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This remarkable book presents a fine translation of the diary kept by Austrian composer Hans Gál (1890-1987) during his internment in the summer of 1940, after he had fled Nazi-occupied Europe with his family. It also shines a light on a relatively undocumented anomaly of this country’s peculiar and fortunately short-lived perverse attitude to émigrés from Austria and Germany who sought shelter here.

Gál was Jewish, as were many of the other musicians who were incarcerated, first at Huyton near Liverpool and subsequently on the Isle of Man, among them the eminent Schubert scholar Otto Erich Deutsch, the pianist Ferdinand Rauter and the composer Egon Wellesz, as well as three fine string players later to form the celebrated Amadeus Quartet.

His diary is typically insightful, witty and richly detailed, written in a vivid and engaging style that translates well and grips the reader. He conveys the grim conditions of daily life and the muddled inefficiency of the camps, riddled with petty regulation, with those in charge seemingly unable to distinguish between the Jewish refugees and those interned Germans who were actually Nazi sympathisers.

In spite of such hardships, both physical and psychological, Gál managed to compose – and one of the joys of this book is a free accompanying CD which presents fine recordings of the works he created, especially the delightful Huyton Suite for flute and two violins (the only instruments available to him). This is music of such optimism and invention, that it is scarcely credible it was created under such duress. It deserves wider currency.

Eva Fox-Gál provides an excellent biographical essay of her father’s life (he was later to become a founder of the Edinburgh Festival) and, with her husband Anthony Fox, has edited and translated the diary. An expert essay on the internment of ‘enemy aliens’ by Professor Richard Dove and a fascinating interview with Gál conducted by the book’s erudite annotator Martin Anderson in 1986, together with numerous rare illustrations and photographs, and a useful bibliography completes what is, an essential volume on this fascinating composer, and actually the first to appear in English. Unreservedly recommended.

BRENDAN G CARROLL Read the full review on Agora Classica


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