Oral Histories

Interview of Stephen S. Kayser

Immigrant from Germany and art historian. UCLA lecturer in art history.
The Shapes of Time
Interviews not in a series, part one
UCLA and University of California History
UCLA Faculty
Biographical Note:
Immigrant from Germany and art historian. UCLA lecturer in art history.
Hast, Sybil D.
Kayser, Stephen S.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library's Center for Oral History Research.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Growing up in Karlsruhe, Germany; an Orthodox Jewish family; education; bar mitzvahs and Jewish education; anti-Semitic teachers; Paul von Hindenburg's election and the German Communist Party; the Karlsruhe Technische Hochschule; working as a journalist; promoted to theater and music critic; Heinrich Rickert; the University of Heidelberg; Ludwig Curtius; on the loss of a classical foundation to Western education; the need for survey courses in the arts; moving to Mannheim; inflation in Germany after World War I; moving to Berlin; a sketch of German political history prior to World War I; German cultural life after World War I; Richard Strauss and the premiere of Salome; Heinrich and Thomas Mann; social ideologies and the arts; the Weimar Republic; the rise of Hitler; downfall of the Weimar Republic; the decline of cultural life under the Nazis; Max Reinhardt and the German theater before Hitler; Wilhelm Furtwängler; Santa Monica as an émigré refuge; nazism and the Bauhaus; prominent artists of the time; Elektra as conducted by Strauss; personal relationships with Strauss; Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal; Hofmannsthal's Jewish background; Stefan Zweig; Strauss and the Nazis; The Reichsmusikkammer; Joseph Goebbels; compromises with the Third Reich; art became propaganda under the Nazis; Stefan George; Thomas Mann; temporary tolerance of Jewish religious life; nationality and religion; escape from Germany to Czechoslovakia; Tomás Masaryk; Kayser and his family leave Czechoslovakia for the Netherlands and then the United States; research at Columbia University; tutoring students at Columbia University in German art history; Kayser's first published article in the United States; Matthias Grünewald; moving to Berkeley in 1940 to teach identification of paintings; Kayser and his wife work in the shipyards in Richmond, California; joining the California National Guard; a docent at the M. H. De Young Memorial Museum; meeting Salvador Dalí; teaching art history at San Jose State College; Kayser's wife contracts Menière's syndrome; the death of Kayser's parents; Kayser is invited to install a museum for the Jewish Theological Seminary of America; moving into the Warburg house in New York; Jewish ceremonial objects; Judaism as a way of life; Jewish traditions; the museum opening; lecturing on Jewish art; exhibitions at the museum; defining art and beauty; symbolism in Jewish art; the Bible and the Talmud; women in biblical terms; publications by Kayser; returning to California in 1962; teaching at the University of Judaism; Kayser begins teaching for UCLA Extension and then for the UCLA College of Fine Arts; philosophy of teaching; on the poor preparation for the university in American high schools; changes in art with the advent of Christianity; art through the ages; harmony and polyphony in music; Byzantine music and icons; opera as an example of integrated arts; personalities, not style, change the evolution of Western art; Wagner contrasted with Richard Strauss; Wagner's effect on modern music; Beethoven's Emperor Concerto compared to Wagner's Tristan und Isolde; the beginnings of atonal music and polytonality in Strauss; cubism; architecture in the early twentieth century; changes in arts education at UCLA; existential philosophy and the myth of Sisyphus.