Much of his writing was intended for the piano. Toch continued to grow as an artist and composer throughout his adult life, and in America came to influence whole new generations of composers. His first compositions date from c. 1900 and were pastiches in the style of Mozart (quartets, 1905 album verses for piano). His first quartet was performed in Leipzig in 1908, and his sixth (Opus 12, 1905) in the year 1909.
In 1909, his Chamber Symphony in F major (written 1906) won the Frankfurt/Main Mozart prize. From this time onwards, Toch dedicated himself to being a full-time composer. He won the Mendelssohn prize for composition in 1910. In 1913, he was appointed lecturer of both piano and composition at the College of Music in Mannheim.
After winning a further five major prizes for his works, he served four years in the army on the Italian Front during World War I. In 1916, he married Lilly Zwack, the daughter of a banker. After World War I, he returned to Mannheim to compose, developing a new style of polyphony. He received his Ph.D. degree from Heidelberg University in 1921.
He then taught on the faculty of the Mannheim Conservatory where one of his pupils was Hugo Chaim Adler. Following Hitler's seizure of power in 1933, Toch went into exile, first to Paris and then London, where he wrote film scores. In 1935, he accepted an invitation from the New School for Social Research to go to New York. He could, however, only secure his living in California by composing film music for Hollywood. Unlike his colleague Erich Wolfgang Korngold, however, Toch never got much attention in the industry and was rarely top-billed.
His score for the chase scene in Shirley Temple's 1937 Heidi perhaps remains his best-known piece of film music. His works often exhibit a humorous aspect (Bunte Suite (1929)). In 1930 he invented "Gesprochene Musik," the idiom of the "spoken chorus". His most performed work is the Geographical Fugue or Fuge aus der Geographie, which he himself regarded as an unimportant diversion. He wrote music for films, symphonies, chamber music, chamber operas.
He also wrote books dealing with musical theory: Melodielehre (1923) and The Shaping Forces in Music (1948). Toch was considered one of the great avant-garde composers in the pre-Nazi era. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1956 for his Third Symphony (premiered by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra on December 2, 1955). During his residence in California, he was a professor at the University of Southern California, where he taught both music and philosophy. He was also a guest lecturer at Harvard University. In 1958, he received the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (Grand Merit Cross). He died in Santa Monica, California, and was interred in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles. He is the grandfather of authors Lawrence Weschler and Toni Weschler.
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