About Felix Bauer
Felix Bauer was born in Vienna, Austria on January 2, 1914 to Risa and Rudolf Bauer. As a child, his parents encouraged him to develop his talent for music and art; his parents themselves were fond of performing Schubert Lieder and parts from Wagner’s “music dramas” with his father singing and his mother accompanying him on the piano in their home. Bauer wrote, “The source of my greatest pleasure, since my earliest childhood, was the piano.” He states his love of music began when “at a school festivity, I got highly excited about the rendition of Schubert’s, ‘Die Post’”, by one of his teachers. Around age twelve he delved further into music by listening to the radio regularly in the evening, “indiscriminately listening to all Beethoven symphonies, Brahms symphonies, Mozart symphonies,” and most Haydn Symphonies. At an early age he made it a goal to attend a concert twice per month. Then, starting at age fifteen, he went to the opera at least twice per month.
After completing his secondary education at the Realschule, he studied architecture at the College of Technology from 1931-1933 and received a degree from the Institute of Graphic Arts and Research in 1935. He worked as a free-lance commercial artist after his graduation until 1938. During this time he studied composition under two well-known composers, Alban Berg (1933-1935) and Ernest Kanitz (1935-1937). He met Alban Berg at his home where played some of his compositions, after which Berg assigned him to study Schoenberg’s Harmonielehre “under the tutelage of Berg’s pupil, Julius Schloss, being checked as to progress every other month by Berg until his untimely death in 1935.” After Berg’s death he became a pupil of Ernst Kanitz with whom he “concluded studies in harmony as well as strict and free counterpoint, topping it with the writing of 18 Fugues for piano.”
During his summer and winter breaks, he was an avid cyclist and traveler, riding with friends as far as the French coast, Italy, and the Balkans. Additionally, he enjoyed skiing and mountain climbing. His interest in far flung places extended to stamp collecting as well, a hobby he shared with his father. One Sunday every month, Rudolph Bauer would meet with other collectors to swap stamps. Felix would usually help him by marking the stamp in the catalog while his father “spent the afternoon putting the new acquisitions neatly into the respective albums.” Bauer would later become reconnected with a part of his father’s collection after the war, which was saved in the home of a friend and brought back to him by an Erskine College colleague. Because money was tight at the time, he sold the collection to a dealer in Asheville, N.C. and used the money to buy his first piano in America. After completing his studies, Bauer served in the Officer’s Training Unit of the Austrian Army for six months, his discharge coming the day before Nazi forces invaded Austria on March 12, 1938. Unable to find employment in an increasingly hostile atmosphere, he fled Austria on August 17, 1938, with only a camera, a change of underwear, and the equivalent of $10, going to a refugee camp just across the border in Diepoldsau, Switzerland where he lived for two years. His parents remained in Austria after he left and were sent to concentration camps where they died in 1945.
Refugees at the camp in Diepoldsau were not allowed to work or receive compensation for work. As a result, boredom, especially for younger refugees, was a problem. Bauer wrote, “To the majority of the young folks, this became an unbearable burden. Our past had been excitement of learning, of traveling, of fear, of entertainment, of working odd jobs to eke out a living. And suddenly nothing: sitting, promenading up and down the village street, waiting from one meal to the next, and sleeping.” Bauer collaborated with others in the camp to provide entertainment and training for camp residents. For his part, Bauer, provided lectures on music and art and formed a small choral group. He also worked with an actors group, designing scenery. He took any opportunity that offered an artistic outlet during this time, and his diverse array of projects included collaborating on a cartoon film with a nearby photographer, making a six-foot-high snow sculpture of a fallen soldier, and providing murals for dwellers of the nearby town. He made friends with a couple who owned a harmonium and subsequently composed a Prelude for Harmonium. At one point he was invited to give a piano recital in Zurich for which he recalls playing a Chopin Prelude and Rachmaninov’s Humoresque.
In 1940, his application to join a work group bound for the Dominican Republic was approved. The Dominican Republic was one of a few countries that admitted Jewish refugees during World War II, and many, like Felix Bauer settled in the town of Sosúa, where he would live for the next six years. In Sosúa, Bauer met Martha Mondschein, a registered nurse from Cologne, Germany. In an interview Martha says that they became acquainted when he was a malaria patient. Martha was leading calisthenics for pregnant women and also for children on the island at the time and asked him to play the piano for the classes, which he did. The two were married in 1943 and their first son, Boris was born in 1945. Their daughter Linda was born in 1949, after their immigration to America in 1946.
During his time in the Dominican Republic, Bauer worked first as a mapmaker and chief architect for the fledgling settlement. During his last three years in Sosúa he was the choir conductor and taught music and art at the town elementary and high schools. Eventually, he reconnected with Ernest Kanitz, one of his teachers from Vienna, through American author Ira Morris, who was a periodic visitor to the Dominican Republic. Dr. Kanitz, who was head of the Erskine College Music Department from 1941-1945, spoke to college president Dr. R. C. Grier and shortly thereafter Bauer received a job offer, which allowed the Bauer family to immigrate to the United States. The Bauer family moved to Due West, South Carolina in 1946 and became American citizens in 1951.
Bauer worked as a music and art professor for 33 years at Erskine College, establishing the Erskine Exhibition Center in 1958 which curated approximately 200 exhibits over the next 22 years. He continued working as a commercial artist after his move to Due West, creating works for both the college and the community, examples of which can be seen in the virtual gallery.
In addition to his activities in the visual arts Bauer had composed music consistently since before leaving Austria, producing over 180 bound volumes of unpublished works for a wide variety of instrumental compositions, which are housed here at the University of South Carolina Music Library and described in this thematic catalog. A number of these compositions were performed at Erskine College. Bauer said the following about his compositions: “In the 20th Century there is a great discrepancy between the public and the composer. Composers no longer write to please the public. It’s become too sophisticated…as everything else, we are so sophisticated. Unless you have never heard Wagner and Richard Strauss and Schoenberg all your life you are confused by listening to our type of music….That doesn’t bother me.”
For the program given of his compositions on his 80th birthday he wrote, “In our time there is a proliferation of musical languages and diversity: serialism, minimalism, tone clusters, musique concrete, aleatoric music, jazz, electronic music, etc. No wonder contemporary music has trouble finding an audience since virtually every composer uses a different musical language, with many of them rather startling to the listener….As for me, it is fascinating to experiment beyond serialism.”
When Bauer retired he was named Professor Emeritus and in 1996 he was additionally awarded an honorary doctorate by Erskine College. Though he died in 2006 at the age of 92, his legacy continues. Two scholarships in his name are currently offered at Erskine College, one in art and one in music. Through this thematic catalog we hope to increase awareness and access to his musical works for generations to come.