Articles & Essays

By Jory Debenham

On June 22, 1944, baritone Karel Berman and pianist Rafael Schächter premiered Pavel Haas's Song Cycle Four Songs on Chinese Poetry for an audience of inmates in Terezín. Although many features of the work brought it acclaim, one of the most striking aspects of the cycle is its use of an ostinato pattern that becomes the basis of the first and third songs; this results in a form that is at least reminiscent of the Baroque passacaglia and may even be a direct usage of it. In his review of the work, Viktor Ullmann noted the significance of the pattern, granting it the status of an idée fixe. Only six weeks later, on August 7, Hans Krása completed his work Passacaille et Fugue, and in the subsequent two weeks Viktor Ullmann completed his last piano sonata, which concludes with a set of variations and fugue on a Hebrew folk tune. Almost exactly one…

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By Juliane Brand

On March 4 and 5 of 2012, the OREL Foundation and the Center for Jewish Studies at Arizona State University (ASU) collaborated in sponsoring an international interdisciplinary conference in Tempe, Arizona, on the subject “Reimagining Erwin Schulhoff, Viktor Ullmann and the German-Jewish-Czech World.”

Schulhoff and Ullmann are no longer obscure names encountered only in ancillary relationships to the canonic figures of music history, as was the case a mere decade or two ago. Interest in them may have begun within the context of what, for brevity's sake, is often called Holocaust studies (both composers were incarcerated and died in Nazi camps), but closer acquaintance with their oeuvres over the past couple of decades has revealed each to have been a strong, highly individual voice in his time. Performances of their works are no longer rare, and a growing corpus of recordings attests to the acceptance of this music into the twentieth-century repertoire. As the conference organizers Hava Tirosh-Samuelson, Michael Beckerman and Robert Elias stated in their synopsis, the decision to place the music of these two men at the center of a two-day conference was based on the recognition that, among the composers who died or were otherwise suppressed by the Nazi regime, Schulhoff and Ullmann “stand out for their productivity, the quality of their musical imaginations and the unusual and fraught contexts in which they worked.”

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By Emile Wennekes

A Dutch case study in the re-migration of European musicians after World War II1

Early in February 1945, violinist Samuel Swaap received a liberating note that contained the following message: "You are placed in the February 5 transport to Switzerland. In order to get things settled, you are requested to go to the meeting point at Langestrasse 3 with your baggage, today: Sunday February 4, 1945, from 7:00 pm until 11:00 pm. Only hand luggage and one suitcase is allowed, because the journey will take place in an express train and no hand luggage carrier is made available." This little note for Swaap, former concertmaster of the the Hague Philharmonic (Het Residentie Orkest, meant the end of protracted hardships in the supposedly "beautified" concentration camp of Theresienstadt (Terezín)...

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By Barbara Milewski

Józef Kropiński's Compositions in the Buchenwald Concentration Camp

In a 1945 publication titled "The Nazi Kultur in Poland," written in Warsaw under the German Occupation and published in London for the Polish Ministry of Information, the following summary assessment is given of the state of music in Poland at the height of the war:

Despite such difficult conditions of life, despite imposed limitations, persecutions, arrests, man-hunts and deportations to concentration camps […] music in Poland is not dead. Apart from […] public performances, which are much limited by official vetoes and regulations, many concerts devoted exclusively to Polish music are organized in private houses […]. In spite of the danger involved, they are well attended and steadily increase in number […]. [A]rtists give…

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By Simon Wynberg

Music and Virtue

Music's purpose during the Hitler years and its relationship to officialdom and to the public is as complex as it is fascinating. Beyond the Nazis' incorporation of music into its racial policies and their exploitation of it as both rallying-cry and battle-cry, musical themes include the achievements of the Terezin composers; the use of music in concentration camps (and, latterly, as vehicles for Holocaust memorial projects); Hitler's appropriation of Wagner; the Reich's relationship with jazz, and music as an expression of internal political rivalry, between Goebbels and Goering for example. What accounts for our fascination? The visual art and literature of the Nazi period receive nothing like equivalent attention, although in the years just after the Holocaust, there were indeed significant responses across all the arts.

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By Paul Chihara

Most critics and historians of film music consider Max Steiner's soundtrack for King Kong to have been the first great Hollywood film score. The movie was released in 1933, the same year in which Hitler became Chancellor of Germany. Thanks to one of the many ironies of history, politics and art, the “Golden Age” of film music was almost exactly coextensive with the sordid human tragedy known as the Third Reich (1933-1945). During those years, the fledgling movie industry in Hollywood attracted the genius of Old-World musicians from Vienna, Berlin, St. Petersburg, Budapest and elsewhere – composers at the height of their creative powers, versed in the classical and romantic musical tradition – to participate in this new form of mass entertainment. They were neither students nor pioneers, but rather established, active European composers, among the best of their generation. And they created what many consider to be the finest scores ever written for the film industry.

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