Man who made the historical All India Radio tune

Walter Kaufmann was an ethnomusicologist, composer, conductor, librettist and teacher. He escaped Europe for Mumbai in 1934 and researched Indian, Chinese and Tibetan music.. His compositions include ten string quartets, three piano trios, six ‘Indian’ miniatures, and other chamber, symphonic and stage works, though none were published.

Born in Carlsbad on 1 April 1907, Kaufmann studied composition in Berlin with Franz Schreker before working as an assistant to the conductor Bruno Walter at the Charlottenburg Opera in Berlin and for Radio Prague. His early works were played in Carlsbad, Berlin, Wroclaw, Prague and Vienna. He submitted a doctoral thesis on Mahler to the German University in Prague, but withdrew it once he realised that his supervisor was leader of a local Nazi Youth group. He decided to leave Europe because of his Jewish ancestry. His interest in Indian music and the ease of achieving an Indian visa saw him arriving in Mumbai in 1934. His wife Gerta (niece of Franz Kafka) joined him shortly thereafter.

In 1934 Kaufmann founded the Bombay Chamber Music Society shown here performing at the Willingdon Gymkhana with Kaufmann at the piano, Edigio Verga on cello and Mehli Mehta playing the violin.

In Mumbai Kaufmann worked as a piano teacher and also founded the Bombay Chamber Music Society, performing every Thursday. Conditions in India were difficult for Western classical musicians, not least because the humid conditions are not ideal for pianos and string instruments. Nevertheless Kaufmann continued to perform and compose, incorporating some Asian elements into his works. He sent his ‘Indian’ Piano Concerto back to Prague where it was premiered in 1937 by Edith Kraus, and his Symphony No. 3 was premiered by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra in 1937 and broadcast on the radio. 

Anasuya, India’s first ‘radio opera,’ was premiered in 1939. Kaufman became Director of European broadcasting at All India Radio; he composed the AIR theme tune, which is still used on the network today.