Oral Histories

Interview of Leon Levitch

Immigrant from Belgrade and World War II concentration camp survivor. Composer and pianist.
A Twentieth-Century Romantic Temperament: L'artiste doit aimer
Interviews not in a series, part one
Biographical Note:
Immigrant from Belgrade and World War II concentration camp survivor. Composer and pianist.
Bertonneau, Thomas
Levitch, Leon
Persons Present:
Tapes I to VI: Levitch and Bertonneau. Tape VII: Levitch, Bertonneau, and Rebecca Andrade who operated the video equipment.
Place Conducted:
Tapes I to VI: Powell Library, UCLA; Tape VII: Levitch's home in Pacoima, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library's Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Thomas Bertonneau, assistant editor and interviewer, Oral History Program, UCLA. B.A., Scandinavian languages, UCLA.Bertonneau prepared for the interview by researching the background of Levitch's life, especially the history of the Italian concentration camps of the period of the second World War. (Levitch and his family spend two years in such camp.) Bertonneau obtained Levitch's scores, all of them in manuscript, and the four available recordings of his music.
Processing of Interview:
Editing was done by Bertonneau. He checked the verbatim transcript of the interview against the original tape recordings and edited for spelling, punctuation, paragraphing, and verified proper nouns. Words and phrases inserted for clarity by the editor have been bracketed.Levitch reviewed and approved the edited transcript.Mitch Tuchman, principal editor, reviewed the transcript. Bertonneau wrote the introduction.Cheri Derbi, assistant editor, prepared the index.
10 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Family's background in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, and Salonika, Greece; Nazi invasion of Yugoslavia, April 6, 1941; hiding from German roundup of Jews; escape with parents and brother and sister to Italian-occupied Albania; humane treatment of Jews by Italians; internment at San Vincenzo della Fonte, December 1941; moved to Ferramonti camp in Calabria and interned until summer, 1944; concentration camp conditions; liberated by Allied forces; music instruction from inmates in Ferramonti camp; studying piano, English, and piano tuning; family's emigration to United States; Belgrade in 1930s; late development of anti-Semitism in Yugoslavia; early exposure to music; emotional identification with Beethoven; arrival in refugee shelter, Oswego, New York; piano lessons with Vera Levinson; tuning shelter's pianos; starting four-part choir; self-taught composition; learning English; move to California; graduation from Canoga Park High School; meeting Jacob Gimpel; studying music with Gimpel; scholarship to arts institute at Brandeis Camp, Santa Susana, California; Ernst Toch, Eric Zeisl, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Louis Gruenberg, Solomon Rosowsky, and Aube Tzerko; fellow students Gershon Kingsley and Elliot Greenberg; Annaliese Landau and Jewish Centers Association program; studying composition with Zeisl; scholarship to study with Castelnuovo-Tedesco; premier of Levitch's Violin Sonata (op. 14), Royce Hall, UCLA, 1955; Levitch's works on radio broadcasts from Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Darius Milhaud at Aspen, Colorado; Arnold Schoenberg and atonal music; flute works; Gabriel Fauré; tonality as essence of music; relationship between religion and art; Of Plants and Humans (cantata, op. 9); move toward vocal music; Bennington Composers Conference, Vermont, 1955; Phyllis Schaefer's performance of Flute Sonata (op. 1); Levitch's rejection of avant-garde music establishment; travel through Europe before Hungarian revolution; Venice Music Festival; Violin Sonata (op. 14) composed for Manuel Compinsky; studying with Roy Harris, 1962-70; graduate work at UCLA; performance of First Symphony (op. 15); architectural nature of music; Piano Technicians Guild; creating piano technology program at UCLA; art of tempering intervals in piano tuning; Bach and Das Wohl-temperierte Klavier; temperaments in composition; teaching piano technology at California State University, Northridge; tuning harpsichords; music as direct communication; working on cantata, On Viewing the Coast of Africa, based on Howard Thurman poem; relationship between philosophy and music; residency at Dorland Mountain Colony, Temecula, California; Clara Castelnuovo-Tedesco.