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CONTINENTAL BRITONS - The Émigré Composers Gal, Gellhorn, Goldschmidt, Rankl, Seiber, Spinner, Wellesz. Wigmore Hall 9 June 2002 (PGW)


At a time when asylum seekers are subject to hostile backlash, it is worth remembering that in 1938 our Foreign Office deemed musicians as 'unsuitable' for entry to the UK. For those refugee composers who did come here acceptance by the establishment was not easily gained. They made an important and enduring contribution to our national life and many eventually became naturalised British citizens. Perhaps some of them tried too hard to write 'English music', espousing the Pastoral style then in favour.

Berthold Goldschmidt won a Festival of Britain prize for his opera, but it was not performed at the time and he lived on until 1996, a regular figure at London concerts. In this over-long concert, he was represented by two songs of 1933 (from Morgenstern's Melancholie) - more striking than a later scena of 1952. Christian Immler sang those, and others by Wellesz, Gal & Rankl, with authority and by memory, accompanied by Erik Levi.

Nurit Pacht (violin) was partnered (definitely not accompanied!) by Konstantin Lifschitz. Hans Gal's 1920 Sonata is tonal and richly chromatic, but more deserving of revival was Peter Gellhorn's Intermezzo, played in the presence of its sprightly 89 year-old composer, one-time director of the BBC Chorus. Matyas Seiber's sonata of 1960 opened the concert strongly, and Two (not very) Small Pieces by Webern's pupil Leopold Spinner (1934) established that theirs is a valuable violin/piano duo partnership - they should be invited to return as soon as possible.

Peter Grahame Woolf


See report from Goldsmiths' College Second Biennial International Conference On Twentieth-Century Music (EXILE AND SUPPRESSED MUSIC)
- - Erik Levi discussed the political decisions that determined what music suppressed by the Nazis in Germany was heard abroad. The British establishment did not come out of his analysis whiter than white. There were examples of heroism, but also others of xenophobia and anti-semitism. There was by no means a universal welcome for refugee musicians, with even Vaughan-Williams taking a chauvinistic stance. - -

A second concert, of chamber works by Émigré Composers will be given on 17 June at the Wigmore Hall.

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