Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

International Holocaust Remembrance Day, 2009

(Nazi poster on "degenerate music." Why slam just one group, especially when it's crystal clear all enemies of the glorious Reich are working together?)

In previous years, we've covered some of the many works on the Holocaust, as well as the T4 euthanasia program and the accompanying propaganda campaign that was a test run for "the Final Solution." This year, I find myself very troubled by current events and the attitude that certain people are less than human. I'm covering that in a separate post, though, because I did want to cover another subject as well: music suppressed by the Nazis or otherwise related to the Holocaust.

Several years back, Decca released a series of CDs of what the Nazis called Entartete Musik (degenerate music). The Nazis targeted composers with Jewish ancestry, but also opposed modern and atonal musical styles. (Those familiar with the arts under Soviet Russia or the film The Lives of Others will have some idea of the dynamics.)

Los Angeles Opera conductor James Conlon has spearheaded a project called "Recovered Voices" that focuses on these works (I've attended one of his concerts for it). Here's Conlon giving some background:

One of these musicians, Viktor Ullman, actually composed the chamber opera Der Kaiser von Atlantis (The Emperor of Atlantis) in the concentration camp Theresienstadt (also known as Terezín). It was meant to be performed there, but the Nazis prevented it after deciding that the Emperor was a satire of Hitler. According to the liner notes of my edition, by that time, Ullman and the others suspected the terrible fate that likely awaited them, which makes the piece all the more remarkable. Sadly, Ullman was gassed to death in Auschwitz in October, 1944. Here's a selection from the piece:

Alexander von Zemlinsky fared a bit better, eventually escaping to the United States, but died in 1942 due to poor health. An influential teacher and well respected back in Austria during his lifetime, his works were largely neglected until recently (at least in America; Conlon has been one of Zemlinsky's biggest champions). Here's his Sonata for Cello and Piano in A Minor (Andante):

Here's a short song by Zemlinksky, " Blaues Sternlein":

As a movie buff, I'm especially partial to another composer from this group, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, one of the great film composers. During Korngold's lifetime, composing for the movies was seen as slumming it by most critics. His film scores and his numerous classical pieces have become much more appreciated in the past twenty years. One of Korngold's most famous scores is his Oscar-winning work on The Adventures of Robin Hood, starring Errol Flynn. The Wiki entry relates that Korngold was in Hollywood scoring Robin Hood during Hitler's annexing of Austria, the Anschluss, and he credits the score with saving his life. Here's one cue:

And here's Anne-Sophie Mutter, playing the Korngold Violin Concerto (3rd Movement):

Finally, I wanted to included a section of Polish composer Henryk Górecki's 3rd Symphony, the "Symphony of Sorrowful Songs." The lyrics for one section of the piece come from message scrawled on the wall of a Gestapo prison, and Górecki himself lives near Auschwitz (or did at some time). An edition of the BBC's South Bank Show in the early 90s focused on Górecki and the piece's relation to the Holocaust, although he has since said the symphony should not be interpreted solely in that context. Regardless, it's one of my favorite modern classical pieces, one I've introduced to quite a few people over the years. It's been featured in a few films, including Peter Weir's Fearless, starring Jeff Bridges. To close things out, here's a section of the piece in a good user video that translates the lyrics and uses the audio of the definitive Zinman-Upshaw recording:

(Cross-posted at Blue Herald)

1 comment:

Fran said...

Oh Gorecki, how I love Gorecki...

Brilliant post as always.