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Track

Time

An einem sonnigen Abend 03:58
Versunken 06:32
Das Maueschen 01:55
Vogellied 07:21
Es ist Zeit 04:14
Dachbodenkonzert in einer alten Schule 07:13
Der Garten 02:53
Finale (Die Furcht) 05:28
 

Liner Notes

Franz Waxman’s The Song of Terezin [Das Lid von Terezin] (1964), one of the many Holocaust-related compositions by various composers centered around the Theresienstadt (Terezin) concentration camp experience, is also one of several musical explorations of poetry written by Jewish children interned there between 1942 and 1944 as they awaited transport to other camps, where most of them were eventually murdered by the Germans and their collaborators. (See the notes to Charles Davidson’s I Never Saw Another Butterfly, previous in this volume.)

Like his oratorio, Joshua (1958), this work represents Waxman’s later, postwar period, when he turned from his highly successful focus on film music to classically driven concert or “serious” pieces, as well as to artistic reflections on his Jewish identity and heritage. The Song of Terezin was his last important work, and the last piece he personally conducted. Its conception began with a commission from the Cincinnati May Festival, which wanted a new work thematically related to children. While searching for appropriate literary sources, he became aware of the recently published (1964) collection of drawings and new English translations of poems created by children—some as young as ten years old—during their confinement at Terezin: … I Never Saw Another Butterfly … (the title of its American edition). He was immediately attracted to that body of verse as a unique and intensely moving document of the Holocaust, and he determined to fulfill the commission by using some of the poems for a cycle of songs for children’s choir, adult mixed chorus, mezzo-soprano solo, and orchestra. Its world premiere occurred in May 1965, with a combined chorus of six hundred singers, Betty Allen as the soloist, and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Over the ensuing decades it has been performed in Los Angeles, with the composer conducting; in Vienna, with the Wiener Sängerknaben; and at Yale University at the dedication ceremonies for the Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies.

Waxman selected eight poems from the collection and created his own German adaptations based on the published English translations. These are:

1) An einem sonnigen Abend (On a Sunny Evening, cited as anonymous and written in 1944 by children aged 10 to16 in barracks  L318 and L417).
2) Versunken (Forgotten; attributed to Zedenk Ornest).
3) Das Mäuschen (The Little Mouse; listed as 1944 Koleba [M. Kosek, H. Loevy-Bachner]).
4) Vogellied (Birdsong; cited as anonymous and written in 1941).
5) Es ist Zeit (Now It’s Time; attributed to Alena Synkova-Munkova).
6) Dachbodenkonzert in einer alten Schule (Concert in the Garret of the Old School; anonymous).
7) Der Garten (The Garden; attributed to Branta Bass).
8) DieFurcht (Fear; attributed to Eva Pickova, age 12, Nyburk). 

The dedication read:

This work is dedicated to the memory of the thousands of children who have passed through the concentration camp of Terezin, but particularly to those whose poems I have set to music. Their eloquence and imagination have been a great source of inspiration, and their courage shall be an eternal beacon to all mankind.  

Waxman discerned in these poems a poignant revelation of some of those children’s touching if self-deceiving ability to transcend for the moment, as perhaps only children could, the reality of their inextricable immersion within the German death machine. “A few of the children had been able to look over the wall,” he has been quoted as saying, “beyond the hell of their imprisonment, to another life, recalling memories of an earlier world or escaping into a dream world, an imaginary fairytale paradise.”

And in a letter written upon the work’s completion (accomplished in only three months), prior to its premiere, he expanded on his feelings about it and the rationale behind certain of his artistic decisions: 

It could not be an oratorio; it could not be a cantata; it simply had to be a cycle of songs in which each poem was assigned to a particular voice group or solo voice, in order to get the fullest emotional reception from it. Thinking further, I then decided that the solo voice should be a woman’s voice to begin with. Maybe it had to do with a subconscious thought of the mother image, which must have been important to all those children; and so I selected the mezzo-soprano register as the proper medium. 

This is a sophisticated work that employs a twelve-tone row in the opening movement and invokes various contrapuntal techniques throughout. The eight individual songs are not bound together structurally by any unifying device, but there is about the piece as a whole a decidedly ominous tone, broken only at a few points by more innocent, naïve, playful moods that refer to the children’s former world—a world now lost to them, but about which they fantasize courageously. It is thus the overall character of punctuated doom—unlike the children, the audience knows the outcome—that binds the settings into a single composition reinforced by its unspoken condemnation of the perpetrators of that doom.

By: Neil W. Levin

 

Credits

Composer: Franz Waxman
Length: 39:34
Genre: Choral

Performers: Lawrence Foster, Conductor;  Della Jones, Soprano;  Radio-Symphonie-Orchester Berlin;  Rundfunk-Kinderchor Berlin

Additional Credits:

Publisher: Presser

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