Leopold van der Pals

1884 - 1966

Swiss

Summary

Leopold van der Pals was a post-romantic and expressionistic composer, lyricist and writer. He collaborated with some of the greatest artists, writers and philosophers of his time. This resulted in the development of a lyrical expressionistic style, occasionally inspired by impressionism. His music also contains influences from the Slavic and Nordic traditions. 

Van der Pals excelled in vocal compositions and orchestral works in his 252 official opus with a combined number of over 650 songs, 8 operas and several cantatas, many of them to his own libretti. His instrumental music includes symphonies, orchestral suites and symphonic poems, as well as an extensive catalogue of chamber music and piano works.  

Biography

Leopold van der Pals was a post-romantic and expressionistic composer, lyricist and writer. Van der Pals collaborated with some of the greatest artists, writers and philosophers of his time (Sergei Rachmaninoff, Rudolf Steiner, Andrej Belij, Serge Koussevitsky, Auguste Rodin, Alexander Skrjabin) who inspired him to seek new ways of expression. This resulted in the development of a lyrical expressionistic style, occasionally inspired by impressionism. His music also contains influences from the slavic and nordic traditions. 

His first breakthrough was the debut of his Symphony no.1, op. 4, with Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra under Heinrich Schultz 1910. Soon followed performances with New York Phil in 1911 and concerts all over Europe. Until the outbreak of World War II he was regularly performed in the prominent concert halls in Europe, conducted by Willem Mengelberg, Fritz Busch and Georg Göhler among others. Leopold´s foremost collaboration partner was his brother, the conductor Nikolaj van der Pals, who conducted the premiere of Leopold van der Pals second symphony in 1937 with Vienna Symphonic Orchestra. 

Leopold van der Pals musical heritage stems from his grandfather Julius Johannsen and the musical environment he had provided in the family home in St. Petersburg during the Belle époque period (around 1890-1913). Johannsen was principal of the Music Conservatory in St. Petersburg, professor of counterpoint and in several periods, main teacher of the composition class. Johannsen was a father figure for the young Leopold, and together they spent the summers in the Finish countryside, working on music training and enjoying the bright nordic summers. In St. Petersburg Leopold received piano lessons from Alexander Siloti and Nikolay Sokolov. 

The close ties with the Russian musical life had a profound effect on the young composer. Alexander Glazunov composed music for Leopold's sister's wedding, Modest Tjajkovsky entertained the children at the grand piano and Anton Arensky performed his chamber music at house concerts in the living room. 

Already as a teenager, Leopold composed sonatas, chamber music and songs. After his mothers death in 1903 he composed a cantata to her memory, for choir, piano and soloists. The piece was premiered by Nikolay Sokolov as conductor. After this performance, Glazunov persuaded Leopolds father Hendrik to allow Leopold to study music. 

Leopold van der Pals continued his studies of piano, cello and composition at Lausanne Conservatory of Music. 

In 1907 he attended ”Cinq concert historique russes” in Paris, organised by Diaghilev and sponsored by Leopolds father. The festival was based on the idea of russian composers performing their own works. 

Through the friendship with Rachmaninoff, formed in Paris, he continued his studies in Berlin with Reinhold Gliere. 

Several of van der Pals' large compositions are autobiographically based and reflects events in his personal life and contains musical interpretations of his life situation, love and mental challenges. His life in exile in Switzerland 1913-1966, experiences through World Wars I and II, Russian revolution and personal traumas, including 11 years spent in sanatoriums to care for his wife. 

Van der Pals excelled in vocal compositions and orchestral works in his 252 official opus with a combined number of over 650 songs, 8 operas and several cantatas, many of them to his own libretti. His instrumental music includes symphonies, orchestral suites and symphonic poems, as well as an extensive catalog of chamber music and piano works.  

During the period after WWII van der Pals experienced difficulty to continue his collaboration with the symphonic orchestras, as his post-romantic and lyrical style was often considered old-fashioned. In spite of this he continued to compose until his death in 1966. 

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