Earlier this month, two pieces by my grandfather Hans Neumeyer were performed 74 years after their composition, in the supremely atmospheric surroundings of the partially restored synagogue in Görlitz. The concert occurred immediately after the installation of the Stolperstein commemorating his father-in-law, Martin Ephraim.
The trio for strings had its second-ever performance, having been premiered in Spain earlier this year; the duo for strings had never been played in public before.
Both pieces were written in Munich in 1940 after the Nazis had thrown him and his family out of their house in Dachau. By then, his children Ruth and Raimund had left for the safety of England, by the Kindertransport. For Hans and his wife Vera, it was a period of uncertainty and ultimately desperation before their deaths some years later in the Nazi camps.
How the musicians rate Neumeyer’s compositions
I spoke to the professional musicians from Ukraine who played the trio; they included violinist Roman Fedchuk. They gave a tremendous performance and told me they thought the music was of exceptional quality, deserving a wider audience, and showing an extraordinary range of styles, including neo-classical, neo-baroque and polyphonic: the opening movement of the trio they felt had qualities reminiscent of Ravel.
The analysis of the work has revealed a musician of extraordinary talent and high technical training. A composer where harmony and counterpoint merge so that they are indivisible.
These are the only substantial compositions by Hans Neumeyer to have survived. My mother, who had tremendous affection for him, said to me that it was wonderful that he was able to talk to us through these pieces – the one tangible remnant of his musicianship. How special it was, therefore, to hear them played live for the first time.
Hans Neumeyer was blind. He had been born on September 13 1887 with an eye defect and was blind in one eye from birth; then when a schoolboy he was involved with a fight with another boy and lost the sight in the other eye. He then devoted himself to the pursuit of music, entering the Academy of Music in Munich in 1904, studying organ, piano, theory of music, counterpoint and musical composition. By all accounts had a staggering intellect that could analyse complex harmonies and memorise music at will. He collaborated with Rudolf Louis on a textbook on harmonics during 1911 to 1913.
He also focussed on the Jaques Dalcroze method of eurythmics, studying at a Dalcroze school at Hellerau near Dresden, where he met his wife Vera. In 1915 he co-founded with Valerie Eratina the Jaques-Dalcroze school in Munich. He applied for a post teaching acoustic theory at the Music Academy in Munich in 1933, but as a Jew he was barred from taking it up.
We have a stash of testimonials from musicians written in English later in the 1930s when Hans would have been desperate for work. Dr Gustav Guldenstein of the Academy of Music and Conservatory in Basle wrote in somewhat broken English:
He has extraordinary musical dispositions as well in the spiritual-technical regard (ear, comprehension, memory) as too in the musical composition. He has also a very solid and universal musical technical knowledge. As these qualities purely musical are united with a considerable intelligence, with patience and force of volition, energy, mostly so necessary to help less talented students, Mr Neumeyer seems to me especially adapted for the profession of pedagogue.
The lost Neumeyer music
Tantalisingly I’ve found a letter written by Hans’ secretary Dela Blakmar to my mother in the 1960s saying there was a lot of other music, which was left with friends during the war but no one knows what happened to it. I’d like to see if there’s any way of locating this: it’s likely to have ended up in the Munich area, and though it’s an extremely long shot, perhaps some of it festers in the neglected archives of some academic library. The music was written out neatly by Dela, presumably dictated via the piano by Hans, and if it’s like his duo and trio would have had his name prominently displayed on it. The Ukrainians who played at Görlitz said the score had numerous mistakes in it and was hard to interprete, so the dictation method must have had its problems.
I’ll be writing later on this blog about Hans’ last two years incarcerated in the camp in Theresienstadt (Terezin), where he survived by giving music lessons in exchange for food, and where he met other musicians including the violinist Thomas Mandl (1926-2007), and where he was universally known as ‘the Professor’.
See also an article I wrote about Hans Neumeyer on http://holocaustmusic.ort.org/places/theresienstadt/hans-neumeyer
Words and photos © Tim Locke