Robert Stern’s Voices from Terezin is one of many musical reflections on the experience of the German abomination in what was then Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic): the Theresienstadt (Terezin) concentration camp. Cynically and sadistically called the “paradise camp,” it was a deliberate ruse (to which the Red Cross was invited for an inspection to “confirm” decent conditions of supposed wartime incarceration) posing as a haven for detained Jewish artists and intellectuals, when in fact it was simply a holding camp and way station for Jews awaiting deportation to death camps, where most were murdered.
In 1967 Stern wrote a work for soprano, cello, and piano titled Terezin, based on a poem and drawings by children imprisoned there. In Voices from Terezin, he continued his artistic exploration of the episode by addressing the work of two adult poets: Gertrud Kantorowicz and Ilse Blumenthal-Weiss, with whose verse he became acquainted when he heard Ruth Schwertfeger recite her translations at a Terezin conference in Boston. His original conception in 1990 was a work for soprano and string quartet. The expanded string orchestra version in this volume was completed in 1993 with an added interlude.
Kantorowicz was an art historian as well as a poet. She was born in 1876, and the poem that introduces Stern’s work was written near the end of her life. (She died in April 1945, weeks before the camp was liberated by the Red Army.) Hers is the first voice in this piece, introduced by quiet, mournful strings. Blumenthal-Weiss survived. A generation younger, she was born in 1899 and lived until 1987, remembering and recording. Her poem in this work expresses a brief burst of optimism, and Stern fastens onto its hope of “never again.” The strings hover over and after the completion or conclusion of the text before finally settling into a carefully prepared consonance.
Sung in English
DAUGHTER OF THE DAY
Poem: Gertrud Kantorowicz
And so you fade. The step of hours is halting.
No laughter gives its hem to our week's graveness.
So you have learned to walk dark halls
where living light and flower can only flutter.
Daughter of day! Now you withdraw
and blindly follow the nobler call.
Old woman, you who stud with stars the moment.
How silent we kiss the ringed hands
and cover you in folds of the scroll's silk adornment,
bird, reed, and wood.
Change reaches out to take you: its figure looms.
Your mouth composed resists and we revere.
TO TAKE TO THE ROAD
Poem: Ilse Blumenthal-Weiss
To take to the roads.
To take in the blades of memory of departed days.
The door that shut stands open,
bids shooting stars come in, and rainbow,
companions of the road.
A voice makes clear:
Never again, never again …
Releases love's word, a blessing with confessing lips.
As if an angel spoke to me.
Performers: Barcelona Symphony-National Orchestra of Catalonia; Ana María Martínez, Soprano; Karl Anton Rickenbacher, Conductor
Publisher: Robert Stern
Translation: Ruth Schwertfeger
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