Walter Braunfels’ Sinfonia brevis
Notes by TŌN violinist Lana Auerbach
Walter Braunfels was born on December 19, 1882 in Frankfurt, Germany. He began his music education in 1895 at the Dr. Hoch Conservatory. In 1901, he pivoted away from music and began studying economics in Munich and Kiel. Ultimately, he realized he wanted to pursue a career in music and studied piano, composition, and theory privately in Vienna. His primary mentors at this time were pianist Theodore Leschetitsky and music theorist Karl Nawratil. In 1903, Braunfels moved to Munich. This was an inspirational place for him. He performed as a pianist regularly, studied composition with Ludwig Thuille, and served as assistant to Felix Mottl, the conductor of the National Theatre. In 1920, Braunfels’ opera Die Vogel (The Birds) was the first of his works to gain recognition and brought him to prominence. His works started to appear in concert halls all across Germany, conducted by renowned conductors such as Otto Klemperer and Max von Schillings. Later in the 1920s, Braunfels became a member of the Berlin Academy of the Arts and helped found the Cologne Academy of Music.
His Later Years
In 1933, his life was turned upside down by World War II and the Nazi regime. Being half Jewish, Braunfels’ works were banned during the war, and he was forced to quit any engagement in musical activities. As a result, he retreated to the Switzerland border with his family. During this period of transition, he wrote three more operas, four cantatas, three string quartets, and one string quintet. After the war, he was reinstated as director of the Cologne Academy of Music and spent the rest of his years there. After his retirement as director of the school in 1950, Braunfels continued to write music. During this time he wrote Sinfonia brevis, the piece we will be performing today.