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The Hans Keller Archive

The Hans Keller Archive

Hans Keller (1919-85)

The Department of Music at King’s College London hosts the editorial office of the Hans Keller Archive, a project dedicated to publishing and reprinting work from the estate of the eminent musician and writer Hans Keller (1919-85). Keller was born in Vienna in 1919 but left soon after the infamous Kristallnacht of 1938 and thereafter settled in London where he married the artist Milein Cosman. In his early years he was a freelance string-player, psychologist, writer, and burgeoning music critic (or self-styled ‘anti-critic’). But by the early 1950s he had committed himself entirely to writing on music (including music for film and television); and from then until his death he established himself as the leading critical voice of his day in Britain. From 1959-79 he held various senior posts in the BBC and even became a part-time football columnist. After his death, Rodney Milne described him in The Times as ‘late, great, cantankerous and absolutely essential’. In Hitler’s Loss (Peter Owen, 2001) Tom Ambrose called him ‘perhaps the most influential’ of the musical émigrés to Britain, one who (unwittingly) adopted ‘the role that Ernest Newman had played in the post-war years’ as an ‘arbiter’ of taste. And Daniel Snowman, author of the definitive study of The Hitler Émigrés: The Cultural Impact on Britain of Refugees from Nazism (London, Chatto, 2002) wrote:

After the war Keller built himself a reputation as a brilliant, quirky musicologist, a man of forceful views and unshakeable prejudices who had such power of language and personality – not to say love and knowledge of his subject – that he was difficult to gainsay … [but] behind the bombast lay a personality of intense seriousness, the mind of a teacher, a moralist, a missionary. Keller was profoundly influenced by psychoanalysis and not averse to using what he regarded as psychiatric insights in his writings about music.

The Hans Keller Archive project is thus a key contribution to émigré studies as well as to musical analysis and criticism, to the history of music in Britain, to the history of cinema and broadcasting, and to the ongoing history of the reception of Freudian thought into musical circles.

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