Browsing through a local record store recently I came across a boxed set entitled "Forbidden, Not Forgotten - Suppressed Music From 1938-1945." It encompasses three discs of music, written by composers who, to quote the liner notes, "were 'persecuted, banned, isolated, imprisoned, or killed in Germany and other European countries in the years between 1933-1945, on the grounds of their race, religion, or political attitude.”

The first two CDs are dedicated to composers from the Theresienstadt (Terezin) ghetto, all of whom were later killed in the German extermination camps. The (somewhat awkwardly translated) liner notes explain:

Some 60 kilometers outside Prague...A small 'camp' town was created...out of a former imperial and royal castle and garrison town and functioned as a collecting point and transit camp for the major extermination camps. It was also a 'token camp' which was abused for propaganda purposes to impress international Red Cross delegations and was also the location of a documentary film, 'The Fuhrer gives a city to the Jews.'

Through the concentration of so many well-known musicians, singers, conductors, and composers in one place, as of 1942-1943 Theresienstadt was able to develop into a unique, officially accepted music culture and production center.

...Instruments started turning up one after the other and choirs, orchestras and chamber music ensembles were formed. Works from Bach, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Brahms, Smetana and Janacek were rehearsed without sheet music, learned off by heart and performed for an audience dressed in prisoner's clothing. Admission was paid for in pieces of bread - in that moment it was of less importance than the cultural experience. There soon followed premieres of the works of detained composers.

Disc one is dedicated to Gideon Klein (1919-1945) and Viktor Ullman (1898-1944). It contains Klein's 'Partita for Strings (1944)' and Ullmann's 'Piano Sonata No. 7, (1944)' 'Three Hebrew Boy's Choruses, (1943-44)' for unaccompanied chorus, and 'Three Songs After Poems of Freidrich Holderlin (1943-44),' for soprano and piano. Unfortunately, librettos are not provided, but the pieces on this disc are quite remarkable regardless, particularly Klein's lyrical Partita, with its intricate rhythms, and Ullmann's short choral pieces, simple and touching.

Disc two is dedicated to Pavel Haas (1899-1944) and Hans Krasa (1889-1944). It contains Pavel Haas' 'Study for String Orchestra,' and Krasa's 'Passacaglia and Fugue for String Orchestra,' 'Overture for Small Chamber Orchestra,' and a complete recording of his opera, 'Brundibar,' a children's opera in two acts.

Haas' Study is brief, lasting around eight minutes, in four movements. As you might expect from the title, it occupies a similar sound world as Klein's Partita, making extensive use of driving ostinatos combined with a Folk-inspired sense of melody. It occupies the fascinating middle ground between late-romantic tonality and the atonal 'laboratory of the void.'

What's so striking - and heroic - about Krasa's works is their playfulness and essential optimism, certainly the last thing one could expect given the composer's circumstances at the time of their writing. I can't help but think of Shostakovich's statement on Jewish folk music: "It's almost all laughter through tears." Krasa's technique also impresses, especially in the Chamber Overture, colorful despite its smallish ensemble resources. In addition, the variety, energy, and thematic transformation in the Passacaglia from the Passacaglia and Fugue for String Trio is combined with deft high-speed polyphony in the Fugue to great effect.

Brundibar, a children's opera in two acts, was Krasa's main work while at Theresienstadt. To quote the liner notes:

Brundibar is the story of the brother and sister Sepperl and Annerl they are supposed to fetch milk for their sick brother but they have no money. They try to earn street corners like the organ grinder Brundibar but fail. They are only able to collect some money when they are helped by a cat, a dog, and a sparrow to sing a lullaby. Brundibar steals it from them but with the help of the animals they are over to find and overpower him. The piece was extremely popular with children due to its simplicity, the clear message, and the hidden allusions to the circumstances of the day...all the voices and the figures have their own characteristics and especially the animals are of a loud and childish appeal, without ever appearing too cute.

Brundibar also quickly became a plaything of the propagandists on account of its sensationally positive effect and had to serve as fabricated proof of the 'good and normal' treatment of the Jews in Theresienstadt at all imaginable official occasions and visits. Rehearsals and performances were interrupted time and time again by the transportations until finally the last of the children left Theresienstadt for good at the end of September 1944. Hans Krasa followed them just a few days later and was murdered in Auschwitz in October 1944.

Brundibar is an important document of unbroken human hope and is eternally valid in its message - we can only exist if we are united when confronted with evil.

Brundibar is the longest, and in some ways the most brilliant, piece in the set in question, and even though I don't understand a word of it, I'm quite fond of it. It's not difficult to follow the storyline even without the libretto. The singers are all children, and do a really fine job, - even their occasional insecure notes are thoroughly idiomatic and add character.

It's hard to imagine a more powerful contrast in style than between Krasa's music on disc two and the music of Karl Amadeus Hartmann, a German and conscientious objector, on disc three. The only composer included in "Forbidden, Not Forgotten" to have survived the war, Hartmann is probably also the most well-known. His Symphonies are works of great genius, and more than one complete recorded set is available. These works aren't included on disc three of "Forbidden, Not Forgotten," but perhaps his most popular piece is: the Concerto Funebre for violin and orchestra, in four movements.

Hartmann's music is more 'modernist' than the music on the previous two discs; indeed, it seems shot through with inescapable sorrow and anger. It's no accident that the overall mood that in addition that in addition to the 'Funeral Concerto,' the longest piece on this disc is a 'Funeral March' in a piano sonata. That sonata is entitled, "Sonata, April 27 1945." It is in three movements, and the Funeral March dominates - eleven minutes to the first and thirds' three-and-a-half and five, respectively. Its use of sustained tone clusters and jagged figurations evokes an inescapable atmosphere of pain.

The Concert Funebre follows, and I think this work is familiar enough that additional comment is pretty unnecessary; it is what it purports to be. The moments that most remain in my mind are the extremely dramatic uses of the solo violin's extreme upper registers, contrasted with immobile, grinding accompaniments in the low strings, conjuring "a voice crying out in a wilderness of privation."

Last on the disc is the Second String Quartet. Using similar instrumentation as the Krasa Passacaglia and Fugue, it's a totally different world, one transfigured by the sorrow of the Nazi regime's totalitarianism and murderousness. Hartmann's works seem to attempt to plumb the 'madding depths,' those sorrows only alluded to in the pieces of the other two discs. This is ironic, in a way, as Hartmann was the only composer herein to actually live through the war. It is almost as if he saw his role as to express the terror which those millions murdered by the Germans and their allies were unable to express. And it is appropriate that those with voice would speak for those so cruelly rendered mute.

The orchestras, ensembles, and soloists on all three discs are primarily Italians, and all of the performances in the set were recorded in Padova, Italy. There's nothing to complain about and much to praise in the performances of many of the many musicians involved, and recording quality is high, there being no irritating hisses or pops that audible on a relatively high-quality soundsystem. The boxed set itself is a production of Hommage records in Hamburg, Germany, and is distributed by the International Music Company AG. The set is available from www.amazon.com (no affiliation) for less than $20. The CDs are packaged in sturdy jewel cases, making it possible to carry them around individually more easily and securely than those in so many boxed sets which are packaged in paper slips. The liner notes are in English and German and while not particularly lengthy they are very informative and sometimes eloquent. The only quibble with the presentation of this set is that the same photograph is used on the front covers of all three jewelcases and the exterior of the box itself, which gets somewhat redundant; But ah, what an image it is - an aged man with Jewish features, a thin white beard, large glasses, and mournful, piercing eyes, in black and white. He is simultaneously an archetype and an individual. This man is nowhere identified in the notes: thus he remains an abstract embodiment of Theresienstadt in its strength and mourning, which is perhaps as it should be.

In sum, the works in "Forbidden, Not Forgotten" sing with honesty and integrity about that music in the human spirit which it is impossible to silence, and for this reason the collection must be promulgated. Likewise, the memory of the Terezin artists must be preserved. The works of these men and women continually testify that the human will to create cannot, and must not, be silenced. For staying is nowhere.


NOTE: There exists, as of 2002, two major organizations dedicated to promoting knowledge of the works of the Theriesnstadt composers: one, the Terezin Chamber Music Foundation, has a website at www.terezinmusic.org . The other, the Viktor Ullman Foundation, was founded in 2002 by the pianist Jaqueline Cole and regularly features concerts of once-suppressed music in and about London. It's website is at www.viktorullmannfoundation.org.uk .

Naturally, I have no commercial or noncommercial connections with these organizations, and am merely promulgating the information above out of a desire to do so.

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