand his history and extraordinary accomplishments.

Please join Ms. Sheets next Friday at 7 p.m. in the library’s community room as she shares the fascinating family story and sheds light on an extraordinary and once-forgotten musical talent. Reservations are appreciated and donations are always welcome.

Next up: Local actress Jennifer Maxson will perform a staged reading of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” on Friday, Dec. 20, at 7 p.m.

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