Ernst Kanitz, D. Jur.

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Ernst Kanitz, D. Jur.

Birthplace: Vienna, Austria
Death: April 07, 1978 (83)
Menlo Park, CA, United States
Place of Burial: Due West, SC, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Sigmund Siegmund Kanitz and Eugenia "Jenni" Kanitz
Husband of Gertrude Gertrud Reif Kanitz
Father of Private; Private and Private
Brother of Olga Kanitz Neurath

Occupation: composer & Professor of Music, USC
Managed by: Debra Lavender
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Ernst Kanitz, D. Jur.

Do not alter this Profile without consulting D. Lavender first.

Ernst Kanitz was born in Vienna on April 9, 1894.

A composer all his life, Ernest Kanitz was Professor in the Music School at the University of Southern California (USC) in the late 1940s-1950s, following forced emigration from Vienna in 1938. In December 1938 the local newspaper in Rock Hill, South Carolina announced his appointment at Winthrop College with the euphemism "he left Europe when Germany expanded " [see in Media].

Per his Will, his music is archived at the University of Southern California. Listed in Guide to the Archival Materials of the German-speaking Emigration to the United States after 1933, Volume 2, by John M. Spalek, Sandra H. Hawrylchak, publ. Walter de Gruyter, Feb 21, 2014, text mostly, but not all, viewable online.


Ernst Kanitz was born April 9, 1894 in Vienna. His "earliest memories were of playing under the piano while mother practiced" and of "house-to-house street singers -- I still knew a few in my early childhood in old Vienna." He started formal piano lessons at age 7. EK told an interviewer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (in 1964) that "My mother was a fine pianist, and while my father wasn't a musician he would sing while my mother played. I [would be]come distracted by a chord while I was practicing. l began taking lessons when I was 7, and I started writing little things when I was 8.”

After studying law at the University of Vienna (J.D. 1918) [undertaken solely to satisfy his parents' wish that he "learn a useful occupation"; he studied with tutors and never actually went to a class], Ernst devoted himself between 1914 and 1920 to the systematic study of piano, theory and composition with Richard Heuberger (from 1912-1914) and Franz Schreker. Having turned 20 in 1914, Ernst tried twice to enlist in the army, but was rejected due to his "emaciated state" after an appendectomy the year before; he felt very bad about this.

In November 1918, his work "Heitere Ouvertüre op. 4" was performed by the Wiener Symphoniker conducted by Franz Schreker. That same year, at the home of a musical acquaintance, he met Gertrud Reif, whom he married on June 28, 1920. Since he was "a composer, and had no money," her father made Ernst sign a pre-nuptial agreement (Gertrude's father had little of his own wealth left, after WW I).

Early successes as composer [especially the premiere of the oratorio Das Hohelied (1921)] aided his musical career, which also led to teaching. From 1922 he was Professor of Theory and Analysis at the New Vienna Conservatory (Neues Wiener Konservatorium), and also taught numerous private students in composition). Kanitz conducted various student orchestras in Vienna. He also composed original music for the modern dancer Lilian Harmel; her piece entitled "Magic Dance," to one of his compositions," was considered "the most interesting of her creations" by Dancing Times [see in MEDIA]. In 1930 he founded the Vienna Women's Chamber Chorus, with which he brought new choral music to the public in Vienna, Brno, Budapest and Paris [see in MEDIA]. One of the many contemporary composers whose music his chorus performed was Karl Weigl, 1881-1949. The Chorus (Wiener Frauenkammerchor) lasted until Kanitz was forced to leave in June 1938; it was clear he had no more future in Vienna. The April 16, 1938 edition of Nazi periodical Arbeitersturm (online via the Austrian National Library) listed him among the Jewish "music charlatans" who populated musical production, performance and teaching in Vienna, in an article which concluded "The international music competition, which was already staged for this year, [and] which was to take place under the honorary protection of the former Federal Chancellor Schuschnigg, reflected numerous Jewish names in the presidency and jury. It is clear that we will find more suitable works in the German Empire."

Ernst Kanitz's emigration to the United States was by way of Holland (arrival was in Hoboken, New Jersey, on the SS Veendam on July 26, 1938; the family never passed through Ellis Island, NY). EK told an interviewer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Oct. 16, 1964), "We left Austria in 1938, the third of June. It was surprisingly easy. The Gestapo went through our things, of course, but we had no difficulty. Three pianos we came out with. It was silly, you know, to do this, but we were lucky to have no problems. We went to Holland and rested for a while before we came to America. It is not an easy thing to leave your country. Less [problem] for me than for my wife. She was deadly homesick. For a time we had had a place in the Alps, and I worked up there in all this wonderful scenery."

In the U.S., Dr. Kanitz, as he was always known, embarked on an extended teaching career, first at Winthrop College in Rock Hill, S.C. (1938-41), then as Professor of the Theory of Music at Erskine College, Due West, S.C. (1941-44; his former student in Vienna, Felix Bauer, succeeded him at Erskine. Bauer's student-teacher relationship with Dr. Kanitz is discussed in Part 2 of Bauer's 1995 memoir housed in the Leo Baeck Institute in New York).

In the summer of 1944 Ernest Kanitz moved to Los Angeles, to a position at the University of Southern California. Initially he was to replace an ill colleague; he remained at USC teaching composition and counterpoint until his retirement in 1959 (returned as guest professor there in 1960-1961). In 1948 he published A Counterpoint Manual. From 1961-1964 he taught at Marymount College in Palos Verdes, California; then he devoted himself exclusively to private teaching and composing. His Concerto for Bassoon was premiered by the San Francisco Symphony April 8, 1964 (Josef Krips). His Symphony No. 2 was premiered Dec. 11-13, 1968, by the San Francisco Symphony (Josef Krips).

His activities had been severely restricted as early as 1967 by diminishing vision caused by glaucoma and cataracts. Kanitz died in Menlo Park, CA in April 1978.

Musical scores are in the archives of the University of Southern California -- the collection has a finding aid, and the collection is cited in Sources Relating to the History of Émigré Musicians 1933-1950 (pp. 239 et seq). Papers are at the University of California, Riverside in Library Special Collections. A list of published works in the online library catalog, OCLC, appears in WorldCat; search "Ernest Kanitz."

The only available digitized recording of one of his pieces (partial) is at: http://youtube/fTwanjNuLHQ {link appears bad, Jan 2019}. See biographical sketch (.pdf file) attached under Media; open it in Adobe Acrobat & "rotate" in order to read.

Ernest Kanitz is the subject of chapters in Österreichs neue Musik nach 1945: Karle Schiske: ed. Markus Grassl, Reinhard Kapp, Eike Rathgeber (2008); chapter on Ernest Kanitz by Christopher Hailey, and in Music And Dance In California And The West (1948). See also Kalifornien / California / California, pp. xxxiii et seq., including two letters from the period. A letter of July 11, 1944 (describing first arrival in LA -- "yesterday is three weeks that I've been here") can be viewed online here. A letter from September 1946 (in German) can be viewed here.

The volume Kalifornien / California is part of a "multi-volume work on the history of emigre musicians. [It] sources 1933-1950 recorded collections of documents on the musical history of exile, which have hitherto been neither edited nor fully cataloged in published directories. The sources -- e.g. travel documents, writings, contracts, diaries, but in particular letters -- are indexed according a keyword index. Included are documents on topics such as persecution and emigration, the emigrants' work in their new home, reflections on the situation of exile, on the events of contemporary history and not least on musical life in exile. In the appendix are selected sources that illustrate the conditions of exile and the varied careers of the musicians."

Mention in "USC Music School Faculty, 1952", website of the USC Thornton School of Music, 2014.


Ernst Kanitz birth record appears in Wien (alle Bezirke), Geburtsanzeigen 1894 Records Nr. 0781-1263 (Apr.-Mai), Image #308 of 1171 (derived from record #901). Parents lived at Wien II, Nordbahnstrasse 44. Witnesses were [uncles] Dr. Julius Stricker and Emil Kanitz.

As did many ethnically Jewish individuals in Vienna, Ernst Kanitz "resigned from the Jewish faith" as a young man (, Resignations from the Jewish Faith); he did not convert to Catholicism even though (as he put it decades later), to do so could have helped him get certain jobs.

  • Last Name Kanitz, First Name Ernst
  • Date of Birth 1894.04.09 (April 9, 1894), Wien II, Nordbahnstrasse 44
  • Profession stud.jur. (law student) [he never practiced law]
  • Leaving 1914, age 20, marital Status ledig

Converted to a Christian denomination other than Catholic in July 1914 (, "Converts in Vienna"):

  • Last Name Kanitz First Name Ernst
  • Baptism First Name Ernst
  • Date of Birth 1894.04.09 Birth Place Wien
  • Profession stud.jur.
  • Conversion 1914.07.17 Baptism Parish HB
  • Baptism Date 1914.07.26, age 20

The experience of Ernest Kanitz with religion resembles that of his near-contemporary, pianist Arthur Rubenstein (1887-1982), who was born in Poland to parents who "were never Orthodox Jews. [Rubenstein's] mother liked to go to temple simply in order to be seen. Only the Sabbath was upheld, more a bring the family together on Friday nights for a happy reunion. We had been brought up in the [local] language [rather than Hebrew or Yiddish]. We were little concerned about Jewish laws or dogma, although we were always proud of our race. Still, I do remember having been derisively critical of the [local] Orthodox Jews, with their long black coats and their sidelocks and beards and their singsong. My father had taken me, once or twice, to a synagogue, but only ... to hear a famous cantor perform; there were Christians there as well who were enthusiastic about that singer."(AR, My Young Years, 1973).

Another memoir describing life for a young musician in Vienna around World War I and leading up to World War II is the 1989 oral history interview of violinist Felix Khuner (1906-1991). Also read the interview's Introduction.

In Vienna, from June 1938, all Jews (persons of Jewish heritage) were prohibited from attending theaters, movie houses and the opera, although a large segment of the subscribers were Jewish members of the educated bourgeoisie. The German law covering theater visits of May 15, 1934, became valid in Austria on June 20, 1938. Its paragraph No. 4 stated: "Applications to attend presentations of occasional theater performances by non-Aryans are to be rejected. Proof of Aryan background, in the sense of this law, requires original documentation.”

Ernest Kanitz and family left Vienna in mid-June, 1938, and sailed from Rotterdam on the SS Veendam, arriving in Hoboken, New Jersey on July 26, 1938. They were aided in emigration by the American Committee for Christian Refugees.


In the same volume of letters from émigré Los Angeles composers cited above (Schwartz's 2003 Kalifornien / California), Ernest Kanitz's colleague Ernst Toch wrote of his views on religion, nations, and war. The views he expressed are similar to those of Ernest Kanitz, who believed in a "United States of Europe" already in the 1950s. See Toch's Letter to David Brimm, March 1945, Santa Monica, California.

USC Daily Trojan, Vol. 52, No. 115, April 28, 1961, page 1

  • Lived approx. Nov. 1938; census of June 1940 - May 1941: 830 College Ave., Rock Hill, SC (Winthrop College housing)
  • Lived August 1941 - March 1944: Due West, SC
  • Lived September to April 1946: 2907 S. Normandie Ave., Los Angeles
  • Lived August 1946 - January 1956: 2201 Thurman Ave., Los Angeles
  • Lived February from 1956: 6206 Murrietta, Los Angeles

Appears in French Wikipedia: Fr.Wikipedia Ernest_Kanitz#Biographie

90 years later, someone in Austria gives a thought to the lost composers: New York Times, Viennese Composers in Exile from Nazism, Dec. 28, 2018.


EK's rhyme for bouncing grandchildren on his knees:

Hoppe, Hoppe Reiter / Wenn er fällt, dann schreit er / Fällt er in den Graben / Fressen ihn die Raben / Fällt er in den Sumpf / Macht der Reiter "Bumpf" {on "Bumpf," the knees widened and the child was bounced through -- the best part}.

Hoppe, Hoppe Reiter / When he falls, he screams / He falls into a ditch / Ravens come to eat him / He falls into the swamp / Goes the rider "Bumpf"

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Ernst Kanitz, D. Jur.'s Timeline

April 9, 1894
Vienna, Austria
- 1960
Age 50
Universithy of Southern California
April 7, 1978
Age 83
Menlo Park, CA, United States
April 1978
Age 83
Due West, SC, United States