Inspired by a true sense of history


The remarkable story of the Klotz violin dating back to 1703 takes a new twist as a 12-year-old student gets the chance to play it

'YOU ARE a non-Aryan and as such you lack the necessary reliability and fitness to participate in the creation and dissemination of German cultural values. I therefore forbid you to continue to practice your profession as a graphic designer." Meticulously detailed as all Nazi documentation was to be, that letter of 1935 to Elizabeth Friedlander in Berlin was the start of a journey which hasn't ended yet. Officially deprived of her career, when Friedlander left Nazi Germany she took with her the Klotz violin belonging to her mother and dating from 1703. Now that instrument is passing into the hands of 12-year-old Mairead Hickey, considered one of the most outstanding students at the Cork School of Music.

"Mairead is ready for and deserving of such an instrument," says Joan Scannell, acting head of the school's string department, where the violin is loaned out every few years on the basis of merit alone. There's no audition for it, it's a presentation at the discretion of the string department staff, and its first beneficiary was Leonie Curtin, who now teaches and performs in London. The most recent holder is Thomas Crowley, a fourth-year performance major and leader of the CSM symphony orchestra. He was able to take the instrument with him last year while studying at Romania's National Conservatory in Bucharest under the Erasmus programme where, he says, "it absolutely made a difference - the better your instrument, the more you enjoy playing and the better you get".

The importance of a violin of this quality for a student is as a stepping stone on the way to a professional career. "As you develop as a musician," explains Joan Scannell, "you need something that will respond to the range of expressions, of coloration and tone; this instrument is one that can make all the difference to a young player. And the wonder of an old instrument such as this is that someone has been playing it all through the years."

All Thomas Crowley knew about the origins of his borrowed violin was that it had been presented to the school by "a Jewish lady" possibly named Goldstein, in gratitude for being able to set up a successful business in Cork. It would be unfair to expect young Mairead Hickey to know anything much more accurate. Her life is already crammed with school, music and performance, from CSM classes to her leadership of the Cairde String Quartet (all 12-year-olds), from her sessions with the Owenabue traditional music and dance group to her regular studies with Connie O'Connell at Kilnamartra near Macroom.

The grand-daughter of traditional fiddle player Maria Hughes of Arklow and London, Mairead, who won't use the classical Klotz violin for her traditional music, may be glad some day to know that the Jewish lady was Sheila Goldberg, wife of solicitor Gerald Yael Goldberg, a former Governor of the National Gallery and a Lord Mayor of Cork. The Goldbergs, co-founders of the Cork Orchestral Society and sometimes known as the Goldberg Variations because of their patronage of different cultural and charitable events, were friends of Elizabeth Friedlander who, when she died in Kinsale, left them her portfolios as well as her beloved violin.

She was a German Jew born into a wealthy, music-loving environment in 1903. Her name may not be familiar, yet her work is well-known to many of us. She was to produce the cover designs for Penguin's music scores , for their poetry series and for Penguin Classics; her trademarks and monograms were chosen by Everyman's Library, Toscanini record labels, Saxone shoes, Mills and Boon, the Folio Society, by London University for its coat of arms and by the Kinsale Sea Anglers' Club.

Elizabeth Friedlander was not a professional musician, despite the status of the instrument which originated in the renowned Mittenwald workshop of Matthias Klotz . Elizabeth studied both violin and piano but chose to become an art student at the Berlin Academy where she graduated as a typographer and calligrapher. Employed by the women's magazine Die Dame in Berlin, she was commissioned in 1927 to design a typeface for the Bauer Typefoundry. But after 1933, even Georg Hartmann, director of the company and a man who was to assist many Jewish artists during the Nazi era, could not protect her from the need to disguise her name, so that the proposed type had to be changed from Friedlander-Antiqua to Elizabeth-Antiqua. Nor could Hartmann's praise of her design - "one of the best and most beautiful types ever produced" - alleviate the new circumstances under which she had to live, with rival companies reporting Hartmann himself to the Nazis for his employment of Jewish staff.

When Elizabeth's compulsory request for registration as a worker in publishing or the arts resulted in the letter quoted above and written "in accordance with para. 10 of the first decree carrying out the law of the State Office for Culture of 1 November 1933 RGB 1,1,b 797 . . . " she left Germany for Milan. There she worked for the publishers Mondadori, for whom, among other things, she designed the jacket for their edition of Gone with the Wind, and her new friends included Walter, son of Arturo Toscanini.

The introduction of the stringent racial laws in Italy in 1938 meant that once again she had to seek safety and work elsewhere. In her book New Borders: the Working Life of Elizabeth Friedlander, Pauline Paucker includes one of the many letters which had to be written in Elizabeth's search of a visa to enter the US: addressing an American publisher she wrote that she was compelled to leave Italy within six months of the new decrees of the Italian authorities. "Mr Toscanini thinks you might let me have an affidavit . . . I am 34 years old, a lonely woman in the world, my work has so far been the only means of supporting myself." She was trying to get close to the head of a very long and very desperate queue.

Even with the Toscanini family, Random House and later Noel Coward trying to help, she was running out of time and decided to accept the British offer of a domestic service permit. Working as a maid for a family in London, she was restricted in her efforts to return to her profession by the rule which allowed refugees to change employers but not employment. And when her American visa reached her at last, it came within a few weeks of the outbreak of war. It was impossible for her to obtain a passage to the US, and by 1942 she opted to remain in England, where she was hired by Francis Meynell at the Mather and Crowther advertising agency.

And then Meynell put her in touch with Ellic Howe at Bush House where she joined the "black propaganda" team, her skills as a calligrapher and her training as a typographer used in forging Wehrmacht and Nazi stamps, ration books and other false documents for the political intelligence department. When the war ended, her English career flourished as she designed trademarks, colophons, letterheads, business cards, imprints, bookplates, patterned papers, dust-jackets and covers, many in association with leading British and American publishing houses.

All through these years, she had never forgotten her typeface, using it where she could and remaining in touch with Hartmann in Germany although she would never return there. Her Bembo type swash capitals were used by Cassells for Winston Churchill's History of the Second World War, for which she also designed the endpapers. The Penguin commissions came, others for Sanderson wallpapers, borders for Linotype and Monotype, maps for BOAC and, in one of her long-lasting engagements, the inscriptions for the Roll of Honour of Commonwealth officers killed in the second World War. This commission from the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst led to others which she continued until 1972, when she felt that the journey from her then home in Ireland had become too arduous.

She had met Alexander Magri MacMahon in London. He had been Professor of Classics at the University of Milan before his anti-fascist activities forced him to leave Italy in 1927. Teaching at several London institutions while also broadcasting for the BBC during the war, he became Elizabeth's companion for the rest of his life. Son of an Italian lawyer and Irish mother (the daughter of Major-General Alexander MacMahon) and an ardent fisherman, he moved to Kinsale when he retired in 1958. Elizabeth followed four years later, delighting in a cottage and a garden of her own.

Alexander died in 1981, Elizabeth in 1984. She was buried in the Goldberg plot in the Jewish graveyard at Curraghkippane, near Cork city, where now both Sheila and Gerald also lie. They had given her portfolios to UCC, and some Friedlander items are included in a display held there in association with the recent international conference on Making Books, Shaping Readers, organised by the English Department. At St Multose Church in Kinsale, an illustrated inscription commemorating the gift of floodlighting is by her hand. And at the Cork School of Music, Mairead Hickey, 12 years old, and this year's winner of the CSM Senior Recital Competition, joins all those people who, since 1703, have played this Klotz violin.

New Borders: The Working Life of Elizabeth Friedlander by Pauline Paucker (Incline Press Limited Edition 1998)