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Jessica Duchen
Friday 13th November 2009
Friday Historical: The Comedian Harmonists

For today's Friday Historical afternoon, here's one of my favourite songs from The Comedian Harmonists - the smash-hit singing sextet of Germany in the late 1920s and early 1930s, subsequently banned by Hitler and thus forced to disband.

Several of the group were Jewish and managed to flee the country. I understand that one ended up as a cantor in a synagogue in Los Angeles, another went to Australia...and when you hear the verve of their performances, the dexterity and elegance of their ensemble, the warmth, character and polish of their voices, you can't help but realise that among the millions of casualties inflicted by the insane ideology of those days was a whole cultural zeitgeist that can never return.

I've chosen this today because my mother-in-law has been in intensive care all this week after a botched routine operation during which someone managed to perforate her bowel. She is 84 and the situation is critical. She came to Britain on the Kindertransport aged 12; after saying goodbye to her parents at Charlottenburg Station she never saw them or her second brother again. She was born in Berlin in 1925 and would have been a small girl bouncing through the Tiergarten at the time this song was recorded. I like to think of her that way when I hear it.

If you like this and would like to know more about the Comedian Harmonists, I can recommend a German feature film that was made about them in 1997 by Joseph Vilsmaier. And of course numerous recordings are available.


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About Jessica Duchen

Jessica Duchen is a music journalist and the author of four novels, two biographies and several stage works. She writes regularly for The Independent and BBC Music Magazine. Her latest novel, Songs of Triumphant Love, is published by Hodder.

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