- Ina Lohr (1903–1983): Transcending the Boundaries of Early Music by Anne Smith
Ina Lohr (1903–1983): Transcending the Boundaries of Early Music is an important and extensive biography of a little-known, but extremely influential musician. This book is not only an important contribution to the literature about the early music movement, but is essential reading for an understanding of the creation of two important Swiss institutions, the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis and the Basel Chamber Orchestra. Anne Smith has assembled an impressive array of source material that includes unpublished family photographs, music compositions, and correspondence. This allows the reader to place Ina Lohr in context, and to give us an understanding of her world, her character, and her achievements.
Ina Lohr, born in Amsterdam to well-educated parents, is said to have 'sang before she spoke'. Her parents provided a rich intellectual and cultural environment for their children, and it was assumed that Lohr would become a professional violinist. After completing secondary school, Lohr was felled by a serious illness before being able to continue her music studies at the progressive Amsterdam Muziek-Lyceum, where there was a desire to link music study with 'philosophical and religious reflection'. This environment and the people she met during her studies influenced the rest of Lohr's musical life.
While traveling to Switzerland for a vacation after her final exams in 1929, Lohr's precarious health forced her to stop in Basel. While she was recuperating, her string quartet was performed by a local ensemble at a house concert attended by Felix Wein-gartner, director of the Basel Symphony Orchestra and Conservatoire. Impressed by the work, and perhaps, as Lohr suggested, intrigued by the novelty of a female composer, Weingartner invited her to study composition in Basel. This offer changed the trajectory of Lohr's life.
After her study in Basel, Lohr became the assistant to Paul Sacher, director of the Basel Chamber Orchestra, and the two worked together for more than fifty years. Sacher claimed that Lohr was an 'invaluable aid', especially with the programming of early music. She also provided performance practice information, marked the scores and parts for Sacher, and advised him about soloists. Lohr also worked on the contemporary music that the chamber orchestra performed by composers such as Nadia Boulanger, Igor Stravinsky, Arthur Honegger, Paul Hindemith, and Béla Bartók. Simultaneously, she continued her own work composing and performing religious music, alongside supporting amateur music-making.
With the founding of the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis (SCB) in 1933, Lohr 'served in an advisory capacity' during the creation of the school. The SCB was dedicated to the study and performance of pre-Classical repertoire and, almost a hundred years later, is still ranked as one of the most important early music conservatoires. Considered 'the main pedagogical motor of the school', Lohr taught Gregorian chant, recorder, ensemble, and thorough bass. She was happy working with amateurs as well as the more accomplished students, and Lohr's full and [End Page 175] popular classes generated the most income for the school. She was the best-paid teacher at the SCB for more than twenty years.
The most important activity for Lohr was using music as an expression of her religious beliefs. She organised a church choir, Ensemble für Kirchenmusik, in Basel, taught many courses and masterclasses on religious music, and made important contributions to the reformation of Protestant church music in the Netherlands. The conflict between her wish to use music as a religious act and the necessity of making her living in the secular music world was a struggle for Lohr throughout her life. Her influence in both sectors was seen in the enormous outpouring of affection on her eightieth birthday. Paul Sacher bought her an expensive and meaningful present. Vespers were performed in Basel, and her Dutch friends organised a programme of events that involved amateur music-making, lectures on chant and Bach, a course on solmization, and numerous concerts in various churches throughout the...