Discovering Walter Kaufmann: when Bombay meets Berlin

Slow, way too slow and actually way too late, but the music world is waking up. One gap after another is finally being filled and the (consciously or unconsciously) ‘forgotten’ composers are also entering our CD players. It’s also partly thanks to the Canadian ARC Ensemble. A few years ago, together with the English label Chandos, they set up the project ‘Music in Exile’, to which we owe splendid recordings of works by, among others, Szymon Laks, Jerzy Fittelberg and Paul Ben-Haim.

And now it is Walter Kaufmann’s (1907-1984) turn, an originally Czechoslovakian composer whose name, even to me, was nothing more than a name. Not that he had been completely forgotten: in Canada, his new homeland since 1947, he was a highly regarded piano teacher at the Halifax Conservatory. In 1956 he was offered a job at a conservatory in US where he was adored by his students. But as much as he was loved as a teacher, as forgotten he was as a composer. And that is extremely unfortunate because Kaufmann’s life course – and his works – are quite different from those of his exile fellows.

Early on, Kaufmann became obsessed with Indian music, which made him decide to flee to India in 1933. Once at his destination, Kaufmann immersed himself in the music of his host country. Among other things, he composed a tune for ‘All India Radio’ and founded the ‘Bombay Chamber Music Society’. All the chamber music works, on this Chandos recording really magnificently played by the ARC Ensemble, are also composed in India.

No, it’s not that you should immediately think of Ravi Shankar, but the Indian influence is undeniable. And that, while you are clearly dealing with western music from the twenties / thirties. A bit hybrid, yes, but luckily that is allowed again.

Translation: Frans Wentholt

Walter Kaufmann
String Quartet No. 7, String Quartet No. 11, Violin Sonata No. 2 op. 44, Violin Sonatin No. 12, Septet (for three violins, viola, two cellos and piano)
ARC Ensemble, Chandos CHAN 20170


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