Sunday, 18 November 2012

Ignatz Waghalter and his re-discovery

Waghalter at 18
When the Nazi's published their Index of forbidden Jewish musicians in 1943 there were six Waghalters listed, the composer Ignatz, his father Abraham, his brothers Henryk (a renowned cellist) and Wladyslaw (the violinist for whom Ignatz wrote his violin concerto), his daughter Beatrice and his niece Yolanda. By this time Waghalter had fled Germany to New York. The composer had already spent a short period in New York as conductor of the State Symphony Orchestra but ever since his training, his career had been based in Berlin. Whilst in America he tried to launch an orchestra of African Americans, but this failed after one concert because people just weren't ready for it. He died suddenly in 1949 at the age of 68, leaving a trunk of papers which was stored in the attic of his daughter's house. His music remained alive in the memory of his family and in the piano playing of his daughter Beatrice, but that is all.


During Waghalter's exile in America, he had been widely respected in the German emigre community but not in the wider country. Waghalter's final opera was performed on the radio and he wrote an operetta which was performed in Maine in 1948. But following his death, no lasting legacy seems to have remained.

Waghalter's grandson, David Green, remembers going into the attic as a child to fetch music for his grandmother from the trunk which had been brought over from Europe when the Waghalter's fled. David's mother Beatrice was a gifted musician and played her father's piano music at home, but she felt that her father's music was too melodic and lyrical in a age devoted to modernism. She had also been witness to her father's decline after the move to the United States and resisted attempts to have his music revived.

In 1972 Beatrice and her husband sold up and moved into Manhattan. Many years later, in 1988, David Green asked his mother what had become of the trunk of his grandfather's music, only to discover that it had been left in the attic of the house they had left in 1972. He returned to the house, to find it on the market, but still lived in by the people who had bought it from his parents. They let him into the attic, the trunk was still there and Ignatz Waghalter's manuscripts saw the light of day again.

In 1989 the Deusche Oper in Berlin (Waghalter's old company) put on excerpts from his 1917 opera Jugend, thus allowing one of Waghalter's large scale pieces to be heard for the first time since the 1920's. But David Green failed to manage to interest anyone in his grandfather's music. He even had to enter into a lengthy correspondence with Stanley Sadie to use document from the trunk to prove that his grandfather had been a significant musician in his period. After reviewing the documents, Sadie expressed amazement that Waghalter had been so completely forgotten.

In 2001 David Green established the Waghalter website full of information, documents and photos. But it was not until 2009 that Irmina Trynkos emailed him about the violin concerto. It turned out that the two were both visiting London at the time and quickly met up. The result is a CD of Waghalter's complete violin music (the two concertante works for violin and orchestra, plus chamber works), recorded by Irmina Trynkos, conductor Alexander Walker, pianist Giorgi Latsabise and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. This has been issued on Naxos. The two concertante works were recently played for the first time in recent times, at a concert in London's Cadogan Hall, with Irmina Trynkos, Alexander Walker and the English Chamber Orchestra, which I covered in this blog.

There is a considerable amount of music to be rediscovered. There are five operas, five operettas, several song cycles, as well as an autobiography which was published in Czechoslovakia in 1936.

There is more information about the composer and his music at the Waghalter.com website.
You can see a video, featuring excerpts from the recording on Youtube.

Elsewhere on this blog

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