Sep 2011 Journal

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Cultural intermediaries

On Sunday, 24 July 2011, a recital was held at the Royal Academy of Music in London in memory of Hannah Horovitz (1936-2010), well known in musical circles as a remarkably energetic and innovative music promoter who introduced a large number of young and previously unknown foreign artists to British audiences. One of these was the famous Hungarian pianist András Schiff, who generously offered to give the recital as a tribute to Hannah Horovitz, as she had organised his first concerts in Britain in the 1970s.

The musical scene in Britain was transformed by the arrival of the Jewish refugees fleeing from Germany and Austria after 1933. One need only mention such names as the singer Richard Tauber, the composers Berthold Goldschmidt and Franz Reizenstein, the violinist Max Rostal, the three refugee members of the Amadeus Quartet, and the musicologist and broadcaster Hans Keller; and both the opera at Glyndebourne and the first Edinburgh International Festival of 1947, then largely a musical event, were heavily dependent for their foundation on refugee expertise, in particular that of Rudolf Bing. The outstanding quality of the musical tradition that the refugees from Germany and Austria brought with them to Britain was underlined by the programme chosen by Schiff for his recital: Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert, with a piece by the Hungarian-Jewish composer György Kurtág, written in memory of the pianist’s own mother.

The entire event was imbued with the spirit of the cultural riches that the refugees from Hitler brought to Britain. The guests were welcomed by Hannah Horovitz’s sister, Elly Miller, the elder daughter of the celebrated publisher Bela Horovitz, founder of the world-famous publishing house Phaidon Press, who with her husband Harvey Miller helped to run the press after her father’s sudden death in 1955. Also present was Joseph Horovitz, Bela Horovitz’s son, a highly distinguished composer and arranger and for many years a professor at the Royal College of Music. His Fifth String Quartet, originally composed for the sixtieth birthday of the eminent refugee art historian Ernst Gombrich, was played in London in 1988, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Anschluss, the annexation of Austria by Hitler which caused the Horovitz family to flee Vienna for London. Generations of children have enjoyed Horovitz’s humorous cantata Captain Noah and His Floating Zoo, as TV viewers have enjoyed his musical accompaniments to series like Rumpole of the Bailey.

The most famous of the refugee dynasties is the Freud family, as the recent death of the artist Lucian Freud has reminded us; the achievements of the Horovitz family show that the Freuds are by no means a unique phenomenon. Fittingly, the opening tribute to Hannah Horovitz was delivered by the leading historian of refugee cultural networks in Britain, Daniel Snowman, author of The Hitler Émigrés: The Cultural Impact on Britain of Refugees from Nazism (London: Chatto & Windus, 2002). Movingly, Snowman played extracts from an interview with Hannah Horovitz, in which she spoke of herself as a bridge between two cultures, a cultural intermediary who interpreted the nuances of Central European culture to the British and, in her role as Deputy Director of the British Council’s Visiting Arts Unit, forged links between Britain and the international cultural community, in the hope of reducing British insularity.

The Jewish refugees from Hitler in Britain have every reason to be proud of the contribution that they have made to the cultural life of Britain. Even among refugees who became civil servants, a pronounced strain of commitment to culture made itself felt. Claus Moser, head of the Central Statistical Office, the predecessor of today’s Office for National Statistics, served as Chairman of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, while John Burgh became Director-General of the British Council. Hannah Horovitz acted as mediator between two cultural traditions and thereby also enriched her adopted homeland.

Anthony Grenville

previous article:A history of the Kindertransports
next article:AJR’s 70th Anniversary Celebrations: Reception at Austrian Ambassador’s Residence