Skip to main content Skip to navigation
CAS Connect October 2016

Band director revives music from Holocaust

Before he was senselessly killed at age 25, Dick Kattenburg was a rising young star on the Amsterdam music scene. A student of one of the best-known composers of his day, he wrote at least 30 well-constructed works in a variety of styles, some with a distinctive jazzy flair.

Troy Bennefield
Bennefield

But Kattenburg was also a Jew; he died at Auschwitz in 1944, leaving behind a mere fraction of his life’s promise in his musical compositions, most discovered just over a decade ago. Among them is his sole piece for wind instruments, a spirited work performed this year for the very first time thanks to the research and efforts of Troy Bennefield, WSU assistant professor of music and director of the WSU Cougar Marching Band.

Supported by a $5,000 Edward R. Meyer Project Grant through CAS, Bennefield began last summer to research Kattenburg’s life and music, scouring the Internet for clues and traveling to the Netherlands to examine documents housed at the National Archives in The Hague. There, among dozens of Kattenburg’s handwritten manuscripts and personal correspondence, he found the pieces of an unfinished composition for woodwind quintet and a second goal for his research: to record a performance of the work and engrave the score for posterity.

“This work adds music to our repertoire that is rich in artistic merit, and connects conductors, performers, and audiences to an important and tragic part of history,” Bennefield said.

Musical detective work

Editing Kattenburg’s unfinished “Divertimento for Winds, op. 7” and transcribing it for performance required a fair amount of Dutch translation, along with “a bit of detective work,” Bennefield said.

His first task was to compile various fragments of the divertimento, other drafts, and finished scores to familiarize himself with the composer’s style and musical choices. Although parts of the lively first movement were clearly written, the bi-tonal and complex second movement was practically illegible in places, especially where Kattenburg had scratched through and written over the notes more than once.

“It was really neat to go through it and find what made sense—kind of like putting pieces of a puzzle together,” Bennefield said. “I’d think, ‘This is a wrong note, but which is the right note? He did it this way at the beginning of the piece.’ It was quite a process to figure out what he meant to do.”

Kattenburg was only 18 when he began writing the divertimento, and some musical immaturity shows through, Bennefield said. “For example, some things weren’t necessarily playable by instruments—like, that’s not in the range of an oboe.”

So much lost potential

Bennefield, who is a percussionist and “a conductor, not a composer,” added no new material to the work but examined several of Kattenburg’s later compositions and pieces edited by other professionals to learn about their decisions, and used those insights to inform his choices.

Music manuscript by Dick Kattenburg with self-portrait.
A dreamer and doodler, Dick Kattenburg often embellished his scores with sketches of people he knew or imagined, including a self-portrait in the middle of the second movement of his “Divertimento for Winds.”

“To look at the music in [the composer’s] handwriting and try to prepare that for somebody to hear for the first time is a pretty amazing thing,” Bennefield said. “I felt a lot of pressure to make sure it was as close to what he wanted as possible.”

This summer, he presented his research at the International Society for the Promotion and Research of Wind Music (IGEB) conference in Oberwölz, Austria. Through Bennefield’s work, music scholars from 12 countries learned about Kattenburg’s life and influences and heard the first recorded performance of his “Divertimento for Winds.”

“Recording the divertimento was a surreal experience,” said Sophia Tegart, flutist and clinical assistant professor of music. She and three other WSU faculty musicians and a colleague from Eastern Washington University made up the quintet that premiered the work in the WSU Recording Studio.

“The piece is quirky and interesting, and shows a composer who had some interesting ideas and concepts to share with the world,” Tegart said. “I would have loved to discover more of his works after we recorded this piece. Sadly, his life being cut short leaves me with a musical sense of loss that only adds to his already tragic end. It’s hard to not focus on what could have been had he lived longer,” she said.

“Everyone has that same reaction of ‘He was so young. What might have happened if he was allowed to live a full life as a composer?’” Bennefield said. “There was clearly so much in him and so much potential that was lost. He wasn’t a Mozart but he was unbelievably accomplished by 19.”

Positive impact for the future

Bennefield’s music research is positively affecting his teaching and work directing the WSU symphonic and athletic bands, he said.

“It’s always great to be able to talk with our students about that broader world of music. Especially for people who grow up playing in school bands, the serious, artistic side of wind music and its rich history can get lost,” he said.

“And it’s important to think about the human cost of war, like all of the things that were lost in the Holocaust, and how that has affected generations of composers and musicians.”

Of Kattenburg’s 30-plus compositions, only one—a flute sonata—was performed during his short lifetime. The bulk of his work was discovered about 10 years ago in a family member’s attic. Since then, six pieces have been published, and Bennefield is now working with the Dutch music publisher Donemus to publish the two movements of his divertimento for winds.

“How promising a lot of his work was—and just how much there is that could be finished and finally heard—is important,” Bennefield said. “Not to be too dramatic, but how big an idea that is really is kind of amazing.”

Bennefield intends to continue his research into Kattenburg’s work and that of seven other Dutch and Czech composers of wind music who were killed in the Holocaust. He hopes also to win a grant to help establish a winds history institute at WSU that would serve as a type of repository for winds literature and possibly host a biannual conference for presenting original research.

Doodles line the bottom of a page of Kattenburg's music.
Doodles line the bottom of a page of Kattenburg’s music.
Washington State University