A program highlight • music by three composers lost in the Holocaust.
Erwin Schulhoff was born in June 1894 in Prague, to German-Jewish parents and perished in 1942 in the Wülzburg concentration camp. He studied in Prague, Vienna, Leipzig, and Cologne, where his teachers included Claude Debussy and Max Reger. He was in the first generation of classical composers to find inspiration in jazz and the avant-garde Dada movement. He wrote, "Absolute art is revolution," and he cherished music as "the complete escape from imperialistic tonality and rhythm, the climb to an ecstatic change for the better." Impressionism, late German Romanticism, Czech and Slavic folk music, Expressionism, and even jazz can all be discerned in a very personal and eclectic body of work. Schulhoff was blacklisted as a degenerate artist by the Nazis, and he died of tuberculosis in the Wülsburg Concentration Camp on August 18, 1942. Listen to some of his music here.
Viktor Ullmann was born in 1898 in Teschen and became a rising star in the circle of Arnold Schönberg, Alexander Zemlinsky, and Alban Berg. His lyrical synthesis of tonality and Schoenberg’s twelve–tone system distinguishes him among the most gifted composers of the Second Viennese school of classical music. On September 8, 1942, Ullmann was deported to Terezín. His oeuvre had reached forty-one opus numbers plus three piano sonatas, song cycles on texts by various poets, operas, and the piano concerto Op. 25, finished in December 1939, nine months after the entry of German troops into Prague. In Terezín, he was a major figure as a composer, piano accompanist, and organizer of contemporary music concerts. He was murdered in the gas chambers of Auschwitz on October 18, 1944. Hear music by Ullmann here.
Pavel Haas, born in 1899 in Brno, Czechoslovakia, was a prize pupil of Leoš Janáček. He was an exponent of the master's school of composition, and adopted elements of folk music and jazz. Haas was deported to Terezín in 1941, and he officially divorced his wife so that she and their daughter would not suffer a similar fate. With Gideon Klein, Viktor Ullmann, Hans Krasa, and others, Haas became a major figure in the camp's cultural life. Haas wrote at least eight compositions in the camp; the last, which opens our program, is a song cycle expressing deep yearning for home and family. A sham premiere performance of Haas's Study for String Orchestra (1943), given by prisoners, appears in the 1944 Nazi propaganda film The Führer Gives the Jews a City. (TMF brought Study to the attention of Seiji Ozawa, who performed it many times with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.) Within a month of the premiere, most of the orchestra and the composer were sent to the gas chambers of Auschwitz; Haas was murdered there on October 17, 1944. Listen to some of his music here.