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Round These Isles

Of Music and Men

Strauss finished his score in October 1934, but by this time his actions were increasingly alarming to Zweig, whose own books were being banned and burnt by the Nazis. Zweig was dismayed when Strauss refused to allow Jewish performers at theatres. He was confused when Strauss added his name to a letter labeling the writer Thomas Mann “un-nationalistic.” Strauss had accepted Dr. Goebbels’ suggestion that he become president of the Reich’s Music Chamber, “Drop all race worries and political misgivings with which you, incomprehensibly to me, unnecessarily weight down your artist’s mind.”and that was the final straw for Zweig, who sent Strauss a stormy letter in which he claimed he could no longer work with him, and that Strauss’ actions had compromised his international reputation. Zweig wrote to Strauss, “drop all race worries and political misgivings with which you, incomprehensibly to me, unnecessarily weight down your artist’s mind.” In his reply Strauss suggested they work together in secret on more performances and defended his Music Chamber presidency claiming he “would have accepted this pestiferous honorary office under any government.” Days later, when Die Schweigsame Frau premiered, Zweig refused to attend, and Hitler too stayed in that night. Hitler had been sent copies of the Strauss/Zweig letters from the Gestapo. The performances were cancelled, and Strauss was forced out of office. He spent the rest of the Nazi occupation trying to protect his daughter-in-law’s Jewish relatives, the majority of whom were murdered in concentration camps.

In 1936, Zweig moved to what he called the “civil, courteous, unexcited, hateless atmosphere” of London and began work on a biography of Mary Queen of Scots. He was also writing what would prove to be his most enduring book, Beware of Pity, a haunting and powerful novel of guilt and longing, which was greatly inspired by both the divorce from his first wife and his now weekly meetings with the aging Sigmund Freud (who was also exiled in London). Zweig married his secretary, Charlotte Altmann, in 1938, and they took up British citizenship. After World War II erupted a year later, they headed for New York. It was there that Zweig finished his biography, The World of Yesterday, a deeply nostalgic look at his life.

In 1940, Zweig’s temporary U.S. visa had expired, and he settled in Brazil, where initially he had great expectations, writing the book Brazil, Land of the Future, in which he examined the history and culture of the county. Zweig again and again tried to convince himself that Brazil could offer him a new beginning, yet the real theme of the book is what Zweig had lost. After the fall of Singapore to the Japanese in 1942, Zweig became even more disillusioned with the state of the world. His wealth and fame were no substitute for a man who placed all his hope in a new peaceful humanity. In February 1942 Zweig took his own life, in a double suicide with his wife. The note he left proclaimed, “Europe is finished, our world is destroyed.”

Zweig has left us with an astonishing collection of both literary and musical manuscripts, as well as some superlative novels, short stories, and biographies – all created in the most tumultuous of circumstances. But his legacy remains, in the BL collection, in another trove at the State University of New York, Fredonia, and by the independent publishers who keep him in print.

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Stephen Maughan is a freelance journalist and book collector based in Sussex, England. He recently graduated with a post graduate diploma from Brighton City College. He has written a number of articles on the Beat Generation and wrote his university thesis on the life of Jack Kerouac.