11 Encounters with the Émigré Experience: Discovering the Chamber Music and Songs of Peter Gellhorn

In: Music and Exile
Author:
Norbert Meyn
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Abstract

This chapter retraces the author’s journey of discovery during the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)-funded research project ‘Exile Estates and Music Restitution – The Legacy of Conductor/Composer Peter Gellhorn’ at the Royal College of Music in 2016. Born in Breslau, Peter Gellhorn (1912–2004) studied at the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik in Berlin (1929–34). His father was Jewish, and in 1935 he emigrated to the UK. From 1935 to 1939 he worked at Toynbee Hall, an arts centre dedicated to social reform in East London. Following his internment on the Isle of Man in 1940/41 he worked for the Vic-Wells opera company in London. After the war, he embarked on a successful career as a conductor and chorus master, with tenures at the Royal Opera House, Glyndebourne Opera and the BBC. Around the time of his emigration, at Toynbee Hall, during internment and occasionally after the Second World War, Gellhorn wrote a substantial amount of chamber music, piano music and songs, the manuscripts of which are now in the British Library. In 2016, a team of musicians and researchers at the Royal College of Music (RCM) prepared editions from these manuscripts and performed many of the pieces in workshops, concerts and recordings. This article explores these musical works in the context of Gellhorn’s story as a resourceful and influential musician in Britain.

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