Rediscovering Suppressed Musical Treasures of the Twentith Century

By James Conlon

“Who shall absolve the foulness of their fate…Those doomed, conscripted, unvictorious ones?” - Siegfried Sassoon

After 1945, those who performed, wrote or taught classical music worked in a culture scarred by omissions. These were not of their making, but were part of the legacy of atrocities committed by Nazi Germany. With its racist ideology and systematic suppression particularly, although not exclusively, of Jewish musicians, artists and writers, the Third Reich silenced two generations of composers and, with them, an entire musical heritage. Many, who perished in concentration camps, and others, whose freedom and productivity were curtailed, were fated to be forgotten after the war. Their music seemed to have passed with them, lost in endless silence.

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…