Dutch composer Dick Kattenburg barely got started before the curtain came down. In hiding from Nazi authorities in Utrecht, Kattenburg was probably arrested in a movie theater and shipped out to Auschwitz in May 1944. By late September, Kattenburg was dead at age 24.
This story of discovery is extraordinary to be sure, but not nearly as extraordinary as Kattenburg’s music. Although Kattenburg had some rudimentary musical training, including some contact — mostly by way of correspondence — with Leo Smit, he was a self-taught composer bursting with talent, ingenuity, and originality.
His music manuscripts — constituting about 2 dozen pieces written between 1936 and 1944 — wound up in the care of Kattenburg’s sister Daisy, who managed to survive World War II. The one piece that Kattenburg circulated outside of his own collection, his ‘Flute Sonata‘ (1937) was given to its dedicatee, flautist Ima Spanjaard-van Esso. Although Esso never played the piece, she presented its manuscript to Eleanore Pameijer, founder of the Leo Smit Foundation in Amsterdam, who began to play it — a lot — in the early 2000s. Word of these performances reached the daughter of Daisy Kattenburg, who discovered the rest of Dick Kattenburg’s compositions in the family attic where her mother had left them.
Kattenburg loved jazz and his works are suffused with its influence by way of both rhythm and harmony. There is even a composition for piano, 4-hands and tap dancer, and a lively “Rumba” found among his three Escapades for two violins. These, and much more, may be found among the 13 works included on FutureClassics’ disc Dick Kattenburg: Chamber Music as performed by Pameijer’s group, the Leo Smit Ensemble.
Kattenburg’s music is very clear in its scoring and should delight performers whose instruments he wrote for. And it’s a pretty extensive range. In addition to the flute works and those for piano, he composed ‘pieces for violin, and an intriguing ‘Quartet‘ for the combination of flute, violin, cello, and piano, not commonly used since the late Baroque period. Stylistically, Kattenburg is difficult to nail down. Earlier pieces have an impressionist tinge, somewhat later ones adopt a Stravinskan edge, and his last work, the ‘Allegro Moderato’ for viola and piano, shows Kattenburg moving into an entirely original and boldly serious direction that, in the end, he wasn’t allowed to follow out to its realization.
As Dick Kattenburg: Chamber Music appears, much is being made of the discovery of a few frames of home movie film of Anne Frank, leaning out a window and waving, a tiny artifact raised, like Anne Frank’s diary, from the rubble of the hiding places that ultimately failed to preserve for us the lives of talented Jews that lived in the Netherlands during the Nazi period. Kattenburg was only a decade older than Anne Frank, and while his music does not speak directly of his horrendous experience like Frank’s work does, it remains a testament to what we lost when the hiding places were emptied out and these people were betrayed. It also pays tribute to the value of the creative impulse, as it is only through the bright, witty, and effervescent work like that heard on the FutureClassics’ disc, that lost ones — like Dick Kattenburg — can speak to us.
Source: Uncle Dave Lewis, 2009