Hans Heinz Stuckenschmidt became a historian of the music to which he was a contemporary witness. He marshalled his daily reports of what he heard into a musical history of the 20th century.
He was born on 1 November 1901 in Strassburg (Strasbourg, France, then Germany), the son of a major-general and of a pianist. He received private lessons in composition, piano and violin and started composing from the age of 18. He gave piano concerts and directed two concert cycles with Josef Rufer (1893-1985) in the 1920s. From 1920 he worked as the Berlin music correspondent of the Bohemia newspaper, which was published in Prague. He worked as a freelance writer on music in Hamburg, Vienna, Paris, Berlin and Prague. He got to know the leading avant-garde composers of the era, as well as painters, literary figures, people working in theater, and above all the Bauhaus circle of artists. In order to avoid becoming a "dreaded composer and a much-performed critic," he gave up performing music in 1928 and devoted himself exclusively to musical criticism, especially for the Berlin newspaper BZ am Mittag.
He was deeply influenced by Arnold Schoenberg's (1874-1951) analytic seminars of 1931-1933, making him a spirited advocate of the New Music movement. This led to his being banned from writing by the Nazis in 1934, whereupon he went to Prague and reported for the Tagblatt and Neuer Tag newspapers and was once again banned from writing in 1941. After World War II he returned to Berlin and became director of the department of new music at the RIAS (Radio in the American Sector), and in 1947 at the renowned American-led Neue Zeitung newspaper. In the period 1947-49 he and Rufer edited the magazine Stimmen.
In 1948, Stuckenschmidt, who had never studied, became a teacher at the TU Berlin, which since the end of the war was obliged to offer a general studies programme for science students. In 1953 he was made professor of music history. He continued on journeys all over the world to monitor the music scene and he reported on it for such prestigious newspapers as Die Welt, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Neue Zurcher Zeitung und Stuttgarter Zeitung. After becoming professor emeritus in 1967, he continued to write as a brilliant stylist.
Stuckenschmidt, a multilingual, elegant and sharp-tongued world citizen, was a key figure on the Berlin, indeed on the German, musical scene. He was a passionate proponent of the opinion that the opposite of bourgeois music was not proletarian music, rather cosmopolitan music. He published a book on Schoenberg in 1951, making him the first to evaluate Schoenberg's legacy. It was the first in a whole series of biographies of musicians, including Igor Stravinsky, Boris Blacher, Johann Nepomuk David, Maurice Ravel, Ferruccio Busoni and Max Reger. Particularly notable is his exhaustive 1974 book "Schoenberg. Leben, Umwelt, Werk". He educated readers about the music of the interwar period in "Musik zwischen den beiden Kriegen", about the musicians behind the New Music in "Schoepfer der Neuen Musik", and about contemporary opera in "Oper in dieser Zeit".
It was primarily for his work as a writer that he was awarded the critics' prize of the Salzburger Festspiele music festival and the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. He was a member of the Berlin Academy of Arts and, long after becoming professor emeritus, he achieved his only academic grade, that of honorary doctor at the University of Tubingen. He died on 15 August 1988 in his adopted home city of Berlin.