Classical Album of the Week: Music of Composer Walter Kaufmann Who Fled the Nazis for India in 1934
April 4, 2021. Holocaust Remembrance Day is April 8th, so this week we turn to the music of 20th-century, Bohemian-born composer Walter Kaufmann, who wrote most of his works in exile, having escaped the Nazi persecution of the Jews. He fled first to Bombay, India and lived there from 1934-1946. Then he moved on to England, then Canada, and finally settled in the United States in 1957.
The ARC Ensemble’s Chamber Works of Walter Kaufmann, is part of the Chandos label’s “Music in Exile” series. The album presents recordings of Kaufmann's works for the very first time.
Kaufmann wrote over 80 orchestral works, a dozen operas, and 11 string quartets. It’s two of those quartets, Nos. 7 and 11, as well as his Violin Sonatina No. 12, Violin Sonata No. 2 and the Septet that allow the ARC Ensemble to sink its teeth into a few of the meatiest chamber works. Few have heard any of this music, yet, ironically, "millions of Indians are familiar with one piece of his music—the signature tune that he wrote in 1936 for All India Radio, which is still played every morning," according to the album's liner notes.
A true eclectic, Kaufman was a professor of musicology at Indiana University in Bloomington, a conductor, an ethnomusicologist, a friend of Albert Einstein, the husband of Franz Kafka’s niece, and a teacher of Zubin Mehta. More about Kaufmann is here.
‘The hallmark of this remarkable music," explains the ARC Ensemble’s Artistic Director Simon Wynberg in the album's liner notes, ‘is its striking originality. There are flashes of Debussy, Bartók, and Stravinsky, and hints of Bohemian and klezmer music, but the end result is a world of inventiveness and surprises. It is an extraordinary blend of Eastern and Western traditions, both adventurous and accessible, and no less compelling for the 80-year delay since its first performance."
Watch the ARC Ensemble play Walter Kaufmann’s String Quartet No.11:
The ARC Ensemble, or the Artists of the Royal Conservatory Ensemble is the Toronto-based, Grammy-nominated chamber group that specializes in the research and recovery of 20th-century works repressed under dictatorships.
Watch Kaufmann’s brother-in-law William Lazar talk about how much the music of the East influenced his work:
Listen to the Eastern influence in Kaufmann’s music as the ARC Ensemble plays the third movement of the String Quartet No. 7:
With this album of Walter Kaufmann’s chamber music, it’s the ARC Ensemble’s hope that more 20th-century works, hidden by repressive regimes, can be discovered and performed.