Rediscovered: a long-forgotten Christmas song by Hans Neumeyer

Hans Neumeyer's unpublished Christmas song (voice only, no piano part), written out for the blind composer by his wife Vera

Hans Neumeyer’s unpublished Christmas song (voice only, no piano part), written out for the blind composer, either by his wife Vera or by his secretary Dela Blakmar

Among the letters sent from Dachau by the Neumeyers is one sent by Hans Neumeyer, the blind composer, in December 1939. It is typed out and signed as ‘Vati’ (‘Daddy’) in his wonky handwriting. Written to his children, Ruth (my mother) and Raimund (my uncle, nicknamed ‘Manibursch’ and later known as Raymond) it expresses hope that by next Christmas they will be together again. That was never to happen.

In this letter Hans mentions that he is writing a Christmas piece for Raimund to play on the piano. By December 1939 Ruth and Raimund had been in England for seven months, having arrived in May on the Kindertransport from Munich.

It seems typical of the upbeat semblance of normality the Neumeyers wanted to have on their life after the Nazis had thrown them out of their home: it was Christmas, after all. Certainly their letters to the children seemed to want to assure those in England that all was comparatively well. I’ll be looking at some of the prolific numbers of letters from 1939 in a later post.

Christmas was much celebrated at the Neumeyer household when they were in Dachau. Prior to 1937 they held  regular nativity and other seasonal plays, with neighbours and friends in the cast and audience on evenings when a suitable space in the rambling house was transformed into a theatre.

Christmas play c1935

Ruth as an angel in one of the Neumeyer festivities in the family home in Dachau in about 1935

Letter from Hans Neumeyer, December 1939

Letter from Hans Neumeyer, December 1939 to his two children, Ruth and Raimund, in England

The music score illustrated here is a stray sheet of manuscript music I found at the bottom of my parents’ piano stool when clearing out the house around the start of 2013: Weihnachtslied (‘Christmas Song’) by Hans Neumeyer. How it had been overlooked for such a long time I have no idea: for years we thought the only surviving compositions of his were the string trio and duo, and the two little recorder duets (see previous posts). It has only the voice part written out – no piano accompaniment. The key signature – E major – is missing from some systems on the page.  One wonders if there was a piano accompaniment – I never heard Raymond or Ruth mention anything about it. The opening five notes are identical to Respighi’s The Birds (written in 1928), and to the dotted-rhythm Soldier’s March (Soldatenmarsch) by Schumann, a composer Hans Neumeyer certainly played (some of Hans’ piano scores of Schumann have been passed on to me) – probably a coincidence. Whether or not this is to do with the Christmas piece he was composing for Raimund is hard to say. No musical masterpiece, but a nice curio to chance upon.







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