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Ensemble Émigré at Austrian Embassy in London

On May 15, 2024, Ensemble Émigré performed a programme of songs by Eric Sanders (1919-2021) at the Austrian Embassy London.


Norbert Meyn with pianist Christopher Gould, May 2024


Eric Sanders was born into a Jewish family in 1919 Vienna as Erich Ignatz Schwarz. Erich received music lessons throughout his childhood and began to write songs with notable success. By the age of 17, Erich had written a musical play called ‘Rhythmus’, which was accepted by the Theater an der Wien to be staged and performed with his name on the bill. Some of his songs were due to be published by Doblinger, a leading Viennese publishing house for music. In1938, due to Nazi persecution, Eric’s dream of a career as a professional musician was shattered, as he and his family had to flee Austria.

 

Shortly before leaving Vienna on a Kindertransport, Erich collected his manuscripts from Doblinger. Erich’s mother had spent the First World War in Britain, thus enabling young Erich to find a place to stay in the foreign country. He anglicised his name to Eric Sanders and joined the British army to fight against the Nazis. He first joined the pioneer corps and then the Special Operations Executive (SOE). He was trained to fight behind enemy lines and then stationed in Italy. After the war, he returned to Austria (and Germany) as a translator for British authorities. During WW2, Eric had played the piano in an army band and obtained knowledge about popular English wartime songs. He began to write his own songs (with his own English lyrics) in a similar style, and by the end of the 1950s had written well over 100 songs, which he performed on the piano. Despite some attempts for publication, they were never published during his lifetime.

 

During teacher training in Britain, he met his future wife Margaret. They settled in London and had two children, Paul and Richard. Eric became a much-loved teacher, working for many years at a school in North Paddington, then Greater London. Additionally, he was an active member of the Labour Party, widely admired for his joyful spirit and ability to connect with people of all backgrounds. It was not until much later in his life that he reconciled with Austria, received Austrian citizenship and the Austrian Cross of Honour for Science and Art.


Eric Sanders in August 2021 with arranger/pianist Dominic Doutney (left) and Norbert Meyn, Foto: Norbert Meyn

 

From 2020 to 2021 he worked with the Music, Migration and Mobility team at the Royal College of Music to develop arrangements and professional recordings of some of his songs, which are now available on the RCM website: https://www.rcm.ac.uk/singingasong/stories/ericsanders/

 

His full life story interview, conducted by historian Bernadette Edtmaier in 2020, is available on the website of the Österreichische Mediathek: https://www.mediathek.at/

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