Józef Koffler’s Piano Concerto
So who wrote the first ever 12-tone piano concerto? Well, I wouldn’t stake my life on it, but I’m almost certain it was Jozef Koffler, who composed his in 1932 (Schoenberg’s came exactly 10 years later).
Koffler was the only Polish dodecaphonist of significance (and one of probably only two representatives of that school in Poland, the other being Tadeusz Majerski). Though not born in Lviv, in his mature years he became a Lvovian. He studied law, composition, musicology and conducting in Vienna (1914-15). He was conscripted during World War I and served in the Austrian army (1916-18). Then, when the Polish army was created in 1918 (upon the revival of the Polish state), he volunteered to join it and served until 1920. He continued studying in Vienna (1920-23, ended with a doctorate in musicology). At some point in the mid 1920s (my sources can’t agree on the date) he moved to Lviv. There, he taught subjects connected with composition at the Conservatory (Roman Haubenstock-Ramati was among his pupils). He was a prolific and astute music critic (it appears he valued highly those very composers who later became “classics”), and a great promoter of avant-garde music. He corresponded with members of the Second Viennese School (he had met many of them in person) but, while he was the first Polish composer to apply Schoenberg’s technique, he was not a mere “imitator” – his application of 12-tone principles was rather loose and very original (Koffler combined dodecaphony with folk elements and neo-classical forms).
His position did not change dramatically in 1939, when the Russians attacked Poland and occupied Lviv. However, Koffler was a Jew, and when the Germans took over the city in 1941 he was arrested and sent with his family to the Wieliczka ghetto. What exactly happened in later years and how Koffler met his end is not known in detail. It is believed that he may have been shot in 1943 or 1944 in or near the town of Krosno, where he was hiding after fleeing form the Wieliczka ghetto.
During his lifetime Koffler did not gain much recognition in Poland. Instead, his compositions were brought out and performed abroad (SIMC festivals). At home he was largely ignored. During the communist era dodecaphony was more or less outlawed, so he did not gain much recognition then either. He left a not very large but rather substantial catalogue, containing, among other works, 4 symphonies, 2 string quartets (one destroyed by the composer, one lost), numerous piano works (a complete set takes up 2 CDs) and a fascinating orchestration of Bach’s Goldberg Variations (recorded a couple of years ago by the Amadeus Chamber Orchestra under Agnieszka Duczmal).
As can be gleaned from a fascinating article about Koffler by Maciej Gołąb (the man to a large extent responsible for the revival and reappraisal of Koffler’s music), the first movement of the Piano Concerto op. 13 is based on the formal outline of Schumann’s Toccata op. 7, the second movement on a Fieldean nocturne, and the third on Chopin’s Rondo a la Krakowiak. And go here for an interesting note about Maciej Gołąb’s book on Koffler.