Ina Lohr (1903 – 1983), a forgotten Dutch/Swiss zealot of early music


Ina Lohr, in her later years

Anne Smith, who teaches at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, is doing research for a book about Ina Lohr, who was one of the SCB’s founders. She talks here to Jed Wentz.

This interview was first published in Dutch in the 04/2014 issue of the Tijdschift Oude Muziek.

Jed Wentz: Many of the famous names in early music are associated with Holland: Marie and Gustav Leonhardt, Frans Brüggen […] and Ton Koopman. Ina Lohr’s name does not enjoy similar familiarity. Who was she, and why isn’t she better known?

Anne Smith: There are numerous reasons for this. For one thing Ina Lohr belongs to the generation before those you mention. Having grown up in an extraordinarily rich cultural environment, she made the decision to study the violin with Ferdinand Helman at the Muzieklyceum in Amsterdam. By then she was already pursuing interests far beyond her instrument, learning Gregorian chant from Hubert Cuypers with such engagement that she was able to be an assistant for the boys’ choir at the Mozes en Aäronkerk [in Amsterdam] while still a student, as well as getting to know the Belgian musicologist Charles van den Borren [teacher of Thurston Dart] and through him his son-in-law Safford Cape, one of the pioneers of early music, the founder of Pro Musica Antiqua in 1932.

In 1929 – in order to recover from the stress of her studies – she set out to go to Switzerland to visit her sister, who was recovering from tuberculosis there. She grew so weak on the way that she was forced to stop over in Basel at the home of some friends. The stay, which originally was only to be for a few days, lasted for the rest of her life.

Within a month she had had her first string quartet premiered in a house concert, met the director of the Basel Symphony Orchestra and the Conservatory, Felix Weingartner, and been offered a position in the composition class at the Conservatory, and also been invited by the Professor Karl Nef to take part in his seminar at the University of Basel.

And in the following spring, she met Paul Sacher, and mentioned the possibility of performing Gregorian chant in concert – the beginning of a long cooperation in the realms of both early and new music.

In 1933, together with some fellow musicians, they founded the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, creating a teaching and research institute for early music, a paradigm for all later institutions of that kind. Ina Lohr was, to a great degree, responsible for the curriculum and taught most of the theoretical subjects. From the beginning there was a concert group associated with the school which she took part in, made up of members of the faculty, which later came to be directed by August Wenzinger. Not of robust health, around 1940 she decided the work of teaching and performing was too much for her, and decided to concentrate on her teaching.

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In line with her time, she was involved with the Singbewegung [Singing Movement], and thus was very concerned that the original function of earlier works of music be retained in their performance. As a result she devoted much effort to the teaching of Haus- und Kirchenmusik [literally, home and church music]. This meant also that she was speaking out against virtuoso display, as virtuosity was considered to suggest that the performer was being egotistical rather than devoting his or her entire attention to the music. Today this approach seems particularly old-fashioned, and, together with the fact that she did not perform much, contributed to Lohr’s being ignored later in life.

She remained in Basel for the rest of her life, retiring from the Schola in 1963 but staying musically active almost until her death in 1983.

JW: What did she contribute to the early music movement and how? How did she reach people with her message? Who was influenced by her?

AS: I think her contribution lay in her intense interest in the interaction between text and melody and in the special affinity she had for the connections between the (spiritual) content and prosody of the words and the inner tensions of the musical line. As one of her students said, for her monody was not a construct, but something that must become a spiritual line. Because of that she always reached people who were looking for something more, for something behind the surface; people who saw something in her that they were lacking in themselves.

The list of those who she influenced is actually quite astonishing. At the top of the list, of course, is Paul Sacher. In Ina Lohr he found someone who could help him in his interest in building up the Basel Chamber Orchestra, advise him in his performances of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century string music. That she also had a great knowledge of the new music scene was an added benefit.

Gustav Leonhardt was highly stimulated by her teaching. He wrote on her 80th birthday that he could not begin to mention all the ways in which she had influenced his musical development, and chose to put the spotlight on her work with melodic monody. Eric Ericson came to study with her in 1947 and said more than once that his approach to working with a choir stems from Ina Lohr. Jan Boeke, the conductor of Cappella Amsterdam, met her through the workshops she gave in the Netherlands after World War II and found a new approach to music in her work. Alfred Deller worked on Dufay with her when he came once to perform with the Concert Group of the Schola. And there were many more, perhaps less famous, people who look back with pleasure on the work they did with her.

JW: It seems a paradox that she was involved in contemporary music as a composer and as a key supporter of Paul Sacher. How does her passion for early religious monophonic repertoire square with her views on Stravinsky and Bartok?

AS: Recently I was speaking with one of her former students about just this subject. He said that Ina Lohr always saw early music in the context of the present. For her music was timeless because it came into being in a timeless framework within the church, within the liturgy; everything else was just a temporal expression of it. So on one level she made no distinction between types of music, only between the functions they fulfilled.

Another aspect that I have found fascinating, is that both the revival of early music and Neue Sachlichkeit  seem to have been fuelled by the same rejection of Romanticism, by the search for objectivity in a world which seemed to have outlived Romantic ideals.

As a result Paul Sacher and Ina Lohr had similar approaches to both of these worlds, seeking concrete, tangible musical elements that gave form to the music. Ina Lohr, however, in her constant desire to find connections between the text and music, to bring the melodic line to life, went beyond this in her teaching, offering something extraordinarily special that all the people that I’ve spoken to seem to find difficult to put into words.

© Anne Smith, Jed Wentz 2014 – All rights reserved

Anne Smith would like to hear from anyone who knew Ina Lohr or has information about her. She can be contacted at anne[at]smiths[dot]ch.

Thanks to Anne Smith, Jed Wentz and the Tijdschift Oude Muziek, Utrecht, for permission to post a shortened English version of the article which was originally published in their 04/2014 issue.








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