The story of composer James Simon

On November 12, the world premiere of James Simon's String Quartet will take place in the Conservatorium in Amsterdam, during the short festival 'Forbidden Music Regained'. This composer is almost completely unknown in the Netherlands.

Four separate parts of the string quartet were found in an American archive via Robbert Muuse; there was no score. No one knows when and for whom this work was composed. Singer Robbert Muuse entered the work into the computer and made a score of it. Now published by Donemus, this work will be in concert for the first time on Saturday 12 November in the Bernard Haitink Hall of the Conservatorium van Amsterdam, performed by the youngest generation of musicians.

About James Simon (1880-1944)

James Simon was born on 29 September 1880 in Berlin to an assimilated, well-to-do Jewish family. He studied piano with Conrad Ansorge and composition with Max Bruch, and philosophy at several universities, including Heidelberg and Freiburg. In 1904, he wrote his dissertation on the German composer Abbé Vogler in Munich. From 1907 to 1919, James taught at the Klindworth-Scharwenka Conservatory. He married Anna Levy and they had two sons.
When the Nazis came to power in 1933, James fled first to Zurich, and later to Amsterdam. He and his wife were separated by then, but there was no official divorce. James had formed a new relationship with Toni Therese Werner, who was married to Hans Appelbaum, the owner of a chocolate factory. When the Nazis took over the factory in 1936, the Appelbaums fled to the United States.

Immediately after his arrival in Amsterdam, James began performing for Dutch VARA Radio in Hilversum. He continued his life of recitals, lectures, teaching and composing. Cellist Marix Loevensohn, his colleague from Berlin and now solo cellist with the Concertgebouw Orchestra, premiered Simons Ahasver for cello and orchestra in Haarlem in December 1934. In late 1938, he visited his brother-in-law Martin Seligsohn in Palestine, whose wife, Simon's sister, had died a few months earlier. In memory of her, he composed his Lamento in Yemenitische Weise for cello and piano. In Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, he gave concerts and lectures. Although many advised him to do so, he did not want to stay in Palestine, as he could not miss European culture.

On 26 January 1941, Simon's 60th birthday was celebrated with a concert organised by the Dutch Society for Contemporary Music. The programme included several of his compositions. With violinist Alma Rosé, he performed in August 1941 at Het Apeldoornsche Bosch, a Jewish institution for the mentally ill. Even then, Jewish musicians were not allowed to perform in public.

James Simon did not seize the opportunity to leave for the United States thanks to an affidavit from a certain Mr Greenberg, who saved more than 70 Jews in this way. His son shared that his father, a European at heart, would never feel at home in a non-German-speaking country. Even Toni - who had left her husband and was living with her brother - could not persuade him to emigrate. Between 1932 and 1943, James Simon sent nearly 50 songs to Toni.

In early spring 1944, James Simon was sent to Westerbork, the Dutch transit camp, after which he was transported to Terezin on 4 April 1944. The list describes him as "Bekannter Berliner Pianist". In Terezin, he continued to compose, perform and lecture, and 7 times the Karol Fischer's Durra Choir performed his Psalm 126. On 12 October 1944, he was deported to Auschwitz. A witness recalls how the composer, seemingly unaware of what was happening around him, sat on his suitcase waiting for the train and wrote down his last musical notes.

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Published 2 months ago

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