Henry Jolles (November 28, 1902-July 16, 1965), born Heinz-Frederic Jolles, was a German pianist and composer. Uprooted from his native Germany by the rise of Nazism, he spent his last quarter-century in Brazil.
Jolles was born in Berlin to Dr. Oscar Jolles and his wife, Gertrude, née Sternberg. She, at least, was Jewish. The family evidently was prosperous; Oscar, who had received a degree of Doctor of Philosophy at Jena University in 1886, was president and majority owner of the large printing and publishing company H. Berthold AG, and near the end of World War I the Kingdom of Württemberg would honor him with the Wilhelmkreuz, a recently created civilian decoration for merit in the war effort, for his management of that company’s metals business. Henry Jolles at age six played for the celebrated virtuoso and composer Eugen d’Albert, who subsequently greatly influenced the boy’s musical development. After studying piano with Artur Schnabel and Edwin Fischer and composition with Paul Juon and, privately, with Kurt Weill, Jolles began to develop a successful performing career in the 1920s. His academic career also flourished, bringing appointment as professor at the Cologne Music Academy in 1928, at which point he moved from Berlin-Charlottenburg to Cologne.
The ascendency of the Nazis brought an abrupt halt to this progress and several years of disruptions. In 1933, the regime directed Jolles's dismissal from his Academy position, and by 1934 Jolles had moved to Paris to escape persecution. There, he had some success in re-establishing his performing career and, in 1940 or 1941, married Elisabeth Henriette Sauty de Chalon, but with the fall of France in 1940, Jolles came back into danger from the German occupation. Luck was with him, however, as he received assistance from the American Varian Fry. Jolles thereby secured an entry permit into Brazil and was able to flee France aboard a freighter from Marseille in 1942. Once in Brazil, he settled in São Paulo and changed his name from “Heinz” to “Henry.” His mother and sister died in the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1943.
Jolles and his wife would remain residents of Brazil for the rest of their lives. Their sole child, a son named Olivier De Chalon Jolles, was born there in 1945. In 1952, fellow expatriate Hans-Joachim Koellreutter invited Henry Jolles to accept a teaching position at the Escola Livre de Música in São Paulo. There his students included composer Henrique de Curitiba. Jolles died in São Paulo in 1965; his wife died there on 26 March 1968.
Jolles launched a successful career as a performer in the 1920s, earning a reputation as an accomplished performer of both classical and contemporary literature. Of particular note, in 1928 he performed the complete piano works of Franz Schubert in a series of recitals at the University of Heidelberg. Upon fleeing Germany for France after 1933, Jolles met with some success in re-establishing his career, from 1935 to 1939 leading the concert society “La Sonata,” but the German invasion forced him to start yet again in Brazil. That disruption proved one too many; while he returned to touring in Europe in 1946 and in Germany in 1950, and around that time made long playing recordings for the American Haydn Society label, he was unable to recapture his earlier success.
The war was also destructive to his work as a composer. The sole survivor of his compositions predating 1933 is a fragment of a work he wrote jointly with Weill for four pianos. Music written after he arrived in Brazil, of course, did not suffer a similar fate. Among those works are piano pieces, a ballet based on Carmen, a sonata for violin and piano, and the song "Ultimo poema de Stefan Zweig,"; the last is based on Stefan Zweig’s "Letzte Gedicht," which the poet wrote on the occasion of his 60th birthday in November 1941.
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- Jolles, Henry (1953). Franz Schubert Fantasy Sonata in G major, Opus 78 and Three Klavierstücke, Opus Posthumous (LP). Paris: Haydn Society. HSL-81.
- Musica Reanimata of Berlin, Henry Jolles accessed September 28, 2008
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