ERNST LEVY (1895 - 1981)
Ernst Lévy, born in Switzerland in 1895 and very much a musical wunderkind, was appointed to the piano faculty of the Basel Conservatory of Music by the time he was 21. At the age of 25 he moved to Paris and quickly established himself. In 1928 he founded the ChœurPhilharmonique, with which he conducted performances of major choral works, and recorded some of them for Polydor records. While living in Paris he married Else Hammerschlag, a Viennese woman whose father had been Mahler’s personal physician, and fathered two sons, Frank and Matthys.
As Europe was about to convulse into chaos, Lévy’s family sailed to the United States in 1939, where he joined them in 1941. City University of New York professor Robert H. Lilienfeld, who has chronicled the achievements of both Ernst and Frank Lévy, starkly noted: “…he was one of the refugees who arrived in America in flight from the crisis of European civilization which culminated in World War II.” One suspects that, were it not for Lévy’s intuition regarding the impending Holocaust, audiences would probably have never benefited from either his or his son’s compositional talents.
Once in the United States, Lévy began a distinguished teaching career. Among his faculty appointments were tenures at such prestigious schools as MIT, New England Conservatory and the University of Chicago. During this time he composed prolifically. His works include fifteen symphonies, music for solo piano, concertos, choral works and chamber music for various combinations of instruments.
Despite his teaching schedule and the many hours spent composing, he continued to perform as a piano recitalist and recorded many works for Kapp, Unicorn and Columbia records, among others.
Ernst Lévy possessed a powerful intellect that led him to probe many other disciplines including mathematics, architecture, physics, acoustics and philosophy. All of these influences made their way into the musical gestalt of this remarkable artist, who died in Switzerland in 1981.