Dealing with (Guy) Deutscher.
Dealing with (Guy) Deutscher
In my life as a musician I have encountered countless different personalities. I met fascinating human beings who I have had the luck to have had as teachers and mentors, and for whose support I will always be thankful. But I have also dealt with various levels of delusion, obsessiveness and fanaticism. Some people in this business are weird – some in a good, some in a bad way.
But let me tell you: Guy Deutscher belongs to neither category. He can easily hold his own as being “somebody special”.
Let me tell you my story with him.
Let it be a warning, a cautionary tale if you will.
“It seems you don’t enjoy tolerance. You might have a little a problem with tolerance?“ Guy Deutscher
Guy Deutscher is no musician, he is the father of a girl called Alma Deutscher. Alma Deutscher – who is not the subject of this article, as she is definitely not to be faulted for the actions of her father – has had some success as a prodigy composer of classical music. Recently she was awarded a prize in Austria, and to the surprise of the organizers she used the occasion of a short interview on stage to suddenly make a seemingly well-rehearsed statement that describes how she felt pressured by the classical music establishment to write “ugly” music, but that in her opinion music should have the right to be beautiful and that it would be better for the world, if everybody wrote “beautiful” music. The full text of her statement can be found here.
I was not the only one who smiled at her seemingly earnest “revelation” that there was something like an evil music police who forces innocent young teen composers to compose in an “atonal” style, but there might have been more naïve members of the audience who actually believed her, and that seemed worrying to me.
As I am a composer who likes to use melody and tonality but who also likes to use all other possibilities of music, regardless of how radical and experimental they are, I felt that Alma’s statement should be scrutinized a little more. Had I ever been “rejected” by the music establishment, because of my sometime use of tonality and melody? I had indeed been criticized in some reviews by some hardliner critics with an old-fashioned modernist view. But the same pieces also got good reviews by other critics, and everybody’s a critic anyway. Had it harmed my career? No. I have been called “traditionalist” by Avantgarde colleagues, but I have also been called “too Avantgarde” by more traditional colleagues. Did anybody ever force me to write music that I did not really want to write? Certainly not, and I have also studied in England, where Alma grew up. In my studies at the Guildhall my esteemed fellow composition students had no problems writing “beautiful” as well as experimental music, and nobody ever criticized them for it. There was always a discussion of quality of course, but that is necessary in any kind of education, and is something essential to any academic study: to get advice, constructive criticism and new perspectives.
So why was Alma (or the person who wrote her statement, it is not entirely clear she wrote it herself) so adamant in her claim that she was told by ominous forces to “forget melodies” or “concentrate on dissonance”? Who was actually preventing her writing the music she wants and that she is actually pretty successful with?
So I wrote this article (in German), in which I pondered this question a little. An article not about Alma Deutscher and her music, but simply about the question if there is something like an “anti-tonality” law still in existence and if it is relevant to the current young generation of composers.
It is common that I discuss topics like this in my blog, and it is also common that I get comments either agreeing or disagreeing with my point of view. But I was little prepared for the angry email (in German) from Alma’s father, Guy Deutscher, who apparently felt it to be compulsory to attack me personally for my article.
To my utter surprise his letter was not at all about what I had written about. Instead it was an attempt to make me look like some kind of Nazi. In his opinion I was “intolerant” towards his daughter and family, had “mocked” her name and should be ashamed for the crimes that my nation had committed against his family. He also wrote that my hand should “tremble”, because I did all this as a professor in the “Fuehrerbau”, which was probably still reeking from all the evil committed there. He was also angry that I (in his view) had called his daughter “arch-reactionary”.
I admit I was completely flabbergasted. I read my article again. Had I “insulted” Alma? I had not even thought about her being Jewish at all, and the article was not about her Jewish heritage in the least. Why was Guy Deutscher bringing this up? There was also not a single instance of me calling her “arch-reactionary”, I had only expressed that there is something like a reactionary trend in some of contemporary music (I was thinking of the bland harmlessness of some Neoclassical or conservative composers, who pretend that the last 150 years of music history haven’t happened). And I had indeed expressed my opinion that Alma’s statement could be “hijacked” by extreme traditionalists. But that was all. I also had not written anything about her name except that it showed she comes from an educated background, which is hardly an insult and certainly not “mockery”.
Even more puzzling was Deutscher’s demand that I publish his weird and frankly embarrassing (for him) mail, threatening me with the ominous prospect to publish it “somewhere else” if I didn’t.
After some consideration I decided to fulfill his wish, but to ignore all the strange angry narratives he created about me completely. If something is so obviously a misunderstanding of my original essay, I thought it would be more polite to not make that misunderstanding even more obvious by acknowledging it too much. Instead I wrote an article as an open answer to his letter, in which I tried to explain my point again calmly, expressing my greatest respect for the talent of his daughter, coupled with some thoughts about the necessity of freedom in music, the possible downsides of being marked as a “prodigy” too early on and how I wished that his daughter would retain her curiosity towards all kinds of musical expression and become an independent and interesting artist.
I went to great lengths to make this article as polite and respectful as possible, to show Guy Deutscher that I would be the last person on this planet to “demand” any kind of musical style from his daughter, and that I would be very happy if she followed her own intuition with her music and become even more successful with it. I also expressed my feeling that it felt strange to converse with the father about his daughter instead of speaking directly to Alma, as I could already tell from Deutscher’s first mail that he seemed quite obsessed with speaking in her name instead of letting her speak herself. My answer and his letter can be found in full length (and in German) here:
“There were others in Munich who had a small problem with tolerance. Your predecessors in the Fuehrerbau also found tolerance outdated and reactionary, and they were never tired to proclaim this.” (Guy Deutscher)
Was the statement at the Vienna prize ceremony really Alma’s own? Or had it been written by her father? I spoke with a colleague involved in the award, and he told me that there had been indeed a quite difficult communication with Guy Deutscher before the award ceremony. Guy Deutscher was extremely protective, always accompanied Alma to interviews and seemed to act as her manager and personal bodyguard. The organizers were also quite unhappy with the unannounced statement of Alma that had not been discussed before and seemed to be a bit “guerilla” style, unnecessary in an event that actually awarded her with a prize for exactly the music she claimed to be stigmatized for. With this information some sentences of Guy Deutscher’s words in his first letter felt even more like they were uttered by some kind of Mafioso who suddenly takes your arm in the street and utters “you have a problem with tolerance, eh?” before taking you to a dark corner to beat you up.
The whole Nazi angle brought up by Deutscher felt increasingly shabby the more I thought about it, a kind of extremely unfair preemptive killer argument to prevent any further discussion about Alma’s statement, which was actually my sole intention. But I thought I had laid the whole thing to rest by not letting myself be provoked by his aggression.
Boy was I wrong.
Only shortly after my article I received a new mail by Deutscher, this time in English. This was even more aggressive in tone. Suddenly I was accused of “verbal abuse” (where exactly had I “verbally abused” Alma?) and “name calling” (where exactly had I called Alma “names”?). Suddenly – in a weird table-turning moment – I was (in Deutscher’s word) the “reactionary” who tells poor Alma how she “must” compose, which she – of course – has to refuse (I had never asked her to compose in any way, instead I had explicitly encouraged her to find her own way and to stay curious).
“But Mr Eggert, even if you sit in the Fuehrerbau, you are not actually the “Führer”, nor are you Stalin. What gives you the right to tell others how they “must” compose? If I were you, I would watch my language a bit more carefully when I preach to the world.” (Guy Deutscher).
“What the f***?” is perhaps an understatement when describing what I thought while reading his angry and insulting prose. I felt like he talked to a completely different person, had read a completely different text than the one I had written. Why did he feel the need to compare me with “The Fuehrer”? Why was this brought up again and again? His letter and my attempt at another reasonably unexcited answer can be found at the end of this article.
Suddenly it dawned on me what may have happened. Someone with a not-so-firm grasp of German may have read my original blog post and alerted Deutscher of its content. Enraged he probably read over it in a very superfluous way, misunderstood it as an attack and immediately wrote to me. After my answer he probably realized that he misunderstood key parts of my text, but as a noted linguist found it perhaps too embarrassing to admit that in retrospect. Frankly it IS extremely embarrassing for a linguist to not know that the German word “muessen” does not directly translate to the English word “must” for example. At least I would be very embarrassed if I was a linguist.
Realizing that I guess the only way for him now was perhaps to follow the good old Donald-Trump-school of simply repeating the untruth in the hope that it becomes a truth at some point. That also explained his increasingly raging mails. He could not give in because it would mean admitting an error on his side. Or was it something else? I of course truly felt sorry for the tragic history of his family, and could respect that there was a certain touchiness on his side, but couldn’t that be worked out in a normal way, by having a sober and normal conversation about it, that could resolve any misunderstandings? I am sure we could have talked it over and come to some kind of friendly understanding, so that he would understand that I never even remotely wanted to insult Alma or her family’s history. Why would I want to do that? But he simply rejected all my attempts to converse in a normal way. A famous friend from the classical music world even tried to write to Deutscher in this context to calm him down (because of knowing him from a past meeting), but got an aggressive response from him as well. He is just stubborn, I thought, let’s forget about him and see how things calm down.
Sadly this is not the end of the story, otherwise one could let it rest somehow as the ramblings of somebody clearly obsessed with worries about the continuing success of his daughter slowly approaching less prodigy-marketable adulthood. Or with a really bad opinion of Germans.
Because a day later I suddenly got a mail from the Bayerische Akademie der Schoenen Kuenste (where I am a member) notifying me that a certain “Guy Deutscher” had complained about me and what I had to say about his accusations. A similar letter was sent to the Music University where I am teaching, and which Guy Deutscher had previously discredited as simply “the Fuehrerbau” instead of acknowledging it as an internationally recognized musical institution with countless famous alumni that it is today.
In an act that can only described as extremely embarassing my University, the Muenchener Musikhochschule, actually was so scared of Deutscher’s invented accusations that they EXCUSED themselves to him for my blog without actually really having read it at all.
My youtube accounts were also affected – suddenly I got countless hate comments on my videos, demanding for example that I should stop “insulting the girl”. I tried to enter a conversation with some of these visibly enraged and hateful commentators, and it became clear that they only had heard about me “insulting the girl” without really knowing how exactly and that they felt threatened by me wanting to “stop beautiful music”, something which I had neither expressed a wish for nor had ever demanded. I wonder who told them that. Is there a Pro-Deutscher league out there somehow, innocent poor people who can be willfully manipulated to believe any kind of bullshit Guy Deutscher tells them, I wondered?
Now Deutscher has announced that he will use the statement of my University to take “juristic action” against me. What is next? Will MOSSAD-agents kidnap me at my doorstep and torture me with waterboarding because I supposedly “insulted the girl”? Will Deutscher continue to harass not only me but anyone who says anything that he does not approve? He has already attacked my colleague Axel Brueggemann as well, so who is next?
And this is why I wrote this story down – for you, dear friends, colleagues, music critics, jury members. Let this tale be a warning to you.
Because I tell you this: if you encounter Alma Deutscher, don’t be a dunce like me. Accept everything she does without questioning it. She is a great kid. She is the greatest living composer, performer and basically the pinnacle of everything in the history of music, because she writes BEAUTIFUL music. Every other kind of music is crap. Everybody should write BEAUTIFUL music about princesses, because there are evil scheming and heckling gnomes out there who want to torture us all with their EVIL UGLY music. Alma Deutscher is the answer. We should all bow to the genius of Alma Deutscher, our life will be better for it. Thank you Alma, with your BEAUTIFUL name and BEAUTIFUL personality for bringing us the power of BEAUTIFUL music so that we may be healed of the ugliness and the errors and the wrong ways of contemporary music. Yes, countless Jewish composers had to flee Europe or get killed in concentration camps because they didn’t agree on the concept of how exactly music should be beautiful, they fought for the right to write music that actually goes forward instead of backward. But forget about them, they were wrong, because they’re music was really not… BEAUTIFUL.
Some of you may get the impression that Alma’s statements in her youtube videos seem a bit learned by memory, even robotic. YOU ARE WRONG AND YOU ARE A NAZI IF YOU THINK THAT! Rest assured, everything is normal, everything is under control. It is also certainly better that Alma is home-schooled, protected from evil outside influences who want to spoil her, that’s all. Her father watches over her ALL THE TIME. And he only wants GOOD THINGS.
In short: Alma Deutscher is the single best thing that has ever happened to mankind. And I mean this honestly, truthfully, and with full conviction. I am sorry that I gave you the impression that I doubted that even one moment. I am healed. I now see the TRUTH.
And now you can stop twisting my arm, Mr. Deutscher.
ADDENDUM: the last mail conversation with Deutscher
Mr Eggert, thank you for publishing my reply on your blog. You will, I am sure, do the same also with this second reply to your (astonishing) answer. I am writing this time in English, because you have managed to misunderstand my first message completely, as an invitation to discuss with you the future of music in general, or to be lectured by you on the music of my daughter in particular. What could have given you this impression? I can think of various explanations – none of them particularly flattering, so let’s just assume it was my inability to make myself clear in German. I’ll try again in English. Hopefully you will understand this time.
I know almost nothing about you. Until about a week ago, I wasn’t aware of your existence. So you will forgive me if I say that your personal views on the future of music or on the duties of an artist interest me about as much as the local elections in Liechtenstein.
Neither did I write to complain about criticism. I wrote on the subject of verbal abuse. I find it disturbing that you pretend not to understand the difference.
Many people have engaged with Alma’s music in the last few years, in blogs, in newspapers, in private – sometimes very critically. To engage critically is not just legitimate, it’s welcome. It’s an honour that other people find it worthwhile to engage with someone’s views and artistic creations, be it approvingly or in disagreement. If your blog had only criticized Alma’s statements or her music, I would never have written to you. I might not have heard about it or you.
But in (parts of) your blog, you did something very different. To denigrate anyone as ‘arch-reactionary’ just because you don’t agree with what she says is not criticism: it’s verbal abuse. ‘Name calling’ is the favourite weapon of the cheapest propagandist, it’s the weapon, as I tried to explain in German, of those who feel their factual arguments are too weak, so they need to ‘hit below the belt’. For a grown-up to use this type of verbal abuse against a 14-year old girl is already repulsive. For a German professor sitting in the Führerbau to add to that by denigrating this girl and mocking her Jewish name, is morally indecent. And the fact that you don’t even see fit to apologize for it is frankly beyond belief.
Your ‘reactionary’ outburst was not just a one-off ‘glitch’. A couple of weeks before you, your compatriot Axel Brüggemann used exactly the same denigrating epithet, just because he, also, did not like what Alma had said. What is it about some people in Germany, which makes them so easily abuse and denigrate even a child, just because she might not entirely agree with them? I think you should reflect a little bit, because your propagandistic abuse proves, more than anything Alma ever said herself, how intolerant you are.
And on a point of order: you repeatedly use the verb ‘must’ in your posts, in relation to what a composer ‘must do’. ‘Must’ is a verb that belongs to a totalitarian conception of art, not a tolerant and liberal one. The Führer used to tell composers how they ‘must’ compose. And Stalin even more frequently. But Mr Eggert, even if you sit in the Führerbau, you are not actually the Führer, nor are you Stalin. What gives you the right to tell others how they ‘must’ compose? If I were you, I would watch my language a bit more carefully when I preach to the world.
Finally Mr Eggert, I’m not so sure why you are so keen to discuss the future of music with my daughter – an arch-reactionary with a pompous Jewish name. She doesn’t actually share this keen urge to discuss the future of music with you. But if it’s so important to you, you are of course welcome to take a train to Vienna, and she will find an afternoon to meet you. Would you like her to start the conversation by apologising for her name? That will be a nice way to break the ice…
However, you might find the discussion a little bit frustrating, because from what I can judge, your conception of music and hers have precious little in common. The sort of music she enjoys writing you find ‘uninteresting’. The sort of music you call ‘interesting’ she calls ‘noise’. She doesn’t have the remotest interest in the academic history of music, which seems to be the cornerstone of your musical identity. For her, music is a living and breathing thing, something that comes out of the heart and not out of a history book. She doesn’t care if a piece of music was written 5 minutes ago or 500 years ago. Either it’s beautiful and moving or it isn’t – that’s the only thing that matters to her.
But above all, the difference between you and Alma is this: she doesn’t feel the urge to lecture anyone else on how they should or should not compose (let alone ‘must’ compose). She is happy for others to compose and express themselves just as they like, even if they write music that she personally isn’t interested by at the moment. On the other hand, ever since she was 7, she has been repeatedly told, partly in public and even more in private, that it is wrong, worrying, practically a crime to compose the way she does. So your hollow and disingenuous claim ‘we are already tolerant!’ caused a lot of merriment here. Alma did not speak about Darmstadt. She spoke, as a 14-year-old child would, only about her own personal experiences in the last years. And she wished for herself and for others the freedom, which she has had to fight so hard for, to create music that she actually enjoys (and as it happens, millions of others too), rather than having to write the ideological music that people like you find ‘interesting’.
Anyway, congratulations on your sense of humour and the invitation for Alma to study with you in the Führerbau. Of course I’ll pass on your invitation. If you have written any music that you believe Alma could learn something from, you are welcome to send it to me, and she will certainly look at it.
Und nur noch einen Satz auf Deutsch. Sie sagen, Sie sind sehr tolerant. Sie sagen, Sie tolerieren gern jeden hässlichen Klang. Letzteres glaube ich Ihnen sehr wohl. (Ich habe mir Meisterwerke wie dieses jetzt angehört). Wenn ich Ihnen aber einen Rat geben dürfte: vielleicht sparen Sie doch lieber ein bisschen Toleranz bei den hässlichen Klängen, damit etwas übrig bleibt – für die Andersdenkende.
Mit freundlichen Grüßen,
Dear Guy Deutscher,
The hosts of my Blog (The Neue Musikzeitung) and me have mutually decided that we would rather not publish your reply because it is our strong impression that the discussion would not be very fruitful right now. I have already made my point, and it was formulated towards you in a polite and respectful manner, whereas both your mails are full of wrong accusations, attempts to either insult or provoke me and assumptions and crass misinterpretations of both my texts. I want to protect you from possible embarrassment, because these misinterpretations are obvious for any German reader.
For example you make a big point about me allegedly insulting or mocking Alma`s name. This is not even remotely true.
This is in fact what I have written, one single sentence containing neither an insult, nor a reference to her being Jewish nor anything else:
„Alma Deutscher (man kann sich die bildungsbürgerlichen Eltern allein schon anhand ihres Namens sehr gut vorstellen) stößt in eben dieses Horn, ohne es wahrscheinlich besser zu wissen.“
This translates exactly to: „Alma Deutscher (one can imagine well that her parents are from an educated class because of her name) is repeating this message, perhaps because she doesn’t know better”.
“Bildungsbürger” is in no way a derogatory term, it can only be perceived as insulting if you find it embarrassing to be educated. If you would call me „Bildungsbürger“ I would not be insulted the least. My son – for example – is called Milo, which is a name from Cicero`s times. My daughter is called Siri – not after an iphone program but after Siri Hustvedt, the writer. Both names clearly show that the kids come from a home in which education plays a role, this is something I would never deny. I would probably not call my kids “Kevin” or “Chantal”, which are typical names for households in which education does not play a role in Germany.
I have also never even once written that Alma or her music are “arch reactionary”.
This is in fact the sentence:
„Es ist an der Zeit, dass sich die Gegner neuer Musik von dem Mythos der „Zwangsatonalität“ verabschieden. Und dass sie vielleicht einfach zugeben, was wirklich hinter ihrer Argumentation gegen alles Neue und Andere steckt: eine handfest erzreaktionäre Haltung, die sich der Phantasie und der Freiheit in den Weg stellt. Und diese Haltung will jemanden wie Alma Deutscher gerne instrumentalisieren.“
„It is time that the enemies of new music (not Alma, sic!) say goodbye to the myth of “forced atonality”. And that they confess what really is behind their fear against anything new and different: an arch-rectionary stance that is opposed to freedom and imagination. And this group would love to instrumentalize somebody like Alma Deutscher”
I have made a point here to differentiate between Alma and the “arch-reactionary” movement, that indeed does exist in contemporary music and for which I fear Alma could be instrumentalized. I have NOT said that Alma is arch-reactionary, and this is clear for everybody to see.
I am sensitive to any argumentation that says that music should be like this or that. You talked a lot about concentration camps – I hope you are aware of the many great and immensely talented composers (many of them Jewish) who had to flee Europe or even die simply for their belief in the freedom of art and the freedom of music, because they refused to write the “nice” and harmless music that the Nazis wanted them to write to keep the populace cheaply entertained . You might have heard about how artists were denounced as being “entartet” because they found different sounds beautiful than the dictatorial regime that ruled Germany. This was one of the greatest tragedies in art history. The talent that was lost saddens me to this day, and this is why I will always fight for the right that music can be anything: It can beautiful, it can be ugly, it can be dramatic, it can be nice. All that is in life, sadness and joy, consonance and dissonance, should have a place in art, otherwise art is meaningless.
Therefore it is my strong belief that Alma can write any music she wants, and I very much hope that she will continue to do so. My article was not about her as an artist, only about her statement, that I perceived as a misinterpretation. More composers have suffered because people have tried to force them “beautiful” music (think of Stalin and Shostakovich) than the other way round. There was never any regime that demanded that composers write ugly music. That’s a fact. If you have only had contact with composition teachers who tried to force Alma to write ugly music, I am really shocked. Having studied in England myself this would greatly surprise me, as I haven’t perceived the British music scene as being totalitarian at all. It would be interesting to know more about your experiences here, perhaps you simply met the wrong people?
You also write about my perceived “totalitarian” use of the word “müssen”. This surprised me the most, coming from an esteemed linguist, as it is based on the common mistranslation of the German verb “müssen” into English “must”. As you surely know “müssen” in German (which is a language with less words than English) is a word that is necessary in most sentence constructions and translates into many different meanings in English, none of them totalitarian.
Common uses are for example:
“Ich muss zum Bus” (I better get the bus)
“Ich muss mal” (I have to go to the bathroom)
“Hier müsste mal geputzt werden“ (One should clean up here)
“Ich muss telefonieren” (I have to make a telephone call)
In German one has to say “müssen” all the time, because it is necessary for so many sentence constructions. This is not the case with “must” in English, it is used completely differently.
So if I write “Am Ende muss Alma selber entscheiden“ it simply means “In the end the decision is up to Alma”. No German would read this as a “Befehl” (command), it is completely harmless and common use of German language.
I write all this to bring the discussion – again with all respect towards you and Alma – to a normal and friendly level, I very much hope this is possible for you. Of course you are free to publish your letter somewhere else (for example in our comments), but I don’t want to feel responsible for the ridicule that will surely follow and which might damage your reputation as a language expert. I stand by everything I’ve written – it is free of insults and also free of wrong assumptions, respectful and constructive in tone and not aggressive at all. I very much hope you can do the same.
With best regards,