Concert. An absolutely beautiful concert, with Vier letzte Lieder, Das lied von der Erde, the children's opera Brundibar, and more.
26 February 2015
Music created around the time of the Second World War. By those who lived, those who were executed and those who did what they could to survive. A moving concert that makes us reflect on the cruel circumstances of life through art.
Richard Strauss' exquisitely beautiful Vier letzte Lieder is a tender farewell to life. Gustav Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde sings a praise of existence – glorious and poignant.
Hans Krása's childrens' opera Brundibar was first performed in the Prague ghetto. In Terezín, Brundibar was performed on more than fifty occasions, during which the participating children "disappeared" and were replaced by others. In the end, the composer too was murdered.
You will also be able to hear Arnold Schönberg's dramatic A Survivor from Warsaw, for Storyteller, Male Chorus and Orchestra, and Erik Wolfgang Korngold's Cello Concerto. The latter was originally composed for the movie Deception, starring Bette Davis.
The concert is in three parts, with intermissions between them.
Music from the Dark Times
“In the dark times Will there also be singing? Yes, there will also be singing. About the dark times.” Bertolt Brecht
January 27th is Holocaust Memorial Day. We remember the millions of Jews murdered, and also the disabled people, the Roma, the homosexuals, the political dissenters. At this time, we look around at the world and ask ourselves what lessons have been learned; we look at our own societies and ask ourselves if we see the warning signs of troubles to come; we look at ourselves and ask how we would have acted at the time, and crucially, how we should act now in the light of our reflections.
At The Göteborg Opera we ask ourselves particularly about the role of the arts, especially music and theatre in such difficult times.
It is easy to say, as some have recently, that music is the universal language of peace. Is it true? What about military marches? How about the use of music by Nazi officers in the camps, playing Wagner, and Beethoven through loud speakers to deprive the prisoners of sleep? When we listen to Richard Strauss’ beautiful music should we forget that he was for a time president of the Third Reich music institute which stood against music by Jews and all non-aryans? Can great music rise above grubby political expediency? What do we make of stories like the one told by the cellist Anita Lasker-Wallfisch about Dr Mengele asking her to play Schumann’s Traumerei for him in the midst of the horrors of an extermination camp?
Our concert, Living, Dying and Surviving will reflect on these questions by bringing together five composers with different experiences of the rise of anti-Semitism and the Third Reich. Although not programmed on the Memorial Day itself, we hope that this programme will provide a space for reflection as we listen to the musical voices of those who perished, and survived the Shoa.
Hans Krása wrote a children’s opera, Brundibar, which was performed in Terezin concentration camp. He was murdered in Auschwitz – as were most of the cast. Korngold and Schönberg escaped, and we hear their musical reflections from the late 1940s. Forty years earlier, Mahler, who had converted to Catholicism to side step the rife anti-Semitism in Vienna, found himself reviled as a Jew and forced to resign as director of the Vienna State Opera only a few years later. It was, then, at a time of deepest despair that Mahler wrote Das Lied von der Erde. All four composers knew to their cost that assimilation is no guarantee of acceptance in an intolerant society. It is in this context that we perform Richard Strauss’ almost painfully beautiful end-of-life reflections, the Vier letzte Lieder from 1948.
I will finish by quoting Alice Herz-Sommer, a pianist and holocaust survivor. She lived a long life in which she met Mahler, Kafka and, in Terezin, Hans Krása. She died aged 110 in 2014. An extraordinary, positive woman, seemingly without bitterness, she spoke about the concerts in Terezin:
”Through making music, we were kept alive.”
“These concerts, the people are sitting there — old people, desolated and ill — and they came to the concerts, and this music was for them our food.
“People ask, 'How could you make music?' We were so weak. But music was special, like a spell, I would say. Through making music, we were kept alive.”
“I am by nature an optimist,” Mrs. Herz-Sommer told The Observer, the British newspaper, in 2010. “But I am pessimistic about future generations’ willingness to remember and care about what happened to the Jews of Europe, and to us in Terezin.”
At The Göteborg Opera on 26th February we will be remembering through music. A small action, but perhaps an important one.
Artistic Director, Opera/drama The Göteborg Opera