2011 - 2012 Concert Season
Excerpt from Terezín Cabaret Music:
Works from composers imprisoned in concentration camps create a program suffused with a longing to be elsewhere. Artistic Director Mina Miller will use examples from SAM’s Gauguin exhibit to examine non-Western influences in fascinating music works which emerged from the concentration camp Terezín, infamous from its use in Nazi propaganda. Audiences will hear Gideon Klein's haunting Fantasy and Fugue, Robert Dauber's salon-tinged Serenata, and spirited cabaret music sung by Terezín inmates to Terezín inmates, by baritone Erich Parce. Erwin Schulhoff's Five Pieces for String Quartet was written in 1923, but, inflected as it is with jazz, folk, and dance influences, it makes a soundtrack complementary to any post-concert tour of Gauguin's works. Twenty years after its composition, Schulhoff would perish in a Nazi slave labor camp.
Musicians: Mara Finkelstein, cello; Susan Gulkis Assadi, viola; Leonid Keylin, violin; Mina Miller, piano; Mikhail Shmidt, violin
Our May 14, 2012, concert featured the world premiere of a commission from composer Jake Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer: Another Sunrise. Drawing on the life story of Polish Resistance member Krystyna Zywulska, the work explores the unimaginable choices Zywulska made in order to survive, to see another sunrise. The concert program also included Szymon Laks' String Quartet No. 3, Pavel Haas' Suite for Oboe and Piano, Op. 17; and the Northwest Boychoir singing Yiddish and Hebrew folk songs arranged by Viktor Ullmann in Terezín.
Excerpt from Another Sunrise
Excerpt from Laks' String Quartet No. 3
Excerpt from Yiddish and Hebrew folk songs arranged by Viktor Ullmann
ABOUT THE MUSIC
String Quartet No. 3 (1945)
Szymon Laks (b. Warsaw, 1901–d. Paris, 1983)
Szymon Laks is perhaps best known for his book Music of Another World, an emotionally detached memoir of his personal experience as a “camp musician” during the Holocaust. Laks studied mathematics, musical composition, and conducting before leaving his native Poland to enter the Paris Conservatory in 1926. In Paris, he found work writing and directing music for the stage, film, and concert hall. Arrested by the Germans in 1941, Laks was deported as a Jewish foreign national, and spent three years in the concentration camps of Auschwitz, Sachsenhausen, and Dachau. At Auschwitz, Laks became the kappelmeister of the extermination camp’s band. Laks acknowledges that he survived through his musical assignments—writing and arranging music for performance, and directing the “camp” ensembles. His book, written in Paris in 1948, describes these experiences, and the grotesque phenomena of music among the crematoria of Auschwitz.
Music in Auschwitz served a different function from that in Terezín, the cynical combination of concentration camp and propaganda “show colony” where many of Europe’s talented composers and musicians were sent. However, at both of these camps—and at others—the Nazis used music in an attempt to camouflage the “final solution” awaiting their prisoners.
Laks’ account describes the troubling paradox of SS men who, he asserts, could reveal emotion evoked by a work of music, but none by their barbarous acts. The reader is left pondering the question: “Could people who love music to this extent, people who can cry when they hear it, be at the same time capable of committing so many atrocities on the rest of humanity?”
Lak’s third string quartet, subtitled “on Polish folk melodies,” was composed shortly after his liberation from Auschwitz. It is based on Polish folk melodies from various regions of the country. Polish music was strictly forbidden in Auschwitz, and performing it constituted a rebellious act. Ironically, Laks found some Polish melodies there, and proceeded to arrange them for chamber ensemble. In addition to twelve Polish folk melodies, the quartet contains a strong dance element, with the third movement in mazurka rhythm, and the last movement based on the rhythmic music of the Gorals (a district in the Tatra mountains).
Suite for Oboe and Piano, Op. 17 (1939)
Pavel Haas (b. Brno, 1899–d. Auschwitz, 1944)
Pavel Haas has been described as the most gifted student of Czech composer Leoš Janácěk. The son of a shoemaker, Haas did not begin his musical studies until his early teens, attending the music school of his hometown’s Philharmonic Society. After three years of army service, he joined the Conservatory and graduated to Janácěk’s master class, becoming a star pupil. Over two productive decades, Haas would work on over fifty compositions, but he gave opus numbers to only eighteen. His varied oeuvre includes symphonic and choral works, art songs, chamber music, scores for cinema and theatre, and an opera. Haas’ mature compositional voice combined a Stravinsky-like neo-Classicism with jazz, Czech folk themes, and Jewish synagogue music.
Haas composed the Suite for Oboe and Piano at the start of World War II, soon after the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. The work is an eloquent celebration of national identity under assault, and it expresses an intense love of country by incorporating the melody of the St. Wenceslas chorale—the emblematic Czech musical symbol. Haas initially created it as a vocal composition, but later scored it for piano and oboe. The original text, a commentary on the Nazi invasion, has not been recovered.
Haas was deported to Terezín in 1941, where he joined fellow Czech Jewish composers Viktor Ullmann, Gideon Klein, and Hans Krása. It was Klein who gave Haas music paper and encouraged him to compose to resist the depression that threatened to overwhelm him. Knowing his likely fate, Haas had saved his non-Jewish wife and their daughter by divorcing. He was sent to his death at Auschwitz in October 1944.
Yiddish and Hebrew Folk Songs
Viktor Ullmann (b. Teschen, Silesia, 1898 – d. Auschwitz, 1944)
Like many other artists of the interwar years, Viktor Ullmann was a victim of Nazi racial policies. Although Ullmann played a prominent role in Prague’s musical life, and his works were highly admired, performances of his music were banned after the German invasion of Czechoslovakia in March 1939.
Ullmann was deported to Terezín on September 8, 1942. During his two years of incarceration there, he was at the center of Terezín’s intellectual and artistic life as a composer, organizer, lecturer, and writer. Ullmann’s prolific creativity, even during this horrific period, epitomizes the power of art as spiritual and psychological defiance, and his courage was an inspiration to many others. Ullmann wrote: “It must be emphasized that Theresienstadt has served to enhance, not to impede, my musical activities, that by no means did we sit weeping on the banks of the waters of Babylon, and that our endeavor with respect to the Arts was commensurate with our will to live.” On October 16, 1944, Ullmann was transported to Auschwitz, where he was murdered upon arrival.
Choral singing met an important need for the people in Terezín, whose talents ranged from amateur to accomplished professional levels. Almost immediately following the first transports to the camp, there was an interest in folksong arrangements that could be sung by amateur voices. Nothing in Ullmann’s earlier music suggested a Jewish awareness on his part. In Terezín, however, he made many arrangements of Jewish folk songs for both solo voice and choir. Ullmann took these Yiddish and Hebrew folk melodies from a Jewish Macabi Songbook printed in Berlin in 1930.
Of Jewish parentage, Ullman was raised a Catholic and later converted to Protestantism before returning to Catholicism. It is a tragic irony that he rediscovered his Jewish roots in a concentration camp.
Another Sunrise (2012)
Jake Heggie (b. West Palm Beach, FL, 1961)
Libretto by Gene Scheer
World Premiere, Commissioned by Music of Remembrance
Made possible by a generous gift from The Clovis Foundation, Mary Winton Green, Jonathan Green, and Brenda Berry
The Holocaust was an unspeakable tragedy, and nearly seventy years after the end of the Third Reich the world is still learning its countless stories. With the passage of time, it becomes too easy for us to reduce the individuals caught in its grasp to caricatures of tragic victimhood or heroic resistance. We forget that each of those people—the millions—was wrenched from everything they knew as normal, and thrown into an unfathomable hell where old rules lost their meaning. They lived or died not only through luck or circumstance, but also through anguished decisions they were forced to make in situations we cannot begin to comprehend.
At a 2007 international Holocaust conference in Krakow, Poland, I heard a paper by Swarthmore College professor Barbara Milewski about the Polish resistance fighter and hidden Jew, Krystyna Zywulska. It was immediately clear that this story called for Music of Remembrance to commission a work that would share Zywulska’s remarkable legacy through music.
Zywulska’s published memoirs vividly describe her courageous day-to-day fight for survival during the Nazi occupation of Poland. With her mother, she walked out of the Warsaw ghetto in broad daylight in 1942, and joined the Polish resistance. Captured by the Gestapo and sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau, she wrote satiric poems that became camp anthems of resistance. This was a dangerous notoriety, because she was still trying to hide her Jewish roots from camp informers.
Composer Jake Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer are the perfect team to create this musical drama. Over the past decade, many of Jake’s most important works have been inspired by stories of struggle for social justice and human dignity. He has an exceptional gift for capturing the depth of human experience with emotional and artistic honesty. Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer have been extraordinary collaborators, and Another Sunrise reflects their hearts as well as their genius.
We are grateful to Barbara Milewski for introducing us to Krystyna Zywulska’s life and work, and also to Bret Werb, musicologist at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, for his guidance. We offer special thanks, as well, to Krystyna’s son Tadeusz Andrzejewski for granting us permission to share his mother’s story with the world.
Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer offer the following remarks about Another Sunrise:
The woman we know today as the author and lyricist Krystyna Zywulska was a Holocaust survivor with an astonishing, complex, sometimes baffling history. Born Sonia Landau in 1914 to a Jewish family in Lódz, Poland, she was studying law at Warsaw University when World War II erupted. In 1941, she and her family were relocated to the Warsaw ghetto. One day, seeing a window of opportunity, Sonia and her mother bravely walked out of the ghetto in broad daylight, leaving her father behind. She adopted the name Sophia Wisniewska and worked for the underground resistance until she was arrested by the Gestapo in 1943. Refusing to name names to the Nazis, she changed her own name to Krystyna Zywulska (born in 1918 rather than 1914) and was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau as a political prisoner—not as a Jew.
As a prisoner, with no experience as a writer, Krystyna crafted lyrics of protest and survival and set them to well-known folk tunes and popular melodies. Since it was suicide to write them down, her lyrics were passed along by word of mouth from inmate to inmate throughout the camp. A fellow inmate in a position of authority was moved by Krystyna’s work and decided to save the “camp poet.” After a year of disease, lice, and backbreaking labor in the fields, Krystyna was given one of the few choice jobs inside the Effektenkammer (warehouse of personal effects).
Here, she and her co-workers took inventory and took charge of the possessions that thousands upon thousands of Jewish women and children from all over Europe brought with them to the camp. Often, once their possessions had been taken and catalogued, these prisoners were marched next door to the ovens for execution. Krystyna heard the screams and cries, saw the smoke, smelled the stench, and had to live in an almost unimaginable situation: to survive, she had to take and catalogue the personal belongings of Jewish women and children, then hear them murdered next door.
At the end of the war, during a death march when the camp was being evacuated, Krystyna once again escaped and survived. After the war, she chronicled the atrocities she witnessed in a startlingly candid memoir, I Came Back (also titled I Survived Auschwitz), published in 1946. However, she still did not claim her Jewish identity or ancestry. In the book, one feels strongly that Krystyna wanted to explain what happened without holding back.
The book is honest, revealing and profoundly moving. It also, curiously, compels one to wonder about the nature of memory and the parts of the past that remain in the shadows despite one’s best efforts. It is those shadows, those empty places, Another Sunrise explores.
Krystyna Zywulska died in 1993, having reclaimed her Jewish identity in the 1960s. Late in her life, she was interviewed by Professor Barbara Engleking for her book Holocaust and Memory (published in Polish in 1994 and English in 2001). In Zywulska’s responses to Engleking’s questions, one can sense her frustration in trying to find language that might adequately describe the enormity of what happened, or the extraordinary complexity in a fog of memories.
In that interview, a woman whose words had saved her life now struggles to find words to describe what happened. It is this irony that prompted the idea for Another Sunrise.
Of course, it is not that she couldn’t find words: it is that none could ever truly describe what she and millions of others experienced. The past is thus clouded not by a lack of willingness to define what happened, but rather by the limits of language itself. Like the uncertainty principal that governs the quantum heart of the world, history too seems to be ruled by immutable paradoxes. If you measure something, you change it. If you describe something, you change it as well—even the past.
Another Sunrise is about the struggle to describe harrowing, unimaginable situations to people who weren’t there. It is also about what it is to survive. Like many who make it through a war, Krystyna survived not through grand acts of heroism, but through near maddening acts of survival. We do whatever it takes to live another day: to see another sunrise.
We thank Mina Miller for bringing Krystyna Zywulska’s story to our attention and for giving us the opportunity to create another new work for Music of Remembrance. Another Sunrise is lovingly dedicated to Mina, who reminds us all what it is to remember.
About the Composer & Librettist
Jake Heggie, composer, was born in West Palm Beach, Florida; raised in Ohio and California; and has made his home in San Francisco since 1993. Heggie’s most popular operas include the acclaimed Moby-Dick (libretto: Gene Scheer), The End of the Affair (libretto: Heather McDonald), and Dead Man Walking (libretto: Terrence McNally). His previous Music of Remembrance commission was 2007’s For a Look or a Touch (libretto: Scheer). He has written more than 200 songs, as well as orchestral, choral and chamber music. Heggie has had his operas performed internationally on five continents, and by more than a dozen American opera companies, including: San Francisco Opera, New York City Opera, Houston Grand Opera, The Dallas Opera, Seattle Opera, Ft. Worth Opera, Cincinnati Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, Austin Lyric Opera, and Madison Opera. His next opera, Great Scott, commissioned by Dallas Opera with story and libretto by McNally, will have its premiere in 2015/16. Recordings of Heggie’s compositions include PASSING BY: Songs by Jake Heggie (Avie), Dead Man Walking (Erato), Three Decembers (Albany), Flesh and Stone (Americus), To Hell and Back (Magnatune), The Faces of Love (RCA Red Seal), The Deepest Desire (Eloquentia), and MOR’s For a Look or a Touch (Naxos).
Gene Scheer, librettist, previously collaborated with Jake Heggie on the MOR-commissioned For a Look or a Touch, as well as the operas Moby-Dick and Three Decembers, lyric drama To Hell and Back, and the song cycles “Statuesque” and “Rise and Fall.” In February 2012, the Alexander Quartet and Joyce Di Donato gave the premiere of Heggie and Scheer’s Camille Claudel: Into the Fire. Scheer and composer Jennifer Higdon are working on an operatic adaptation of the novel Cold Mountain for the Santa Fe Opera. He wrote the libretto for the children’s opera The Star Gatherer with composer Stephen Paulus, and was the librettist for Tobias Picker’s An American Tragedy, which had its premiere at the Metropolitan Opera. The Chandos recording of their first collaboration, the opera Therèse Raquin, was cited by Opera News as one of the ten best recordings of 2002. Scheer’s own compositions have been performed by artists including Renee Fleming (with Christoph Eschenbach), Denyce Graves, Sylvia Mcnair, Stephanie Blythe, Jennifer Larmore, and Nathan Gunn. Norah Jones sang Scheer’s “American Anthem” in Ken Burns’ The War.
About Music notes by Mina Miller. Copyright 2012 Music of Remembrance
Two contemporary composers, Simon Sargon and Osvaldo Golijov, are on the program, along with the audacious and innovative Erwin Schulhoff, who died in the Wülzburg concentration camp. Artistic Director Mina Miller discusses the varied ways living composers respond to the Holocaust: Sargon's Shema sets poems by Holocaust survivor Primo Levi (to be sung by soprano Megan Chenovick), while Golijov's Lullaby and Doina was conceived for a movie about Jews and gypsies. Schulhoff's Concertino for Flute, Viola and Doublebass was written in 1925, and grew out of his fascination with Slavonic folk music.
Musicians: Megan Chenovick, soprano; Laura DeLuca, clarinet; Zart Dombourian-Eby, flute; Mara Finkelstein, cello; Jonathan Green, double bass; Susan Gulkis Assadi, viola; Mina Miller, piano; Mikhail Shmidt, violin
The concert features three works created between 1922 and 1948, charting a revival of interest in Jewish folklore and music in the young Soviet Union, followed by Stalinist-era repression. The unusual focus of the concert is the dybbuk of Jewish folk imagination, a spirit that possesses people, taking over their will for its own ends. Performing will be Seattle Symphony violinists Mikhail Shmidt and Leonid Keylin, both Russian themselves, along with Laura DeLuca, clarinet; Susan Gulkis Assadi, viola; Walter Gray, cello; Jonathan Green, double bass, and Matthew Kocmieroski, percussion.
Both Joel Engels’ The Dybbuk Suite and David Beigelman’s Dybbuk Dances were written for S. Ansky’s iconic 1922 play The Dybbuk. Engels’ suite is taken from incidental music for the original play, while Beigelman wrote his Dances in 1941, for performances given at the Lodz ghetto where he was imprisoned by the Nazis. (Many have considered Engel—who played a prominent role in Moscow’s Society for Jewish Folk Music—the founder of the modern school of Jewish national art music.)
An ethnographer as well as a playwright, Ansky had led expeditions in search of Jewish folklore in the shtetls of the Pale of Settlement, and been fascinated by the legend of the dybbuk. His play takes place on a wedding day, when the bride-to-be is possessed by the soul of a brilliant Talmudic scholar who died of unrequited love for her.
Artistic Director Mina Miller explains how the play, rooted in Jewish folklore, relates to the musical legacy of the Holocaust that MOR commemorates: “Folklore offers us poignant reminders of what also died with the individual lives the Nazis sought to extinguish—thriving Eastern European cultures. When you revisit it, you learn The Dybbuk is a richly layered morality tale, about tensions between spiritual and material realms. Such conflicts continue to haunt our own times, making this piece highly relevant for today’s audiences.”
The Dybbuk went on to become a cornerstone of Yiddish theater in Europe and America. Its success helped launch a famous Yiddish theatre company in the young Soviet Union, where an emerging movement of Jewish self-expression would be buffeted for decades by the shifting winds of Soviet ideology and politics. At the concert, Miller will talk about those social forces, seen swirling in The Dybbuk, which would soon transform the world in ways that nobody then could imagine.
In contrast, Dmitri Shostakovich’s song cycle From Jewish Folk Poetry, one of his most intimately evocative compositions, was created in 1948 but waited for its premiere until 1955, due largely to Stalin’s disfavor with the composer and to Soviet anti-Semitism in general. Shostakovich was inspired by the Russian translation of a collection of Jewish folk songs compiled by Yekhezkel Dobrushin. The first eight songs reflect the pain and suffering of the pre-Revolutionary past—and employ Jewish folk melodies—while the final three songs emphasize the good Soviet life and sound more like official workers’ song than art songs.
Guest vocalists for the song cycle will be soprano Megan Chenovick, mezzo soprano Kathryn Weld, and tenor Ross Hauck.
Artistic Director Mina Miller discusses the SAM exhibit "Our National Game" and Jackie Robinson's "athletic resistance," as a counterpoint to the artistic resistance to the Holocaust that MOR's music commemorates. Pavel Haas, one of Janáček's most talented students, wrote his String Quartet No. 2 ("From the Monkey Mountains") as a kind of musical postcard from a favorite vacation spot.
Elisa Barston, violin; Susan Gulkis Assadi, viola; Walter Gray, cello; Matthew Kocmieroski, percussion; Mina Miller, piano; Mikhail Shmidt, violin
The true story of a teenage group of boys imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp is delivered in their own words, in this reprise of the song cycle version of Lori Laitman's "Vedem"--based on poetry the boys wrote for their secret magazine. Guest vocalists Angela Niederloh, a Portland Opera mezzo soprano, and Seattle tenor Ross Hauck return to sing Laitman's work.
Laura DeLuca, clarinet; Angela Niederloh, mezzo soprano; Ross Hauck, tenor
The November 7, 2011 concert’s centerpiece was What a Life!, the Austrian-born composer Hans Gál’s musical parody about life in a British detention camp. Gál’s satiric revue What a Life! was written and performed for the entertainment of Gál’s fellow prisoners in the Isle of Man detention camp during the summer of 1940. The program also includes Gál’s Huyton Suite, Coventry: A Meditation for String Quartet by Vilem Tausky, and Marcel Tyberg’s lushly romantic piano trio, composed in 1936.
Watch excerpts from What a Life!:
ABOUT THE MUSIC
Coventry: Meditation for String Quartet (1941)
(b. Prerov, Czechoslovakia, 1910 – d. London, England, 2004)
Vilem Tausky was born into a musical family. His mother was a singer who had worked with Gustav Mahler; his uncle was the operetta composer Leo Fall. Tausky could list Franz Lehár, Oscar Straus, and Antonín Dvořák’s widow Anna among his childhood acquaintances. As a student of the elderly composer Leoš Janáček at the Brno Conservatory, Tausky went to work at the Brno Opera as a répétiteur, accompanying singers on the piano and coaching them during rehearsals. After stepping in for a sick conductor and leading a performance of Turandot at just 19, he found regular work conducting.
Tausky fled to Paris—where he was scheduled to conduct Janáček’s Jenufa—after the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia in 1939. He was engaged by the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo, but volunteered for the Free Czech Army instead. After the fall of France, Tausky escaped by boat to Great Britain and joined the Czech Army in Exile. (After the war, he was awarded the Czech Military Cross and Czech Order of Merit.) In the post-war years, he led opera companies (Carl Rosa, Welsh National), and the BBC’s variety and concert orchestras, and helped introduce English audiences to Czech music. For over two decades he taught conducting at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
While stationed in Warwickshire as a member of the Czech Army in Exile, Tausky was called into Coventry the day after the November 1940 air raid to help search the ruins for survivors. The courage of the British people in the blitz inspired him to write the haunting Coventry: Meditation for String Quartet. This elegy, a musical meditation on the horrors of war, is based on the St. Wenceslas chorale, an iconic Czech musical symbol. The work was first performed in 1942 by the Menges Quartet at a Dame Myra Hess lunchtime concert at the National Gallery in London.
Huyton Suite, Op. 92 (1940) and What a Life! (1940)
(b. Brunn am Gebirge, Austria, 1890 – d. Edinburgh, Scotland, 1987)
In sober moments it is clear to me that I am mad. Here I am, writing music, completely superfluous, ridiculous, fantastic music…while the world is on the point of coming to an end. Was ever a war more lost than this one now? – Hans Gál, diary entry: 12 June 1940 (Huyton Transit Camp, near Liverpool, England)
Fearing a German invasion, the British wartime government began the internment of thousands of foreign nationals from Nazi-controlled Europe as “enemy aliens”. The roundups included many Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi terror, who were thrown together indiscriminately with actual Nazi sympathizers. A substantial number of internees were deported to Canada and Australia, and some died when their ships were torpedoed.
The 50-year-old Hans Gál, Jewish composer and scholar, was among those held as a prisoner by British authorities without any suspicion that he posed a security threat or had committed a crime. Gál was released after four and a half months’ detention, and despite his experience he chose to live in Britain for the rest of his life. He attained an important position at Edinburgh University, where he was also awarded an honorary doctorate. Gál became a vital force in Edinburgh’s musical life; leading the Edinburgh Music Festival was just one part of his legacy.
Gál was born on a summer holiday at a village outside Vienna. He didn’t begin his musical studies until his early teens. At fourteen he heard Wagner’s Meistersinger overture and “went through a violent fit of Wagnerism, as if it had been measles,” he wrote later.
Gál studied music history and theory at the New Vienna Conservatory, where he began composing. In 1915, his musical life was interrupted when he was drafted into the Austro-Hungarian army. He was appointed Director of the Mainz Conservatory in 1929, but his charmed musical life came to an abrupt halt with the Nazi takeover four years later. He was immediately dismissed from his post. (At a 1933 concert commemorating the 50th anniversary of Wagner’s death, Gál had been seated near Hitler. He studied Hitler’s face and concluded that nobody could take him seriously.) Gál survived, miserably, in Austria until 1938, when he fled to England with his family—and toward his summer of internment.
The cheerful Huyton Suite stands in contrast to the harsh circumstances of its creation in the Huyton Transit Camp, near Liverpool, where Gál’s internment began. He scored the work for flute and two violins because he had access to only those instruments; in his diary Gál wrote of how he needed to conserve scraps of manuscript paper. The flute plays a “roll call,” reflecting the prisoners’ daily routine. Rehearsals in the camp were interrupted first when two musicians were deported suddenly to Canada, and a second time when some were transferred to the Isle of Man.
Gál created the satiric revue What a Life! for the entertainment of his fellow prisoners in the Isle of Man detention camp. The revue mocks the cruel absurdity of the camp’s very existence, and describes the stresses and strain of imprisonment with no fixed release date. After a jovial entrance march, more serious numbers mingle with the irony-laced “Barbed Wire Song” (“Why are human beings behind a wire?” the lyrics inquire) and the “Song of the Double Bed.” The verses of “Ballad of the German Refugee,” recounting the struggles of people uprooted and displaced yet again, were written by internee Otto Erich Deutsch, the great Schubert scholar.
What a Life! was first performed on September 2, 1940 in the Central Promenade Camp on the Isle of Man, with the musical numbers interspersed with a theatrical script by another internee, the noted film director Georg Höllering. Like everything else, the production was subject to the censorship of camp authorities. Two amateur actors, middle-aged Jews, were chosen to portray refugees from Berlin who meet each other again as internees in the camp. A second performance planned for the next day was postponed, and the delay gave Gál and Höllering an opportunity to restructure the revue and rewrite several of the numbers. In the meantime, many of the original cast members were sent elsewhere or released. Eventually the second performance was rescheduled for September 26th; in a bizarre twist of timing, Gál’s release for medical reasons was approved for that same date. Committed to the performance, and in solidarity with his comrades, Gál pleaded for permission to remain an “enemy alien” and stay in the camp for one more day. His request was granted, and the proceeds of the performance went to benefit air-raid victims on the mainland.
Gál’s musical score to What a Life! was found among his belongings after his death. Unfortunately, though, Höllering’s script has not been recovered. Tonight we perform musical selections from What a Life! with dramatic narratives that we have selected from Gál’s eloquent internment camp diary. We express our sincere thanks to David Sabritt for compiling the diary entries, interweaving themes of Gál’s sense of betrayal, his loss of freedom, his fears about the fate of his son Franz, and the absurdity of it all.
Music of Remembrance is grateful to the Gál family – the composer’s daughter Eva Fox-Gál, her husband Dr. Anthony Fox and her son Simon – for providing us with music, text and translations of this amazing work. And a special thank you to Bret Werb, musicologist of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, for first bringing this work to our attention and sharing its extraordinary performance history. What a Life! is at the same time an engaging parody and a window on a too-little-known injustice that should give us all cause for reflection.
Piano Trio (1936)
(b. Vienna, Austria, 1893 – d. Auschwitz, 1944)
Composer, conductor and pianist Marcel Tyberg was the son of a noted violinist father and pianist mother, but many details of his early life are not known to us. Born in Vienna, Tyberg moved with his family to Abbazia, a resort town on the Adriatic coast. The town passed from Austrian to Italian control in 1920, and today is part of Croatia.
Tyberg wrote his First Piano Sonata in 1920 and First Symphony in 1924. At Abbazia, he composed a series of works, including the Trio we hear tonight. To support himself and his mother he was a church organist, music teacher, composer of dance music (rumbas, tangos, slow waltzes), and performer with the Abbazia Symphony Orchestra.
Tyberg’s fate was sealed on September 7, 1943, when the collaborationist Croatian government received German orders to enforce Nazi racial laws. (Eleven days later Tyberg completed his final work, the Third Symphony.) Some time that summer, his mother had registered with local officials the fact that her great–grandfather was a Jew, making Marcel—who had written at least two masses, and composed his Te Deum to consecrate the renovated Abbazia church—one–sixteenth Jewish. He was taken in a night raid by the Gestapo and vanished. Records indicate that that he died at Auschwitz on December 31, 1944.
Anticipating his capture, Tyberg entrusted all of his compositions and writings to his friend Milan Mihich. After the war, Mihich fled Yugoslav communist partisans to Milan, bringing Tyberg’s manuscripts with him. When Mihich died in 1948, responsibility passed to his son Enrico, then a medical student and also Tyberg’s former harmony student. Dr. Enrico Mihich’s distinguished career as a medical scientist brought him to the Roswell Park Cancer Center in Buffalo, N.Y., where he still keeps Marcel Tyberg’s music secure in his home. For decades, Dr. Mihich worked tirelessly in search of funding to create performance-ready scores from the fading, handwritten documents. With the help of the Foundation for Jewish Philanthropies and the Buffalo Symphony Orchestra’s JoAnn Falletta beginning in 2005, Tyberg’s music can now be heard by a new generation. A special thanks to Zachary Redler for providing MOR with performing scores of the piano trio.
About Music notes by Mina Miller. Copyright 2011 Music of Remembrance