Erwin Schulhoff (1894-1942) was a prolific and multi-faceted creative figure whose work embraced a full panoply of styles and influences. Like Kafka and Mahler, a German Jew in a Czech cultural milieu, the composer took full advantage of his “outsider looking in” status to forge a compelling musical personality. One of the earliest and most successful exponents of art music drawing on jazz, Schulhoff refracts multiple approaches of his time, from Dada to Expressionism, and from a distanced self-mockery to the stolid seriousness of Socialist Realism.
Schulhoff's life in the Czech Republic quickly became endangered with the German occupation of the Czech lands in 1938 and 1939. Schulhoff, as a communist of Jewish heritage, was doubly at risk, and he began the process of emigrating to Great Britain, France or the United States. After the occupation, however, it appeared that Schulhoff's only hope was to escape to the Soviet Union. Schulhoff applied for Soviet citizenship for himself, his wife and his son, receiving it in April 1941. Schulhoff picked up his visa to emigrate on June 13, 1941, but, with the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, leaving the country became impossible, and Schulhoff was arrested the next day. Unlike other well-known Czech cultural figures, like the composers Pavel Haas, Gideon Klein, Viktor Ullmann and Hans Krása (and like Schulhoff's father), Schulhoff was arrested for being a Soviet citizen, rather than for being a Jew, and he was not taken to the notorious Theresienstadt camp. Initially held in the Prague YMCA, Schulhoff was deported to a concentration camp in Wülzburg, Bavaria, where he died of tuberculosis in August 1942.