• music for German PoW – Clara Schumann's legacy

    'British audiences must be reminded that there was also a Germany before 1933, a Germany that gave to the world perhaps more great men in the sphere of culture, invention, music, and poetry than any other country.'

    So wrote Herbert Sulzbach in an article for the 'Daily Telegraph' in November 1978. He could also have written 'great women' since he had himself been considerably influenced by both women and men musicians throughout his early life in Frankfurt.

    In 1893, Herbert's father had retired at the age of thirty-eight from a life in banking to devote himself to his passion for music. Emil Sulzbach was an accomplished pianist and composer and in 1904 he also became the Chairman of Frankfurt's Konservatorium, which had been founded in 1878.

    The Konservatorium gained an international reputation and played an important part in the musical life of Frankfurt. Many famous musicians taught there – including Clara Schumann and Engelbert Humperdinck. On 20 October 1878 Clara Schumann gave her 50th anniversary performance and taught at the Konservatorium from that year until 1892, considerably modernising the teaching of piano technique.

    Herbert Sulzbach was born a few months after his father's retirement from banking, so his childhood and youth were spent surrounded by music, musicians and the world of the Konservatorium. Music provided possibly the greatest link between his new life in England and the pre-war Germany that he had loved and fought for.

    In Featherstone PoW camp, many of the German officers shared his Romantic ideal. There were four orchestras at the camp and Sulzbach worked what seemed like miracles to procure instruments, although the prisoners sometimes made their own.

    Music was also a way for PoW to reach out to the local population. Once fraternisation was allowed (at the end of 1946), musical events took place at many venues around Northumberland and provided a welcome channel for friendship. At Hexham, one concert-goer described how she was

    'puzzled by these talented, refined men – not at all the jack-booted Nazis I had been expecting. They produced amazing music.'

    (picture: Clara Schumann 1878/1879, pastel portrait by Franz von Lenbach [1836 – 1904])

    © text Ainslie Hepburn. The picture is out of copyright.

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