Interview with Ina Lohr, 1983

Published: 05.09.2016     Author: Jos Leussink


Over the course of two days, the 24-25 March 1983, the Dutch radio journalist Jos Leussink interviewed Ina Lohr extensively. In these recordings Ina Lohr spends about two thirds of time discussing her understanding of the modes, interweaving this with personal recollections of her life; in the final third of the recordings she reminisces about her encounters with the composers and performers she met through Paul Sacher, thereby allowing us to experience directly the degree of her interaction with these famous personalities. What you find here are some excerpts describing her contacts with these people. The original recordings were digitalized by Jos Leussink, who also kindly gave me permission to put these excerpts online. The transcription of the Dutch was made by Albert Jan Becking, the translation into English by Jed Wentz, and the final editing done by Anne Smith.

Audio file of the interview:

Research project

Ina Lohr (1903–1983)

How to cite

Jos Leussink, "Interview with Ina Lohr, 1983". Forschungsportal Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, 2016. (retrieved: DD MM YYY)


The text of this article is provided under the terms of the Creative Commons License CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0

To read the transcription of the interview, please download the PDF.

1. Encounter with Nadia Boulanger and Igor Stravinsky


Thus we then had a great enrichment and also an economic expansion of the programming possibilities, and from the very beginning Sacher was open to it all. He had an enormous sense of trust, and asked if I could help out with the Arbeits-gemeinschaft. So I said: “no, I can’t do that. I am not a person for meetings and those kinds of things, I quickly find them too tiring, I can’t do that.”

So it became a personal co-operation, one which has continued to this day, 54 years – and we are both actually very happy about that, that it was possible.

And through him [Sacher] I got to know modern composers – naturally at first Swiss composers, who are barely known – the name Conrad Beck is probably entirely unknown in the Netherlands, or am I wrong? [JL confirms: “No, he is not known.”] But he wrote a few beautiful things. And Willy Burkhard … Gesicht Jesajas ... yes, he was a real friend.

And Conrad Beck had studied in Paris with Lili Boulanger [obviously a confusion with Nadia Boulanger, as Lili had died in 1918]. And then my father decided that I had to go to her too. So I went to Paris to hear the first performance [there] of the Symphonie des Psaumes by Stravinsky – with Sacher and Beck.

And Lili [Nadia] Boulanger had invited me to visit her in the Avenue [Rue] Ballu to take part ... in a large class she had there, and there I was in a real Paris salon, full of all kinds of little – I also have such little useless knick-knacks standing round about which is sometimes found frivolous in my line of work- but at Lili [Nadia] Boulanger’s it really was to the point that you didn’t know how to sit on your chair. The place was completely full. But she had a presence that was really unbelievable.

And then we went together to the rehearsal, the dress rehearsal that Stravinsky himself was conducting, and I ended up sitting next to her and I looked into the large first manuscript score by Stravinsky, and she asked me what I thought there and there, and [she] immediately said that she wanted to keep me one or two years. To which I replied: “You know, I do not feel at all at home in your salon, I am not someone for salons. And as far as that goes - I really love Paris, I know Paris pretty well, I always came here with my parents, in May, and stayed a month to hear the premieres, I know all about it - but I could never put down roots here. Yet I felt at home in the little city of Basel from the very first moment, to me that is very important. I do not need to become famous.” With that she was so surprised that I said: “C’est pas necessaire, pas necessaire d’être celèbre, pas du tout.” She was dumb-struck by that...We parted good friends, and a pupil of hers. Marcel de Mont[Senlis?] then came along with us to Basel, to study with Weingartner.

So I was in touch with that crowd as well....and there’s a photo [in Alte und Neue Musik: 25 Jahre Basler Kammerorchester, Zurich, 1952, page facing 96]...of Conrad Beck, Stravinsky and Paul Sacher. That must be from - what year is written there - yes from 1930, so very young ... And Stravinsky always showed great interest, also in young composers, who found themselves around him here. At that time I did not have any desire to get to know him, for I always avoided things that would result in me being photographed. Now I really just wanted to be alone with myself and really to become myself and that was successful, and I kept true to that.

2. Encounters with Arthur Honegger


This is a nice photo [Alte und Neue Musik: 25 Jahre Basler Kammerorchester, Zurich, 1952, facing p. 160] so that you can see how much really happened at that time. That is also a very nice one, because very shortly afterward, I immediately asked about Honegger and then Paul Sacher said “yes, that is a very grand plan, because Honegger has received a commission from Ida Rubenstein” – Actually she was a dancer, but she was also a reciter and she had the main role in it, the role of Jeanne d’Arc. He had to write an oratorium for her, he was already working on it.

And that was really satisfying, to be able to experience the creation of that work. We received sketch after sketch, now this came, now that, and then there were the discussions … with the three of them: Honegger, Ida Rubinstein, Sacher [+ Ina?] … and the result was first …. because Honegger wrote everything first, he worked at the piano, which was entirely new to me, I can only write in lines [directly on paper. So I never sit at the piano when I write something. But he worked entirely at the piano, and only when the piano score was finished, did he begin with the orchestration.

But surely and slowly we had to begin with rehearsals, so what do we get, [but] this – perhaps they’ll hear this on the tape, that the paper rustles, this is the first piano score. [Now in the Paul Sacher Stiftung, Sammlung Ina Lohr] And I am wary of having it bound, because it almost needs to be like this, as it was so misused that it is completely falling apart. But from this little nit-picky – but so very neat and precise – thing we had to rehearse.

And it was a magnificent work. There are some very difficult passages in it, as you well know, such as …. [sings]: it took awhile until I had pumped that into my tenors and basses, but fortunately it was so (that I say …), but it was so beautiful to say that, to say that in this manner….!

And that was then a very great success.

And I wish to still let you see, (although) … the listeners [who later hear this interview] cannot see it with us, how he brought it to a close, completely in unison, with a six-note melody almost in a hexachord – and Honegger didn’t want to know anything about hexachords, his wife had to take that on for him (and I had long conversations with his wife, she was a teacher of composition at the conservatory), but he didn’t want any of it. And that … [sings] … there everything finally comes back once again to spring … do re mi, with the nightingale, and then comes the conclusion, here … on top the nightingale brings an f-sharp and then a b-flat and then an f, while in the accompaniment, that is to say in the whole orchestra, there is as sustained D-major chord. But that: la fa re [sung] at the end, that is the falling to rest that we know from “Salve…” [sung]. I was so impressed by this, that I just asked him then: “But did you know this?” And then he said: “I don’t know anything, it is just given to me.” And I found that so comforting.

And that was a great happening, it was really something very beautiful. I myself [saw it] three times in a row – and in addition the rehearsals! – in Zurich, where the performce was staged … there I had the boy’s choir, in the proscenium balcony with forty boys. This was then no trifling matter. They had to stand of course, and the boys sometimes got impatient. [Irrelevant longer passage cut here.]

Thus the friendship with Honegger came about through hard work. Working hard with one another, and that actually continued for years. We also [worked on] other things: La danse des morts, he composed that afterward, also on a text by Claudel, and that was for Sacher, for which I also helped with the rehearsals, and so on, much more; until at the end came his Cantate noel, that was his last work,… [gets a book] …: [a] photograph shows how Honegger came on stage to express his thanks, at the very end, deathly ill. Tears ran down my cheeks, when he felt his way back to his seat in the hall. And then I jumped up and took him by the arm, then he said: “ma petite dame, vous êtes la,” as if that were not something to be taken for granted.

[Leafs through Alte und Neue Musik II: 50 Jahre Basler Kammerorchester to photo on page opposing 350.] That is the old, actually already dying Honegger. Very serious, frightfully serious … except for the marvelous moment where the children sing “freue dich, freue dich Israel, geboren ist Immanuel.” And the last part, this, he lay then in the hospital in Liestal, here close to the Sachers’, he stayed always at Schönenberg [the residence of the Sachers], but then he became so ill, that he was there [in that hospital], then his wife – he couldn’t orchestrate the end any more, but he had written everything down, so that his wife had to orchestrate it, which she did marvelously, he only gave her a sign at the very last word that the bassoon should sing very low: “Il est né le divin enfant…”, and that is so gripping.

Thus I completely experienced the creation of it, and that is really, … because it is a depressing work, he was in a frightful depression, but still … And he also believed in it …

And that was funny: Then he suddenly spoke in Zurich dialect … as he told me about all the Christmas songs that were sung all mixed up together there – I do not know whether or not it is a very great work from the compositional perspective, I can no longer judge; for me it was a tremendous happening, to experience this. Then he could come down from Schönenberg in order to say: “look, here are two more pages.” All of that made such a powerful impression.

And then he said once: “oui, ca doit être comme ça, je sais: nous sommes sauvés … Das isch wie ne Schleier vo Friede umd ganze Welt umme.” [“Yes, that should be like that, I know: we are saved … That is like a veil of peace around the entire world.”] That was really … an experience.

That was thus the friendship with Honegger, whom I still value highly, and his wife too, but she lived always for her husband, it was a wonderful marriage too, and the daughter is now in Geneva. They were all three also Swiss, they had two nationalities.

3. Igor Stravinsky and his Symphonie des Psaumes in Basel


At first I always rather avoided Stravinsky. He was so terribly lively, he was quite jack-in-the-box. […] I only finally got into contact with Stravinksy when I became involved in his music, when I had to work with the chamber choir here on a perfomance of the Symphonie des Pasumes. I was responsible for the preparation of the men, for which I needed no piano, I simply cannot bear it while people are singing, Sacher had a pianist with him to prepare the ladies [...] We did the initial rehearsals this way and it was very helpful. […]

The Symphonie des Psaumes […] is a glorious work ... but very difficult. In the second part the orchestra suddenly stops and so it’s a bit mean – to the choir. The orchestra plays a tremendous role, unintentionally you always listen to the orchestra ... suddenly the orchestra stops, and I read the text there in German: und stellte meine Füsse auf Felsengrund, und machte meine Schritte sicher. There the orchestra suddenly stops, so it becomes a cappella and that is very difficult. And sure enough, I used solmization syllables for all of that, in every voice. I rehearsed each voice with solmization. And they really enjoyed it! Then they knew it so well, they could add the text to it, then they had the melody. It really is a glorious thing. Only, many people are irritated that it ends on a very ordinary dominant seventh chord. But why not? Why not that? And then the fugue theme returns [...]

The Symphonie des Psaumes was an experience. Once again I could not go to Paris because I had overworked myself wth the rehearsals […] but here in Basel the performance was glorious.

4. Igor Stravinsky and "A Sermon, a Narrative, and a Prayer" in Basel


Later Stravinsky became older, and no longer so very – I regret that I must say it – obsessed with money and success. Of course he had to be, he had a family, he was a faithful family man (…) When he [Stravinsky] had grown very old, Sacher wanted something from him, a piece for his apparatus, for string orchestra. And then Strawinsky wrote back: I only still compose sacred texts for choir with strings...I still do that with pleasure. He proposed A Sermon, a Narrative and a Prayer. […]

And Sacher was at first shocked: it is so serious. And not only serious: Sacher had said, “It is an amateur choir, remember, it is an amateur choir, it is and will always be an amateur choir.” “O,” Strawinsky said, “that is constantly in my thoughts and that sound, the very pure, undamaged sound is just what I want.” And then we got it, and it is terribly difficult! Now, the nice thing was ... I didn’t indeed do any rehearsing any more, I had overworked myself with that [ … ] But I still came to listen and such, and once I had explained the texts (I could still do that) and also had explained how the music had grown from the texts […], then they really wanted to sing that. It was terribly difficult, but they sang it beautifully […] It is, for me, one of the most impressive works that I know.

Sven-Erik Bäck heard it here once – he had not yet heard it. A year or two ago he was back here, I said: “But Sven-Erik, it’s not possible that you don’t know that work?” I had just had to write about the Canticum Sacrum for Sweden […]. He was overjoyed about that; then I said, perhaps I will write now about the last work that Sacher received […] The Threni came later, but we couldn’t do it, it was too difficult, too much work. […] So he [Sven-Erik] heard the piece [A Sermon] for the first time. He didn’t want to consult the score, but I had told him all about it, which Bible texts and so. Then he listened: he stood still as death, stood before the machine […] he stood like that, and said “I believe that I have understood each note, I am deeply impressed.” It really is something glorious. And an amateur choir, too! […]

One concert [with the Basel Chamber Choir] was always [made up of] modern [music], and one or two of older [music in each season]. They learned an awful lot, and they had the tenacity and also the pride, the sense of community, being the BKO together with the orchestra, and to do those things wth Sacher, that was the nicest […] of the things I did.

5. Encounters with Ernst Krenek


And then there were other composers … Krenek, who was often here, he also often spoke here about his serial compositions ... he, of course, has a very cerebral side, his number symbolism and all of that... And then I found it so terribly nice when he said, I would so very much like to compose something simple. And there was a student of mine who has now been the director in a Catholic church for so long, he was standing near by and he said: “O, for my church choir, because they really do sing in tune.” So he went to listen and then wrote for them those things that you mentioned yesterday, they are beautiful...I did all of that also with my choir, just so we could get to know it. It is so nice to sing, excellent for the voice.

Krenek was one of the most musically erudite people I have ever seen, he knew nearly everything. It was difficult with him in conversation, because he always became very cerebral … and that is alas not my thing. I usually do know it – he once almost scolded me, saying “But you know this precisely, why don’t you join in the conversation?” Then I said, “but you can do that better than I” I know that I need it ... I need that knowledge... to hold my feelings in check. But it is not so important to me, that I talk about it. It is also not necessary. But that too was a meeting that gave me much. Exactly those little things brought me to also compose such simple things for smaller choirs, which indeed resonated with them and which they were able to sing.

6. Encounters with Bela Bartok


[JL: “Was Bartok here too?”] Yes, how could I forget him! [ … ] A very difficult, sad time, before the war broke out, from 1933 Bartok was a cultural Bolshevic, he had to get out. And he was Hungarian through and through – it was very difficult for him. So he came here first, to Schönenberg. Schönenberg: the large house where Sacher and his wife lived, became a refuge for I don’t know how many artists. Sacher said once: It’s as if Maja and I have that house only as a transit staion, and from that house we send our people to America and lose them. […]

He worked together intensively with Bartok, Bartok also wrote various things for us. Very early on, when the chamber orchestra was still quite young, that [piece] for two pianos and percussion [ … ] one of Sacher’s masterpieces from that time, that he could do that then already! I still find it a masterpiece of Bartok, beautiful.

Later we performed his great oratorium [Cantata profana, 12/13 May 1966] ... about the seven sons who become stags [ ... ] Difficult, but very beautiful.

Bartok also spent some time at a chalet that the Sachers had in Saanen, in the mountains. And there he composed; he was alone there with a housekeeper who was so quiet he didn’t notice her, and he was over the moon there. But there he received a telegram [saying] that it would be better for him to leave Europe...and then the Sachers made it possible for him to go via Portugal to America. And there he was deeply unhappy, he could not put down roots there. It is distressing that he died there, and his (second) wife came back in a deep depression. All very sad.

But Bartok did great things for Sacher, as musician, and performer too.

For me it was a bit of a shock, because Bartok had so violent a character, and a tremendous power. He was a very delicate man, and also looked so refined and elegant. But... even just his eyes, they were like that, as if they pierced through you... that made me uncomfortable. And he had a strength...

At that time I had a copy of a little pianoforte such as Mozart had for travelling, a very beautiful Stein-pianoforte, copied to the millimeter by Hoesch in Kabel. At that time I had organized the library of the industrialist Hoesch, who was a great music-lover and who had a collection of instruments, of music and of I know not what else: and I organized the library and my salary was this little pianoforte. It was lovely. And I had a little Dolmetsch harpsichord, and a clavichord.

Bartok went suddenly over to that little keyboard and struck it so hard ... and three hammers were broken. Actually, I could never entirely forgive him for that – it was such a shock. I had to send the hammers to Kabel, and it was all very complicated before I finally got them back. He hadn’t the slightest feeling for that, he thought it a shame that Sacher also devoted time to early music. He simply found it a waste of time [ ... ] He therefore could not understand all that I was doing with it, what my role was in it. It never worked between the two of us.

So I don’t have so many memories about that, only a great admiration, for a stance such as his. The man suffered terribly and kept his stance to the end. He died and was buried in America, which was terrible for him, and of course for his wife as well...I admire his music greatly – do you know the sonata for violin solo? One of his last works, something marvelous.

7. Encounters with Benjamin Britten and Sven-Erik Bäck


And further, I must also speak of Britten. You know Britten? [ … ] He was often here. [JL: Was he here?] Yes, yes, Britten and Peter Pears, they were often here. He also composed various things for Sacher, including a very beautiful serenade for tenor, horn, and strings, for the yearly serenade that Sacher performs in Lucerne, in front of the statue of the lion – the reclining lion, do you know Lucerne? [JL: Yes, I know it a bit...]

Each year a floating platform is built on the water, and the Zurich Chamber Orchestra – which is Sacher’s, of which he is the conductor – is seated on the platform, and the stone image behind it creates a gorgeous acoustic, it is unbelievable [...] and there the serenade sounded so beautiful, so beautiful [...]

That was for the Zurich Chamber Orchestra. Sven-Erik Bäck composed for both orchestras, thus [also] for here [Basel]. Sacher namely has here a part of the orchestra, namely the whole percussion section [the Basel Percussion Ensemble] ... those are his sons ... With it, he always had a “family day” on a Sunday morning in the fall in the large foyer of the New Theater here, and for it he commissioned works for percussion, and twice it was Sven-Erik’s turn, with a pair of beautiful pieces, beautiful [...]

[That is the Basel Percussion Ensemble …] - better-known than that of Strassburg; [it] really overshadows Strassburg. They have an excellent teacher, who also plays along with them, a virtuoso ... and they have an atmosphere, so very nice ... and there is one of them who usually comes to tell me how it went, because of course I cannot listen to that at all [...] and when I asked him, “What will you actually do, who will take it over when Sacher doesn’t do it anymore?” “Then it will stop too, we can only do it with Paul Sacher.” It isn’t possible another way. And there again you have the feeling of ... it is a different stance: they do not call him by his Christian name, but he does [use Christian names] to all of them.

And they [the pieces] are beautiful. Sven-Erik was over the moon that he could once again compose for them. So you see: it is one big family! For me that is one of the most beautiful things that can exist in the world of music.

8. Encounters with Frank Martin and Albert Moeschinger


And there are surely still many important composers left unnamed, who wrote a lot for Sacher, for instance Frank Martin. Who is naturally very well-known in the Netherlands, and we experienced him from the very beginning, and he wrote beautiful things for Sacher, that was a great friendship. So he belonged completely.

And then yet a very different Swiss [composer] whom I must mention: Albert Moeschinger, he is probably unknown in the Netherlands. So he is a very depressed person, who is still alive. [ ... ] He is all alone, not married, has difficulty making and keeping friendships with others, but Sacher was an unusually faithful friend to him in particular. He never abandons his friends, no matter what. He always offers him commissions, though the audience is seldom happy with it. But I found his recent compositions more acessible, much more free. than they used to be. So there are such figures in the vicinity as well, figures that we must occupy ourselves with in order to keep them going. And that is all part of it.

9. Encounters with Rudolf Serkin and Mstislav Rostropovich


And an entire chapter could be added about Sacher and his soloists. Because that too is a family. He has a few soloists whom he engages again and again, on whom he can rely and who are attuned to him. And one of these, of whom I must show you a photo, is Serkin. Now Serkin has in the meantime grown old too, but if he is in a good mood, then he’ll come and play [...]

And not to forget Rostropovich: since he here so much, he has his own car at Schönenberg, and he and his wife, they have a key, and they always show up here and they also have [are responsible for] that book that I showed [you]: Dank an Paul Sacher [Zurich: Atlantis Musikbuch-Verlag, 1976] ...

Is this not lovely, of Sacher and Serkin? [Dank an Paul Sacher, p. 54] At a rehearsal: the greeting. For they are really good friends ... Serkin grew up here, actually: they – he with his sister and parents - also came here in 1933, I knew him as a boy [young man].

And they play so ... it is so in sync, if I hear such a rehearsal, then I always think, it is unbelievable, they only need glance at one another, and they each know what the other will do – that is unbelievable.