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 Malcolm S. Cole

Against all odds, in 2014 three multi-generational, Holocaust-related projects came to fruition almost simultaneously: Night Will Fall, an HBO Documentary film; Glenn Kurtz's book, Three Minutes in Poland: Discovering a Lost World in a 1938 Family Film (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux); and the opera Zeisls Hiob [Zeisl's Job], which is the focus of this essay. Commissioned by the Bavarian State Opera for its summer festival, Zeisls Hiob premiered in Munich's venerable Reithalle on July 19, 2014, with repeat performances on the 21st and 23rd. Imaginatively conceived, well performed, and extensively reviewed, Zeisls Hiob is a music drama sui generis. Presented in a markedly different form than its originators could ever have imagined, this miracle in Munich merits an account of its meandering evolutionary course, an assessment of the finished work in theory and practice, and speculation concerning its future.