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Joy Roger Hammerschlag: Brilliant musician renowned for her expertise on viola

Joy Roger Hammerschlag, who has died at 97, had an adventurous life through music and her passion for the viola, on which she was once coached by the celebrated conductor Sir John Barbirolli.

Born Joy Forster in Cookstown, where her father was a church organist, she was steeped in the classical tradition especially after the family moved to Hillsborough and settled in Fairford House, once the home of conductor Hamiliton Harty.

She and her sister Betsy won prizes at festivals and she played professionally in the BBC Augmented Orchestra under conductors Henry Wood and Adrain Bolt.

In 1939, while in Waterford, Joy met Jewish composer Kurt Roger and helped him with his Viola Sonata – which he was working on – by playing it to him.

The 44-year-old Kurt and the 22-year-old Joy fell deeply in love but there was sadness for both when the already-married composer boarded a liner for America and said a reluctant farewell.

In the first years of the war Joy stayed on the Stranmillis Road in Belfast, her father then being organist at Fisherwick Presbyterian Church. At this time she met another Jewish music lover, Heinz Hammerschlag, a refugee from Czechoslovakia, and they became great friends.

In wartime 1944 Joy auditioned for the Halle Orchestra in Manchester and so impressed Barbirolli that he gave her private lessons. In 1948, all those years after they fell in love, Joy sailed to America to wed the now-free Kurt.

The couple returned to Northern Ireland when Kurt was offered a professorship at Queen's University in 1964. But the love of her life died suddenly in 1966.

In 1970 she was recruited to lead the violas in the BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra, a seat she held for the next 10 years.

Joy renewed her friendship with Heinz, and they married in 1974. At the age of 76 she was invited to play in a World Orchestra to perform Verdi's Requium in Berlin and Paris. She was widowed for a second time in 1998, but lived on for 16 more years, writing memorabilia.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph