Video of the Goldner String Quartet performing the first movement of Walter Wurzburger's String Quartet No. 2.
|Date||12th August 2017|
Born in Frankfurt in 1914 to a musical family, Walter Wurzburger attended one of the first University-accredited jazz courses run by Mátyás Seiber at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt. In 1933, following the Nazi rise to power, Wurzburger fled Germany to Paris, where he busked and played in various jazz bands including the famed Benny Carter Orchestra. Wurzburger toured Belgium, Luxembourg, Scandinavia and Switzerland, arriving in the Netherlands in 1939, where word had spread of opportunities for employment in Singapore.
With the outbreak of hostilities on 1 September 1939, all German nationals in the colony of Singapore (regardless of racial categorisation under the Nazis) were placed on parole, or curfew. In 1940, 272 men, women and children were rounded up, taken to St John’s Island, and from there, transported to Australia on the Queen Mary. Departing Singapore on 18 September, the ship arrived in Sydney. From there the detainees were transported by train the small town of Tatura in country Victoria, where a detention camp had been set up. Families were allowed to remain together, and were sent to Camp 3; the single men including Wurzburger were housed in the same camp, separated from the family group, housed with anti-Nazis who had been deported to Australia on the Arandora Star.
Overcrowding and the need to accommodate more families in Camp 3 saw the relocation of Walter Wurzburger and other single men to Camp 4D. Here he struck up a friendship with the photographer Helmut Neustädter, better known in later life as Helmut Newton. In the new barracks Wurzburger taught jazz, arranging and composition. A note kept by his friend Uwe Radok (who was later to become one of the most important meteorologists and glacial experts in Australia) mentions one of Wurzburger’s lectures, specifically an account of the style and method of Hindemith. It would not be unreasonable to suggest that such expressionist approaches became the basis for his compositional output in Australia in the years 1941 to 1949, and one can clearly hear Hindemith's influence in the second string quartet.
The work was written in 1944, during his time in the Eighth Australian Employmant Company. The company had been formed in February 1942 after the Australian Parliament recognised the mistake that had been made with the internment of the Jewish refugees. The unit had the highest proportion of musicians in any Australian army unit. In a personal note prepared for a performance of his fourth String Quartet, Wurzburger says that his first three Quartets “could well be discarded as student works”. Thankfully the work was preserved, and premiered in February 2000 at a memorial performance for the composer.