Interview with Claude Weber, artistic director of the project
What was the starting point of this project?
Helen Buchholtz is a composer born in Esch/Alzette whose work was rediscovered in the 2000s. For the past twenty years I have been working extensively with musicians, musicologists and friends to make sure her life and work are rediscovered and reappraised. To be able to present this project in the framework of Esch2022 was a wonderful opportunity, as Buchholtz, apart from stays in Wiesbaden (Germany) and Luxembourg-city towards the end of her life, had been active in Esch.
How was she rediscovered and which sources could you draw on?
This project is a musicologist’s dream come true that I was able to complete with the help of Danielle Roster, who has been researching on women composers for many years. During an interview with Christiane Kremer on local TV, Danielle mentioned Helen Buchholtz, pointing out that she was largely unknown and that her work had all but disappeared. François Ettinger, the composer’s nearly 90-year-old nephew, contacted Danielle after seeing the programme and made various manuscripts, scores, objects and the like available to her. This material was then bequeathed to the CID Fraen an Gender, a centre for documentation and information on women and gender. The first performance of Buchholtz’s works took place in 2000 at Cercle Cité in the presence of her nephew. Further concerts were held at the music conservatories of Esch and Ettelbruck, at Cube 521 and other venues. Several contemporary musicians, such as Marco Kraus, have taken an interest in her music. But her scholarly music has not been published yet.
Talk us through the multidisciplinary Salon created as part of Esch2022…
The idea was to situate the work and life of Helen Buchholtz in a local and European context. Buchholtz was born in 1877 and produced most of her work between 1910 and 1920. Her music, which was influenced by late romanticism, was clearly also informed by music-hall, dance, jazz and café-concert. Two of her German songs were published in Wiesbaden.
What kind of musical training did she receive?
She was mainly self-taught, since at the time, there were no music conservatories in the country yet. Information was circulated via musical societies, which were very active in Esch. At the boarding school for girls in Longwy, she received the kind of musical education that was typically imparted on young girls from a good family. From her correspondence we know that she was in contact with composers to whom she sent her scores: among others military band leaders, Luxembourgers, Germans, French or Belgians living in Luxembourg.
Did she grow up in a musical family?
Her family probably practiced music as a pastime; they were a family of traders. Her father founded the Buchholtz-Ettinger hardware store, which remained in business until the 1990s – a genuine institution in the city centre of Esch. They also owned a brewery in Lallange, of which Helen became a co-owner. As her nephew said, ‘she didn’t write music to make money.’
Did she compose on the piano?
Yes, she was a pianist, although she also had a violin. She essentially composed melodies, music for piano alone, numerous pieces for harmony orchestra that we found in the archives of the Luxembourg Military Band, and a few large orchestral works. Some of her scores have been digitised – among other reasons so they could be interpreted by Gerlinde Säman, a blind singer who reads Braille scores. But they do not form a critical edition yet – although Buchholtz’s writing is very readable.
Will audiences be able to hear parts of her repertoire at the Salon?
The aim is not to provide a comprehensive overview, but rather to relate her music to other styles and works from other countries. Among the various Salons – which are held on Thursday evenings (except for one on a Friday evening) at 8 pm – is a concert with Gerlinde Säman, with whom I have already recorded a double CD of the complete melodies and lieder of Helen Buchholtz in 2019. There will also be works from an Austrian and an English woman composer from the same era. The performers at the various Salons were given carte blanche for their programmes, the only guidelines being the era in which the composer lived and the emphasis on music by women, including at least one work by Buchholtz herself. Four of these programmes are entirely devoted to and performed by women.
As part of Esch2022, I invited interpreters from other European countries such as the UK, the Czech Republic, etc. These singers will give master classes focused on the vocal repertoire in their respective languages. Who dares to sing in Czech language? This will be an opportunity for young singers to discover other European cultures.
Will all the Salons be held at the Bridderhaus?
We were looking for an authentic venue that was not a concert hall properly speaking, but closer to a private setting, a welcoming space. The composer’s birthplace – whose facade still stands – was not suitable for public performances. The Bridderhaus, which can accommodate nearly 40 people, lends itself perfectly to this project. The scenography of the Salon was entrusted to Christian Aschman. Rather than a historical reconstruction, the setting will reflect the spirit of a salon – in much the same way as the Bridderhaus, a building that dates from the early twentieth century, has been renovated to modern standards. The public will also be able to discover rarely shown works from the collections of the City of Esch. Several original scores will be on display and more documents will be made available on tablets thanks to a collaboration with Mugilux, a new platform developed by the University of Luxembourg and CID Fraen an Gender that aims to explore the history of music from a gender perspective.
What is the aim of the composition workshop?
We hope to inspire young female – and of course also male – composers in Luxembourg! The workshop will be supervised by Catherine Kontz, the project’s composer-in-residence, who will arrange several of Buchholtz’s works for other formations – notably string quintet – as the Salon setting cannot accommodate a large harmony orchestra! Several of Kontz’s own works will also be performed during the Salons.
Would you say it’s a very feminine project?
It’s definitely a tribute and an encouragement to young women musicians to get started. But the composition workshop is aimed at both girls and boys who are currently training in music schools and conservatories. We are also planning to organise educational workshops for primary and secondary schools.
What does the future hold in store?
We are in contact with a researcher from Wiesbaden who is working on four female composers, including Buchholtz, and who plans to organise an exhibition. We also hope to disseminate these concerts to other European countries! The current project website will migrate to the multimedia presentation of the University’s Mugwww.lesalondehelenbuchholtz.luilux platform. The Salon itself might also continue with changing themes or venues. But first things first: see you soon at the first edition!
The Salon of Helen Buchholtz
From 22.09.2022 to 22.12.2022
For bookings and details on the opening hours of the exhibition, the Salons and the educational workshops, please visit: