North Texas Professor Plays Music Nazis Tried to Destroy at Grammy Awards

On Sunday night, a professor from the University of North Texas attended the Grammy Awards to put a Jewish composer’s music on the map and correct a historic wrong perpetrated by the Nazis.

Joe Banowetz, a pianist in the university’s music program played a piece by renowned composer and conductor Paul Kletzki, who died in 1973 and was famous for conducting the Berlin Philharmonic before being expelled from Germany. He hid his music from the Nazis in a trunk which survived a bombing raid and Hitler’s other attempts to destroy it.

Kletzki was sentenced to death with his family, who were all packed on to a train with artists, musicians and composers and sent to Auschwitz. He escaped although his family did not and were executed at the notorious death camp. The experience scarred him and prevented him from writing any future music although he continued to conduct orchestras around the world.

Enter Timothy Jackson, a professor of music and Nazism at UNT. As part of the Lost Composer’s project, whose goal is to reveal to the world all music whose composers were killed by the Nazi regime, he travelled around the world searching for missing scores. Kletzki’s wife gave Jackson all of her husband’s compositions. Kletzki is one of ten composers whose work Professor Jackson has recovered.

According to Jackson, “The Nazis wanted to get rid of Jewish composers, and that included getting rid of their music from libraries, but in surprising places — even in Berlin, if you would believe it – They had a score of Kletzki that I could not find anywhere else. I found there a short score of his violin concerto which allowed us to perform it with piano.” Some German librarian who refused to destroy the music allowed Banowetz to record one of Kletzki’s compositions from the 1930s.

Kletzki’s music echoes Beethoven, but was never great enough to be considered world-class until now. Banowetz was nominated for a Grammy for playing Kletzki’s Piano Conerto in D Minor and called it an honor, saying he felt as if he were leaving behind legacy.

Banowetz did not win a Grammy, but he performed it in Israel with the musical elite there which by itself constitutes a huge win for Banowetz, Kletzki and the Lost Composer’s Project.