20 years Leo Smit Foundation
Composers and repertoire

Daniël Belinfante
(1893 - 1945)

Daniël Belinfante

The idea of researching the Dutch composer Daniel Belinfante came originally from an Italian pianist in 2004. There can be no clearer illustration of how far this Amsterdam composer had faded from the musical scene. At first Belinfante resembles a kind of musical Osewoud, the character who is a resistance worker in Herman’ s Donkere kamer van Damokles (The Dark Chamber of Damocles), and whose existence the reader is increasingly led to doubt. Fortunately, the main outlines of Belinfante’s life have since emerged, mainly through research in the Amsterdam city archives.

Belinfante was born in 1893 into a large and very musical family of Amsterdam Jews. From his father, who was a diamond polisher, the young Daniel received his first violin lessons; later he was taught by his uncle Sidney, who was probably a professional violinist. He also studied piano, probably under Ary Belinfante. Daniel moved to Blaricum in 1928 with his wife, the singing teacher and composer Martha Dekker (1900-1989). They had both taught at the music school on Watergraafsmeer in Amsterdam which Belinfante founded in 1915. The teachers at this music school included members of the Concertgebouw orchestra; Belinfante himself, Karel Mengelberg and others gave piano lessons. In 1934 a jazz class was opened for amateurs and professionals alike, the first of its kind. Remarkably the teaching was also done by members of the Concertgebouw orchestra. During the Second World War Belinfante was forced into hiding; this did not however prevent him from doing resistance work from his hiding placein Amsterdam. He even rented an appartment under an assumed name, where he sheltered other fugitives. The day he attempted to pass on news captured on English radio he was arrested. Belinfante was taken first to Camp Westerbork and then to Auschwitz and Fürstengrube. In spite of his strong constitution Belinfante fell victim to disease and was laid up in the infirmary; at the approach of the Russians in January 1945 the German Wehrmacht (defence forces) set the building on fire. Thus Belinfante died just before the Liberation.

On 12 July 1945 a concert was given in the home of Martha Belinfante, organised by the music school. Martha had survived the War and taken over the directorship of the school from her dead husband. The programme included works by Martha herself and works by Handel, Debussy and Ravel, but surprisingly enough nothing by Daniel Belinfante. As far as we can determine Belinfante’s music was not played after the War. What happened in the pre-war years? In the ample collections of scores held by the Netherlands Music Institute there are many notes on interpretation but no indication of concert performances. Certainly Belinfante’s music was regularly played in his music school and he gave his more talented students his piano scores to study. Belinfante probably felt the lack of response. A concert performance can always help a composer to make useful changes and stimulate him to write a new opus.

Nearly all Belinfante’s personal documents have been lost; luckily we still possess the composer’s most important legacy: his music. It carries the direct influence of contemporary French music, for example in the frequent use of bitonality, the simultaneous use of two different keys, as we often find in the works of Milhaud. We are also reminded of Belinfante’s French contemporaries in his somewhat unruly sound, insistent rhythms and fine but unusual harmonies.

Amongst Belinfante’s works for chamber orchestra that have recently been performed (the orchestral music has not yet been published) the Piano Concertino stands out as a cheerful and lively piece. The Quartet for two violins, cello and piano is much darker in colour and has a dramatic impact. Amongst the many works for solo piano, Sonatina No. 3 is particularly successful. The two string quartets, dated 1931 and 1941, are still awaiting performance, as are the violin, cello and piano sonatas. It is up to today’s generation of musicians to carry on the good work!

Marcel Worms

This article is based on research done by Wim de Vries and Ger Poppelaars for a radioseries on suppressed composers, broadcast in 2005.

Selected works

Sonatine nr. 3 (undated) piano
Trio 1941 flute, oboe and bassoon
Kwartet 1927 two violins, cello and piano
Concertino 1936 piano, flute, oboe, violin, viola, cello and double bass

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