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Culture

Storied music publisher celebrates Leipzig return

Dispossessed of his famous company, Jewish music publisher Henri Hinrichsen was put to death in Auschwitz. His grandchildren can finally celebrate the return to Leipzig of his Edition Peters - more than 75 years later.

Edition Peters and the family behind it celebrated the return of the music publisher to its original home on Talstrasse 10 in Leipzig last week, 76 years after it was confiscated by the Nazi regime.

"It's really a miracle," says Martha Hinrichsen, Henri's granddaughter and one of the owners of Edition Peters Group, along with her brother Henry. The 66-year-old New Yorker never thought she'd see the family firm again settled in her grandfather's house in Leipzig.

She marvels as she stands in the wood-paneled music salon on the second floor of the building, built by her great, great uncle Max Abraham in the 19th century.

In her grandfather's day two pianos stood in the room, one grand and one upright, where composers like Gustav Mahler and Edvard Grieg would give concerts and play duets with the publisher.

"He was very committed to the composers he published and was a philanthropist who benefited the city of Leipzig tremendously," says Martha.

'Synonymous with music making'

A music booklet of J.S. Bach's Das wohltemperierte Klavier

The green booklets are a familiar sight for musicians

Edition Peters boasts more than 12,000 titles in its collection, dating back to its beginnings in Leipzig in 1800 and including works by Brahms, Beethoven, Wagner and Mendelssohn. The booklets are a familiar sight to musicians and recently made a guest appearance in a scene in the film "A Most Wanted Man," in which Philip Seymour Hoffman as intelligence agent Günther Bachmann plays the piano to help cope with the grim reality of his work. The camera pulls back and a lime green music book comes into view on the instrument, the unmistakable color of the storied publisher.

"The green covers of the Peters Editions in a way are synonymous with private music making, with musicianship in society," says Peter Wollny, musicologist and director of Leipzig's Bach Archive, which studies the life and music of Johann Sebastian Bach.

"I think they are in the mind of people - not only in the mind of musicians," he says. "Everyone who plays the piano has seen these editions."

Third Reich rupture

The publishing house's 20th century heyday was put to an end as the persecution of Jews in Germany, which had been growing since Hitler was elected chancellor in 1933, intensified. The turning point came on November 9, 1938, the so-called Kristallnacht or Night of Broken Glass, a riot of state-sanctioned violence against Jewish homes, businesses and synagogues. Edition Peters' offices were destroyed, with furniture and equipment thrown out the windows and a mass burning of sheet music, facilitated by a Nazi member of the staff.

Soon after, the firm was confiscated by the Nazi regime and sold to a party member for a fraction of its value.

By the time the family managed to flee to Belgium, in January 1940, they had lost almost everything. Within months Germany invaded. One son died of typhoid fever. Another was taken to Auschwitz and gassed. Hinrichsen's wife Martha died in 1941 from a blood clot. She was in poor health after being denied insulin for her diabetes by Belgium's Nazi occupiers.

A photograph of Henri Hinrichsen

Hinrichsen's legacy survived despite numerous twists and turns

Hinrichsen survived on his own until August 1942, when the Gestapo came calling in Brussels. "They were looking for somebody else," says granddaughter Martha. "That person wasn't at home, but they didn't care. They just needed to get a certain quota of people." He was deported to Auschwitz and gassed.

Keeping Peters alive

Fortunately for Hinrichsen's legacy, two of his sons had left Germany in time: Max had gone to England in 1937 and set up Hinrichsen Edition Limited and later C.F. Peters in London. Walter, Martha's father, had gone to the US a year earlier with the express purpose of establishing Peters there.

After the war, the East German authorities took control of the Peters operation in Leipzig, which became property of the state.

In 1950, the Hinrichsen brothers decided to re-establish a presence in Germany and set up Edition Peters in Frankfurt, West Germany. By then Walter had opened the doors of C.F. Peters Corporation in New York and began reprinting the Peters catalogue, while also fostering contemporary American composers.

Going back home

After the fall of the Berlin Wall and long after the deaths of Walter and Max, the German government returned the Leipzig company to the Hinrichsens. But it took what Martha calls "the vision and determination" of Edition Peters CEO Nicholas Riddle to bring the entire firm back to the city.

The Leipzig building where Edition Peters again has its offices

Martha's great, great uncle had the building built int eh late 19th century

"People have said it must have taken some courage or lots of work, but actually it's always just felt like the right thing to do," says Riddle.

It was Riddle who united the separate and often feuding New York, London and Frankfurt companies under one banner: Edition Peters Group. That move, which was finally completed in 2010, led to the next step, he says: "Once the unification of the group happened, then the signpost was Leipzig."

The German headquarters moved from Frankfurt to Leipzig's Talstrasse 10 in July, but it wasn't made official until last Thursday with a concert honoring the Peters catalogue and a reception at Leipzig's city library.

Leipzig culture secretary Michael Faber seemed to capture the audience's mood in his speech: "East or west, home is best," he said.

The message was echoed throughout the room. "To have one of the first and one of the most important publishers [return] is a very important signal to continue the tradition of Leipzig as a city of publishing," said the Bach Archive's Wollny.

"It's a total rebirth of Peters," said Martha Hinrichsen, "a total rebirth of the Hinrichsen and Abraham legacy. It's a return to their homeland and to their home, to their actual home."

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