7) Trauneck and music in black townships

Possibly through those educational concerts, Father Trevor Huddleston became aware of Trauneck's passion for education. Huddleston arrived in Sophiatown in 1943 as Provincial Superior of the Community of the Resurrection. The shanty town of Sophiatown, or 'Kofifi', with a population of about 65,000 was the only area in Johannesburg where black and coloured people could own land and where all ethnic groups co-existed in a community surrounded by all-white suburbs. Huddleston invited Trauneck and his orchestra to Sophiatown:

'I asked him if he would come and play and bring his whole orchestra, which was white and he would come out on a Saturday afternoon and play in the open air. It was quite marvellous . . . he would play classical music.'1

Interesting is the following comment by Stanley Glasser has commented on Trauneck's attitude towards Black people and culture in South Africa:

'And although [he extended] a hundred per cent of well-meaning sympathy and help to the African South Africans, he never showed any particular enthusiasm for the rich culture of African music. . . . Whatever, Trauneck remains an important figure in the history of South Africa's worthy musical process.'2

When, in May 1948, the National Party of South Africa won the elections, the racist system of apartheid was implemented. One of the consequences in respect to cultural life was the absolute segregation of audiences. Concerts in the Johannesburg City Hall, for instance, were given on weekdays for black audiences only and on the weekends for white people who had private cars to get there. (This situation worsened in the 1960s when black and white artists were no longer allowed to perform together on stage.)

'Black choirs required always accompanists and those were mostly white. A performance of white and black people together on stage was now forbidden. We needed training to become accompanists ourselves'.3

There were only a few white music teachers willing to take the risk of giving lessons to African students in their homes. Trauneck was one of them and one of his best-known students was the tenor, music teacher and founder of several vocal ensembles, Khabi Mngoma. He took lessons with Trauneck between 1948 and 1954 in conducting, keyboard and, to start with, singing, before Anny Lambrechts became his teacher when Trauneck left South Africa. Another student was the young tenor Ignatius Temba. Trauneck arranged some concerts to raise funds for Temba's studies in London.4

The Non-European Affairs Department of the Johannesburg Municipality decided in 1947 to appoint a Cultural Activities Officer for the organization of regular concerts at the Bantu Men's Social Centre (BMSC) in Eloff Street. A small grant enabled black people to organize piano lessons, music and arts and crafts classes, and concerts. The Johannesburg Bantu Music Festival, an annual music competition, covered all branches of music. For instance, the sixth festival in 1952 included vocal and choral groups, instrumental groups and soloists, ballroom dancing, and drama, and attracted in total 4957 participants. It was held at the BMSC, and later in the City Hall.5 The organising body still exists today under the new name ACOSA (African Cultural Organisation of South Africa). The Star reported on 20 December 1947 on the first festival at the BMSC:

The first competition was one for church choirs and the song set was 'Amaxeshra Osizi' ['Troubled Times']. It was interesting to compare the varying interpretation of this song according to their conductors. One had evidently benefited by watching Mr. Joseph Trauneck, who, with his Johannesburg Symphony Orchestra, has done much in past years to foster a natu ral love of music in the Native townships. A sextet, under the choirmaster with the 'Trauneck' touch, achieved a very high level, the cadence of the voices rising and falling under their conductor's guidance in a way it was pleasing to hear.6

This music competition became the most important national black cultural event of the year, with the winners' concert held in the City Hall. On average about 20 rehearsals per year were held at the BMSC, where hundreds of black choirs and other ensembles poured into the Eloff Street premises.7

In the post-war years Trauneck received an average annual grant of £150678 from the Non-European Affairs Department for his concerts given at the Bantu Music Festivals.9 The organizer of the Bantu Music Festival from 1948 to 1955, Osborn (Brian) Ferdinand, described Trauneck as the 'most accommodating person who usually came with his orchestra once a month to the BMSC to give educational concerts.'10

Two highlights of Trauneck's relationship with the township audience in Sophiatown and of his friendship with Father Huddleston were the visits to Sophiatown of the Amsterdam String Quartet in 1948 and of the violinist Yehudi Menuhin in 1950. In the audiences were Desmond Tutu, poet Don Mattera, and a nine-year old boy attending his first classical concert, Michael Masote. All of them grew up in Sophiatown and Masote is today the organizer of ACOSA, a violinist, choir-master and the translator of Handel's Messiah into ten African languages. Menuhin's performance of a Bach Partita and Mendels sohn's Violin Concerto inspired the young Masote to study the violin.11 Menuhin, who had just read Alan Paton's Cry the Beloved Country, did not hesitate to accept Trevor Huddleston's invitation to perform at his Sophiatown church. Menuhin was carefully watched by the government and by his South African agent, Dick Harmel. A concert before a mixed audience was of course not allowed, so Menuhin decided to give free concerts for the people in Sophiatown in the morning and to perform on the evening of the same day for 'whites only' in the City Hall. He was then accused of breaking his contract.12 Menuhin's brush with the apartheid government had consequences: he later became the first international artist to boycott South Africa, vowing not to give a concert in the country as long as apartheid persisted.

Trauneck himself recorded similar experiences with the racist regime. He again faced anti-Semitism:

'Here in this country there is nobody who is really interested in Schoenberg, no musician, no music society, and I'm the only one who ever played a note of him, and I'm completely pushed aside, and since we have this new anti-Semitic government completely powerless.'13 Much later he wrote to friends about his South African experience: She [Trauneck's stepdaughter Ruth] will have a lot to tell about my second fatherland, South Africa, this monstrosity of a state - even worse than the United States. All those years I could not write openly because of the worsening censorship.'14

In 1948 came the new dispensation . . . [apartheid] which ruined this beautiful country for me. I decided to return to Europe.'15

Trauneck continued to give educational concerts for Non-Europeans (i.e., Black South Africans) at St. Peter's School in Rosettenville, at the Bantu Men's Social Centre and at other social and educational institutions. The Department of Education, Arts & Science and the Department of Social Affairs granted the JSO annual amounts of £200 and £250 respectively.16 He was also approached by the South African Institute of Race Relations to give a series of music lectures in Orlando, a suburb of Soweto.17


  1. Huddleston interviewed by Pippa Stein, 1986. In Junction Avenue Theatre Company Interviews. History Archive, William Cullen Library, University of Witwatersrand, 'Trevor Huddleston' box.
  2. The South African composer Stanley Glasser became a private scholar of Trauneck while he was studying economics at Wits University in Johannesburg. Stanley Glasser, private communication, 3 February 2009.
  3. Interview Michael Masote, 22 September 2008 in Florida, Johannesburg, Masote studied violin with Geofrey Diedericks, a pupil of Michael Dore, and later with the Jewish conductor Joseph Friedland, whom he visited secretly at his home in a white suburb for violin lessons. Like Trauneck, Friedland left South Africa in 1955 because of the segregation laws. Masote told me about the difficulties of black choirs not being allowed to play with a white pianist.
  4. Information on Ignatius Temba from Eva Mayer in private communication, 2 February 2009. Eva Mayer was a soloist in the Youth Concerto Festivals conducted by Trauneck.
  5. Annual Reports of the Manager, Non-European Affairs Department, History Archive, William Cullen Library, University of Witwatersrand.
  6. 'Bantu Music Festival', The Star, 20 December 1947, unpaginated clipping in History Archive, William Cullen library, University of Witwatersrand, file 'Township Chorus'.
  7. Minute Book, Fourie archive.
  8. A South African pound was equivalent to the British pound.
  9. Reports of the Johannesburg Non-European Affairs Department 1939-1968, History Archive, William Cullen library, University of Witwatersrand, A 2628, June 1952-1953.
  10. Interview with Brian Ferdinand, Soweto, 24 September 2008.
  11. Interview with Michael Masote, Florida, Johannesburg, 22 September 2008.
  12. Yehudi Menuhin, Unfinished Journey, London: Macdonald & Jane's Publishers, 1981, p. 320.
  13. Letter from Trauneck to Görgie Schoenberg, 19 February 1949 (ISG)
  14. Letter from Trauneck to Rudolf Kolisch, 11 March 1967: 'Sie wird allerhand zu erzählen haben aus meinem 2. Vaterland, dieser Mißgeburt von einem Staat - schlimmer noch als die USA. All diese Jahre konnte ich ja wegen der immer strenger werdenden Zensur kaum noch offen schreib (ISG)
  15. Letter from Trauneck to Felix Greissle, 23 June 1971: '1948 kam der neue Kurs . . . . (Apartheid) der mir dieses herrliche Land versaut hat. Ich beschloß nach Europa zurückzukehren.' (ISG)
  16. Minute-book, Fourie archive (24 August 1955).
  17. Ibid