Voices Silenced: Piano Music by Composers Killed in the Holocaust
Last year, I went through a bit of an existential crisis —feeling like I wasn't making enough of a difference, questioning what I as a music teacher and performer could do to lessen the hate in the world. During this internal struggle, I had the opportunity to hear Eva Schloss speak. Ms. Schloss is a Holocaust survivor who also happens to be the posthumous stepsister
of Anne Frank. Eva's older brother was killed in the Holocaust, but she remembers hearing him ask their father, "What happens when people die?" Her father responded that their legacy lives on in their children. Her brother then asked what if someone died without having children and her father answered that their legacy would live on in their words and actions.
This statement served as the catalyst for my project. James Conlon, the executive director and founder of the OREL Foundation wrote: "We must now mitigate a great injustice by working to revive and perform the music of those whose 'crime' was to be Jewish, or deemed offensive, by the authoritarian Nazi regime. By keeping alive the music of these composers, along with that of other victims of totalitarianism, we deny the Nazi regime a posthumous victory. The revival of this music can serve as a reminder for us to resist any contemporary or future impulse to define artistic standards on the basis of racist, political, sectarian, or exclusionary ideologies."1
Gideon Klein (1919–1945) was born in Prerov, Moravia. He showed musical talent from an early age and began studying piano at age six with the head of the local conservatory. At age eleven, he began traveling once a month to Prague for lessons and then moved to live with his sister, Eliska Kleinova, in Prague the following year. In 1938, he entered Prague Conservatory, while also studying philosophy and musicology at a local university. In 1939, the Nazis occupied Czechoslovakia and closed all institutions of higher learning. They also banned compositions and performances by Jewish musicians. For a brief while, Klein managed to continue performing by using the alias Karel Vránek. In 1940, he was offered a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music in London, but, by that time, he was unable to leave Moravia.
In December of 1941, he was deported to Terezín, or Theresienstadt in German, along with Pavel Haas, Hans Krasa, Viktor Ullmann, and many others. Theresienstadt was, for lack of a better term, a propaganda camp. Here the Nazis confined many
artists, musicians, teachers, philosophers, etc. who continued their artistic output as a means of preserving their sanity. While the living conditions were still far below any civilized standard, roughly three-quarters of prisoners were able to survive this forced labor camp—though most were then sent on to death camps, such as Auschwitz. The Nazis presented this site to visitors as
a show of their humane treatment of prisoners.2
Gideon Klein was active as a performer and composer while confined here. His works during this time include a song cycle for alto and piano, a string quartet, a string trio, and a piano sonata. He performed approximately fifteen solo piano recitals, as well as participated in multiple chamber music performances. Viktor Ullman,
a well-known composer, conductor, and pianist who was also killed in the Holocaust, wrote that Gideon was a "very remarkable talent...one has to marvel at his strangely early stylistic maturity."3 Renowned conductor Karel Ancerl wrote, "Had he survived, Gideon would have achieved the highest standard as pianist, composer, and conductor."4
In October 1944, nine days after completing his String Trio, Klein was deported to Auschwitz and then to Fürstengrube, a coal-mining labor camp. He died in January 1945, at the age of twenty-five, during the liquidation of Fürstengrube under unknown circumstances.
Before he left Theresienstadt, Klein gave his manuscripts to Irma Semtska, his girlfriend in the camp. After the war, Irma gave the scores to Klein's sister Eliska, who had survived the horrors of Auschwitz. Eliska arranged a concert of her brother's music on June 6, 1946 in Prague.
Interestingly, it was originally thought that Klein didn't compose much before Terezín, but in 1990, a locked suitcase was found in the home of family friends of the Kleins. In the suitcase were manuscripts of songs for soprano and piano, an octet for winds, as well as several string quartets and string duos.
This link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xTvbiCnED3A takes you to my performance of the last movement of the piano sonata which Gideon Klein composed in 1943 in Theresienstadt. He dedicated this work to his sister. There are sketches which indicate he planned to write a fourth movement, but unfortunately, he never had that opportunity.5
Pavel Haas (1899–1944) was born into a wealthy and prominent Jewish family in Brno, the capital of Moravia. He studied composition at the Music School of the Philharmonic Society. Unfortunately, in 1917, he was drafted into the Austrian army. Haas never saw combat and, in 1920, was able to resume his musical studies at the Brno Conservatory under Leoš Janácek.
In the 1930s, the cinema was at its prime in Czech culture and Pavel Haas' brother, Hugo Haas, was one of its stars. Pavel took advantage of this opportunity and wrote several scores for both stage and film. Haas' musical output during this time was not very large and the majority of his works were unfinished.
In 1941, Haas was deported to Theresienstadt along with Gideon Klein. Just prior, he had divorced his non-Jewish wife to save her from a similar fate. When Haas arrived in Terezín, he was ill and depressed and only began composing again after Klein's urging.6 His most-played composition, Study for Strings, was completed in 1943 and used in a 1944 Nazi propaganda film depicting the camp as an artistic haven. The piece was conducted for the film and numerous other times by Karel Ancerl, who was also responsible for the post-war revival of the piece. After the war, Ancerl found all of the orchestral parts in the camp, with the exception of the double-bass part, which Haas' friend, Lubomir Peduzzi, reconstructed.7 Another well- known work of his, also composed in Terezin, is Four Songs on Chinese Poetry, which was premiered by Karel Berman.
After the Nazi propaganda film and a staged visit from the International Red Cross, the Nazis did not feel the need to protect any of these well-known musicians any longer and began transporting many of them to death camps. On October 16, 1944, Pavel Haas was loaded on a transport. On October 17, he arrived at Auschwitz and was immediately gassed.
This link youtube.com/watch?v=6ZJU2LkbW9g takes
you to my performance of the first two movements of Pavel Haas's Suite for Piano. In my research, I found two compositional dates for the piece: 1935 and 1938. Whichever of these dates is correct, this suite was composed during Haas' most prolific period. During this time, he also wrote a Suite for Oboe and Piano, two string quartets, several film scores, an unfinished symphony, as well as an opera called The Charlatan.
Rudolf Karel (1880–1945) was born in Pilsen, in the Czech Republic. He studied composition from 1899 to 1904 with Antonin Dvorák. In 1914, he was on vacation in Russia when Austria declared war on Serbia. Karel and his wife were arrested as alleged Austrian spies. They managed to escape and he spent the remainder of World War I traveling throughout Russia as a music teacher. He later escaped to Irkutsk, Siberia, where he soon became the conductor of the newly established Czechoslovakian military orchestra, performing throughout Siberia for the duration of the war. After World War I, he continued to compose and perform. From 1923–1941, he taught composition and orchestration at the Prague Conservatory.
Karel was not Jewish, but was actively involved in the Czech resistance and was arrested in March 1943 and sent to Pankrác Prison. During the years that he was imprisoned he continued composing, using toilet paper for his sketches. A friendly warden passed the "scores" on
to relatives and friends of Karel. One of his works was a five-act fairy-tale opera called Three Hairs of the Wise Old Man. The 240 sheets of toilet paper on which he composed a very detailed sketch for this opera was given by the warden to Karel's student, Zbynek Vostrak, who completed the orchestration.
In February of 1945, Karel was sent to Theresienstadt where he died of dysentery and pneumonia one month later. Another beautiful work, found unfinished in Theresienstadt, was Karel's Nonet for violin, viola, cello, bass, and wind quintet. This piece was completed and orchestrated by Frantisek Hertl and premiered in December 1945.
This link youtube.com/watch?v=jS_AEYGKWSY takes you to my performance of Notturno which was written in 1906–7, shortly after his studies with Dvorák ended.
Erwin Schulhoff (1894–1942) is probably the most well-known of these composers. Schulhoff was born in Prague to a wealthy Jewish family. He began his musical studies at the Prague Conservatory, later studying in Vienna, Leipzig, and Cologne. His early compositional works were influenced by Claude Debussy, with whom Schulhoff studied briefly, and Richard Strauss.
When World War I broke out, Schulhoff was drafted into the Austrian army. His hand was injured in battle in Hungary and he became quite disillusioned and angry. He moved to Dresden in 1919 to live with his sister who was studying painting. There he met many important artists, dancers, and musicians, including Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, and Anton Webern. He began a concert series promoting works by these three and himself, as well as other contemporaries. He also met George Grosz at this time, an influential Dadaist.
In 1921, he moved to Berlin to live near Grosz and to try composing musical counterparts to the artistic Dada movement.
Grosz also introduced Schulhoff to American ragtime, dance music, and jazz. In a letter to Alban Berg, Schulhoff wrote, "I have an absolute passion for the dance in vogue and myself have times when I dance
with barladies night after night—purely out of rhythmic intoxication and subconscious sensuality."8 Schulhoff began to abandon the atonal Expressionism of the Schoenberg circle and to be more influenced by jazz, French neo-classicism, and Slavonic folk music. At this time, Schulhoff also moved back to Prague, where he was active as a composer, concert pianist, and music critic.
When the German occupation of Czechoslovakia began in 1938, Schulhoff began the process of trying to emi- grate to Great Britain, France, or the United States. He soon realized that would be too difficult and applied for Soviet citizenship, which he received in April 1941. On June 13, 1941, he received visas for himself and his family, but the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, making it impossible for him to go there. Schulhoff was arrested on June 23 and sent to a concentration camp in Bavaria where he died of tuberculosis only two months later.
This link youtube.com/watch?v=NPoPQ-LzXgk takes you to my performance of two movements of Schulhoff's Etudes de Jazz, written in 1926. In this suite, Schulhoff attempted to recreate the Parisian nightclub scene. Movement three, Chanson, is dedicated to Robert Stolz,
an Austrian songwriter and conductor from a very musical family. Stolz was very active as a film composer in both Berlin and Vienna and used to travel back and forth quite regularly by car. During World War II he smuggled Jews and political refugees across the German-Austrian border twenty-one times.9
The last movement of the suite is Toccata sur le Shimmy "Kitten on the Keys" del Zez Confrey. Zez Confrey was an American ragtime and novelty composer whose first hit was called "Kitten on the Keys," inspired by hearing his grandmother's cat walk across her piano. Schulhoff's movement is dedicated to Alfred Baresel, a German music critic known for his love of and support of jazz and its use in art music.
Karel Berman (1919–1995) was born in Bohemia of the Czech Republic. He was originally known as a bass singer, but was also active as a pianist, composer, and conductor.
In 1941, he was arrested and imprisoned in Theresienstadt where he continued using his musical talents in the evenings after days of forced heavy labor. While there, he composed several works, including a song cycle for bass voice and piano and a three-movement piano suite titled Terezín. The movements were titled Terezín, Terror, and Alone. He originally envisioned these two suites to be performed together with alternating instrumentation.
Karel Berman is the only one of these composers who survived the Holocaust. In 1944, Berman was taken to Auschwitz and, a few days later, was transferred to Kaufering, a sub-camp of Dachau. At Kaufering, he almost died of typhus, but recovered and was liberated in May 1945. After the war, he continued his studies at the Prague Conservatory, where he later taught, and, in 1953, became a member and leading singer of the Prague National Theater. He was active as a performer and director in opera houses around the world, directing more than seventy operas, until his death in 1995. He also taught at the Prague Conservatory and the Academy of Musical Arts and was well known for his operatic stage directing, conducting, and composition.
In 1957, he re-worked his piano suite Terezín into 1938–1943 Reminiscences, adding an additional five movements. The following link youtube.com/watch?v=spwBhO7vuv0 is my performance of these movements: Auschwitz–Corpse Factory (originally written in Theresienstadt and titled Terror), 1945–May 25. Alone–Alone (also written in Theresienstadt), and the final movement, composed in 1957, New Life.Karel Berman (1919–1995) was born in Bohemia of the Czech Republic. He was originally known as a bass singer, but was also active as a pianist, composer, and conductor.
Alone is one of the most poignant pieces I have ever played or heard. You can hear the heartbreak and sorrow, as—even in freedom—there is the horrible realization
that so many are gone. This movement moves seamlessly into New Life, the final movement, which slowly develops from nothing.
Berman wrote, "And so, I survived concentration camps, compared to which the terrors of hell are just about like lemonade compared to Lysol. And that only through strong will, powerful will, and the infinite desire to meet my parents and my brother. On May 24, 1945, at 9:30 am, we crossed the border of free Czechoslovakia. From the whole family on my father's and mother's side, I met only one of my mother's brothers, his wife and my mother's niece. All the others perished, Lord knows where and how. I am beginning a new life!"10
My hope is that you have been introduced to some unfamiliar music or even composers and have been motivated to seek out, teach, and perform music by composers who have been overlooked, censored, killed, or silenced in other ways.
1 James Conlon, "Recovering a Musical Heritage: The Music Suppressed by the Third Reich," October 2006, revised 2018, accessed January 24, 2020, orelfoundation.org/ journal/journalArticle/recovering_a_musical_heritage_the_music_suppressed_by_the_ third_reich
2 Joža Karas, Music in Terezín: 1941–1945 (New York: Beaufort Books, 1985), 10–13.
3 David Bloch, "Gideon Klein," Music and the Holocaust, accessed January 24, 2020, Gideon Klein, holocaustmusic.ort.org/places/theresienstadt/klein-gideon/.
5 The estate of a musical composer and pianist Gideon Klein: Inventory (The Jewish Museum in Prague, 1998), 27.
6 Joža Karas, Music in Terezín: 1941–1945 (New York: Beaufort Books, 1985), 76.
7 Joža Karas, Music in Terezín: 1941–1945 (New York: Beaufort Books, 1985), 84.
8 Habakuk Traber, Schulhoff, E.: Chamber Music - String Sextet / Violin Sonata No. 2 / Duo for Violin and Cello / 5 Études de jazz (Spectrum Concerts Berlin), Naxos 8.573525, 2016, compact disc. Liner Notes.
9 Jehoash Hirshberg and Na'ama Ramot, "The Tangled Road to Legalization: The Admission of the German Language in Musical Performances in Israel," The Jewish Quarterly Review 96, no. 4 (Fall 2006): 513.
10 Joža Karas, Music in Terezín: 1941–1945 (New York: Beaufort Books, 1985), 180–181.