Sunday, January 4, 2015


During the 1940–41 concert season, Bergen was celebrating the 175th anniversary of the founding of its orchestra. The Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra was instituted in 1765—a date that establishes the city as the home to one of the oldest orchestras in the world. 

During one point in its proud heritage, the ensemble’s music director was none other than the renowned Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg, one of Bergen’s most famous native sons.

The highlight of the Bergen Philharmonic’s 175th season was to be an appearance by Ernst Glaser, the concertmaster of the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra and the country’s most prominent musician.

Anticipation was especially high because Glaser was going to be performing on a valuable Guarneri del Gesù violin that had once been owned by the celebrated nineteenth-century Norwegian virtuoso Ole Bull—another international figure from Bergen.

Ernst Glaser 1953. Karl Andersencello.
Photo: Ørnelund, Leif/Museum of Oslo

The philharmonic concert began innocently enough, with a performance of Haydn’s Military Symphony (sample). About fifteen minutes into the Haydn, a large group of teenage boys entered the concert hall and occupied the empty seats.

Some audience members found it nice that the young people were taking an interest in classical music, even if they did arrive late. Others immediately suspected that the teenagers’ motives were much more sinister: the boys were members of the National Youth—Norway’s version of the Hitler Youth—who were planning a demonstration if Glaser set foot on the stage with Ole Bull’s violin.

The violin concerto was supposed to follow the Haydn symphony, but Glaser did not appear. The lengthy gap between pieces and the presence of the National Youth created a foreboding silence throughout the audience.

Backstage, Nazi officials were telling conductor Harold Heide that Glaser must not be allowed to perform. Heide was instructed to stop the concert. He refused. He did, however, buy himself some time by postponing Glaser’s appearance to later in the concert.

Heide returned to the stage and announced a change: the orchestra would now play The Flute of Sanssouci (sample) an orchestral suite by German composer Paul Graener that came after the concerto on the printed program. The orchestra played all four movements of Graener’s suite.

Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, Ernst Glaser Conductor. Photographer: Anders Beer Wilse

Then there was another long pause. Instead of returning to the podium, Heide could be seen pacing back and forth behind the orchestra, looking distraught. The members of the orchestra looked at him and at each other in confusion.

Finally, Heide resigned himself to the fact that he would be putting Glaser at too much of a risk if he allowed him to perform. Heide stepped to the front of the stage and announced that he was very sorry, but that due to unforeseen circumstances the remainder of the concert would have to be canceled.

“What the hell!” yelled one of the National Youth from the balcony. “Why doesn’t he come?” They had been waiting to protest Glaser through half of the Haydn and all of the Graener. They had grown impatient for the protests to begin. 

“Is it because Glaser is a Jew?” someone else shouted.

Then all hell broke loose.

The demonstrators started booing and chanting “Down with the Jews! Down with the Jews! Away with the Jew Moses Salomon,” referring to the object of their scorn not by his true German name “Ernst Glaser” but by “Moses Salomon,” a very Jewish-sounding name that they invented for him. The National Youth dropped flyers from the balcony that read, in poorly spelled Norwegian:

Ole Bull - Source Wikipedia

OLE BULL’S VIOLIN is a Norwegian national treasure. His works are the founding pillars of Norwegian music.

THE NORWEGIAN YOUTH will not allow our Germanic honor to be soiled by THE JEW MOSES SALOMON (alias Ernst Glaser).

This Jewish peddler has misappropriated Ole Bull’s fiddle, our national treasure, and is traveling by land and sea making money off of it.


                                                        National Youth

The lights in the concert hall came on, allowing the audience to finally see the uniforms of the National Youth. 

In what is surely one of the most heroic moments in the history of music, the music lovers in attendance became enraged and attacked the demonstrators. In response to the chants of “Down with the Jews,” the Norwegian actor Hans Stormoen called out, “Down with the rioters.”

Hans Stormoen - Source: Wikipedia

Fights broke out throughout the concert hall. One member of the audience struck a Nazi hooligan with the handle of her umbrella. A violinist from the orchestra tore off his tuxedo jacket and jumped from the stage to join the bloody fistfight against the National Youth.

Before things could get too far out of hand, Heide leapt to the podium and quickly instructed the orchestra to strike up the Norwegian national anthem.

The entire orchestra rose. As soon as the audience and the National Youth heard the opening chords, their patriotism obliged them to stop what they were doing and sing along. 

Throughout the national anthem, the National Youth were compelled to stand at attention, extending their right arms in the infamous Nazi salute.

While the rioters stood motionless, Glaser escaped out the backstage door and was safely whisked back to Oslo.

Glaser remained in Oslo for several months, but later escaped to Sweden with the help of the Norwegian resistance movement. He spent the remainder of the war touring Sweden, providing comfort and raising money for the Norwegian resistance fighters camped out on the Norwegian border.

He returned to Oslo immediately after the war ended and resumed his position as concertmaster of the Oslo Philharmonic, an orchestra with which he continued to perform until 1969. 

Excerpted from James A. Grymes
With gratitude for authors permission.

Violins of Hope (Harper Perennial, 2014)