About this Recording
8.110297-98 - VIVALDI: 12 Violin Concertos, Op. 8 / The Four Seasons (Kaufman) (19Four7, 1950)

Great Violinists: Louis Kaufman: VIVALDI: Twelve Concertos for Violin and Strings, Op. 8

The American violinist Louis Kaufman was undoubtedly among the most recorded violinists of this century. In a career that spanned nearly seven decades, he made over 150 major recordings of his classical repertoire, and was heard as concertmaster in over five hundred movie soundtracks between 1934 and 1948, including Gone With The Wind (1939), Show Boat (1936), Modern Times (1936), Dodsworth (1936), Wuthering Heights (1939), The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), Intermezzo (1939) and The Treasure of Sierra Madre (1948).

Born in Portland, Oregon in 1905, Kaufman’s early studies were with Frank Eichenlaub and Henry Bettman. By the age of ten, he was travelling on the Western Pantages Vaudeville Circuit as assisting artist to the dancer Rozika. In 1918 he went to New York City to enter the violin class of the renowned teacher Franz Kneisel (1865-1926) at the Institute of Musical Art. During the 1920s Kaufman took up the viola and often played chamber music at private parties with Elman, Casals, Hofmann, Zimbalist, Heifetz and Kreisler. In 1927 he graduated from the Institute of Musical Art with highest honours, winning the Loeb Prize; the following year he won the famed Naumberg Award. In the same year (1928), he made his New York City Town Hall début, which launched his solo concert career that would last nearly fifty years. An original member of the Musical Art String Quartet (as violist), he toured with that group in the United States and Italy from 1926 to 1933. Relocating to the West Coast in 1933, Louis and his new wife Annette (Leibole), an accomplished pianist, settled in Los Angeles (1934). The Kaufmans began broadcasting weekly recitals in Los Angeles over Station KFI and were heard by movie producer Ernst Lubitsch, who engaged him to record violin solos for the movie The Merry Widow (1934); it would be the first of many assignments in Hollywood. Interestingly, Kaufman’s recorded legacy goes as far back as the 1920s, when he made his first recording for the Gennett and Edison labels. This romance with the microphone would continue on an additional 27 labels through the 1970s. In 1948 the Kaufmans moved to Europe, making Paris their home base. The next eight years saw a multitude of performances including premières of violin concertos by Martinů (Concerto da Camera), Anthony Collins, Lars-Erik Larsson, Henri Sauguet, Dag Wiren, Leighton Lucas, and Milhaud’s Second Concerto and Concertino de Printemps under the composer’s baton. During this period Kaufman was awarded the Grand Prix du Disque for his recording of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons with the conductor Henry Swoboda. In 1950 he suggested to the Town Hall Music Committee in New York City a first USA Vivaldi Festival to honour the composer’s 275th birthday in two concerts. Through the years Louis Kaufman was most supportive of American composers. He recorded Copland’s Violin Sonata with the composer at the piano, works by Robert Russell Bennett, Samuel Barber (the first recorded performance of the Violin Concerto), Ernest Toch, William Grant Still, Walter Piston and many others. Just before his death in February 1994, he completed his autobiography with his wife of sixty years, Annette. A Fiddler’s Tale was published by the University of Wisconsin Press in 2003. In 2002 Louis Kaufman’s recording of The Four Seasons was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

It is remarkable that Louis Kaufman’s mid-century, première recording of The Four Seasons, singlehandedly re-kindled interest in the music of the eighteenth-century Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi. Not only did that recording (initially a pressing of three thousand copies) go around the world, but its impact on twentieth-century culture continues to this day. For the last fifty years, advertisers have borrowed music from The Four Seasons to pitch every conceivable product from diamonds and furs to gourmet foods and exotic cars. Somehow when an advertiser needed to reinforce cultural taste or elevate a product to world-class status, Maestro Vivaldi would happily come to mind as a logical choice of good taste. And yet, even with this over-saturation and exploitation, Vivaldi’s music still continues to remain fresh, exuberant, and engaging.

The son of a violinist who played at the Basilica of San Marco in Venice, the younger Vivaldi was ordained to the priesthood in 1703, and was appointed violin master at the Ospedale della Pietà, the beginning of a long association. According to a contemporary observer, Charles des Brosses, who was in Venice in 1739-40, “The Ospedali have the best music in Venice. There are four of them all for illegitimate or orphaned girls whose parents cannot support them. They are brought up at the State’s expense and trained exclusively in music. Indeed, they sing like angels, play the violin, flute, oboe, cello, bassoon – in short, no instrument is large enough to frighten them. They are cloistered like nuns. The performances are entirely their own and each concert is composed of about forty girls...”

During Vivaldi’s years with the Pietà, intermittently from 1703 until 1740, his opera and instrumental production was enormous, although it now seems that approximately half of Vivaldi’s total output has been lost. This means that he produced some four hundred concertos during his years with the Pietà. His best known works are the four concertos which he entitled Le quattro stagioni (The Four Seasons). These concertos are the first four in a set of twelve which he called Il Cimento dell’ Armonia e dell’ Inventione (The Contest between Harmony and Invention) and published as his Opus 8 in 1725. Each concerto in The Four Seasons is accompanied by a descriptive sonnet, perhaps by Vivaldi himself. The lines of these sonnets appear throughout the score at appropriate places and further indicate descriptive passages by inserting titles such as The Fleeing Prey, The Barking Dog, The Sleeping Drunk, and others.

Louis Kaufman’s association with the music of Vivaldi was a matter of chance. Early in 1947 James Fassett, Music Director of the Columbia Broadcasting system, asked Kaufman to perform four new Vivaldi concertos recently issued by a Milanese publisher. Kaufman agreed to the broadcast (June, 1948) but in the meantime he was asked by Sam Josefowitz, owner of the newly formed Concert Hall Records, for repertoire recommendations for solo violin concertos with a small orchestra – Vivaldi’s Four Seasons seemed a perfect fit. During the last week of 1947 Kaufman recorded the Four Seasons at Carnegie Hall with the conductor Henry Swoboda, harpsichordist Edith Weiss-Mann, organist Edouard Nies-Berger, and members of the string section of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Because of a forthcoming recording strike in the United States scheduled for 1st January, 1948, Kaufman recorded the concertos after midnight (in the closing days of 1947), so booked were the recording venues in New York City. The record was released in early 1948 with programme notes by the San Francisco musicologist Alfred Frankenstein. From those notes Kaufman was surprised to discover that the The Four Seasons were part of a group that included an additional eight concertos, at the time unlocated.

In late 1948 the Kaufmans let their Hollywood home and moved to Europe to perform, and to record new repertoire for Concert Hall Records; the birth of the LP record was on the horizon. Another mission was to see what other Vivaldi might be suitable to record and to try to locate the additional eight concertos of Opus 8. Just before leaving Los Angeles, the Kaufmans were introduced to Dario Soria, head of Cetra-Soria Records, who encouraged them in their pursuit of the Vivaldi scores and also wrote them a letter of introduction to the Italian musicologist-composer Gian Francesco Malipiero with the hope that he might shed light on the whereabouts of the elusive eight concertos. When the Kaufmans finally met Malipiero at his estate in Northern Italy, he confirmed that an early edition of Vivaldi’s of Opus 8 could be located in Brussels. Malipiero then suggested that the Kaufmans search in the Netherlands, as much of Vivaldi’s music was published there, helped by Paul Collaer, music section head of Radio Flamande in Brussels.

The Kaufmans set off for Brussels before the summer vacation season closed all the public institutions. Upon reaching Brussels they contacted Paul Collaer who referred them to the Royal Music Conservatory of Brussels library. At that time Kaufman found the first published edition that consisted of published parts for all twelve concertos. The Kaufmans ordered a microfilm copy, not believing their good luck. At the time many European libraries filed their material by year of acquisition, so searching for a particular score could often be a frustrating experience.

Soon after returning to Paris, the Kaufmans met a friend for lunch who happened to be a correspondent for the Continental Daily Mail (an English newspaper published in Paris). She published their saga and several English and American newspapers picked up the story including Time magazine. What was hailed (at the time) as a discovery of a missing early Vivaldi work was in fact a re-discovery of an early Vivaldi work that had been overlooked through the cumbersome system of cataloguing of works in European libraries.

Louis Kaufman recorded the balance of Opus 8 for Concert Hall Records in Switzerland in 1950. In the following years, Kaufman would organize all-Vivaldi concerts in Paris, London, and New York, helping to re-launch Vivaldi to the preeminent status he enjoys today.

Lance Bowling

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