sad story of Ignatz Waghalter follows, unfortunately, a
dreadfully familiar pattern.
was the fifteenth of twenty children in a Jewish family
living in some poverty in Warsaw. Both of his parents were
musicians as were other members of his extended family.
The teenage Waghalter made his way illegally into Germany,
seeking to further his own musical career. The support
of Joseph Joachim was invaluable to him, and he studied
with Friedrich Gernsheim at the Academy of Art in Berlin.
Relatively early he began to make his way as a conductor.
He worked for five years at the Komische Oper in Berlin,
learning from Artur Nikisch. After a short spell in Essen,
he was back in Berlin, at the age of 31, as Principal Conductor
at a new opera house, the Deutsches Opernhaus, in Charlottenburg.
He championed the work of Puccini, whose operas had hitherto
met with very little success in Germany. He conducted the
German premiere of La Fanciulla del West – and the
result was a major success. Later that year a performance
of Manon Lescaut was similarly triumphant. He went
on to conduct German premieres of La Bohéme and Tosca. He
also conducted the German premiere of Vaughan Williams’ A
own work as an operatic composer began with his Mandragola,
premiered in 1914. Plans for a European tour of Mandragola were
destroyed by the outbreak of war. His next opera, Jugend was
first performed in 1917, attracting great praise, especially
for the quality of its melodies. Such virtues were not,
of course, the ones most likely to win favour in advanced
German musical circles. Perhaps his success would not have
lasted, for that reason alone. But other, obvious factors
came into play.
a Polish Jew who had achieved a certain prominence in German
musical life, Waghalter inevitably became a figure of suspicion.
His third opera, Santaniel (1923) met with altogether
less favour, as the political climate changed. The inflationary
crisis led to serious problems for the Deutsches Opernhaus.
Waghalter left Berlin, moving to New York. He worked – very
successfully – as a guest conductor with the New York State
Symphony Orchestra and became its Principal Conductor and
Musical Director in 1924. But he did not feel at home in
America and chose to return to Germany. He made a number
of recordings; worked as a guest conductor in Germany and
elsewhere (including the Bolshoi in 1931). He moved in
distinguished circles: his friends included Hindemith and
Weill, Josef Hoffman and Leopold Godowsky, Richard Tauber
and a certain Albert Einstein, who often played chamber
music – as a violinist – with Waghalter in the Waghalter’s
apartment at 55 Konstanzer Strasse. The rise of the Nazis
brought all this to an end. Waghalter and his wife fled
to Czechoslovakia in 1934, and then spent some time in
Vienna, escaping from there just before the Anschluss.
He returned to the U.S.A., but this time found relatively
little in the way of employment or attention. He continued
to compose, but was outside the mainstream of musical life.
He died of a heart attack in New York.
seems to have been generally forgotten in the years following
his death. But there are signs of renewed attention. In
1981 the Deutsche Oper celebrated the centenary of his
birth, placing a bust of Waghalter amongst those of other
distinguished conductors and in 1989 giving a concert performance
of his Jugend.
far as I know, this new CD of early works is the first
to be devoted to Waghalter’s music. The String Quartet
is a thoroughly attractive piece, especially considering
the youthfulness of its composer. It is rich in attractive
melodies, the writing lush but uncloying. There is music
of great delicacy and poignancy in its adagio and the closing
allegretto has real charm. I notice that my 1930 edition
of Cobbett’s Cyclopedic Survey of Chamber Music,
in a very brief entry on Waghalter describes the quartet
as “appealing to the ear in a very attractive manner” -
which is very true. It goes on to say that it is “to be
recommended to the dilettante performer”. It can also be
recommended to listeners with a fondness for the late-romantic
idiom. It gets an affectionate and persuasive performance
The Notturno is
an elegant and lyrical salon-piece – at least the equal
of many that are better known. The Violin Sonata, at least
on the evidence of this performance, is somewhat less compelling
than the string quartet, rather more meandering and a little
languid, although there are, once again, some very attractive
melodies. The two short pieces for violin and piano which
make up Waghalter’s Op. 8 have a distinctively Slavic-Jewish
melancholy very much of their tradition and their period.
that all of these are youthful works, one’s appetite is
definitely whetted for the chance to hear some of Waghalter’s
more mature works. The presentation of this CD is very
well handled. The notes are helpful, and there are fascinating
photographs of the youthful Waghalter, of Waghalter the
conductor, alongside Puccini, and with the Orchestra of
the Deutsches Opernhaus, as well as of Waghalter in New
York in 1945.
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