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Forbidden Music Regained : Volume 3

Genre: Unknown

Streichquartett / James Simon

Genre: Chamber music
Subgenre: String quartet (2 violins, viola, cello)
Scoring: 2vn vla vc

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Forbidden Music Regained : Volume 3

Genre: Unknown



Simon, James

Date of birth: 1884
Date of death: 1944

James Simon was born on 29 September 1880 in Berlin, in an assimilated, well-to-do Jewish family. He studied piano with Conrad Ansorge and composition with Max Bruch, and studied philosophy at various universities, including Heidelberg and Freiburg. In 1904, he wrote his doctoral thesis 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, later to Amsterdam. He and his wife had separated by then, but there was no official divorce. James had formed a new liaison with Toni Therese Werner, who was married to Hans Appelbaum, who owned a chocolate factory. When the Nazis took control over the factory in 1936, the Appelbaums fled to the United States.
Immediately after his arrival in Amsterdam, James started to perform for the 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 Simon’s Ahasver for cello and orchestra in Haarlem in December 1934. Late in 1938, he visited his brother-in-law Martin Seligsohn in Palestine. His sister Berta had died in February that year. Lamento in Jemenitischer Weise was composed to honour her memory. James gave concerts and lectures in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. He didn’t want to stay there, although many people advised him to do so, since he couldn’t live without the European culture.
On 26 January 1941, Simon’s sixtieth birthday was celebrated during a concert organized by the Nederlandsche Vereeniging voor Hedendaagsche Muziek (Dutch Association for Contemporary Music). The program included several compositions by James Simon. With violinist Alma Rosé he performed at ‘Het Apeldoornsche Bosch’, a Jewish institution for the mentally ill in August 1941. By then, Jewish musicians were no longer allowed to perform in public.
There was an option to go to the United States thanks to an affidavit from a certain Mr. Greenberg, who saved over 70 Jews in this way. Not James. According to his son he would never feel at home in a non-German speaking country. James Simon was a European at heart. Not even Toni – who had left her husband and lived with her brother – could persuade him to come to the States. Between 1932 and 1943, James Simon sent almost fifty songs to Toni.
In the early spring of 1944, James Simon was sent to Westerbork, the Dutch transit camp. On 4 April 1944 he was transported to Terezin. In the list he is described as “Bekannter Berliner Pianist”. In Terezin, like many others, he continued to compose, perform and give lectures. Between his arrival in early April until his transport to Auschwitz on 12 October that year, Simon gave 13 lectures in the camp. On 9 July 1944, his Psalm 126 premiered. It would be performed by Karol Fischer’s Durra Choir seven times. On 12 October 1944, he was transported to Auschwitz. A witness remembers how the composer, seemingly unaware of what happened around him, sat on his suitcase, waiting for the train and writing down his last musical notes.
Leo Smit Foundation
(by Phillip Silver and Carine Alders)