Tracks

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Track

Time

It All Depends on How You Look At It 03:24
Man Proposes, God Disposes 01:23
Terezin 05:38
The Butterfly 03:12
The Garden 01:31
The Little Mouse 01:25
On A Sunny Evening 03:40
Yes, That's The Way Things Are 01:14
Birdsong 02:50
 

Liner Notes

Charles Davidson’s choral song cycle, I Never Saw Another Butterfly (1968), is one of many Holocaust-inspired musical works related to the Theresienstadt (Terezin) experience. It is also one of a number of settings, by various composers, of poems from the collection of the same title (in its 1964 English-language edition)—poems written by Jewish children imprisoned in that former walled city turned transit-concentration camp as they awaited removal to death camps. Davidson saw in these poems the artistic potential of a serious choral work that would in no way trivialize the Holocaust or the barbarity symbolized by Terezin. For this is no simplistic, meek victims’ memorial, nor is it an aesthetically enhanced so-called commemoration of an event in history that has no place for aesthetic value on its own terms. Rather, it is a dramatic reminder to the world—by virtue of the childlike innocence and naïve hope expressed in the resolute courage of those young poets—of the depth of the unredeemable, savage brutality of the German and German-led death machine that sought nothing less than the annihilation of the Jewish people and its children. It is, of course, also the composer’s way of providing remembrance for these children, most of whose lives were extinguished soon after their poetry was written and who thus have no descendants—in emblematic Judaic terms, “no one to say kaddish for them.” But its deeper significance may be its function as a document of the essence of sheer, unalloyed evil, personified by the Germans and their collaborators in their destruction of European Jewry and Jewish life—facilitated by all those whose action might have made some difference but who remained disinterested or silent, vocally or militarily.

Commissioned by the East End Synagogue in Long Beach, New York, I Never Saw Another Butterfly was composed originally for a three-to-five-part choir of boys’ voices. It is dedicated to the Columbus Boychoir, in Princeton, New Jersey, since renamed the American Boychoir, which has performed the work at concerts throughout North America and Europe. It can be performed with equal success, however, by other types of treble choirs—girls’ voices, or boys’ and girls’ voices in combination.

The work comprises settings of twelve poems, preceded by a Preludium, “Night in the Ghetto.” The poetry and its musical expression are filled with poignant sentiments of bleakness and fear, as well as touching references to deprivation and longing—all tempered by youthful resilience—and the music echoes in its most lyrical moments the universally typical spirits of children rather than mature lugubriousness or a sense of doom. That the poems might not on their surface reflect the full reality of the surreal horror of the situation, nor acknowledge the certainty of the eventual murder that awaited most of the children only heightens for us some of the more deeply layered subtexts of the genocide and of the perversity that could perceive some mortal threat in these children’s very lives.

In 1988 the original piano accompaniment was orchestrated by the British composer and conductor Donald Fraser for a performance and recording by the American Boychoir at Princeton University’s Richardson Auditorium. That choir has also frequently performed the work in a staged presentation created by the Broadway stage director Dennis Rosa. In addition, the work has received, in the aggregate, more than 2,500 performances throughout the world by many non-Jewish (including public school and church) as well as Jewish children’s and youth choirs during the more than forty years since its completion. Among these have been several presentations at the Vatican in the presence of the Pope and those at the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C.

But for Davidson, the most moving and most momentous of all its renditions was its 1991 performance at the actual site of the poems’ genesis, Terezin, in the presence of Václav Havel, the writer turned president of what was still known as Czechoslovakia (later the Czech Republic), and in the presence of 350 aging survivors of the prison camp that once occupied the city. That performance, with symphony orchestra, once again featured the American Boychoir, which also sang it in Prague and at the Jesuit church in Brno in that time frame. The choir’s European tour was timed to coincide with the Terezin performance, the occasion of which was the official opening and dedication of the new Jewish Museum in the former barracks of imprisoned Terezin children—something unimaginable in the only recently collapsed era of the Iron Curtain, when Czechoslovakia was still under the Soviet Union’s embrace as a satellite country. Nineteen ninety-one marked the fiftieth year since the Germans’ establishment of Theresienstadt as the infamous way station for Jews destined for death camps and as the ruse sadistically and mendaciously called the Paradise Ghetto, which was designed to delude and deceive the International Red Cross (and through it, the world) on its inspection visit there during the war, thus to put the lie to circulating rumors of mass murder and genocide. The October 1991 dedication ceremonies, at which Havel spoke, were cosponsored by the Terezin Initiative, an organization of concentration camp survivors; the Jewish Committees in Czechoslovakia; the State Jewish Museum in Prague; and the International Terezin Committee. A documentary film for television was made of the occasion, including the actual ceremonies as well as footage of the town and its surroundings, along with the arrival of the survivors, dignitaries, and other guests—among whom was Charles Davidson—and interviews.

For Davidson, this was understandably one of the most moving as well as troubling experiences of his life. “I had lived with the music and the poetry for many years,” he wrote in 1993, “and have always believed that it expressed my deepest feelings of sorrow at the destruction wrought upon the Jewish people and other peoples by the inhumanity. . . . But I never thought that I would be forced to confront the reality of the poems and their authors in the very place they last lived before they were murdered.“

Of all his numerous works—of many genres and on so many programmatic topics—I Never Saw Another Butterfly remains closest to Davidson’s heart, the one composition—were he forced to choose—by which he would want to be remembered. Indeed, though he has earned countless well-deserved accolades for much of his liturgical oeuvre as well as his larger, musical-dramatic pieces, many in the Jewish as well as general choral worlds consider I Never Saw Another Butterfly to be his finest work.

By: Neil W. Levin

 

Lyrics

It All Depends on How You Look At It
Text by Miroslave Košek

I.

Terezin is full of beauty
It's in your eyes now clear
And through the street the tramp
Of many marching feet I hear.

In the ghetto at Terezin,
It looks that way to me,
Is a square kilometer of earth
Cut off from the world that's free

II.

Death, after all, claims everyone,
You find it everywhere.
It catches up with even those
Who wear their noses in the air.

The whole, wide world is ruled
With a certain justice, so
That helps perhaps to sweeten
The poor man's pain and woe

Man Proposes, God Disposes
Text by Koleba (Miroslav Košek, Hanuš Löwy, Bachner)

I.

Who was helpless back in Prague,
And who was rich before,
He's a poor soul here in Terezin,
His body's bruised and sore

II.

Who was toughened up before,
He'll survive these days.
But who was used to servants
Will sink into his grave.

Terezin
Text by Michael Flack

The heaviest wheel rolls across our foreheads
To bury itself deep somewhere inside our memories.

We've suffered here more than enough,
Here in this clot of grief and shame,
Wanting a badge of blindness
To be a proof for their own children.

A fourth year of waiting, like standing above a swamp
From which any moment might gush forth a spring.

Meanwhile, the rivers flow another way, 
Another way,
Not letting you die, not letting you live.

And the cannons don't scream and the guns don't bark
And you don't see blood here.
Nothing, only silent hunger.
Children steal the bread here and ask and ask and ask
And all would wish to sleep, keep silent and just to go to sleep again...

The heaviest wheel rolls across our foreheads
To bury itself deep somewhere inside our memories.

The Butterfly
Text by Pavel Friedman

The last, the very last,
So richly, brightly, dazzlingly yellow.
Perhaps if the sun’s tears would sing 
against a white stone....

Such, such a yellow
Is carried lightly ’way up high.
It went away I’m sure 
because it wished 
to kiss the world good-bye.

For seven weeks I’ve lived in here,
Penned up inside this ghetto.
But I have found my people here.
The dandelions call to me
And the white chestnut branches in the court.
Only I never saw another butterfly. 

That butterfly was the last one.
Butterflies don’t live in here, in the ghetto.

The Garden
Text by Franta Bass

The little garden,
Fragrant and full of roses.
The path is narrow
And a little boy walks along it.

A little boy, a sweet boy,
Like that growing blossom.
When the blossom comes to bloom
The little boy will be no more.

The Little Mouse
Text by Koleba (Miroslav Košek, Hanuš Löwy, Bachner)

A mousie sat upon a shelf,
Catching fleas in his coat of fur.
But he couldn't catch her- what chagrin!
She'd hidden 'way inside his skin.
He turned and wriggled, knew no rest,
That flea was such a nasty pest!

His daddy came
And searched his coat.
He caught the flea and off he ran
To cook her in the frying pan.
The little mouse cried, "Come and see!
For lunch we've got a nice, fat flea!"

On a Sunny Evening
Michael Flack

On a purple, sun-shot evening
Under wide-flowering chestnut trees
Upon the threshold full of dust
Yesterday, today, the days are all like these.

Trees flower forth in beauty,
Lovely too their very wood all gnarled and old
That I am half afraid to peer
Into their crowns of green and gold.

The sun has made a veil of gold
So lovely that my body aches.
Above, the heavens shriek with blue
Convinced I've smiled by some mistake.
The world's abloom and seems to smile.
I want to fly but where, how high?
If in barbed wire, things can bloom
Why couldn't I? I will not die!

Yes, That's the Way Things Are
Text by Koleba (Miroslav Košek, Hanuš Löwy, Bachner)

I.

In Terezin in the so-called park
A queer old granddad sits
Somewhere there in the so-called park.
He wears a beard down to his lap
And on his head, a little cap.

II.

Hard crusts he crumbles in his gums.
He’s only got one single tooth,
My poor old man with working gums.
Instead of soft rolls, lentil soup.
My poor old graybeard!

Birdsong

He doesn't know the world at all
Who stays in his nest and doesn't go out.
He doesn't know what birds know best
Nor what I want to sing about,
That the world is full of loveliness.

When dewdrops sparkle in the grass
And earth's aflood with morning light,
A blackbird sings upon a bush
To greet the dawning after night.
Then I know how fine it is to live.

Hey, try to open up your heart
To beauty; go to the woods someday
And weave a wreath of memory there.
Then if the tears obscure your way
You'll know how wonderful it is
To be alive.


 

Credits

Composer: Charles Davidson

Length: 24:17
Genre: Choral

Performers: Dwight Okamura, Piano;  Sharon Paul, Conductor;  San Francisco Girls Chorus

Date Recorded: 01/01/1996
Venue: San Francisco, California

Additional Credits:

Publisher: Ashbourne Music. Available at: http://ashbournemusicpublishing.com

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