I found this letter….

The close of Adolf Aber’s letter to Sir Arthur Bliss
Copyright Cambridge University Library

Recently I was going through some correspondence in the Arthur Bliss Archive, and came across an uncatalogued letter from Adolf Aber, a music director at Bliss’ publisher Novello. Aber had formerly been a partner in the German publishers, Hofmeister. Forced into exile when the Nazis rose to power, Aber brought many music copyrights with him to Novello and was responsible for making Novello the agents for Bärenreiter, who had recently opened their first overseas agency in Palestine.

The opening of Aber’s letter to Bliss, dated 30th September 1940, reads “Since returning from my involuntary holiday…” which suggests that Aber may have been one of many unfortunate enemy aliens, many of whom had musical connections, to be interned for a brief period. Aber’s mother and wife were still living at this time in their home in London, and had been classified as exempt from internment in October 1939. Hans Keller, who was also interned (and whose archive is also at CUL), had appeared before a committee in November 1939, (see Hans Keller and internment : the development of an emigre musician, 1938-48 / A. M. Garnham, p. 34) and was interned in the following June. It would seem likely that Aber shared a similar timeline, although he, unlike Keller, would be released fairly swiftly.

Interior of Queen’s Hall, 1924. The Proms were held here until the Queen’s Hall was bombed in 1941. See M499.c.90.8.
Public domain.

Following his release Aber returned to Novello where he was kept busy as the war altered the face of music-making in Britain. A few days before Aber wrote to Bliss, the Proms had come to an untimely end when heavy bombing had made it unsafe to continue; an unfortunate and abrupt end to what should have been Sir Henry Wood’s farewell season. Coincidentally an item in CUL’s collection was affected by the decision to suspend the season. William Alwyn’s Overture to a masque was due to be performed at a Promenade concert on September 24th, and was one of the first casualties of the early closure. It would be another 65 years before the work was finally premiered.

The major change that Aber noticed in music-making was the increased demand for chamber music. Although the National Gallery concerts, founded by Dame Myra Hess, continued to be popular, and remained so throughout the war, and there were an increasing number of Saturday and Sunday matinees

“…all that cannot of course take the place of the musical life as it was before the war, and for that reason we must rely mainly on music in the home, during the long black-out evenings, and in schools.”

Many private schools that were supplied regularly by Novello had evacuated to other areas of the country, and the School Music department was kept busy staying in contact with schools on the move, and keeping them supplied with new music. British music publishers were also eager to learn more about the American schools’ market, Ralph Hawkes of Boosey & Hawkes had recently returned from the States where he had been on a fact-finding mission.

With an increasing amount of music being dispatched to schools, and a newly acquired thirst among the general public for playable music suitable for small ensembles, Novello had never been busier. Somewhat ironically in September 1940 just a year into what would prove to be a long campaign, Aber was able to state optimistically :

“….this last day of September, which month was always a good one for business for us, I can inform you that this year it has been far better than the first September in the war. We feel that we have reason to hope that unless something particularly out of the way happens, we shall soon be back to normal again.”


About mj263

Music Collections Supervisor at Cambridge University Library. Wide musical interests. Often to be found stuck in a composer's archive, or enthusing about antiquarian music.
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