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German experiences of an organist

By George Tootell

George Tootell organist
It was with some feeling of trepidation that I arrived in Nuremberg in September, 1927, to make my first public appearance in Germany as a Theatre Organist. Though nine years had passed since the first world war, in some memories that is not a long time, and I could not help wondering how an English artist would be received by our ex-enemies.
I soon discovered , however, that it was my fortune to make my debut in that part of Germany of which the people are the most social and warm hearted. Bavaria corresponds to Lancashire.
I had arrived one week previous to the date for opening the
Phebus Palast Phebus Palast
2 Manual 6 Ranks
opened on 7th October 1927
, the new and large Kinema, seating 2,000 people, built just outside the old town Wall; and I spent my time in exploring that delightful old town.
After much careful preparation, including four rehearsals of an orchestra of fifty-seven, not one of which lasted less than four hours (the final one for over eight hours), the opening performance took place on October 8th to a packed house.
As for me, since I was in what was colloquially known as the "Wagner / List country," I arranged an elaborate Fantasia on works of those composers; at the conclusion of which such an uproar occurred that at first I feared I had given offence, and was, for the first time in my musical life, frightened by an audience.
However, I soon realised that all was well and that they were my friends. After three encores order was finally restored. But from that evening, when it was realised that I could give them the kind of music they liked, I was treated like a prince and received nothing but kindness from the Nuremberg people.
After the performance a huge banquet and dance was held in a nearby hotel, where I mer all the Directors, amongst them one whim I will call "Zep" as he had been one of the crew of a Zeppelin which had dropped bombs on England. He introduced me to his wife, a charming lady of whom more anon. The party was still in full swing when I left at 4 a.m.
In my first week at the Phoebus Palast I was faced with my first serious problem, when I had to play for the News Reel in which President Hindenburg was shown, what should I play? Obviously the German National Anthem. What wa it? (Germany was then a republic.)
I asked several and nobody knew! Now the true National Anthem of the Kaiser days was identical to our own "God Save the King" and if I played that trouble might easily follow. So I took a long chance and played "Deutschland ùber alles" for the old boy, and an incredible scene of enthusiasm followed; one paper, reporting the performance, said, "the people were madly stamping, clapping and shouting, but whether this was for Hindenburg or for the Englishman who had the courage to play "Deutschland ùber alles" we are not prepared to say"!
Shortly after this the management decided to try the idea of a Sunday matinee concert, "matinee" being the right word, as it started at 11 a.m. I had the performance to myself, and the kinema was packed to the doors. The program was of "classical" type, but included a selection of "Gilbert & Sullivan" ("The Mikado" was extremely popular in Germany, and I later saw a fine performance of it in the Opera House at Wurtzburg.)
At the conclusion of my program an extraordinary thing happened; the audience crowded round the Wurlitzer and "begged for more." I rashly suggested "requests" and sat there for a full hour playing one request after another. At about 1.30, I turned to the people and said that I was tired and wanted my lunch and suggested we left the rest for another time; at which a huge laugh went up and all departed happy and contented.
As I had taken no music with me to Germany, it was fortunate that I was blessed with a good memory. This concert was followed by three more, at which I had with me such artists as
Violetta de Strozzi
Violetta de Strozzi
1896 - 1981
Croatian soprano
Herbert Janssen Herbert Janssen
Herbert Janssen
22 Sep 1892 – 3 Jun 1965
German operatic baritone
, Elsa Brandstatter and Alexandra Laszlo. After one of these concerts a critic wrote of my interpretation of the third act of "The Mastersingers" : "There were moments when, if one closed one's eyes, it was impossible to tell whether an organ or an orchestra was playing."
I had gone to Nuremberg for for a months engagement, but I was there for 3½ and was really sorry to leave in January, 1928,after making twenty-four records for the Homophone Company of Berlin, in four days.
In the spring of 1928 I was back in Germany, in Berlin this time, where, as I was likely to remain for a few months, I rented a most handsomely furnished flat in the Friedrichstrasse for £10 a month, with the maid thrown in. (I had taken my wife with me.) This flat had belonged to a Jewish millonaire who was ruined in the financial catastrophe following the inflation of the mark. He committed suicide, and his wife, in trying to emulate his example by throwing herselfe from an upper window, only succeeded in crippling herself for life.
After appearing in a small
Ufa-Theater Friedrichstrasse
Originally opened by G. Tootell
Christie 2 Manual organ
in the same street as my flat, I opened the large organ at the
Clou Concert Hall
Clou Concert Hall
During the war the Gestapo used the building for torture and interrogations
This place had formerly been a large covered market which was skilfully converted into a concert and dance hall with four dance floors. Once I had the unique experience of playing to dancing and keeping four floors of dancers busy simultaneously.
The opening was an imposing affair with two State Opera singers, myself, and an orchestra of fifty. The hall held 4,000 people and it was full. Afterwards were the usual "refreshments" indispensible at all these affairs in Germany, and here again I met Director "Zep" who once more introduced me to his wife, but she was not the same lady. Rather mysterious.
I played in Berlin for five months. After I left a strange thing happened; the heavy and massive organ console was bodily removed from the building one night, without two watchmen, who, with two police dogs patrolled the building, being aware of it!
Amongst the friends I made in Berlin was Freiherr von Webber, great grandson of the famous composer, which seemed to bring past history nearer to the present; but not so near as the sprightly old boy of 90 whom I met in Nuremberg whose father was a friend of Beethoven.
Frrom Berlin I proceeded to to Bratislava (Czecho-Slovakia), on my way calling at Nuremburg for a few days and to give a "guest" performance. While there I went, one day, to Munich on a matter of business, and, it being a very hot day, called in a beer-house for a large "large light beer," which usually implied a tall glass containing rather less than a pint.
Now I should mention that the Germans were fond of a practical joke (usually of a broad nature) which might disconcert the unwary.
So imagine my amazement when, in the Munich beer-cellar, the water brought me a large glass salad bowl filled with the beer. While contemplating this extraordinary sight and wondering if it was one of those jokes, the waiter leaned over me and said in an awed whisper, "Adolf Hitler." I wondered if this alluded to the beer, for the name meant nothing to me except as being that of a cafe in Nurenberg.
However, my gaze following the nod of his head, I perceiced, sitting two tables from me, the figure with the wind swept coiffure which afterwards became notorious, and sitting with him four men, one of which I recognised as Roehm, who had signed my visa on my first entry into Nurenberg (and who later perished in a "purge", and another I afterwards remembered as Hess.
I experienced no thrill (as obviously the waiter did), but on my return to Nurenberg that night I asked the theatre manager who this Hitler was, and told him of the incident. "Oh," said he, " he's only an agitator - a wind-bag"! I have often wondered what happened to that manager after Hitler became a star!
Times up. Much more could be related, humorous and otherwise, such as what happened in the inn at Bamberg - what it cost to knock a policeman's hat off - how Laszlo and I played Honegger's "Pacific 231" as an organ and piano duet; but these things, with my experiences in Bratislave, Vienna and COlogne must wait for another occasion. I will only add that in Cologne I once more met Director "Zepp" who, without batting an eyelid, and giving me a straight look through his eyeglass, introduced to me yet another lady as his wife. I must admit that, at least, he had showed taste of a high order.