Ernest Borneman

Ernst Wilhelm Julius Bornemann (April 12, 1915 – June 4, 1995) was a German crime writer, filmmaker, anthropologist, ethnomusicologist, jazz musician, jazz critic, psychoanalyst, sexologist, and committed socialist. All these diverse interests, he claimed, had a common root in his lifelong insatiable curiosity. From 1982-1986 he was president of the German Society for Social-Scientific Sexuality Research. In 1990 he was awarded the Magnus Hirschfeld Medal for sexual science.

Life and work

Born and raised in Berlin—back then "one of the most relaxed, sane, open, cosmopolitan cities in the world"— as the son of "the happiest couple I have ever known", Borneman grew up in relative wealth and says he was "sexually mature at fourteen, politically mature at fifteen, [and] intellectually mature between fourteen and sixteen". As a pupil he made the acquaintance of Bertolt Brecht and also worked at the counselling centre for workers established by Wilhelm Reich's Socialist Association for Sexual Counselling and Research, an organisation the latter had removed from Vienna to Berlin in 1930.

Another important influence in Borneman's early life was music, especially from overseas. As a ten-year-old, at the world's fair in Paris, France, he had seen musicians from Congo who had fascinated him. He went to concerts in his native Berlin as soon as they would let him in, listening, among others, to Marlene Dietrich, the Weintraub Syncopators and jazz saxophonist Sidney Bechet. A distant relative, the ethnomusicologist Erich von Hornbostel, introduced him to his field of study, and after school Borneman attended Hornbostel's lectures and on weekends helped out in his archive. It was Hornbostel who finally initiated Borneman into the world of jazz.

A member of the Communist Party of Germany, Bornemann was forced to leave the country in 1933, after the Nazis had come to power. He was smuggled out of the country posing as a member of the Hitler Youth on his way to England as an exchange student. On arriving in England, where he sought, and was granted, political asylum, he anglicized his first name to Ernest and, by dropping the second n, his family name to Borneman. At the time he hardly spoke one word of English.

A quick learner, Borneman did not just pick up enough English to be able to survive but also to live by his pen. In 1937, Gollancz published Borneman's "detective story to end detective stories" (Julian Symons), a novel entitled The Face on the Cutting-Room Floor, which he had completed before turning twenty. In all, until 1968, Borneman wrote six crime novels, all of them in English.

During his London years Borneman was preoccupied with jazz, both theoretically and practically. He went to all concerts of famous musicians touring Britain such as Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway. He played the piano, double bass and drums himself and even went to sea playing in dance bands on transatlantic cruise ships. At home in London, he spent countless hours in the British Museum Reading Room and at other institutions of learning. His notes on the origins and the development of jazz grew steadily, and in 1940 he sent the first version of his study, a 580 page typescript entitled "Swing Music. An Encyclopaedia of Jazz" to Melville J. Herskovits, then the most prominent U.S. anthropologist specializing in African American studies.

During the final decades of his life Borneman lived in Scharten, Upper Austria.


Borneman was also a scriptwriter for the British TV series The Adventures of Aggie (1956) about the adventures of a fashion designer on international assignments.

Borneman directed the 20 minute Canadian documentary Northland (1942) and also the 15 minute documentary written by Leslie McFarlane, '' (Objectif Berlin'') (1944).


External links

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