Boaz Bischofswerder and Felix Werder - Refugee Musicians
In 1934 Boaz Bischofserder, the cantor of the Brunenstrasse Synagogue (Liberal Judaism) in Berlin emigrated to England with his family, as, since 1933, the situation of Jews in Germany had begun to deteriorate in light of the rise and growing power of Nazism. Bischofswerder had a fine tenor voice. In 1926 the BBC recorded him singing some of his liturgical arrangements. The Archive holds a copy of this record now on tape and lodged a copy in the film archive at 'Beth Tefutsot'(Ramat Gan, Israel) in 1997, as well as a recording originally made in the 1970s of a German cantor singing Bischofswerder's arrangements. In the future, it is hoped the tapes can be digitally mastered. While in England, Werder studied fine arts.
Boaz Bischofswerder and his son Felix (Werder) were among those transported to Australia from Germany as enemy aliens in the course of World War II, docking at Darling Harbour from the 'Dunera' on 7th September 1940. A plaque now marks the spot where the ship landed. They subsequently were interned at Hay and Tatura for four years for the duration of the war.
Felix Werder had a younger half brother, Fred Bishops (lately of England). The latter's daughter, Naomi, while a student of the Victorian Film School in Melbourne composed a video (in 1998) on the life of her famous uncle and grandfather, which was entitled Boaz . The archivist is keen to obtain a copy of this video, as her original copy was borrowed and lost.
While in the camps, Felix and Boaz continued to compose music. Bischofswerder's liturgical arrangements are based on the music of the nineteeth century liturgical composer Levandowsky and include Mir Adir and Sheva B'rochot(Seven Blessings) which are sung at weddings. He also wrote music for En Kelohenu , part of the morning service in the synagogue.
Boaz wrote an original piece, Phantasia Judaica during the voyage on the 'Dunera'. This is featured on the video. Felix Werder commented that Phantasia Judaica represents Jewish ideas similar to those in the works of Bloch. The first performance was while on board ship, and according to Felix Werder, was written initially for four tenor voices, in the German vocal tradition. There were a number of other musicians on board and in the camps they were joined by other German and 'enemy alien' musicians such as Waerner Baer, who came via Shanghai. While at the camp in Hay, Boaz added a violin and piano part. In 1996, Felix added a further part for flute. Since he was eight years old (from 1930), Felix had acted as a music copyist for his father, and thus received a good background in the basics and structure of musical composition, which stood him in good stead in his future musical career, where his compositions have been in the forefront of 'avant garde' modern music and include several operas. His early musical upbringing in Berlin has continued to have a profound influence on his work. His family had been part of Schoenberg's musical circle, which espoused modern music.
In addition to the music manuscripts, the Bischofswerder papers contain a handwritten Yiddish document in pencil of about 200 pages from a ruled notebook of A5 pages. The manuscript could be categorised as being halfway between a biography and a series of stories based on real life situations. The stories begin in Lublin and recapture the background of the lost world of Polish Yiddish culture during the High Holy Days, and move to the Yeshiva in Ger, an important centre of Hasidism and Yidische culture, which was one of the many Jewish communities obliterated by the Nazis. The journey is described in detail.
Boaz Bischofswerder died in 1949, at a relatively young age, after only nine years in Australia, four of them in detention. It is apparent that he never could adapt to the loss of his homeland and the trauma of being uprooted from his native Germany and interned. Sadly, Australia still continues to intern refugees from life threatening political situations for long periods.
Felix Werder was born in Berlin in 1922. In the same year (1943) in which his father aranged the score of En Kelohenu , Felix wrote Symphony No.1 (Opus 6, Tatura [Internment] 1943) revising it in 1952. The latter is now available on compact disc, forming one of eight compositions. (Aspect 1996. Felix Werder). He wrote numerous other compositons during that time. The manuscript of Actomos was found among the papers and was composed for violin and voice by the twenty year old Felix Werder. Felix rescored it for strings, and it was performed in 1948 by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra conducted by the Director of the Conservatorium of Music (Sydney) Eugene Goossens. Goossens later conducted another of Werder's compositions Balletomomania with the same orchestra in 1955, gaving him a welcome break, at a period in his life when Werder was ready to give up composing, as his compositions had been continuously rejected. The ABC and other organisations considered them too avant-garde for public performance. However, from that time, his music was performed frequently.
Felix Werder continued to compose music till his death in May 2012. He founded the Australia Felix music group which toured Europe playing the new music and giving it exposure. This group included many prominent Australian musicians. Werder lived in Melbourne in a flat he shared with his beloved wife and cat.