Canada’s first great mu­sic his­to­rian

Refugee from Nazi op­pres­sion spent time in in­tern­ment camps


By the time Hel­mut Kall­mann was seven years old, he’d mem­o­rized the names and lo­ca­tions of all 80 street car lines, 40 bus lines and 100 sub­way lines in Ber­lin. But he held a spe­cial fas­ci­na­tion for cat­a­logu­ing mu­sic.

The shy, soft-spo­ken boy or­ga­nized all his fam­ily’s record­ings of duets, sonatas and sym­phonies into cat­e­gories. And in a game he played with his fa­ther, he be­gan mem­o­riz­ing the cat­a­logue of Mozart’s 626 com­po­si­tions.

On the night be­fore the 16-yearold fled Nazi Ger­many for London, he sat at his desk copy­ing the opus num­bers for Beethoven’s works into a ref­er­ence list to take with him.

This pas­sion for de­tail, or­der and mu­sic would lead Kall­mann to be­come, in his time, Canada’s lead­ing his­to­rian of mu­sic. A li­brar­ian at CBC for 20 years, he rose to be­come chief of the mu­sic di­vi­sion at the Na­tional Li­brary of Canada. He was re­spon­si­ble for the con­tent of the un­prece­dented and un­sur­passed En­cy­clo­pe­dia of Mu­sic in Canada. And his A His­tory of Mu­sic in Canada 1534-1914 was the sub­ject’s first com­pre­hen­sive treat­ment and es­tab­lished the field for sub­se­quent re­searchers. He died Feb. 12 at age 89. Friends and col­leagues say Kall­mann’s fas­ci­na­tion with or­der and in­ves­ti­ga­tion, as well as his pas­sion for mu­sic, set him on a path to be­come Canada’s first true mu­sic his­to­rian. He be­lieved that in Canada you could be a “pioneer” in your cho­sen field.

Kall­mann told Dawn Keer, who re­searched Kall­mann’s life for her mas­ters the­sis in 1990, that in Ger­many, mu­sic’s his­tory had been writ­ten. In Canada, it re­mained to be dis­cov­ered.

When Kall­mann left Ber­lin in 1939, his lawyer fa­ther and so­cial worker mother, along with his sis­ter, were un­able to get pa­pers to leave. But Bri­tain had or­ga­nized the Kin­der­trans­port, which took in nearly 10,000 pre­dom­i­nantly Jewish chil­dren from Nazi-oc­cu­pied coun­tries. The fam­ily de­cided it best for Kall­mann to go, even though they wor­ried that he hadn’t grad­u­ated from high school, ac­cord­ing to Keer’s thor­ough the­sis on Kall­mann.

For a time in London, the “refugee from Nazi op­pres­sion” was free to ex­plore its li­braries, read­ing books on mu­sic and his­tory. Then the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment changed the sta­tus of Jews to “en­emy aliens” and he was im­pris­oned on the Isle of Man, be­fore be­ing sent to a prison camp in Canada.

In 1940, Kall­mann ar­rived in Que­bec City on board the So­bieski, part of a con­voy of 2,000 other “pris­on­ers of war.” For the next three years, he was moved from one camp to an­other, start­ing in one near Fredericton, in the mid­dle of a for­est sur­rounded by barbed wire.

Kall­mann ex­plained to Keer that he made the most of camp life, join­ing the or­ches­tra and main­tain­ing a diary, in­clud­ing the songs pop­u­lar with the in­ternees.

His com­pul­sion to or­ga­nize drew him to the mod­est camp li­brary. By 1941, he was run­ning it. Kall­mann’s first ci­ta­tion as a li­brar­ian came from a camp of­fi­cial who wrote of his “grat­i­tude and ad­mi­ra­tion” for the teenager.

At a camp in Farn­ham, in Que­bec, where he also be­came li­brar­ian, he lamented the lack of mu­sic and mu­sic his­tory among the works of fic­tion. He was able to or­der works by Mozart and Beethoven for the col­lec­tion. While at a camp in Sher­brooke, he grad­u­ated from high school by cor­re­spon­dence, and also com­posed es­says on mu­sic while wait­ing for his re­lease, wrote Keer.

Af­ter the war, Kall­mann learned that his fam­ily had per­ished in con­cen­tra­tion camps. There was lit­tle thought of go­ing home. He set out to dis­cover Canada.

In 1946, a nat­u­ral­ized Cana­dian, he en­rolled in the Univer­sity of Toronto mu­sic pro­gram. He wanted a de­gree in mu­sic his­tory, but there wasn’t one. In­stead, he en­rolled in the “school mu­sic course,” which would en­able him to teach. He was so shy, his fel­low stu­dents won­dered how he would ever stand in front of a class to give a les­son, ac­cord­ing to Keer.

In his spare time, Kall­mann con­ducted his own re­search into Cana­dian mu­sic his­tory, mostly at Toronto’s li­braries, amass­ing de­tailed notes in three-ring binders on com­posers and pub­lished com­po­si­tions. Even then, he en­vi­sioned a na­tional li­brary of Cana­dian mu­sic.

Af­ter grad­u­a­tion, he landed a job re­vis­ing the Cat­a­logue of Cana­dian Com­posers, a ma­jor source of in­for­ma­tion for the CBC. He would re­main there for 20 years, be­com­ing the li­brary’s su­per­vi­sor.

His thou­sands of pages of re­search formed the ba­sis of his sub­se­quent books, in­clud­ing the 3,000 en­tries that com­prised the En­cy­clo­pe­dia of Mu­sic in Canada, first pub­lished in 1981. He fer­reted out de­tails, such as the lo­ca­tion of the first or­gan on the con­ti­nent: Que­bec City in 1657. And about the first bona fide opera in North Amer­ica, writ­ten in 1789 by Joseph Ques­nel, a French im­mi­grant to Mon­treal. Kall­mann tracked down the mu­sic of the first Ro­man Catholic mis­sion­ar­ies, the mu­si­cal in­ter­ests of colo­nial of­fi­cials, and the songs of the habi­tants and voyageurs.

In 1970, he more or less re­al­ized his dream of a na­tional mu­sic li­brary when he was ap­pointed to head the then newly formed mu­sic di­vi­sion at the Na­tional Li­brary of Canada, with re­spon­si­bil­ity for build­ing a com­pre­hen­sive re­search col­lec­tion of mu­si­cal Cana­di­ana.

By then, Kall­mann had be­come a “one man au­thor­ity on Cana­dian mu­sic,” ac­cord­ing to his long­time friend and pro­tégé, Maria Calderisi. She said the “hum­ble and gen­er­ous” Kall­mann was sought out world wide as this coun­try’s lead­ing ex­pert and did much to ei­ther set the record straight about Cana­dian mu­sic, or just get it in­cluded in the in­ter­na­tional record.

“Even though he never went to li­brary school, he had such a clear idea of what was im­por­tant to take note of, how to take note of it, wher­ever we could find it,” said Calderisi, who worked un­der his di­rec­tion as Head of the Print Col­lec­tion.

His rep­u­ta­tion at the helm of the mu­sic di­vi­sion would only grow.

His ac­com­plish­ments in the field of mu­sic his­tory con­tin­ued to be nu­mer­ous and vast. From his ini­tial notes, he be­gan the Data Sheet Project on each pre-1950 Cana­dian pub­lished com­po­si­tion. By 1998 this col­lec­tion num­bered some 25,000 items. He re­ceived sev­eral hon­ours, wrote many books and ar­ti­cles.

His bi­o­graph­i­cal en­try in the En­cy­clo­pe­dia of Mu­sic in Canada can be found at: http:// the cana­di­a­nen cy­clo­pe­ ar­ti­cles /emc/ hel­mut

Kall­mann re­tired from the Na­tional Li­brary in 1987. Dur­ing his re­tire­ment he pro­duced a news­let­ter for those who were in­terned with him in Canada. He wrote es­says on cul­ture and iden­tity. And, once again re­ly­ing on his mem­ory for de­tail, as­sisted the Ber­lin gov­ern­ment with its ex­hi­bi­tion doc­u­ment­ing the Jews who had lived in his neigh­bour­hood in Ber­lin.

He was pre­de­ceased by his wife of 37 years, Ruth, and is sur­vived by his com­pan­ion of 14 years, Wal­traut Wein­berg.


Hel­mut Kall­mann reads a let­ter he sent while he was in an in­tern­ment camp dur­ing the Sec­ond World War.

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