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Rosy Wertheim
(1888-1949)

Rosy Wertheim


Rosy Wertheim devoted her life in equal measure to music and social causes. She was born in 1888 into a wealthy Amsterdam family; her grandfather was the distinguished banker Abraham C. Wertheim after whom Wertheim Park in Amsterdam is named. Rosy showed an early and very special talent for music. After middle school her parents sent her to boarding school in Neuilly (not to the Social Academy where she herself wanted to study). In Neuilly she had her first piano lessons and she decided to pursue music. She studied piano with Ulfert Schults and composition with Bernard Zweers. She also had lessons with Sem Dresden.

Until the 1920s Rosy Wertheim concentrated on writing songs and choral works in a romantic idiom. From 1921 to 1929 she taught at the Amsterdam Music Lyceum and directed several female and children’s choirs, including the choir called "Eilandkinderen" (Island Children) for children from the poor Jewish district in Amsterdam.

In 1929 she went to Paris for six months and eventually stayed there for six years. She studied composition and instrumentation under Louis Aubert. Her appartment was a meeting place for artists, including the composers Honneger, Ibert, Milhaud and Messiaen. She formed a very close friendship with the composer Elsa Barraine. She wrote articles for the daily paper Het Volk on musical life in Paris. Her works from this period are light and playful, in the neoclassal style. Harmonically they approach the French impressionist idiom. In 1935 Rosy Wertheim went to Vienna for a year and studied counterpoint under Professor Karl Weigl. In 1936 she travelled to the United States, where she gave a number of lectures. Her String Quartet, the Divertimento for chamber orchestra and a number of her piano works were played in a concert by the Composers Forum Laboratory.

The tense situation in Europe caused her to return to Amsterdam in 1937. During this period, and even after the outbreak of war, Rosy Wertheim was a prolific composer. Her music of the 30s is characterised by a light, impressionistic, lively touch. In 1940 her Piano Concerto was played by the Residentie Orkest (The Hague Philharmonic Orchestra) conducted by Willem van Otterloo.

Following the German occupation Rosy Wertheim organised house concerts in her cellar. These concerts featured modern music, particularly works by Jewish composers which were now banned. After June 1942 she started to hide in various locations, including Het Gooi and Amstelveen. Many times her thoughtless excursions exposed both herself and the families who sheltered her to the utmost danger; nevertheless Rosy Wertheim survived the war, though most of her family perished. After the war she taught at the music school in Laren, but her health failed rapidly. She was confined to bed for years on end. With extraordinary energy she tried to stay in touch with all cultural events, especially in the field of music. When she died in 1949, aged 61, Max Vreedenburg wrote in the Nieuw Israëlietisch Weekblad (New Israelite Weekly) (NIW) that her work was still largely neglected in the Netherlands. Rosy Wertheim wrote some ninety compositions, including songs and chamber music; most of the pieces are undated.

Rosy Wertheim wrote very lyrical music. She had a rich and varied talent for harmony. Attracted at first to the late romantic style, she had a later flirtation with octatonicism, which was very popular with Dutch composers in the 1920s and can be heard for example in the works of Sem Dresden and Leo Smit. Her later works are clearly influenced by her time in France; she went over to the French impressionist style. Rosy Wertheim’s compositions are never simple or unambiguous; the music is layered and touches depths that remind one of Brahms, containing not just movement but grand gestures; and even Wertheim’s simplest songs hold complex depths.

Eleonore Pameijer

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The score for 'Twee Liederen' (Two Songs) by Rosy WertheimIn can be found in the library of Muziekcentrum van de Omroep. You can also read and download the score from www.muziekschatten.nl

Selected works

Trois Morceaux 1939 flute and piano
Trois Chansons 1939 soprano, flute and harp/piano
Sonate ca. 1921 cello
Concerto per pianoforte e orchestra (undated)
Divertimento undated chamber orchestra
Six Morceaux undated piano
Quatuor à cordes undated

Find out more about Rosy Wertheim, find sheet music and listen to sound samples on www.forbiddenmusicregained.org

A double CD with Rosy Wertheim's chamber music was released in 2010 by FutureClassics.

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