Cartoon image feature a violist performing in front of white, blue and orange people travelling in the background on a dark blue background
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 £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. 

It is an ambitious programme of archival research in the UK, Germany, Austria and on the Isle of Man has shed new light on their experiences and contributions to national cultural renewal after the war and informed practical investigations.

The project has used archival research to 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.

Project Team

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 have included Beth Snyder (RCM, archival research), Michael Holden (Royal Holloway, Geography), Alison Garnham (RCM, archival research) and Sarah K. Whitfield (digital humanities).

The team is supported by Research Administrator Helen Kuby 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.

History and development of the project

Project ESTHER (2012-2014)

In 2012 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. 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 (2014-15)

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 (2015)

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 (2016)

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 (2017)

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 (2018-19) 

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.


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