Two tiny recorder pieces written in Nazi Germany and sent to England are to get their first public performance this Thursday, 23 June. It’s a curious coincidence that something so connected with our attitude to refugees and our links with Europe should take place when this country faces the most important referendum of my lifetime.
Shortly before or after the outbreak of war in September 1939, my grandfather composer Hans Neumeyer wrote two little recorder pieces for his daughter Ruth and her friend Jane. Hans and his wife Vera were in Nazi Germany, and ultimately doomed as their world closed in around – his children were in safety with foster families in England, brought there by the Kindertransport.
Ruth (my mother) wrote to her parents that she was very happy and had made friends with Jane (the daughter of the family she was staying with) and the two of them were playing recorder duets together. Hans then composed these short pieces – one a canon, the other a ‘Cuckoo duet’ for Ruth and Jane. He was blind, and I imagine his secretary Dela Blakmar presumably wrote them out for him. I presume it was Dela who drew this illustration for the cover of the music of the two girls playing recorders in a hammock: what a poignant image of an imagined safe haven.
Ruth said of the duet: ‘I got it in Cambridge when I learnt to play the recorder with one of the girls in the household there… we used to play duets a lot, any music we could find… and he must have heard about this. He composed these two little pieces and sent them to a friend in Switzerland who managed to send them to us.’
Suzanne Bardgett, Head of Research at the Imperial War Museum where the original of this music is now on display, told me recently that this drawing is one of her favourite items in the entire museum.
The performance is at the North Herts Music School in Hitchin, to an audience of schoolchildren, parents and teachers. I’m travelling up there by train from Lewes and will give a talk to the students before two of them play the duets. I’ll also bring along Ruth’s famous teddy bear that came with her on the Kindertransport – this may be the bear’s first railway trip since Munich to Liverpool Street in May 1939.
Listen to the performances (these link to my Dropbox files, which can be listened through i-tunes):