ER in the Keller Archive: Schoenberg score in intensive care

The score before conservation

A little while ago, as I was quietly sorting through what I have dubbed the “Attic Anhang” of the Keller Archive to get it ready for documenting, I came across a miniature score of Schoenberg’s String Quartet Op.7. Imagine my excitement when I saw that it was signed on the front cover by the great man himself, with a dedication to his great friend Oskar Adler. But oihmè, the poor score was in a desperate state. What to do? “Keep calm”, I said to myself, “we’ll contact the wonderful people in our conservation department”. Moments later, the Conservation Ambulance arrived in the Music Department, blue light flashing and the team leapt out bearing fine brushes, tweezers and acid-free everything to ensure safe passage to the UL’s A&E for this kind of thing. Triage revealed:

  • Badly-torn ligaments
  • Probable suffocation by sellotape
  • A collapsed cover
  • Terrible fraying at the edges [I sympathise]
  • Dangerously rust-infected staples
  • Stitching in the gathers on the brink of total collapse
  • Keller’s annotations all over the pages

“Don’t panic”, said Consultant Surgeon Emma, “There is hope, but a full recovery will take some time”. Poor score, we promised to visit regularly with bunches of fresh semi-quavers tied with imaginative tone-row ribbon.

The score after conservation

Time passed…and then, the good news, the patient had made an excellent recovery and was now ready to return home to a special acid-free folder. What a relief. To see the details of what was done to preserve the score, have a look at this Instagram post published a little while ago. We in the Music Department are deeply grateful to our Conservation colleagues for their care and expertise and especially to Emma, who undertook all the work.

OK, so maybe I’ve exaggerated a little in my flight of fancy here, but why such special care for a mere miniature score? Well, because it’s not so “mere” – it has History. As I said (and as can be seen in the image), it was given by Schoenberg to his great friend doctor-cum-violinist Oskar Adler and therefore invested with far more significance than might otherwise have been the case. Schoenberg and Adler had been friends from school and Adler also played in the composer’s famous Society for Private Musical Performances (Verein für musikalische Privataufführungen). So far, so clear, but where does Keller fit into all this? Over to HK to explain in this little extract from an article written for the concert series Vienna: Reaction & Revolution given by the London Sinfonietta in 1983 which featured music from inter-war Vienna.

Arnold Schoenberg in 1927. Portrait by Man Ray

In his article, Keller wrote about two private musical clubs – one was Schoenberg’s Society for Private Musical Performances, of which Keller, born in 1919, was too young to have had any personal experience. But the other, which ran throughout the 1920s and 30s, and which the composer Franz Schmidt called “the real university for chamber music”, had a profound impact on him.  This is how Keller describes it:

In the period under review, in Vienna’s Neubaugasse, the greatest modern string quartet played privately, Saturday in, Saturday out: public performances were few and incidental, just as public recitals in which the quartet’s leader played with Schmidt, the pianist, happened very rarely.

Schmidt was the cellist in the Neubaugasse; the leader was the greatest chamber-musician I have ever heard in my life, Schoenberg’s lifelong friend and first teacher – Oskar Adler, with whom Schoenberg played quartets in his teens. He was Schoenberg’s first teacher and, generations later, became my first teacher. The private quartet’s inner parts consisted of a regular outstanding viola player and a slightly more variable second violin; leading fiddlers queued up for this particular job – including the later leader of the Israel Philharmonic [Eli Goren]. Upon occasion, I myself was allowed to take over; the early teenager’s appearances were rare enough, however, for him to be able now to report objectively that these weekly occasions were the very centre of Vienna’s chamber musical education…

Offhand, I can’t remember a single truly leading musician whom one did not meet at some of these Saturday afternoons.

Oskar Adler by Milein Cosman. Copyright Cosman Keller Art and Music Trust

Adler became a close friend of Keller and his family – which probably saved his life, as it was Keller’s brother-in-law, Roy Franey, who, in 1938, secured British visas not only for Hans and other members of the family, but also for Adler after Schoenberg had tried – but failed – to get him to America. Instead, Adler came to London, living just round the corner from Keller’s family in Herne Hill until June 1940, when he and Keller and most other male refugees in Britain were rounded up for internment.

Keller and Adler were sent to Huyton internment camp near Liverpool and once things had settled, relatives were able to send in a few supplies.  One of the first things Keller asked for was his violin, and so he was able to play quartets again with Adler – which, he told his mother, made him feel “completely marvellous”.  Adler was released from the camp first, because of his age (he was in his late sixties) and joined Keller’s family in the Lake District where they had gone to escape the London bombing.  There he played quartets with the family, with Keller’s mother as cellist and cousin Inge Trott as second violin until Keller was released.

A page of the score showing an example of Keller’s marking up for coaching

But back to the score: how did it get into the Keller Archive? The answer (as Keller would have said), is jolly near to seek: Adler made Keller his executor and so my assumption is that the score came to Keller after Adler’s death in 1955. Keller would have treasured it, not only because it had belonged to Adler, but also because of his deep admiration for and understanding of Schoenberg’s music. He clearly used it for teaching purposes as there are many pencil markings giving reminders on performance both technically and musically.

So, dear reader, you can see why we are grateful that this particular item was given top-notch treatment by our Conservation folk.


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1 Response to ER in the Keller Archive: Schoenberg score in intensive care

  1. David Clark Wilde says:

    I have the happiest memories of Hans Keller, who was one of the great figures of my youth who encouraged and ‘mentored’ me in my early career. We had a weekly lunch date at the BBC canteen in Great Portland Street, and our conversations were amongst the most invigorating I have ever known, leaving me each week with enough dazzlingly stimulating thoughts to keep me mentally well occupied till the following week. I shall always be profoundly grateful for the time I was privileged to spend in his stimulating company.
    Prof. David Wilde [pianist, composer, teacher].


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