Tuesday 17 January 2023

Music, Migration & Mobility: the story of émigré musicians from Nazi Europe in Britain

Music, Migration & Mobility: the story of emigre musicians from Nazi Europe in Britain
During the 1930s, a huge number of people, most of them Jewish, fled Germany, Austria and other countries in order to escape the Nazi regime. Many settled in Britain, and of these a significant number were musicians and these largely Jewish musicians had an enormous impact on musical life in post-war Britain. This much, we have always realised, but the new exhibition at the Royal College of Music, Music, Migration & Mobility: the story of émigré musicians from Nazi Europe in Britain, highlights the remarkable debt that we owe to these émigré musicians.

The exhibition, co-curated by Norbert Meyn, comes out of a larger Music, Migration and Mobility research project at the RCM led by Meyn, bringing together an international team including musicians from Royal Holloway and the University of Salzburg. The fruits of this research project include not just the exhibition, but an oral history project and recordings of the music arising from these musicians' activities.

The exhibition has brought together a remarkable number of objects associated with these musicians and their work, beginning with why they fled in the first place (including such things as a directory of Jewish musicians that published their names and addresses). As enemy aliens (!) many were interned and Morragh Camp on the Isle of Man which saw many musicians groups together, so much so that they produced a musical review What a Life! with music by Hans Gal.

Post-war, many of these musicians wound themselves around British musical life. Fritz Busch, Carl Ebert and Rudolph Bing were instrumental in the founding of Glyndebourne Opera Festival, and the exhibits include not only photographs but the costume for Susanna (from Le Nozze di Figaro) worn by another émigré who became a regular fixture at the festival. Conductor Karl Rankl was the music director of the Covent Garden opera company that would become the Royal Opera, and his work was important in the improvement of musical standards in the company. The Amadeus Quartet was founded in Britain involving three Jewish émigrés, and as well as early programmes the exhibition includes a remarkable letter from the members of the quartet on the vexed subject of Britain's membership of the EU.

Other musicians highlighted include composer Joseph Horovitz, with a striking self-portrait, cellist Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, with her cello case, composer Matyas Seiber, with his work in films, the humorous drawings of Gerard Hoffnung, and the work of broadcaster Hans Keller. Threading their way through the exhibition, including a striking assemblage in the foyer, are the drawings of Milein Cosman who captured many of the artists mentioned by the exhibition.

The exhibition launch included such distinguished visitors as Anita Lasker-Wallfisch and composer Erika Fox, and there was live music from flautist Hannah Gillingham who played Roberto Gerhard's Capriccio for solo flute from 1949.

There is much more at the Music, Migration and Mobility project pages, whilst the online resource features oral history interviews, recordings of featured works and much more.

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