VIVALDI: 12 Violin Concertos, Op. 8 / The Four Seasons
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Great Violinists: Louis Kaufman: VIVALDI: Twelve Concertos for Violin and Strings, Op. 8
The American violinist Louis Kaufman wasundoubtedly among the most recorded violinists of thiscentury. In a career that spanned nearly seven decades,he made over 150 major recordings of his classicalrepertoire, and was heard as concertmaster in over fivehundred 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 SierraMadre (1948).
Born in Portland, Oregon in 1905, Kaufman's earlystudies were with Frank Eichenlaub and HenryBettman. By the age of ten, he was travelling on theWestern Pantages Vaudeville Circuit as assisting artistto the dancer Rozika. In 1918 he went to New York Cityto enter the violin class of the renowned teacher FranzKneisel (1865-1926) at the Institute of Musical Art.
During the 1920s Kaufman took up the viola and oftenplayed chamber music at private parties with Elman,Casals, Hofmann, Zimbalist, Heifetz and Kreisler. In1927 he graduated from the Institute of Musical Artwith highest honours, winning the Loeb Prize; thefollowing year he won the famed Naumberg Award. Inthe same year (1928), he made his New York CityTown Hall debut, which launched his solo concertcareer that would last nearly fifty years. An originalmember of the Musical Art String Quartet (as violist),he toured with that group in the United States and Italyfrom 1926 to 1933. Relocating to the West Coast in1933, Louis and his new wife Annette (Leibole), anaccomplished pianist, settled in Los Angeles (1934).
The Kaufmans began broadcasting weekly recitals inLos Angeles over Station KFI and were heard by movieproducer Ernst Lubitsch, who engaged him to recordviolin solos for the movie The Merry Widow (1934); itwould be the first of many assignments in Hollywood.
Interestingly, Kaufman's recorded legacy goes as farback as the 1920s, when he made his first recording forthe Gennett and Edison labels. This romance with themicrophone would continue on an additional 27 labelsthrough the 1970s. In 1948 the Kaufmans moved toEurope, making Paris their home base. The next eightyears saw a multitude of performances includingpremi?â?¿res of violin concertos by Martinů (Concerto daCamera), Anthony Collins, Lars-Erik Larsson, HenriSauguet, Dag Wiren, Leighton Lucas, and Milhaud'sSecond Concerto and Concertino de Printemps underthe composer's baton. During this period Kaufman wasawarded the Grand Prix du Disque for his recording ofVivaldi's Four Seasons with the conductor HenrySwoboda. In 1950 he suggested to the Town Hall MusicCommittee in New York City a first USA VivaldiFestival to honour the composer's 275th birthday in twoconcerts. Through the years Louis Kaufman was mostsupportive of American composers. He recordedCopland's Violin Sonata with the composer at thepiano, works by Robert Russell Bennett, Samuel Barber(the first recorded performance of the Violin Concerto),Ernest Toch, William Grant Still, Walter Piston andmany others. Just before his death in February 1994, hecompleted his autobiography with his wife of sixty years,Annette. A Fiddler's Tale was published by theUniversity of Wisconsin Press in 2003. In 2002 LouisKaufman's recording of The Four Seasons wasinducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
It is remarkable that Louis Kaufman's mid-century,premi?â?¿re recording of The Four Seasons, singlehandedlyre-kindled interest in the music of theeighteenth-century Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi.
Not only did that recording (initially a pressing of threethousand copies) go around the world, but its impact ontwentieth-century culture continues to this day. For thelast fifty years, advertisers have borrowed music fromThe Four Seasons to pitch every conceivable productfrom diamonds and furs to gourmet foods and exoticcars. Somehow when an advertiser needed to reinforcecultural taste or elevate a product to world-class status,Maestro Vivaldi would happily come to mind as alogical choice of good taste. And yet, even with thisover-saturation and exploitation, Vivaldi's music stillcontinues to remain fresh, exuberant, and engaging.
The son of a violinist who played at the Basilica ofSan Marco in Venice, the younger Vivaldi was ordainedto the priesthood in 1703, and was appointed violinmaster at the Ospedale della Piet?â?á, the beginning of along association. According to a contemporaryobserver, Charles des Brosses, who was in Venice in1739-40, \The Ospedali have the best music in Venice.
There are four of them all for illegitimate or orphanedgirls whose parents cannot support them. They arebrought up at the State's expense and trainedexclusively in music. Indeed, they sing like angels, playthe violin, flute, oboe, cello, bassoon - in short, noinstrument is large enough to frighten them. They arecloistered like nuns. The performances are entirely theirown and each concert is composed of about fortygirls..."During Vivaldi's years with the Piet?â?á, intermittentlyfrom 1703 until 1740, his opera and instrumentalproduction was enormous, although it now seems thatapproximately half of Vivaldi's total output has beenlost. This means that he produced some four hundredconcertos during his years with the Piet?â?á. His bestknown works are the four concertos which he entitledLe quattro stagioni (The Four Seasons). Theseconcertos are the first four in a set of twelve which hecalled Il Cimento dell' Armonia e dell' Inventione (TheContest between Harmony and Invention) andpublished as his Opus 8 in 1725. Each concerto in TheFour Seasons is accompanied by a descriptive sonnet,perhaps by Vivaldi himself. The lines of these sonnetsappear throughout the score at appropriate places andfurther indicate descriptive passages by inserting titlessuch as The Fleeing Prey, The Barking Dog, TheSleeping Drunk, and others.
Louis Kaufman's association with the music ofVivaldi was a matter of chance. Early in 1947 JamesFassett, Music Director of the Columbia Broadcastingsystem, asked Kaufman to perform four new Vivaldiconcertos recently issued by a Milanese publisher.
Kaufman agreed to the broadcast (June, 1948) but in themeantime he was asked by Sam Josefowitz, owner ofthe newly formed Concert Hall Records, for repertoirerecommendations for solo violin concertos with a smallorchestra - Vivaldi's Four Seasons seemed a perfect fit.
During the last week of 1947 Kaufman recorded theFour Seasons at Carnegie Hall with the conductorHenry Swoboda, harpsichordist Edith Weiss-Mann,organist Edouard Nies-Berger, and members of thestring section of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.
Because of a forthcoming recording strike in the UnitedStates scheduled for 1st January, 1948, Kaufmanrecorded the concertos after midnight (in the closingdays of 1947), so booked were the recording venues inNew York City. The record was released in early 1948with programme notes by the San Franciscomusicologist Alfred Frankenstein. From those notesKaufman was surprised to discover that the The FourSeasons were part of a group that included an additionaleight concertos, at the time unlocated.
In late 1948 the Kaufmans let their Hollywoodhome and moved to Europe to perform, and to recordnew repertoire for Concert Hall Records; the birth of theLP record was on the horizon. Another mission was tosee what other Vivaldi might be suitable to record andto try to locate the additional eight concertos of Opus 8.
Just before leaving Los Angeles, the Kaufmans wereintroduced to Dario Soria, head of Cetra-Soria Records,who encouraged them in their pursuit of the Vivaldiscores and also wrote them a letter of introduction to theItalian musicologist-composer Gian FrancescoMalipiero with the hope that he might shed