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Because of Brainin's Jewish origin, he was driven out of Vienna after Hitler's Anschluss of 1938, as were the violinist Siegmund Nissel and violinist Peter Schidlof. Brainin and Schidlof met in a British internment camp. Like many Jewish refugees they had the misfortune to be confined by the British as "enemy aliens" after reaching the UK.
Brainin was released after a few months, but Schidlof remained in the camp, where he met Nissel. Finally Schidlof and Nissel were released, and the three of them were able to study with violin pedagogue Max Rostal, who taught them free of charge. It was through Rostal that they met cellist Martin Lovett, and in 1947 they formed the Brainin Quartet, which was renamed as the Amadeus Quartet in 1948.
The Amadeus was one of the most celebrated quartets of the 20th Century, and its members were awarded numerous honours, including:
- Officer of the Order of the British Empire, presented by the Queen (1960)
- Doctorates from the Universities of London, York, and Caracas.
- The highest of all German awards, the Grand Cross of Merit.
- Austrian Cross of Honour for Science and Art (1974)
The quartet disbanded in 1987 upon the death of Schidlof, who was regarded as irreplaceable by the surviving members. Norbert Brainin continued to perform as a soloist, often performing with pianists Günter Ludwig and Maureen Jones. In 1992, Brainin performed a benefit concert in Washington, D.C. for then-jailed presidential candidate Lyndon LaRouche.
- Obituary: Norbert Brainin, The Guardian 11 April 2005
- "Reply to a parliamentary question" (pdf) (in German). p. 398. Retrieved 19 October 2012.
- Murphy, Caryle, "Fund-Raiser for LaRouche Draws Complaints at GU", Washington Post, 12/07/1988