Walter Kaufmann’s “Indian Symphony”
Notes by TŌN flutist Chase McClung
Fleeing to Mumbai
Walter Kaufmann’s Indian Symphony was inspired by the composer’s time spent in India. He was a Czech-Jewish composer who fled to Mumbai in 1934 to escape Nazi Europe. During his time there, he founded the Bombay (Mumbai) Chamber Music Society and, through a work connection, ended up teaching violin to Zubin Mehta, one of India’s most highly esteemed classical conductors today.
From Confusion to Adoration
Kaufmann’s first experiences with traditional Indian music were negative; he did not understand its theory and believed what he heard was “alien and incomprehensible.” With his background attending the German University in Prague for his Ph.D. in musicology, he went on to study traditional Indian music to understand its beauty. He wrote studies detailing traditional North and South Indian ragas, which serve as melodic frameworks for improvisation in traditional Indian music. Kaufmann’s time in India began as a story of Jewish survival during Nazi Germany and bloomed into a love story for the composer understanding India’s traditional music.
In India, Kaufmann’s most recognizable musical contribution is a short tune that played on the All India Radio every dawn. Millions tuned in to early-morning broadcasts which began with Kaufmann’s composition. During the 13 years he spent working at All India Radio, Kaufmann observed performances from some of India’s best classical musicians, and this in turn inspired his writing. His Indian Symphony shows Kaufmann’s Indian musical influence through its exploration of textures between strings and winds playing melodies in unison, and via energetic rhythms in its finale that are reminiscent of the complex, fast rhythms found in Indian percussion music.