Message In A Bottle

Megan Williams tells us about composers Victor Ullmann and Gideon Klein who died in the Holocaust; of their struggle to create under the most horrific conditions; and of a group of modern-day scholars and musicians dedicated to reviving their long-silenced music.

message-bottle-ancerl.jpg Czech composer Karel Ancerl conducting the Terezin Strings Orchestra. Photograph from the propaganda film made by the Nazis. Courtesy of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Listen to Message In A Bottle

                                                              Viktor Ullmann

Austrian composer Viktor Ullmann was perhaps the greatest musical talent to perish during the Holocaust. Ullmann was born more than a century ago in Teschen, a small town on the Polish-Czech border and was raised in Vienna, where his prodigious musical and intellectual talents were recognized early. Later, he moved to Prague and studied and worked with some of Europe's leading musicians.

Another Jewish composer in Prague at the time was the very young and promising Gideon Klein. Like Ullmann, Klein was deeply involved in the cultural movements of the time. The apartment he shared with his older sister Eliska served as a meeting place for poets, musicians and anti-fascist activities. A survivor later described him as "a stunningly beautiful person in every sense -- musically, physically and personally; a man of romantic literature."

In the early 1940s, UIllmann and Klein were sent to the Terezin concentration camp. Despite its appalling conditions, Terezin had a special status among camps as a "model ghetto." The Nazis claimed that Jews weren't prisoners, but were merely being "re-settled." By smuggling in paper and an old piano, the musicians were able to spend precious moments composing. It was here, despite the horror, where Ullmann and others managed to flourish creatively.

                The gate at Terezin: "Work Makes Freedom."

By the end of the summer of 1944, though, despair took hold of those who remained in Terezin. Germany was losing the war and was in a hurry to rid Europe of its remaining Jews. The transports to Auschwitz left with anguishing regularity. Viktor Ullmann prepared to save his music.Then, in the fall, Ullmann and Klein were put on train with other leading European musicians and composers, and sent to Auschwitz. The astonishingly rich, varied and accomplished musical life of Terezin fell silent.

Now more than 70 years later, a world-wide quest to recover and restore the music to its rightful place in the pantheon of 20th Century classical music is underway.

In Message in a Bottle, writer Megan Williams explores the musical and spiritual evolution of Ullmann and Klein by talking with some of modern-day musicians and experts fuelling their musical resurrection: James Conlon of the Los Angeles Opera, musicologist Michael Beckerman of New York University, Bret Werb of the U.S. Holocaust Museum, Simon Wynberg, artistic director of the ARC Ensemble of Toronto's Royal Conservatory of Music, and pianist and conductor Francesco Lotoro in Rome.

Through the exploration of Ullmann and Klein's lives, painful, but fascinating questions are raised.

What is the relationship between creativity and suffering? What role does music play in political resistance and psychological escape? What secret messages can we glean from the works composed by musicians who knew they would soon be killed?


The Orel Foundation
- Rediscovering Suppressed Musical Treasures of the Twentieth Century.

Music featured in the program:

Seerauber-Ballade (A Fragment), by Viktor Ullmann, violinist Laura Aprile.
CD: KZ Musik 4, Encyclopedia of Music Composed in Concentration Camps (1933 - 1945) Francesco Lotoro, pianist, organist, conductor. Associazione Musikstrasse, Via Romeo Romei, 15 00136 Roma Italia.

Die Seejungfrau, by Alexander von Zemlinsky, Danish National Symphony Orchestra and Choirs, conducted by Thomas Dausgaard. CD: August Enna Alexander von Zemlinsky, DACAPO Records, Copenhagen, 2006.

Der Kaiser von Atlantis, by Viktor Ullmann, Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, conducted by Lothar Zagrosek. CD: Ullmann Der Kaiser von Atlantis, The Decca Record Company Limited, London, 1994.

Quartetto per Archi in Fa Diesis Minore N. 2 OP. 10 by Arnold Schönberg.
NBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Dimitri Mitropoulos.

Piano Sonata, by Gideon Klein CD: KZ Musik 3, Encyclopedia of Music composed in Concentration Camps (1933 - 1945) Francesco Lotoro, pianist, organist, conductor. Associazione Musikstrasse, Via Romeo Romei, 15 00136 Roma Italia.

On an Overgrown Path, by Leos Jánacek. Josef Pálenícek, Piano
CD: Jánacek, Piano Works, Josef Pálenícek Supraphon, 2005.

Ballad of Mack the Knife, from The Three-Penny Opera (1928) by Kurt Weill
Performance: Bert Brecht (vocal), The Lewis Ruth Band
Conductor: Theo Mackeben. CD: Entartete Musik. ORIGINAL SOUND DOCUMENTS of the Exhibit Entartete Musik (Degenerate Music) Dusseldorf 1938/88. Licenced by POOL, Musikproduktion BmbH Berlin.

Piano Sonatas Nos 5 - 7
Variationen und Fuge über ein hebräisches Volkslied
Cadenzas to Beethoven's Piano Concertos Nos. 1 + 3, op. 54

by Viktor Ullmann.
CD3: KZ Musik (see above)

Sonata (piano) by Gideon Klein
Cut 1 - Allegro con fuoco
Cut 2 - Adagio
Cut 3 - Allegro Vivace
CD 3: KZ Musik (see above)

String Quartet No. 3, (1943) by Viktor Ullmann. The Colorado Chamber Players.
CD: Uplifting Discoveries from a Generation Lost, Centaur Records, Inc., Baton Rouge, LA 1997.

Partita for Strings by Gideon Klein (arr. Saudek). The Philadelphia Orchestra, conducted by Christoph Eschenbach. CD: Bartok - Martinú - Klein.

Brundibar, Complete Children's Opera by Hans Krasa Joza Karas.

Trio for Violin, Viola and Cello, by Gideon Klein.
Cut 4 - Allegro
Cut 5 - Lento - Va0riations on a Moravian Folk Song Theme
Cut 6 - Molto Vivace
CD: Music Written in Terezin
Jaromir Klepac piano, Czech String Trio.
1997 BONTON Music

Der Kindertotenlieder, by Mahler.

Duo: Allegro Con Fuoco, by Gideon Klein
Laurent Korcia, violon, Tatjana Vassiljeva, Violoncelle
CD: Laurent Korcia Doubles Jeux
Naïve Classics

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