Monday, November 22, 2010

Music That Survived

On November 7, in conjunction with Holocaust Education Week, the Koffler Chamber Orchestra performed a concert featuring music that survived persecution during World War II. It was a wonderful opportunity to hear music from composers whose careers were interrupted or cut short as a result of the Holocaust. Some of the composers are well known and their music is often performed while others have never really come to be celebrated. All of them have fascinating stories. Below is a brief bio on each of the composers featured in the concert that explains how the Holocaust affected their career.

Paul Hindemith
Paul Hindemith (1895-1963), a prominent German composer, was a reputable musician well before the 1933 election that brought the Nazi Party to power, and had already composed Five Pieces for String Orchestra. Hindemith was viewed as a talented composer and performer—having played both the vioin and viola—and was widely respected within the German music community. Although Hindemith was not Jewish himself, many of his close colleagues were (including his father-in-law Franz Schreker), and his music was not left untouched by the Nazi Party. His opera Mathis de Maler whose central character is an artist living in a repressive society, mirrored Hindemith’s own experience under the Nazi Party and led them to attack him in the press. As opportunities for Hindemith in Germany began to dwindle, he started finding more and more work outside of Germany, mainly in Turkey and Switzerland. Eventually a ban was placed on any performances of his works, and fearing a threat to his and his Jewish wife’s lives, they fled Germany and eventually settled in the United States. There, Hindemith obtained employment at Yale University where he continued to compose.

Pavel Haas
Pavel Haas (1899-1944), a Jewish Czech composer, likely never reached the height of his potential as a musician. During the German occupation, like many Jewish composers, performances of his works were banned. Haas was imprisoned in Terezín and later died in Auschwitz. However, while in Terezín, Haas composed some of his best-known works, including the Study for String Orchestra, which was featured in a Nazi propaganda movie intended to demonstrate the purported good living conditions for Jews in Terezín. After being shown conducting in the film, Haas was sent to Auschwitz only days later. Study for String Orchestra, remains one of his most performed pieces to date.

Mark Kopytman
Mark Kopytman (1929-), whose Kaddish for Cello and String Orchestra was only composed in 1992, is a living example of “We Who Survived.” Born in 1929, in the former Soviet Union, Kopytman was only ten years old when World War II broke out. Kopytman received training in piano and music theory from a young age, but did not begin his musical career until several years after graduating medical school and practicing medicine. In 1972, he moved to Israel where his career continues to flourish. Like many Jewish composers before him, Kopytman’s concern for political issues is often expressed through his compositions.

Erwin Schulhoff
Erwin Schulhoff (1894-1942), a Czech composer of German-Jewish descent, began his career in music as a highly successful pianist. As a composer, Schulhoff’s style underwent several transformations largely influenced by the politics of his time. After experiencing persecution as a Jew in Germany, before Hitler came into power, Schulhoff turned to socialism as a solution. Many of his later works were written in favour of the Soviet model of socialism, initially embraced by many artists and intellectuals of the time. In 1939, after the German occupation, Schulhoff was no longer able to support himself and attempted to emigrate to the West; however, before all the arrangements could be made, he was arrested and imprisoned in Prague, and later deported to the concentration camp in Wülzburg, Bavaria. There, he died of laryngeal and pulmonary tuberculosis eight months later. Schulhoff’s wide range of compositions continues to live on and tell his story.

Gideon Klein
Gideon Klein (1919-1945), a Moravian-Jewish composer, had barely started his career in music before it was thwarted by the Holocaust, and much of his music was only rediscovered in 1990. Klein became a star pupil at the Prague Conservatory but was expelled in 1940 because of his Jewish status. For a short time, Klein worked under the pseudonym Karel Vránek in small theatres around Prague. In late 1941, Klein was deported to Terezín where he continued to compose, conduct, and perform, and encouraged other composers, including Pavel Haas, to continue composing as well. In 1944, along with Haas, Klein was transported to Auschwitz, but because he was young, he was sent to work in a coal mine. His career came to an end in 1945, when it is presumed he was murdered in the coal mine. Though Klein’s musical contribution was small, his youthful enthusiasm, which encouraged many composers to continue creating art—even in the worst of conditions—is invaluable.

Casandra Campbell

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