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A Fiddler’s Tale: How Hollywood and Vivaldi Discovered Me
Louis Kaufman (1905 - 1994)

Louis Kaufman with Annette Kaufman
Foreword by Jim Svejda
384 pages; includes music CD of recordings from 1942-52.
70 b/w illustrations + 8 colour plates
Discography by Lance Bowling. Filmography.
University of Wisconsin Press September 2003 ISBN 0-299-18380-7
3 Henrietta Street, London WCXE 8LU, England [£15.88] [26 x 19 cm]
1930 Monroe Avenue, Madison WI 53711 USA us$26.95 10.36" x 7.33"
http://www.wisc.edu/wisconsinpress/books/2232.htm
http://www.louiskaufman.com/




Probably most music lovers, on encountering the name Louis Kaufman, will respond "Who?" Ironically, while probably many people have never head of him, they have all heard him. Any person who has ever seen "Gone with the Wind", "Snow White", "Sunset Boulevard", "Ben Hur", or "Captain from Castile" — and this must surely include at least 80% of the world’s population — has heard him play. Classical music lovers of my generation remember their first recording of Vivaldi’s "Four Seasons" featured Louis Kaufman as soloist and, if you’re like me, you still have that record because in some ways it’s the finest ever done.* This historic 1947 recording won the Grand Prix De Disque 1950, and in 2002 was inducted into The "Grammy" Hall of Fame.

To me, the pinnacle of his recorded output is the Torelli complete (12) Opus 8 Concerti for one and two violins and orchestra on two monophonic L’Oiseau-Lyre LPs, recorded in Paris in 1954 with Georges Alès and Rugg[i]ero Gerlin; Kaufman played solo and conducted the orchestra and to my mind created a model of musical passion mixed with original instrument authenticity that still stands as a standard of comparison.** A number of currently active artists must agree with me because newer recordings seem to come closer to matching that standard than was true for many decades. So Louis Kaufman, already, due to his work in film music, the most recorded and most widely heard violinist who ever lived, may soon as well be honoured as one of the most influential Baroque period musical scholars of the 20th century.

He was born in Portland, Oregon, but his parents were Rumanian Jews, from a remarkable beneficent culture. The elder Kaufman attended the Catholic school in Buzaû, and when his grandmother was severely burned in a fire, the Catholic neighbours took her in and nursed her. The adventuresome flight to the USA involved breaking out at gunpoint of a military camp where the elder Kaufman had been signed on for 20 years. After Louis was 10, the Kaufmans all moved back to Rumania for a number of years before finally returning to Portland for good. During those years in Rumania Louis had much time to become acquainted with the native musical traditions.

On the advice of his local teachers in Oregon, Louis moved to New York to live with cousins and uncles and studied at the Institute of Musical Art with Franz Kneisl (also Rumanian), a severe but loving teacher who spent Summers in Bad Ischl with Brahms. Kneisl told him, "No matter how well you play, if people don’t like you you’ll have no career." Upon the death of Kneisl, Kaufman had exactly three lessons with Leopold Auer before a clash of wills ended the friendship and the lessons. Louis thought his goose was really cooked when Auer ended up on the graduation examination board! But his mother had come for the ceremony, sat right next to the judging booth, and she heard the discussions among the judges; when the chairman said to Auer, "Should we give him 90 or 100?" Auer said, "Give him 150!" So Louis’ career got off to a good start with a Cum Laud artist’s diploma.

This summarises the story only up to page 50. The book continues for more than 300 pages to recount years of making music with fellow students like Richard Rodgers, Clara Rockmore, and André Kostelanetz and legends like Casals, Kreisler, and Elman.

Having conquered the east coast musical world, then Louis moved to the west coast to become intimate with the west coast musical émigré community, and found his life work in the film music industry, performing in over 500 film sound tracks between 1934 and 1965. At his suggestion the first Vivaldi Festival in America was held in New York's Town Hall in Spring of 1951. Throughout his career he maintained an interest in the work of contemporary composers, especially the work of young Americans, playing and recording works by Aaron Copland, Quincy Porter, Ernest Bloch, William Grant Still, Robert Russell Bennett, Robert McBride, Everett Helm, Charles Jones, Gail Kubik, and Charles Ives.

Many, many musicians walk through these pages and Kaufman records his exchanges with them charitably and without rancour, even though some are not seen in the best light. With great delight does he recount his interactions with those whose humanity, charity, and professionalism he could admire, and there are many of these. It is amazing that any one person could possibly do all these things and be at all these places; Kaufman must have been a person of astonishing energy and endurance. He speaks of recording sessions at the studios that begin at 8AM. Union rules require that the orchestra be sent home at midnight, but he is asked to remain to record solos, and be back again at 8AM to begin another full day of work.

The CD concentrates on recordings not otherwise available and which figured in some way in the incidents related in the book. In my opinion a few of these selections do not do the artist full justice. The performance of Havanaise is intelligent and articulate, but it lacks the sense of lush, sensual melody that some violinists bring to this work. The Vivaldi is one of the less interesting Baroque works he recorded, although it was one of Kaufman’s favourites and figured in a bewildering exchange with the CBS radio network; I would expect that he probably performed it better under other circumstances. The real gems on this disk are to be found in the Milhaud Concerto de Printemps and the unfamiliar works by Americans beginning on track 3 with the Pastorella and Blues of William Grant Still. In the two Jerome Kern melodies and Kreisler’s Londonderry Air Kaufman’s lyrical talents are amply displayed.

The 8 pages of color plates show paintings from the Kaufman art collection which are discussed in the narrative. All personal photos are in black and white and flow in the text.

Jim Svejda has been since 1978 a classical music commentator on radio station KUSC in Los Angeles and over the years has produced many "witty and meticulously crafted" classical music feature programs for American public radio stations; and he also reviews films for CBS radio.

Paul Shoemaker

*Now it can be told: the "Concert Hall Orchestra" was the New York Philharmonic and the recording venue, on December 31, 1947, was Carnegie Hall.!

**The "Ensemble Orchestral de l’Oiseau-Lyre" was l’Orchestre Nationale de la Radiodiffusion Française and the recording date was December 31, 1954, with widely praised but unattributed program notes by Annette Kaufman.

Louis Kaufman CD Playlist: [76.34]
Antonio Vivaldi (1678 - 1741)
Concerti for violin, "La Cetra, Opus 9": #2 [9:10]
Louis Kaufman, violin and conductor; French National Radio String Orchestra
Recorded 1951.
Camille Saint-Saëns (1835 - 1921)
Havanaise, Opus 83 (1887) [8:29]
Louis Kaufman, violin; Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, Mauritz van den Berg, conductor
Recorded 1952.
William Grant Still (1895 - 1978)
Pastorella (1946) [8:58]
Lenox Avenue (1943): "Blues" [2:40 ]
Louis Kaufman, violin; Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Bernard Herrmann, conductor.
Recorded 1946.
Darius Milhaud (1892 - 1974)
Concerto de Printemps (1934) [8:23]
Louis Kaufman, violin; French National Orchestra, Darius Milhaud, conductor
Recorded 1949.
Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897 - 1957)
Much Ado about Nothing Suite for Violin and Piano: (1919) [11:21]
"The Maiden in the Bridal Chamber"
"March of the Night Watchmen"
"Garden Scene"
"Hornpipe".
Louis Kaufman, violin; Annette Kaufman, piano
Recorded at the Korngold Memorial Concert, Los Angeles, California, USA 1959.
Aaron Copland (1900 - 1990)
Nocturne for Violin and Piano (1925) [4:26]
Louis Kaufman, violin; Aaron Copland, piano
Recorded 1948.
Ukulele Serenade (1926) [3:43]
Rodeo (1942): "Hoe-Down" (arr. Copland 1945) [2:42]
Louis Kaufman, violin; Annette Kaufman, piano.
Recorded 1947.
Robert Russell Bennett (1894 - 1981)
Hexapoda - Five Studies in Jitteroptera for Violin and Piano. (1935) [6: 54]
Louis Kaufman, violin; Robert Russell Bennett, piano.
Recorded 1942.
Jerome Kern (1885 - 1945)
"The Song Is You." [3:14]
"Smoke Gets in Your Eyes." [3:01]
Louis Kaufman, violin; Leonard Berman, piano; arranged by Kaufman/Berman.
Recorded 1946.
Anonymous
Londonderry Air (traditional Irish ballad, arranged Fritz Kreisler) [3:38]
Louis Kaufman, violin; Paul Ulanowsky, piano.
Recorded 1952.

 



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