Holocaust Music

“Music has charms to soothe a savage breast,” is a famous line which was used by a character in William Congreve’s 1697 play The Mourning Bride. And sometimes music does soothe the savage beast, but during the Holocaust, some of these ‘beasts’ were so evil that nothing could soothe them.

However, music did play an important role during the Holocaust and not always for the people in the camps or the ghettos. On occasion, it was also used to relay a universal message of tolerance

A Child of Our Time is a secular oratorio (a usually sacred musical work for soloists, chorus and orchestra intended for concert performance) by the British composer Michael Tippett, who also wrote the libretto(the text of an opera or musical). He composed it between 1939 and 1941, it was first performed at the Adelphi Theatre in London on 19 March 1944. The work was inspired by events that affected Tippett profoundly: the assassination in 1938 of a German diplomat by a young Jewish refugee, and the Nazi government’s reaction in the form of a violent pogrom against its Jewish population: Kristallnacht.

Tippett’s oratorio deals with these incidents in the context of the experiences of oppressed people generally and carries a strong pacifist message of ultimate understanding and reconciliation. The text’s recurrent themes of shadow and light reflect the Jungian psychoanalysis that Tippett underwent in the years immediately before writing the work. A Child of Our Time was named after a novel by anti-Nazi writer Odon von Horwath.

This is an excerpt of the text:

A star rises in mid-winter.
Behold the man! Behold the man!
The scapegoat! The scapegoat!
The child of our time.”

Erich Frost was a musician and devout Jehovah’s Witness, he was active in the religious resistance to Hitler’s authority. Caught smuggling pamphlets from Switzerland to Germany, he was imprisoned in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp near Berlin where he composed the song “Steht Fest” (Stand Fast) in 1942. Later deported to a labour camp at Alderney, Channel Islands, Frost survived the war and returned to Germany to serve the Watchtower Society. “Fest steht,” reworked in English as “Forward, You Witnesses,” is among the most popular Jehovah’s Witness hymns. This performance, evoking some of the song’s original spirit, took place under Frost’s direction at an event held in Wiesbaden, Germany, during the 1960s.

“Standing firm in a great and difficult time
Is a people dedicated to the struggle for their King?
He teaches us to fight and win,
He teaches us to fight and win.
Bright is the eye and calm the blood;
Their sword is the truth; they wield it well:
What serves the enemy all its lies?
What serves the enemy all its lies?

refrain:
Jehovah’s Witnesses, undeterred!
The struggle is fierce,
The battle rages wild.
The fetters too are binding,
The chains are heavy,
But mighty the arm which shields you!
Jehovah’s Witnesses in enemy land
And far from the homeland, exiled from loved ones;
Lift up your gazes to Him,
Whose hand is already extended to you!

2.
Truth and justice, perverted by men;
The name of Jehovah, debased by devils:
These must reign once again!
These must reign once again!
Holy war–from the Highest Mouth–
It is called at the right hour
For the weak, which, it makes heroes,
For the weak, which, it makes heroes.

refrain

3.
Innocent in their cells, robbed of their freedom!
Scornfully the enemies raise up their heads:
They would like to rule over us,
They would like to rule over us.
Yet we, we hear in every place
Only the commandments of our King.
Only he can safely guide us.
Only he can safely guide us!

refrain

4.
Enemies’ threats, friends’ supplications
To desist from the struggle:
They can never shake our resolve.
They can never shake our resolve.
Hunger and beatings and harsh slavery
Are the cruel reward for our constancy,
And many are they that must grow pale.
And many are they that must grow pale!

refrain

5.
But one day the day will come which liberates
All those who are dedicated to the Highest Glory
From Satan’s dreary fetters,
From Satan’s dreary fetters!
Jubilation and singing prevail through the land,
Echoing from every mountain.
The Kingdom of our Lord has risen,
The Kingdom of our Lord has risen.

Gideon Klein was a Czech pianist and composer and was a prize-winning student at the Prague Conservatory. Klein organized the cultural life in the Theresienstadt concentration camp. In 1940 he was offered a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music in London, but by that time, anti-Jewish legislation prevented his emigration. In Theresienstadt, he wrote works for a string quartet, a string trio, and a piano sonata. He died in unclear circumstances during the liquidation of the Fürstengrube camp in January 1945. In December 1941, deported by the Nazis to the Terezín concentration camp, Gideon Klein, along with Leoš Janáček’s pupils, Pavel Haas, Hans Krása, and Schoenberg’s pupil Viktor Ullmann, he became one of the major composers at that camp.

About a dozen of Gideon Klein’s Terezín compositions and arrangements survived the war. Of these, the brief choral piece “Spruch” (Verdict) has come to light only relatively recently. It was written for and dedicated to Freizeitgestaltung Chairman Moritz Henschel for his 65th birthday, 21 February 1944.

sources

https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/song/stand-fast

https://www.classicfm.com/discover-music/latest/remembrance-great-composers/gideon-klein/

https://holocaustmusic.ort.org/places/theresienstadt/klein-gideon/

https://www.schott-music.com/en/a-child-of-our-time-no175102.html

https://www.bl.uk/20th-century-music/articles/music-and-the-holocaust

https://www.ushmm.org/collections/the-museums-collections/collections-highlights/music-of-the-holocaust-highlights-from-the-collection/music-of-the-holocaust/a-child-of-our-time

https://www.ushmm.org/collections/the-museums-collections/collections-highlights/music-of-the-holocaust-highlights-from-the-collection/music-of-the-holocaust/verdict

https://www.ushmm.org/collections/the-museums-collections/collections-highlights/music-of-the-holocaust-highlights-from-the-collection/music-of-the-holocaust/stand-fast

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