Mikhail Shmidt, violin; Susan Gulkis Assadi, viola, Walter Gray, cello
Recorded May 24, 2017 at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music
About Hans Krása:
Hans Krása was an important member of the Czech and German-speaking artistic community that defined Prague’s distinctive cultural life in the first decades of the 20th century. Krása studied composition in Prague with Alexander Zemlinsky, and his youthful works include song cycles, several chamber works, a cantata, and an opera based on a Dostoevsky story. His 1923 symphony for small orchestra was performed in Zurich under Zemlinsky, and in Boston and New York under Serge Koussevitsky. Krása followed Zemlinsky briefly to the Kroll Opera in Berlin in 1927, but was soon drawn back to his native Prague. He turned down conducting opportunities in Paris and Chicago, choosing to remain in Prague even during the years when this meant risking his life. While Krása’s style was influenced by Stravinsky, early Schoenberg and French impressionism, his music remained melodic and lyrical. He wrote: “I am sufficiently daring, as a modern composer, to write melodic music. This reflects my whole attitude to music, whether it is called modern or anything else.”
Krása was incarcerated in Terezín from 1942 to 1944 (along with Viktor Ullmann, Gideon Klein, Pavel Haas and other Jewish leaders of Czech musical life). Terezín, 35 miles north of Prague, is most widely known for its exploitation in Nazi propaganda intended to deceive the world and cover up the campaign of genocide against the Jews. The Nazis cynically presented Terezín as “the Führer’s gift to the Jews,” but in fact it was a transit camp through which prisoners were systematically transported to death camps in the East. Of approximately 141,000 Jews deported to Terezín between 1941 and 1945, fewer than 17,000 were alive at liberation. Its victims included some of Europe’s most talented Jewish musicians, composers, teachers, artists and writers. Krása was deported to Auschwitz on October 16, 1944, and murdered in the gas chambers two days later.
Krása is perhaps best remembered as the composer of Brundibár, the children’s operathat was performed 55 times in Terezín by casts that constantly needed to be replenished when the young singers were sent away on transports after many of the shows. Krása composed a number of works while in Terezín, and he wrote the Dance for string trio there in 1943. It’s been suggested that the work’s intense rhythmic thrust was meant to evoke the sound of an unstoppable train – a reference to the transports that were to carry Krása to his death only months later.