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

Discovering Jerzy Fitelberg


Is the music world finally waking up? Not if it’s up to the big record companies. With them we are still condemned to Bachs, Beethovens and Wagners. Fortunately, smaller labels like Chandos still exist. A while ago they surprised us with a CD with chamber works by Paul Ben-Haim, now they know how to make me overjoyed with Jerzy Fitelberg.

While Ben-Haim’s name was still a little known here and there, Fitelberg’s name was not. At least not Jerzy’s,  because there are still enough old recordings of his father Grzegorz, who was a famous conductor.


Jerzy Fitelberg (1903 – 1951) was born in Warsaw and first studied with his father who had him play as a percussionist in the orchestra of the National Theatre in order to gain experience. From 1922 he studied composition with Franz Schreker in Berlin, among others. In 1927 he made a name for himself by re-orchestrating Sullivan’s Mikado for Erik Charell’s operetta-revue in the Grosses Schauspielhaus in Berlin. In 1933 he fled first to Paris and from there to New York.

Fitelberg was one of the favourite composers of Copland and Artur Rubinstein, among others. He himself described his compositional style as “full of the energy and high tension of Stravinski combined with the harmonic complexity of Hindemith and the colours of Milhaud’s French music. Plus the much-needed satire”.

Below an arrangement, made by Stefan Frenkel, of a Tango from Fitelberg’s opera ‘Der schlechgefesselte Prometheus’,played by Marleen Asberg (violophone) and Gerard Bouwhuis (piano) at a concert given by the Ebony Band, April 25, 2013 in Amsterdam,


His works were often performed until his death, after which they disappeared from the stage. Until more than sixty years later the ARC Ensemble (yes, the same ensemble that recorded the Ben-Haim CD) picked up the thread.

The first string quartet from 1926 starts with a resolute Presto, which reminds me a lot of Mendelssohn, but not for long. Soon Slavic themes pass by to make way for the melancholic Meno mosso. Beautiful.

The second string quartet , overloaded with prizes in 1928, sounds a bit like Janaček, but with Polish instead of Moravian dances in the background. The sonatine for two violins mixes all the contradictions of the late 1930s: entertainment, jazz and a (cautious) atonality.

Fisches Nachtgesang, a night music for clarinet, cello and celesta is so beautiful that it hurts. It reminds me of a night candle, which goes out carefully. Covered with the soothing words “go to sleep, but don’t worry about it”, but you’re not really reassured.

The members of the Canadian ARC Ensemble, who play contagiously well, all work at the Glenn Gould School at the Royal Conservatory of Music. What a CD! Ten out of ten!

Jerzy Fitelberg
Chamber Works
String Quartets Nos 1 and 2
Serenade; Sonatine; Night musik “Fisches Nachtgesang”.
ARC Ensemble
Chandos CHAN 10877

Translated with



Langzaam, veel te langzaam en eigenlijk veel te laat, maar de muziekwereld wordt wakker. De een na de andere leemte wordt eindelijk opgevuld en de (bewust of onbewust) ‘vergeten’ componisten komen ook onze cd-spelers in.


Wie van u heeft ooit van Paul Ben-Haim gehoord? En als niet: waarom niet eigenlijk?
De in 1897 in München als Paul Frankenburger geboren en bijna 90 jaar later in Tel Aviv gestorven componist heeft een zeer spectaculair oeuvre nagelaten. Veel vocale werken, orkeststukken, kamermuziek…. Wat niet, eigenlijk?

De meeste van zijn composities zijn beïnvloed en geïnspireerd door Joodse, Israëlische en Arabische melodieën, je kan zijn muziek dan ook ‘nationalistisch’ noemen. En: nee, daar is niets mis mee, met dat woord.

Neem alleen de opening van zijn klarinetkwintet uit 1941! De dansante klarinetpartij herinnert in de verte aan de swingende klezmer, maar dan wel in een Brahmsiaans jasje.

Nog sterker komt het tot uiting in zij Two Landscapes voor altviool en piano, waarin hij de schoonheid van zijn nieuwe vaderland bezingt.


De aan Zino Francescati opgedragen Improvisation and Dance verraden invloeden uit het Jemenitische folklore en alleen zijn oudste werk op de cd, het pianokwartet uit 1920 heeft nog geen eigen gezicht.

De zeer aanstekelijk spelende leden van het Canadese ARC Ensemble zijn in het dagelijks leven allen werkzaam op het Glenn Gould Conservatorium. Een cd om te koesteren

Clarinet Quintet, Two Lanscapes, Canzonetta, Improvisation and Dance,
Piano Quartet
ARC Ensemble
Chandos CHAN 10769

Meer ARC Ensemble:
SZYMON LAKS. Muziek uit een andere wereld