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What a Life! intro Schwerin 2012 with kind permission from Oliver Borchert

Singing a Song in a Foreign Land

Online Resource - The Legacy of Migrant Musicians from Nazi-Europe in Britain

Welcome to this online resource, which combines materials generated by the RCM’s major practice-led research project ‘Music, Migration and Mobility’ (funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council) and previous projects. Here you can find in-depth stories, biographical information about featured musicians, professionally filmed oral history interviews as well as sheet music editions and recordings of featured works.

The unprecedented wave of emigration of highly skilled musicians from Nazi-Europe in the 1930s and 40s had a lasting impact on musical culture in Britain, the United States and many other countries. Many of them were Jewish, and often their family members and friends were displaced by or murdered in the Holocaust. In Britain, major cultural institutions like the BBC, the Royal Opera House, Glyndebourne Opera, publishers and conservatoires all employed émigré musicians. Indeed today’s international professional classical music scene owes much to their contribution, which we aim to celebrate.

The cross-disciplinary research underpinning this resource is led by artistic practice, exploring the stylistically diverse and often multilingual music of émigré composers in performance, combined with archival research, oral history research and geographical research informed by mobility studies.

This online resource is curated by RCM professor Norbert Meyn.

What we provide

This online resource enables you to

  • Read in-depth stories about musicians, music and institutions
  • Watch oral history interviews of and about musicians who emigrated from Nazi Europe
  • Browse biographies of featured musicians and find links to external sites with further information
  • Hear our recordings and download free PDF sheet music editions of featured works

Music, Migration and Mobility Project

Music, Migration and Mobility: The Legacy of Migrant Musicians from Nazi-Europe in Britain is a performance-led and multi-disciplinary project that seeks to better understand the significance of migration and mobility for music. Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) with a grant of c£900,000, it brings together an international team of musicians, archival researchers, musicologists and geographers for one of the biggest musicological research projects at the RCM to date.

This three year interdisciplinary project studies the mobile lives, artistic products and impact on British culture of musicians who came from Nazi-ruled Europe during the 1930s and '40s. The project also probes the practical challenges of performing and mediating the largely unknown body of works by these musicians, doing so through a series of open rehearsal workshops, public performances and recordings involving RCM students and staff.

An ambitious programme of archival research in the UK, Germany, Austria and on the Isle of Man will shed new light on their experiences and contributions to national cultural renewal after the war and inform the practical investigations. Based on the archival research, the project will create online story maps that visualise where these musicians came from as well as where and with whom they worked, aiming both to understand and display the artistic relationships they formed with their British colleagues and with each other.

Music, Migration and Mobility is led by the RCM’s Norbert Meyn, who has also explored the theme of music and migration with his professional Ensemble ÉMIGRÉ, with co-investigators Peter Adey, Professor of Human Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London and Nils Grosch, Professor of Music History at Salzburg University. Research Associates on the project are Beth Snyder (RCM, archival research) and the Michael Holden (Royal Holloway, Geography). The team is supported by Research Administrator Caitlin Shaughnessy and a group of RCM student assistants.

Project partners include Glyndebourne, the German Historical Institute (GHI), the Migration Museum Project, Senate House Library, the Austrian Cultural Forum London, the Leo Baeck Institute and the Manx Museum.

Please visit the project's website for more up-to-date information here

Previous Projects

Project ESTHER

The RCM launched the Singing a Song in a Foreign Land project as a part of project ESTHER (2012-2014), a collaborative project with four other European institutions: Jeunesse Musicale Schwerin (Germany), Exil Arte Vienna (Austria), Pro Quartet Paris (France) and DUNK Helsinki (Finland), supported by the Culture Programme of the European Union. You can watch this video trailer with footage from the project’s performances.

In February 2014, the project came to a climax with an exhibition, concert series and three-day symposium at the RCM. You can download the Symposium Programme below.

Symposium programme

Singing a Song in a Foreign Land - Oral History Project

The symposium in 2014 brought us in contact with a great number of family members and friends of émigré musicians, and with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Rothschild Foundation we were able to record professionally filmed oral history interviews with many of them. All interviews can be found in this resource.

Arts in Harmony - Treasures of the Ben Uri Gallery’s Musical Heritage

Including artworks, photographs, cuttings, correspondence and programmes, this exhibition at the RCM Museum in 2015 highlighted Ben Uri's musical heritage whilst revealing powerful stories of émigrés and emerging second generation musicians, such as polyglot Lieder singer Engel Lund, who stood up to anti-Semitism in Germany in the 1930s, by refusing to stop performing in Yiddish. Ben Uri not only organised regular recitals but had its own orchestra, chamber orchestra, choir and opera appreciation circle, which even today is unique within the context of an art gallery. Ben Uri brought art and music together: For example, Alexander Goehr, who came to England as a small child, premiered a new composition in 1953, only a year after his photographer mother Laelia Goehr had exhibited her works at the Ben Uri Gallery. Other émigré musicians featured in the display included Thomas Rajna, Franz Reizenstein, Emanuel Hurwitz and Paul Hamburger.

Exile Estates and Music Restitution - The Musical Legacy of Peter Gellhorn

This 2016 project, supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, was a collaboration with the Jewish Music Institute, the International Centre for Suppressed Music and the British Library. Research Associate for the project was Dr. Terence Curran. You can read an in-depth story about Peter Gellhorn here or visit the project’s original website.

The Barbed Lyre - Music in Internment on the Isle of Man

In 2017, musicians from the RCM teamed up with the Culture Vannin, the Isle of Man Arts Council, the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in London and the newly- founded Ensemble Émigré to develop and tour a concert of music written in internment on the Isle of Man in 1940. The project was also supported by the German Embassy in London. You can read an in-depth story about music internment here.

Robert Kahn - The Sprudeling FOUNTAIN

In 2018 and 2019, musicians from the RCM and Ensemble Émigré presented a programme of music by émigré composer Robert Kahn at the German Embassy in London and the Akademie der Künste Berlin. Much of the programme was subsequently recorded for the CD ‘Leaves from the Tree of Life’ on Rubicon Classics. You can read an in-depth story about Robert Kahn here.

Get in touch

You can get in touch with project curator Norbert Meyn via his details below.

Norbert Meyn

norbert.meyn@rcm.ac.uk

A special thank you goes to the international team of the Music, Migration and Mobility project, and the many RCM students who have supported this research and the preparation of this online resource.

Disclaimer: All images used on this site in connection with the 'Singing a Song in a Foreign Land' project are used in good faith. We have made every effort to ascertain copyright permissions for historical images and this information has been included where known. Please contact Norbert Meyn: norbert.meyn@rcm.ac.uk if you believe an image has been used incorrectly.