Forbidden Music: Composers banned by the Third Reich

October 7, 2016 by Stevie Whitmont
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J-Wire publishes a monthly series by Stevie Whitmont of vignettes of Jewish composers banned in by Nazis. This month features Leo Smit.

Leo Smits

Leo Smit

Among Dutch composers, Leo Smit was considered one of the most promising and prominent personalities of the inter-world war period.

He was among the first to be nominated after WWII by the new association Donemus, established (1947) for the documentation of Dutch music.

Today he is listed with thirty-two other Dutch composers who were cruelly persecuted by the Nazi regime (see Leo Smit Foundation).

Smit was born in Amsterdam into a prominent musical family with a combined Ashkenazi / Sephardi background.  The surname was changed to Smit in 1811 by Leo’s great-grandfather Itzek Mosje, a stovesmith by trade.  Leo Smit was educated in Holland and established a flourishing career there before he was drawn to Paris by the new French sounds of Les Six, Stravinsky, Ravel, Schulhoff and others.  He remained in Paris for nine years (1927 – 1936), spent a year in Brussels, and returned to Amsterdam in 1937.  By then he was well-known for his orchestral works (ex. Silhouetten), film scores (ex. three Dutch films:  Kentering, Jonge harten, and Schip in nood), incidental music and a rich trove of chamber music.

His sister had studied harp with Rosa Spier, and it was for Spier that he dedicated three major chamber works written for harp:  a trio, a quintet and a Concertino.  The latter was performed by Spier herself in 1934, appearing with the famed Concertebouw Orchestra.   His style was classical, melodious yet very French (with the occasional Black jazz reference).  Smit had married in 1933.  Following the advent of Nazism in Holland (1941), he and his wife were forced to move into a ghetto-like neighbourhood set aside for Jews in Amsterdam.

However, he refused to go into hiding.  Smit and his wife were “rounded up” and annihilated in the Sorbibor death camp in April 1943.  In 1942, with the exception of his film scores (now lost), Smit had placed his music archive in storage, under an assumed name (Frits Zuiderweg, one of his students).  Zuiderweg gave the complete archive and all the music scores to Smit’s sister in 1945.  She was instrumental in forming the Leo Smit Foundation before her death in 1996.

Leo Smit – Quintet for flute, string trio and harp


Sydney-based Stevie Whitmont is preparing the program notes forconcerts in June/July next year at the Sydney Jewish Museum and the Woollahra Council, performed by Woollahra Philharmonic musicians for their Chamber Proms series.

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