The Rediscovery of a Great Jewish Composer

Jerzy Fitelberg was a favorite of Aaron Copland and Arthur Rubinstein. Then he was lost to history. Now, sixty years after his death, his music is being played again.

December 3, 2015 | Simon Wynberg
About the author: Simon Wynberg is a chamber musician and artistic director of the ARC Ensemble, a musical group known for its recovery and revival of music lost to political suppression.

Jerzy Fitelberg.

Music that survives only in its written form requires an intermediary, sometimes hundreds of intermediaries, in order to bring it to life. This is one way in which music differs from other arts: no performer, interpreter, or outside actor is needed to experience a novel or a poem, a sculpture or a painting. But the fact that we experience musical pieces through hearing them in time is the source not only of their mysterious power over us but—when they have the misfortune to exist only in the complicated and inexact notation used to write them down—of their potential to be overlooked and lost. A major art gallery will have a keen sense of the extent and quality of its holdings whether or not they are on exhibit at any given moment; by contrast, a national music library or archive can possess the entire corpus of a forgotten composer and have absolutely no idea of its artistic worth.

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