Erwin Schulhoff was a twentieth century Jewish Czech composer of German descent whose music represents his inability to fit in anywhere. His music spans an array of genres and several social movements.
Schulhoff was born on 8 June, 1894 in Prague. Schulhoff’s father, Gustav, was a wealthy merchant who lost his fortune in the 1920s. During World War II, Gustav was sent to the Theresienstadt concentration camp, where he died. Schulhoff possessed immense musical talent as a child and was able to play tunes by ear at the piano by the age of three. Schulhoff’s mother convinced Antonín Dvořák, who had absolutely no interest in child prodigies, to meet him in 1901. After examining Schulhoff’s abilities, Dvořák awarded him some chocolate and determined that he should study piano at the Prague Conservatory, where he stayed until 1906. Schulhoff then studied piano for two years in Vienna and piano, theory and composition in Leipzig with Max Reger until 1910 before going to Cologne to study composition, conducting and piano until 1914.
Schulhoff’s early influences were the music of Richard Strauss and Claude Debussy. After attending the premiere of Strauss’ Salome in 1906, Schulhoff filled his works for the next five years with sounds he encountered from Strauss’ music. After being introduced to the music of Debussy in 1912, his music strays away from Strauss’ influence and begins to include more harmonies reminiscent of those found in Debussy’s works. Schulhoff reached out to Debussy for composition lessons, but their time together was unsuccessful, as Debussy insisted on rules that Schulhoff no longer wished to follow.