6) Johannesburg, the JSO, other orchestras and the Youth Concerto Festival (Sound clip to Trauneck's only composition)

Trauneck's estimate 'I have to thank Hitler for Africa' was undoubtedly correct. South Africa was definitely not his destination of choice. In Johannesburg he was cut off from all his friends and colleagues and, most importantly, far away from the European classical music scene. Nonetheless, for 21 years - from 1934 to 1955 - this city became his second home. Trauneck never stopped complaining about the enormous cultural differences between the two continents. Even after working as a musician in Johannesburg for fifteen years, he disparaged its low level of musical culture: 'I spend many hours copying music and looking for players, it is like living from hand to mouth. You cannot imagine how far back we are here and still getting off the ground...'1 At the same time he also found positive things to say about his new home country. In his first letter to Schoenberg from Johannesburg, he concluded:

'I have developed a warm love for this country. Jo'burg is, by the way, the city with the biggest percentage of Jewish people (20%), among them many young and well-educated people, this is also making life easy for us. I readily acknowledge that you do tend to be a bit backward here, but Mozart and all the guardian angels will forgive me that I'm not composing anymore. I do everything I can to make you popular here - and you do need that. There is a bit of Dutch culture in Cape Town and in Durban, which is a bit younger, you find English culture, and those two cities have the only municipal orchestras in the country. They are small (28-31 players) and on the same level as one of our small provincial orchestras, only that these people know very little about musical style, they play everything as if it is Jazz and only play English music well. Mozart is for them like something from another planet. In Jo'burg there is no municipal orchestra because 'the man' (the 'town organist') judged the situation correctly - he was not powerful enough to have an orchestra independent of him for any length of time, he prefers to convince the city council to contract him from one performance to the next and to assemble an orchestra to give some free concerts. The biggest cinema here has an orchestra which plays a Sunday night concert (reinforced up to 50 players). I conducted such a concert in June, thereafter they took notice of me.'2

What was the Johannesburg classical music scene like after Trauneck's arrival at the beginning of 1934? The only professional orchestra was the Johannesburg Symphony Orchestra, founded in 1909. It superseded in 1930 by the Civic Orchestra under the direction of John Connell. 
The invention of sound films and the world economic crisis in 1932 had led to widespread unemployment of musicians in South Africa. At the same time, new theatres and cinemas were erected everywhere, such as the Colosseum Theatre in Johannesburg's Commissioner Street, built in October 1933. It soon became the flagship of South African theatres, but was also used as a cinema and for concerts, with a fully equipped stage and 2279 seats. Two years earlier the Plaza Theatre in Rissik Street, which incorporated a theatre organ, had opened its doors.3 In use for a long time as concert venues were the Standard Theatre in Joubert Street (built in 1891, demolished in 1949), the concert hall at the Wanderers' Sports Club with about 1000 seats, and the Jewish Guild Hall.4

Like Trauneck, other Jewish or anti-fascist musicians emigrated in 1934 or later from Europe to Johannesburg and soon formed close artistic relationships with him. These included the founder of the South African Society for Contemporary Music, José Rodriguez-Lopez together with his wife, the contralto Anny Lambrechts, and the pianist and composer Heinz Hirschland, who had been a student of Franz Schreker in Berlin. Solomon Aronowsky, who became leader of the SA Broadcasting Corporation orchestra, joined Trauneck and played for his Johannesburg Symphony Orchestra between 1943 and 1944. Two years later, Aronowsky founded the Jewish Guild Orchestra.5

Trauneck's close friend and fellow Schoenberg pupil, Viktor Ullmann, was altogether less fortunate. In 1938, Ullmann sent several letters from Prague in which he asked Trauneck to help him with his emigration to South Africa. Trauneck, however, strongly advised him to stay in Prague as it seemed by far the safest place for him. He explained that South Africa had changed its immigration laws and that it was now impossible for Jews to get into South Africa.6 A few months later Czechoslovakia was occupied by the Germans and Ullmann was deported to the Theresienstadt ghetto in September 1942. He perished in the gas chambers of Auschwitz on 18 October 1944.

The fact that Jewish musicians were persecuted in Germany after Hitler's accession to power in 1933 ultimately served to increase the cultural activities in South Africa: many European artists emigrated to or gave guest concerts in the peaceful and relatively prosperous South Africa. Just one month after his arrival in Johannesburg Trauneck conducted his first concert. As shown in the letter to Schoenberg quoted at the beginning of this article,7 John Connell negotiated with the city council of Johannesburg over the necessity for a permanent professional orchestra, called the African Broadcasting Company (ABC) Symphony Orchestra. In September 1933, Connell started a subscription series of ten weekly symphony concerts. He also regularly invited guest conductors and assembled players and ensembles for his symphony series. Trauneck's first appearance as guest conductor of the ABC Orchestra was on 3 June 1934 at the Colosseum.8

A listener described the première by the newcomer Trauneck as 'listening to an augmented orchestra under the baton of a first-class conductor'.9 A few months later Trauneck founded the Johannesburg Symphony Society for the purpose of 'establishing a permanent orchestra capable of giving regular auditions of symphonic music.' It consisted at the outset of 60 foundation members who paid £5 each for a series of five concerts.10 The inaugural concert of the Johannesburg Symphony Orchestra (JSO) took place on 30 September 1934 at the Wanderers' Hall, and consisted of Mozart's Symphony No. 39, a Haydn cello concerto (most probably the one in D Major as the C Major one was not rediscovered yet) with the Russian soloist Mischel Cherniavsky, and Beethoven's Egmont Overture. Trauneck and his new orchestra (at this time half of the 46 players were professional) were celebrated as 'one of the most enjoyable musical experiences in the Golden City during a decade.'11 The following year, on 16 July 1935, Trauneck appeared again as a guest conductor for the ABC Symphony orchestra in the Jewish Guild Hall with an unusually challenging programme: Wagner's Flying Dutchman Overture, the Siegfried Idyll, and Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6. 'Mr. Trauneck's great virtue at its best, lies in firm delicacy of outline and subtlety of true musical inte rpretation.'12 
There is evidence that Trauneck had bigger plans to cultivate musical life in Johannesburg than just being conductor of a semi-professional orchestra. The Star reported on 17 August 1935:

'Johannesburg may shortly become acquainted with 'Chamber Opera' if the plans of Mr Trauneck, the conductor of the Johannesburg Symphony Society, come to fruition. . . . He intends to open a studio for training singers in all branches of operatic work, and expects to find enough vocalists to cast for the miniature works which are styled chamber operas on the Continent.'13

The principal clarinet player of the JSO, Jan Gaarkeuken, an immigrant from the Netherlands, recalled a choral-operatic concert:

'With Trauneck as conductor, I still vividly remember a performance of Mendelssohn's Lobgesang with choir. At the same concert we also performed the opera Cavalleria Rusticana with soloists and choir in the first half.'14

Trauneck demonstrated amazing energy in starting new musical projects. He was on the committee of the Contemporary Music Society formed by his friend and colleague José Rodriguez-Lopez.15 The latter was the representative of the Commission for the International Exchange of Music. Lopez' wife, the Dutch-born contralto Anny Lambrechts, presented a private concert on 7 April 1936, with Trauneck at the piano, They gave the South African premiere of several works, including arias by the Cuban composer and pianist Joaquín Nin, Stravinsky's Five Easy Pieces for Piano and Janáček's Nursery Rhymes. The same year Trauneck also became a regular conductor for three amateur orchestras, the West Rand Orchestra in Krugersdorp, the Germiston Orchestra, and the ISCOR Orchestra in Pretoria.16

Council turned down a further appeal for financial aid by the JSO chairman in 1939. Jeremy Schulman then decided to form a combined orchestra, using musicians from the JSO and the SABC Orchestras plus an Orchestra from African Consolidated Theatres for an annual 'Music Fortnight'. Trauneck participated in several of these concerts, for example, on 3 March and 7 April 1940 in the Colosseum Theatre, where he conducted Beethoven's Symphony No. 5.

In the decade after the foundation of the JSO in 1934, Trauneck presented to the Johannes burg audience a range of mainstream symphonic repertoire, mainly from German composers:

Mozart: Symphonies Nos. 38 (Prague), 40 (G minor), and 41 (Jupiter) 
Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 
Schubert: Symphonies Nos. 8 (Unfinished) and 9 (C major) 
Mendelssohn: Symphonies Nos. 3 (Scottish) and 5 (Italian) 
Schumann: Symphonies Nos. 1 (Spring) and 4 
Brahms: Symphonies Nos. 1-4 
Bruckner: Symphonies Nos. 4 and 7 
Dvořák: Symphony No. 9 (From the New World) 
Tchaikovsky: Symphonies Nos. 5 and 6

During the five years of the Second World War he performed 42 concerts, among them many fund-raising concerts for victims of the war and, after the worldwide awareness of the holocaust, in support of Jewish settlements in Palestine.17

When in 1946, the new City Orchestra was formed and Jeremy Schulman became its principal conductor, Trauneck directed the efforts of the JSO towards support of young performers and underprivileged audiences.

The Johannesburg Symphony Orchestra will carry out part of the duties these institutions will have to undertake, such as to arrange concerts for the Non-Europeans, play for young artists in 'concerto programmes', co-operate with choral bodies for the more frequent performance of oratorio, perform new or little-known works, and, of course, it will continue to assist at the many calls still to come from charities and war funds.18

All those plans were brought to fruition. In 1945, Trauneck had organized a children's concert and teamed up with John Connell's Children's Theatre.

Trauneck did not return to Europe, at least not yet. In 1948 he was busy initiating a Youth Concerto Festival in which young soloists had the opportunity to perform with the JSO orchestra in a non-competitive atmosphere. Trauneck advertised in The Star on 24 May 1948 and the first concert with the piano soloist Philip Levy and Trauneck as conductor was held on 16 June 1948 in the Great Hall of the University of the Witwatersrand. Today the JSO under its conductor Pienaar Fourie still organizes two Concerto Festivals for Young Artists each year, one for Juniors (13 years and under) in June and one for Seniors (14 to 21 years of age) in November.

Schoenberg's impact on Trauneck was still bearing fruit in South Africa when in 1952 he formed an Arts Chamber Orchestra, drawing on students of the University of Witwatersrand. The Star reported on their inaugural concert on 13 August 1952:

South African Musical history was made on Monday night, when, as the opening event of the Fourth Arts Festival, a chamber orchestra Symphony concert was presented for the first time in this country. The highlight of this concert was doubtless the performance of Schoenberg's Chamber Symphony. Also on the programme were Martinů˚'s 'Sinfonia Concertante' and Bartók's 'Seven Romanian Folk Dances'. Trauneck performed the Chamber Symphony twice, repeating it in the second half of the concert. Joseph Trauneck's sympathetic and intelligent conducting deserves warmest praise.19

While the situation for people in Johannesburg's townships worsened and boycotts against 'native' schools took place, Trauneck undertook a tour in 1954 to Israel, Italy, Switzerland, France, and East Germany. In retrospect, the reason is obvious: he was looking for employment outside of apartheid South Africa. 'In Israel he presented works of South African composers, including Peter Rorke, Ernest Slaney and himself.'20 This is a surprising report, as Trauneck had not composed since he left the Schoenberg Seminar. The article refers to the only known composition by Trauneck, a tone-poem called Thabazimbi. Lisbeth later confirmed that the composition was a commissioned work and it seems most likely that the source of the commission was ISCOR, the South African Iron & Steel Corporation.

The ISCOR Orchestra had been established in 1934 and Trauneck and the Pretoria-based composer Peter Rorke were two of its regular conductors. The Sesotho word 'Thabazimbi' means 'mountain of iron' and was the name given to the ore-mining town that is surrounded by the Kransberg Mountains. The Thabazimbi mine was built by Iskor in 1931 to supply iron ore for ISCOR'S furnaces in Pretoria West.79 
Trauneck's post-romantic tonal tone-poem is only seven and one-half minutes long and scored for a modestly sized orchestra: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 A-clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 french horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, harp, timpani, strings, and percussion. Although the composition is tonally closer to Zemlinsky or Richard Strauss than to Schoenberg, the density of the thematic material used within one movement, the size of the orchestra and the unusually short format used for a tone-poem was clearly a result of Schoeberg's teach¬ing. This highly concentrated work begins from a low-pitched murmur featuring the harp and timpani, and moves through a rising modal scale-figure passed between strings and woodwind. The steady chordal statements that follow soon rise to a pounding climax crowned by a dotted motif on trumpets. Here, the brass produce sounds whose hardness suits the inevitable suggestion of the title - mining the iron. But lyricism (strings and woodwind) quickly intervenes in a counterpoint woven from chromatic lines. Varied forms of the rising scale combine to drive the music to a second peak, dominated by clangorous percussion. A final Largo gives full play to an extended oboe theme, molto espressivo, over a procession of subdued string chords. This calm atmosphere seems to lift the listener from the subterranean labour to the daylight of the highveld landscape.

When Trauneck returned to South Africa, he found a worsened political situation. In 1955 the apartheid government implemented the notorious Group Areas Act. The black and coloured populations living close to white suburbs were forcibly removed and relocated mostly in areas far away from cities, with no infrastructure. This spelled the end of the lively and cosmopolitan Sophiatown. All its 65,000 residents were forcibly resettled in Meadowlands in Soweto, far from the city of Johannesburg. All the structures in Sophiatown were demolished except the St Joseph Children's Home, built on land belonging to a white farmer, and the Church of Christ, whose bell-tower was designed by a famous colonial architect, Sir Herbert Baker. A whites-only community with the cynical name 'Triomf' took its place. It was only in 2006 that this name was changed back to the original Sophiatown, today only a few of the ex-residents have returned.

In July 1955, Trauneck informed the JSO that for business reasons he was planning an extensive tour in Europe that would last several months. The JSO agreed to continue paying Trauneck his salary during his absence. He left in December 1955 and was expected back in August the following year. After a long period of silence, the JSO violinist Gilberto Bonnegio received a private letter from Trauneck in July 1956, saying that he would not be returning. Trauneck never submitted official notice of his resignation to the orchestra and on 15 August the JSO informed him by letter that the orchestra took cognisance of his permanent absence. Trauneck's unannounced departure plunged the JSO into crisis: the orchestra was without a permanent conductor until May 1957.


  1. Letter from Trauneck to Görgie Schoenberg (the composer's son from his first marriage), 9 October 1949, from Johannesburg. (ISG) Ich bringe viele stunden damit zu um noten zu schreiben und spieler zu suchen es ist so ein von der hand in den mund leben. Wie weit wir hier noch zurueck sind und in den anfaengen stecken davon kannst du dir ja gar keinen begriff machen.'
  2. Letter from Trauneck to Schoenberg, 8 April 1935 (ISG) : 'Dabei habe ich eine herzliche Liebe zu diesem Land gefasst. Jo'burg ist übrigens vielleicht die Stadt mit dem grössten Prozentsatz Juden (20%) darunter sehr viele nette junge und gebildete Menschen, dies auch wieder macht uns das Leben hier leicht. . . . Ich gebe gerne zu, dass man ein wenig zu verbauern geneigt ist, aber Mozart und alle guten Geister werden es mir schon vergeben dass ich nicht komponiere! Ich tue dafür was ich kann um sie hier populär zu machen - und das haben sie wirklich nötig. . . . Es gibt in Kapstadt ein wenig holländische Kultur und in Durban, das etwas jünger ist englische Kultur, und diese beiden Städte haben auch die zwei städt. Orchester die es hier gibt. Diese sind klein (28-31 Mann) und so gut wie unsere kleinen Provinz Orchester bloss dass die Leute sehr wenig Ahnung vom Stil haben, sie spielen alles a la Jazz und gut eigentlich nur englische Musik. Mozart ist für sie ein spanisches Dorf. In Jo'burg gibt es kein städt. Orchester weil ‚der Mann' (der ‚Town Organist') sicher in richtiger Erkenntnis dass er einem von ihm unabhängigen Orchester nicht lange imponieren könnte, es vorzieht die Stadt zu überreden, dass man ihn fallweise beauftragt ein Orchester zusammenzustellen und ein paar Freikonzerte damit zu geben. Das grösste Kino hier besitzt dann noch ein orchestra mit dem es Sunday night concert (auf 50 verstärkt) gibt. Ein solches habe ich im Juni dirigiert worauf man auf mich aufmerksam wurde.' (ISG) Correspondence Inventory Database.
  3. Both venues were used as cinemas but do not exist today. The Colosseum Theatre was demolished in 1980. See:www.andreas.praefeke.de/carhtalia/world/za_johannesburg_colosseum.htm
  4. The first Wanderers' Hall, established in 1889 next to Joubert Park in the city centre, was demolished in 1947, and a new one was built in Kent Park in Rosebank. Trauneck performed only in the older venue. See: Thelma Gutsche, Old Gold: The History of the Wanderers Club, Cape Town: Howard Timmins, 1966, p. 24-25.
  5. For more detailed information, see South African Music Encyclopedia, edited by J. P. Malan, Cape Town, Oxford University Press, 1979-1986.
  6. Letter from Trauneck to Ullmann, 28 September 1938 (ISG)
  7. Letter from Trauneck to Schoenberg, 8 April 1935. (ISG)
  8. The programme was Weber's Euryanthe Overture, Beethoven's Symphony No. 2, and Bizet's Carmen Suite, with violinist Bram Verhoef and tenor Arnoldo Luzi from Milan. (Csipak collection).
  9. Letter from 'Percussion' to the editor, Rand Daily Mail, n.d. (Csipak collection).
  10. Membership form, Johannesburg Symphony Society (Csipak collection).
  11. Programme of the Symphonic concert on 30 September 1934 (Csipak collection).
  12. Review of the concert (Csipak collection, document no. 64), Unlabelled clipping.
  13. 'Chamber Opera for the Rand', The Star, 17 August, 1935, unpaginated clipping (Csipak collection)
  14. C.V.J.W. Gaarkeuken, document of 20th October 1991, JSO archive, in the private possession of Mr Pienaar Fourie, the present conductor of the JSO (hereafter 'Fourie archive').
  15. Rodriguez-Lopez, born in 1904 in Amsterdam, studied piano with Fanny Gelbert, and emigrated to Johannesburg in 1933 with his wife, Anny Lambrechts. He became a prominent accompanist in South Africa.
  16. J. P. Malan, 'Music in Johannesburg', South African Music Encyclopedia, vol. 1, edited by J. P. Malan, Cape Town, Oxford University Press, 1979, p. 26.
  17. Concert programmes, Csipak collection.
  18. JSO programme Ten Years of Musical Progress (1946) (Csipak collection).
  19. 'Arts Festival Chamber Orchestra', The Star, 13 August 1952, p. 21.
  20. Article in Kuns en Vermaak, 12 November 1954. In collection of press clippings provided by the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, unlabelled clipping