Music, Migration and Mobility: The Legacy of Migrant Musicians from Nazi-Europe in Britain

Lead Research Organisation: Royal College of Music
Department Name: Research


Music has always been highly mobile and musicians have been crossing cultural and physical borders for centuries, both voluntarily and as a result of inhospitable ideological, economic and environmental forces in their homelands. This project investigates the relationships that develop between migrants and their adopted host society, and how they manifest in their own creativity, each crucial to evaluating the cultural impact of migration. However, our understanding of the role of mobility and migration in shaping musical culture as a whole is as yet limited. This project brings fresh methodological approaches to the study of the experiences, musical lives and subsequent impact on British musical culture of musicians who came from Nazi-ruled Europe in the 1930s and '40s. Many of them went on to make major contributions to the successful reinvigoration of art music in the ensuing decades. The project will investigate and map the journeys and careers of approximately 30 musicians as they negotiated and helped to form aspects of British musical life in the post-war period as influential teachers, composers and performers, and in major institutions such as opera houses, the BBC, and higher education. It will explore how musical skills, traditions and values were transported and exchanged, and how these interactions affected the migrants themselves, local musicians, and public musical life at large. The project also probes the practical challenges of performing and mediating their compositions-which are defined by multiple trans-national cultural influences and traditions-through a programme of experimental open rehearsal workshops. Selected works by migrant musicians that for various reasons have remained hidden will be explored by professional and student musicians, and contemporarily relevant approaches to their presentation in performance will be tested in public. Through practice-based research, we aim to bring a fresh dimension to conventional musical analysis, highlighting the cultural value of this music for contemporary audiences interested in its broader historical context.

The project includes a structured programme of research in a dozen major archives in the UK, Germany and Austria pertaining to this history, and in particular two key institutions, Glyndebourne Festival Opera and the Anglo-Austrian Music Society in London, both critical in different ways to the impact of this group of migrants on the shaping of post-war British music. Archival and historical research combined with images, oral history interviews and recorded performances will form the basis for the creation of a series of on-line 'story maps' that use geo-visualisation software to present multi-perspective narratives combining text, images, video and audio, and dynamic links to a host of relevant additional resources. From the start of the project we aim to facilitate dialogues between scholars and artists working within the context of mobility and migration today. The project team will develop a theoretical understanding of the relationship between musical cultures, mobility and migration that can benefit future research. A symposium co-hosted by the Austrian Cultural Forum will set out the scope and direction of a cross-disciplinary debate; a series of scholarly journal articles by the PI, Co-Is and RAs will develop specific themes; and an international conference co-hosted by the German Historical Institute will extend debate to other examples of music, migration and mobility. Public exhibitions at three partner institutions will complement the project's website, which will integrate the c.30 story maps, institutional case-studies, videos of workshops, performances and oral history interviews, textual commentary, and free-to-download music editions into a rich resource for the benefit of school students, musicians, educators and scholars who wish to find new approaches to our culture, characterised as it is by migration and mobility.

Planned Impact

'Music, Migration and Mobility' provides new routes to the education of the public about the role of migrants in the formation of British post-war arts and culture, its values and politics, and the ways they can be understood in the context of broader historical and social narratives. While knowledge of the contributions of a number of highly-talented and entrepreneurial musicians to the formation of some of the most prominent British musical institutions, as well as their own artistic achievements as composers and performers are of particular interest to music historians, performers and music-lovers, they also have a far wider potential impact on narratives concerning migration, mobility and national culture in general, with the potential to effect positive changes to the understanding and perception of the roles that migrants have played, and continue to play in British society.
The project benefits a variety of non-academic publics, including:
Visitors to its website, public exhibitions and events interested in the experiences of refugee musicians from Nazi Europe, and those of migrant artists in general, their impact on Britain's cultural institutions and native artistic practitioners, and the ways that narratives of migration might be differently constructed.
Secondary school students and their teachers: the project's online resources will inform the teaching of history, human geography, citizenship, performing arts, religious, and social studies at GCSE and A level. The online story maps, oral history interviews, archival materials, images and text commentaries can be used directly or as supporting resources for learning and teaching, providing context to broader political and historical narratives, provoking reflections on students' and teachers' own experiences of, and attitudes to migration.
Musicians, both amateur and professional will benefit from a significant quantity of new chamber repertoire, both directly during its practical dissemination in workshops, recordings and public performances, and in the form of professionally produced scores and recordings freely available through the website. These will extend and enrich their knowledge of, and access to a segment of post-war British repertoire for various small ensemble formations, currently little-known today.
Concert goers, and viewers of on-line videos of workshops, performances and free-to-stream studio audio recordings. Associated commentary and additional programme materials will contextualize the musical performances and serve both to enhance enjoyment of the music and inform listeners' understanding of the impact of mobility on post-war British music.
Concert promoters, broadcasters, UK and international cultural institutions. The online story maps, archival materials and biographical information, coupled with the recordings of public performances will stimulate richer understanding of the importance of 'British' music composed by migrants, which can have an impact on the future representation of such music and its contextualization, potentially stimulating the development of new presentation formats.
Civil society bodies that support migrants and others working to construct alternative narratives about the impacts of migration on national culture will be able to draw on the resources provided. There will be an open invitation for them to propose further links to be included in the digital resources and to offer feedback through the website and social media platform.
Curators and archivists at the project's partner organisations and other collections will benefit from the detailed research into their holdings, which will impact on both improved service to scholars, and the education of the general public through special exhibitions and talks.
We will measure impacts on each of these beneficiary groups by soliciting public responses to, and analysing uptake of on-line materials through social media and Google Analytics reports.


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Description Sheet music editions and context information about composers Peter Gellhorn and Hans Gal provided by the team have been used for a concert in the London Song Festival on October 31, 2019, directed by pianist Nigel Foster. An increased awareness of the contribution of these musicians to British culture was evident.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural

Description Belonging/Not Belonging - Public Research Seminar and performance at Royal Northern College of Music, Jan 29, 2020 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A 25 min presentation and 10 min performance by Norbert Meyn (Royal College of Music), the Principal Investigator of the new AHRC funded research project
Music, Migration and Mobility which explores the legacy of migrant musicians from Nazi Europe in Britain through
practical music making, archival research and mapping.
Norbert performed a couple of songs by émigré composers Peter Gellhorn (1912-2004) and Karl Rankl (1898-1968) and discussed the challenges in contextualising,
researching and marketing this repertoire today. He also gave an outline of the repertoire written by these emigres in Britain and shared his experience from performing this at the RCM and with his professional group, Ensemble Émigré.
This event, on Holocaust Memorial Day, was shared with the art historian Monica Bohm-Duchen, director of the Insiders/Outsiders Festival.
The audience discussion afterwards, which was joined by Eva Fox-Gal, daughter of the composer Hans Gal, brought up interesting points about identity and nationalism that were helpful in focusing further research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
Description Concert by Ensemble Emigre at New North London Synagogue as part of the Insiders/Outsiders Festival, Nov 10, 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Insiders/Outsiders - The Concert

A celebration of the musical contribution of refugees from Nazi Europe to British culture
For this concert, part of the nationwide INSIDERS/OUTSIDERS festival, NNLS members Ashley Solomon, Maurice Chernick and Shirli Gilbert worked with Norbert Meyn (Royal College of Music) and Ensemble ÉMIGRÉ to celebrate the contribution of refugees from Nazi Europe to British culture through music.
The programme traced the lives of Jewish émigré musicians who managed to escape Nazi persecution and helped to bring music in Britain to the world, leading standards it enjoys today. It included the Huyton Suite for flute and two violins by Hans Gál (1890-1987), written for the only instruments available in the Huyton Internment Camp near Liverpool in 1940, the beautiful Elegy for Cello and Piano by the composer and piano virtuoso Franz Reizenstein (1911-1968), played by the wonderful Gemma Rosefield, and excerpts from the breathtaking Tagebuch in Tönen (Diary in Music) by Robert Kahn, a cycle of 1160 piano pieces written mostly in the composer's secluded exile in Biddenden, Kent in the 1940s, played by the internationally acclaimed pianist Danny Driver. The programme was complemented by short excerpts from letters and other historical documents chosen by Shirli Gilbert and Norbert Meyn.

Ensemble ÉMIGRÉ unites musicians in flexible combinations under the directorship of tenor and project curator Norbert Meyn. The Ensemble's repertoire is closely connected with the performance and research project 'Singing a Song in a Foreign Land' at the Royal College of Music ( and focuses on the work of composers who emigrated to Britain from Nazi Europe.

This concert was co-organised by Norbert Meyn and Rivka Gottlieb, Director of Programming and Communications at NNLS and is kindly supported by John Reizenstein, and is in partnership with the Sir Martin Gilbert Learning Centre.

It was attended by approximately 130 people. There was lively discussion afterwards, and the music, unknown to most patrons, was received with enthusiasm.

Feedback received from Rivka Gottlieb the Synagogue: I have had only positive feedback from Sunday night, and Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg in particular felt the evening was outstanding. We would very much like to ask you to come back and speak about your work at some point - we need to think about when that could be and what format, but I do hope that is something you would be interested in doing.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019