Archive Treasures: Imogen Holst’s World War II scrapbooks and her émigré musician friendsStories
For this month’s archive treasures story we are going to delve again into Imogen Holst’s wonderful scrapbooks. Holst kept a series of large scrapbooks from her student days at the Royal College of Music until the early 1940s when she was working as a ‘Music Traveller’, travelling throughout South West England, organising recitals and community music making, with the aim of boosting home morale as well as keeping music alive during the war. She pasted an array of interesting and colourful ephemera into her scrapbooks – including newspaper cuttings, tickets, programmes, photographs, postcards, and letters. Two of the stories which emerge from the volumes covering the early 1940s are those of a bomb-damaged London, and Holst’s friendship with two émigré musicians.
German born composer and teacher Robert Müller-Hartmann fled to England in 1937 to escape Nazi oppression. Holst introduced him into musical life in England, to Adrian Boult, and in particular to the Holsts’ family friend Ralph Vaughan Willliams with whom Müller-Hartmann developed a strong friendship and an important working relationship.
In Summer 1940 Müller-Hartmann was interned in an enemy alien camp in Sutton Coldfield near Birmingham. Holst and Vaughan WIlliams campaigned for his release, with Holst writing a statement to the Society for the Protection of Science and Learning to be considered at Müller-Hartmann’s tribunal. On his release, after 10 weeks internment, he moved from London to Dorking, closer to his friend, but also to escape the heavy bombing.
In 1941, in thanks for her support, Müller-Hartmann wrote some piano pieces dedicated to Holst which Vaughan Williams invited him to play at a Dorking concert of local composers.
Austrian born pianist and teacher Ferdinand Rauter emigrated to England in 1929. He formed a partnership with Icelandic singer and folksong collector Engel Lund who knew Holst through their shared interest in folk music. In 1936 Holst had written an enthusiastic review of Lund's ‘Book of Folk Songs' with piano accompaniments by Rauter – a book that both Holst and Peter Pears held in their libraries.
Lund and Rauter were two of the musicians who took part in the war-time initiative ‘Teatime Concerts by European Artists’. These recitals were organised by the Christian Council for Refugees from Germany and Central Europe, with funds raised being divided between the Christian Council and the Musicians’ Benevolent Fund. The aim of the concerts was to give the public opportunity to hear eminent refugee musicians as well as to enable the artists involved to raise funds for the relief of fellow refugees from their own countries and musicians in England. Vaughan Williams was a patron of the cause, and Holst and her friend Maud Karpeles (whom she knew through the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS)) were on the organising committee. Lund and Rauter gave a teatime recital in February 1940.
Later that year Rauter too was interned as an enemy alien. Holst pasted his address at the Mooragh Internment Camp on the Isle of Man in her scrapbook on the same page as Müller-Hartmann’s address in Sutton Coldfield, and opposite a page of cuttings showing buildings destroyed by the air raids.
Lund was at this time in London contending with the Blitz. She wrote to Holst in October 1940 describing the bombing in her street. Holst pasted this letter into her scrapbook opposite photographs of the extensive damage to Cecil Sharp House (the home of the EFDSS) which had taken a direct hit from a high explosive bomb. Both Holst and Lund, with their love of folk music, must have been deeply saddened by the damage. On this same page Holst pasted a letter from Karpeles with news that Morley College - another building with strong Holst connections – also lay in ruins. A postscript written two days later reassured her however that the Gustav Holst Music Room was thankfully undamaged.
While in the internment camp Rauter met string players Norbert Brainin and Peter Schidlof, and encouraged them to form, with fellow camp internee Siegmund Nissel, what was to become the Amadeus Quartet. Holst underwrote their first performance as the Amadeus Quartet at the Wigmore Hall, London, in January 1948, and much later in their career Britten composed his final String Quartet expressly for them.
Holst worked for Rauter’s release which was authorised in December 1940. She then immediately set about helping Rauter and Lund with musical engagements as part of her work as a Music Traveller. She arranged for them to give a series of recitals in Somerset during January 1941 under the auspices of the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts. These were followed by a CEMA recital in Banbury, with proceeds going towards providing concerts in bombed areas, then further recitals throughout Oxfordshire and Cornwall.
In 1941 Rauter co-founded the Refugee Musicians Committee, and then in 1942 the Anglo-Austrian Music Society, a group initially formed to help artists in exile, but later increasingly to promote the appreciation and understanding of Austrian music in Britain. Britten and Pears were also founder members and gave their first recital for the Society in June 1945. In 1961 the Society asked Britten, through their Patron Lord Harewood, to compose a piece of music for the Vienna Boys’ Choir. Britten was ‘decidedly interested’ in the project and keen to accept the invitation, however as his ‘schedule for composition’ was ‘rather full’ he did not have time to write the work – The Golden Vanity – until 1966.
Holst’s scrapbooks are a rich source of stories which intertwine through the volumes. These World War II volumes show Holst working in her usual energetic, selfless and generous way, giving her time and energy to help friends and local communities make music despite the difficulties. Her enthusiasm and motivation, as always, was to bring the pleasure of music to as many people as possible, and to help them play, sing, and dance.
Judith Ratcliffe, Archivist
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