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ARC Ensemble Lifts the Veil on the Lost German-Jewish Composer Robert Müller-Hartmann

ARC Ensemble Lifts the Veil on the Lost German-Jewish Composer Robert Müller-Hartmann

Published on November 2, 2023

The Next Recording in the Acclaimed “Music in Exile” Series Premieres Chamber Works from Composer Forced Out by Nazism.

ARC Music in Exile Robert Müller-Hartmann

Robbed of time and opportunity, the German-Jewish composer Robert Müller-Hartmann has been relegated to little more than a footnote in musical history. Better known for his association with Ralph Vaughan Williams than for his own works, Müller-Hartmann was a gifted composer who was forced by the rise of Nazism to flee Hamburg and seek safety in England. His career never recovered, and his music remained forgotten…until now.

In the seventh of its highly praised “Music in Exile” series of recordings for Chandos, Chamber Works by Robert Müller-Hartmann, being released on November 17, is the first recording devoted to a collection of brilliant and engaging pieces that fully deserve a wide audience after more than 80 years in oblivion.

The three-time Grammy-nominated ARC Ensemble (Artists of The Royal Conservatory), which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, is comprised of senior faculty of The Royal Conservatory’s Glenn Gould School with special guests drawn from the organization’s most accomplished students and alumni. Since its inception, the Ensemble has pursued a unique direction and purpose that sets them apart — providing a voice for the hundreds of superbly-trained and gifted composers (many of whom were graduates of Europe’s most prestigious conservatories) whose careers were disrupted by anti-Semitism, bigotry, and their subsequent exile. Almost every work in the Ensemble’s discography is new to the catalogue, a masterwork once consigned to eternal hibernation.

Müller-Hartmann had been on the radar of Simon Wynberg, Artistic Director of ARC Ensemble, for a while. “He was an émigré people knew about because of his relationship with Vaughan Williams, but whose music no one had explored,” he says. “When I met the composer’s grandson in Israel, he arrived with a huge sports bag and a backpack crammed with manuscripts and early editions of Müller-Hartmann’s scores, but the family had never heard a note of his music.”

Robert Müller-Hartmann

Like so many of his contemporaries, in addition to his professional work as a composer, teacher, administrator and musicologist, Robert Müller-Hartmann (1884-1950) had a broad range of intellectual interests. He enjoyed considerable success in Germany with major conductors like Richard Strauss, Fritz Busch, and Otto Klemperer performing his works. Fired from his post at Hamburg University in 1933, he taught at a Jewish girls’ school before fleeing to England in 1937.

In England, Müller-Hartmann spent much of his time in Dorking, some 25 miles south of London, living with Eugenia and Jacob (Yanya) Hornstein, friends from Hamburg. Through Gustav Horst’s daughter Imogen, he met Ralph Vaughan Williams, who became a valuable friend and colleague, and who intervened in Müller-Hartmann’s interment on the Isle of Man, where Jewish internees were obliged to live alongside Nazi sympathizers. Despite his connections to influential British musicians, Müller-Hartmann’s career stalled, and his glorious music fell into obscurity. This was partly the result of the war and the economic privations that followed, his sudden death in 1950, and partly because of his modest and rather retiring personality. In a letter to his son Rudy, he wrote:

“My experiences as a musician in this country also protects me from giving in to illusions about the future. I have friends among my English colleagues, but the majority of English musicians don't want to have anything to do with the refugees. A few days ago, Vaughan Williams asked me to orchestrate the piano accompaniment of one of his songs for a radio broadcast. I accepted this certainly very honourable and well-paid commission with pleasure but see it as nothing more than a very friendly gesture by the leading English composer towards one of the uprooted, for whom unfortunately nothing more can be done. The sober realization of my professional situation sometimes makes me a little sad, but never despondent or unwilling to work. Besides, we are doing quite well and a thousand times better than so many others.

Robert Müller-Hartmann and his family

“It had been a steep descent from the recognition and comfort of Müller-Hartmann’s Hamburg life to the anonymity and the sporadic work that England offered,” Wynberg says. “Nevertheless, he remained a consummate professional and a reliable colleague.”

The pieces performed on “Chamber Works of Robert Müller-Hartmann,” likely written in the early 1920s and mid-1930s, are outstanding examples of why his music deserves a place in today’s classical repertoire. Says Wynberg: “His music is unashamedly Romantic, with echoes of Schumann, Strauss, and Franck. He had really strong melodic gifts and compelling ideas.”

Among Wynberg’s favorites are the captivating Two Pieces for Cello and Piano and the Sonata for Violin and Piano, op. 5, which is dedicated to Müller-Hartmann’s friend and legendary pianist Artur Schnabel. The recording also features Sonata for Two Violins, op. 32, characterized by the duet’s dramatic contrapuntal interplay, the Three Intermezzi and Scherzo for Piano, op. 22, short but technically demanding works for piano, and the dramatic String Quartet No. 2, op. 38.

The ARC Ensemble recording features violinists Erika Raum and Marie Bérard, violist Steven Dann, cellist Tom Wiebe, clarinetist Joaquin Valdepeñas, and pianist Kevin Ahfat.