April 1


So many of these pages began life as an entry in my diary - the merely personal then, turned into personal history by developing it here, rendering it meaningful beyond the incident, the event. The personal event took place on Sunday, April 1st 2001, at St George's Brandon Hill, a concert organised by DAVAR, the Jewish Institute in Bristol, and already historic for me because I had co-founded this community organisation almost a decade earlier, and it had grown, and grown, to the point that we could use a major city's major concert venue for an event that brought national attention, to itself, and to the young violinist who led it. But the real history lay beyond the event, in the music, as the concert's title made abundantly clear.

“Forbidden Not Forgotten”
Music from Theresienstadt

- music that the Nazis suppressed, usually by murdering the composers.

                                                    Daniel Hope - violin
                                                    Paul Watkins - Cello
                                                    Philip Dukes - Viola

                                     Sonata for Solo Violin by Erwin Schulhoff
                                     Duo for Violin and Cello by Gideon Klein
                                     "Tenec" String Trio by Hans Krasa
                                     Kaddish "In Memoriam" for Violin Solo by Maurice Ravel
                                     Duo for Violin and Cello - Schulhoff again
                                     String Trio - Gideon Klein again

Introducing the first Klein piece, Paul Watkins said, "The music simply stops". And so it did. First the cello, then half a bar on the violin. Klein wrote no more than to this point of the 2nd movement. Like the man from Porlock, he was interrupted by a knocking at the door. It was in Theresienstadt, and the convoy was leaving for Oswiecim.

The Ravel did not properly belong on the programme, as it never suffered Nazi persecution. But who could resist a forbidden kaddish, on such an occasion? In its case, it was the Soviets who banned it.

1. Erwin Schulhoff

Born: June 8th, 1894
Died: August 18th, 1942
Country of origin: Czech Republic

"Art is intrinsically the expression of heightened human longing, and the work of art per se is the explosion of heightened feelings. Absolute art is revolution."

I have drawn my information about him from two websites:


With the benefit of a personal letter of recommendation from Antonín Dvořák, as well as his own prodigious talent, Schulhoff had been accepted as a piano pupil at the Prague Conservatory in 1904, when he was just ten. Two years later he moved to Vienna to study with Willy Thern, and kept on wandering: to Leipzig in 1908 (piano with Robert Teichmüller, music theory with Stephan Krehl, composition with Max Reger); to Cologne in 1911 (where his many teachers included Lazzaro Uzielli, Carl Friedberg, Franz Bölsche, Ewald Sträßer and Fritz Steinbach) and where he won the Wüllner Prize for excellence in his musical studies in 1913, the Felix Mendelssohn Prize for piano in the same year, and the same prize for composition five years later.

The First World War found him conscripted into the Austrian Army, after which he settled in Germany, fascinated by the radical new art and music that was being explored there: Dadaism, Jazz, Impressionism and Expressionism. From this period, until 1924, he exchanged regular correspondence with Alban Berg, but it was the quarter-tone music of Alois Hába rather than the fully atonal music of Berg that really drew him in - and Schulhoff with the piano skills to demonstrate the differences. In 1924 he went home to Prague, where Kafka had just published "The Castle" and K's best friend Max Brod was stepping down as music critic of the Prager Abendblatt. Schulhoff took the position, and supported it by working as a jazz pianist for Prague radio in Ostrava.

By 1933 his regular return visits to Germany were over, in part because he supported Communism to such a degree he had even set the Communist Manifesto to music, but mostly because "observant atheist" or "merely cultural Jew" made no difference, the man had at least one Jewish grandparent, and that was all that mattered. The planned first performance of his opera "Flammen" in Berlin was cancelled. 

Possibly because what was happening in Germany seemed to be a logical political development of the ideas that had bred Dada and Expressionism, possibly because his Communist convictions had embedded that deeply, symphonic jazz was jettisoned in favour of symphonies of Social Realism, and in 1941 he became a Soviet citizen, which rendered him a member of the enemy when Germany declared war and anschlussed the Sudetenland. He was interned in Prague on June 23rd 1941, deported to the concentration camp of Wülzburg near Weißenburg in Bavaria, and died there of tuberculosis on August 18th 1942.

His compositions remained virtually unknown until Gidon Kremer's 1988 recordings of his chamber music: the 5 "Stücke" (1923), the "Divertimento for String Quartet" (1914), and a variety of Sonatas for various instruments, some of them quite grotesque, others purely Dada, including his setting of a Dadaist text by Hans Arp in "Die Wolkenpumpe", for the unusual combination of baritone, four wind instruments and percussion (1922). In "Bassnachtigall", three pieces for contra-bassoon also dating from 1922, the composer added his own text in the provocative form which was customary in the infamously chaotic Dada concerts: "The spark of the gods can be present in both a liver sausage and a contra-bassoon."

2. Gideon Klein

My information this time is mostly from
which tells me that he was born in Prerov, Moravia, on December 6th 1919, that his family was "rooted in Jewish tradition" but "was also modern in outlook and supportive of culture and art", the sort of ambivalence that has driven the Jewish world since Napoleon ordered the dismantling of the ghettos and which is probably the case with every Jewish novelist, poet, painter, composer, musician, film-maker, sculptor, psychologist, philosopher and scientist that you could name: the schmaltz of "Fiddler On The Roof", the narrow but extraordinarily profound intellectual intensities of the yeshiva, the desperate need to find a name for the life-force, but a name that isn't "God": am I over-simplifying things if I state that as an explanation equally of "Rabbi" Mahler, "Rabbi" Einstein, "Rabbi" Freud?

Or in this case "Rabbi" Klein, who didn't wait like those three to become an adult prodigy, but went the more direct child route, still named Kleinova at this juncture; starting at the age of six, when the head of the local conservatory decided he was the only one, and only just, who had sufficient skills to teach the genius any further. By the time he was eleven he was making the journey to Prague each month for lessons with Frau Kurz, the wife of the noted piano pedagogue Professor Vilem Kurz; but the travel proved too exhausting, so the following year he simply moved to Prague permanently, living with his sister Eliska.

"In the fall of 1938," the Holocaust music website uses the expression as though it simply meant the season of the year, and not the cataclysmic moment of human civilisation, "he was admitted to Professor Kurz's Master School at the Prague Conservatory, registering at the same time at the Charles University for courses in philosophy and musicology, and for the latter department writing an impressive and detailed study of voice-leading in Mozart's string quartets in his first semester." In the fall of 1938. Which month exactly is the fall? August? September? It would be October when the Nazis occupied the Sudetenland.

Others took what opportunities were left to flee, but Klein stayed on, graduating from the Master School in just one year, thrown out when the Nazis closed all the institutions of higher learning, following their occupation of Czechoslovakia in March 1939. But he was still performing widely, the most technically accomplished of the pianists of his day, already a brilliant and original composer, mixing the intellectual with the emotional - the schmaltz with the yeshiva, as I suggested above.

He might even have survived the Holocaust. In 1940 he was offered a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy of Music in London, but Nazi race and emigration laws prohibited him from leaving the country; and now from performing in public either. Gideon Klein became Karel Vranek, and went back onstage; until his face started to be recognised, and only the private homes of those who wished to hear him play remained available.

Klein's pre-war compositions mostly vanished when he did, turning up only half a century later when the grandchildren of his old friend Eduard Herzog decided to go through the old boxes grandpa had left in the attic, and found the complete pre-Terezín works, numerous songs for soprano and piano, an octet for winds, large-scale pieces for string quartet and several string duos, including one, just like Schulhoff, in quarter-tones.

The deportation of Prague's historic Jewish community began on December 1st 1941; Klein was in the convoy whose destination was Terezín (the Germans called it Theresienstadt). These were the fortunate Jews of conquered Europe: there was a cultural life at Terezín, for the entertainment of the generals and the majors; thousands of professional and amateur artists were kept alive in order to give concerts, or theatrical performances, to gallery their artworks, to read their poetry, and especially to compose and perform serious music. Klein's fellow-prisoners included composers Viktor Ullmann - a student of Arnold Schönberg - Carlo Taube, Pavel Haas and Zigmund Schul; artists Bedrich Fritta (the pseudonym of Fritz Taussig), Leo Haas, Felix Bloch, Max Placek, and Peter Kien, who also wrote the libretto for Victor Ullmann's opera, "Der Kaiser von Atlantis; oder der Tod dankt ab" ("The Emperor of Atlantis; or Death Resigns"), as well as Friedl Dicker-Brandeis; the architect Norbert Troller; the theologian-philosopher-Rabbi Leo Baeck; and the author/composer of books and songs for children, Ilse Weber.

Klein played the piano in a chamber orchestra at Terezín, assisted in the preparation and accompanied performances, among others, of Smetana's "The Bartered Bride" and Verdi's "Requiem", and provided accompaniment for singers. But what the Commandant mostly required for his guests was the greatest pianist of his day, Gideon Klein, performing the pieces that had made him a celebrity: Mozart's "Adagio", Beethoven's "Sonata op. 110", Schumann's "Fantasy op. 17", Brahms "Intermezzi", Josef Suk's "Life and Dreams", Janacek's "l.X. 1905", as well as pieces by Schönberg and Scriabin and Busoni's transcription of a Bach "Toccata and Fugue". Multiple performances. And your own compositions too, Herr Klein: solo piano pieces, chamber music programmes, from before the war; new compositions too: chamber music for strings, choral works, madrigal settings of the poetry of Holderlin and Villon, a piano sonata, incidental music for the theatre and a song cycle for alto and piano: settings of Peter Kien's "Die Peststadt" ("The Plague City").

Nine days after completing his last composition, a string trio, on October 1st 1944, Klein was in the group deported to Auschwitz. From there he was sent to Fürstengrube, a coal-mining labour camp for men, near Katowice in Poland. It is not known whether he was killed there by the remaining Nazis as the liberating Red Army approached, or whether he died on the forced march which many of those Jews made to accompany the fleeing SS. Nor is it known precisely when he died, though the official date on his records now states January 27th 1945, less than two months after his twenty-fifth birthday, the same day that Auschwitz itself was liberated.

3. Hans Krása

My information on this occasion is drawn primarily from

That Klein's Terezín compositions survived was due entirely to his last girlfriend, Irma Semtzka, like him a resident of the camp. After the war she found Gideon's sister Eliska, living once again in Prague, and gave her everything she had, including an oil painting made shortly before Gideon was deported. On June 6th 1946 Eliska arranged for the first performance of his complete works, in the small hall of the Rudolfinium, under the baton of Karel Ancerl, also a Terezín survivor.

It wasn't only Klein's music that Irma Semtzka was able to save, however; there were also the compositions of Hans Krása. But this needs a very different piece of personal history to introduce it.

In 2004 I was appointed Head of a Jewish school in Toronto, named for Rabbi Leo Baeck (mentioned above, another of the very few Terezín inmates to survive the Holocaust). During my third year, the President of the Parent's Association invited me, one Sunday afternoon, to join her and her husband at a performance by a local Children's Opera Company, in which both of their daughters, a 6th and 8th grader respectively at the school, were performing. The opera was "Brundibár", the greatest of all the Terezín compositions of Hans Krasa - I wish I could find the poster, but am using this one, from a 75th anniversary performance in the same city. Enough to say the afternoon imprinted itself deeply in my consciousness.

Krása was Czech, like Schulhoff and Klein. He started out, in the language of the newspapers, as "one of the leading talents of a generation of composers inspired by Mahler, Schoenberg and Zemlinsky", and it was probably that absurd level of hyperbolic adulation that led him to take a seven year break from music, only returning to it when he was made to, at Terezín. His father was a non-Jewish Czech lawyer, his mother a German Jew. He trained with Zemlinsky at the German Music Academy in Prague, influenced by what was very much the cult of Mahler, but interested in the impressionism of Vítĕzslav Novák too; and, when the Great War ended, he flirted briefly with the new ideas of Stravinsky and Les Six as well.

Not counting teenage pieces performed by "professional musicians" at the spas his parents visited, his first publicly played work was his graduation project, "Four Orchestral Songs", settings of Christian Morgenstern's "Songs from the Gallows", conducted by Zemlinsky in May 1921. After that a number of highly praised works, the best reckoned to be the "String Quartet, Op. 2", the "Symphony for Small Orchestra", and the "Five Songs for Voice and Piano, Op. 4".

But then he stopped, earning a few extra kroner from time to time as a répétiteur at the New German Theatre in Prague, or simply travelling. When Zemlinsky joined the Berlin Kroll Opera in 1927, he went with, as a conductor, not as a pianist or composer; but he didn't last. There were offers to take the baton in Berlin, Paris and Chicago, but he wanted Prague, where he could play chess and talk books and not have to break his soul in music. He hung around with the German intellectuals who wrote for the Prager Tagesblatt newspaper, and with Czech artists, painters in particular. I have the impression of a man seriously depressed, unwilling to make the journey into the hinterland of that depression, in case what he found when he got there was not music.

But in the early 1930s he did try again, writing a Psalm Cantata, "Die Erde ist des Herrn", which was performed in Prague in 1932. Very complex intellectual construction, and no surprise that the reviewers hated it. Even more so his next venture, an opera entitled "Verlobung im Traum", based on Dostoievski's "Uncle's Dream". Too much Stravinsky mixed up with too much anachronistic Rossini and Verdi, so said the critics; too many shifts from grand opera to pantomime. It can't have been all that bad though; it won the 1937 Czechoslovakian State Prize.

"Brundibár" ("The Bumble–Bee"], was started in 1938, libretto by Adolf Hoffmeister, and submitted in its original form to a children's opera competition that never took place because of the Nazi invasion. It was performed though, twice, in secret, in the autumn of 1941, under the baton of Rafael Schächter at Prague's Jewish–Zionist orphanage HaGibor. Krása never heard it; he was arrested while it was still in rehearsal, and then deported to Terezín. Several of his collaborators, and all the child actors, followed soon after.

At Terezín, he was put in charge of all the Freizeitgestaltung ("leisure time activities"). During the twenty-six months that he spent there, Krása composed a "String Trio", as well as the "Three Songs for Soprano, Clarinet, Viola and Cello", both frequently performed; but it was "Brundibár" that occupied him. Rudolf Freudenfeld, the son of HaGibor's director, had somehow managed to smuggle the piano reduction of the opera into the camp. Krása re–orchestrated it, knowing exactly which musicians and which instruments were available to him, rehearsing at the so–called Dresden barracks, starting again every time a child-deportation was carried out, and new children arrived. The Terezín première took place at the Magdeburg barracks on September 23rd 1943, after which it was re-staged almost weekly for the next year, only "closing" when the camp did too.

What was staggering about the popularity of the opera among the Nazi high command who came to watch it, let alone the local guards, is that "Brundibár", whether by design or coincidence, is an allegory of Nazi wickedness, and the evil Brundibár himself an obvious stand-in for Hitler. Mind you, the libretto was in Czech, so probably they had no idea what they were watching and just liked the tunes and the performing children. 

The opera tells the story of two siblings, Aninka and Pepíček, whose father has died and whose mother is sick. Their task is to find something, milk preferably because milk is healthy, for her to eat or drink. But they have no money. They notice the organ–grinder Brundibár earning money from his singing and playing, and they try to join in with a song of their own, but Brundibár chases them away. The children are desperate, but they can't return home with nothing for their mother. Fortunately many of the animals in the neighbourhood heard their song, heard especially the desperation in the voices singing it, and they will do what no human seems prepared to: they will help. They gather all the neighbourhood children, and together they sing a lullaby. So enchanted are the humans - as enchanted as the generals and guards at Terezín - each one now finds a coin to give the children... which coins Brundibár then tries to steal. The animals and children resist him, and finally he is overcome; as he flees, they sing the closing words of the opera, "Brundibár is beaten. Look at him running into the distance. Strike up the drum, the war has been won."

An extraordinary example of abject heroism: a tale of triumphant children, written and performed where children were less than children and a great deal less than triumphant, entertainment for the uncomprehending Brundibárs whose military barrel-organ they would go back to turning as soon as the show was done. What a stupendous moral achievement, a veritable triomphe de guerre, to have written such a piece as that, right then, right there, for that audience, and for it to outlive you, and especially them!

On June 23rd 1944, the Nazi High Command in Berlin agreed to let an International Red Cross commission into the Theresienstadt "ghetto", to see for themselves that the rumours about the treatment of the Jews was utterly unfounded. A production of Brundibár was mounted for the occasion, not in its usual venue but in the much grander Sokol Hall, outside the "ghetto". Stage designer František Zelenka was given sufficient materials that the normally rather basic set and costumes suddenly acquired a glamour that was almost Broadway. Photographic equipment at the sides of the stage ensured that the opera could play a key role in the documentary "Der Führer schenkt den Juden eine Stadt - The Führer Gives the Jews a City", intended for release to German audiences. The film never made it to the screen, however; the rushes confirm that it was the closing scene that would have been shown, the one in which a defeated Brundibár flees into the distance, or to Nuremberg, in the case of the Nazi High Command.

Krása was deported by train to Auschwitz alongside his fellow composers Gideon Klein, Viktor Ullmann and Pavel Haas on October 16th 1944 and died in the gas chambers two days later.

‘If I state that I was influenced by Schönberg, by that I wish to emphasize the fact that I am trying all the more to avoid the emptiness which is so favoured. I try to write in such a way that every bar, every recitative and every note is necessarily a solid part of the whole. This logic, without which every composition has no spirit, can, however, degenerate into mathematic-scientific music if the iron law of opera is not heeded, namely that the sense and aim of opera is the singing. I am sufficiently daring, as a modern composer, to write melodic music.’

Hans Krása, 1938

One of the thousands of paintings made by the 15,000 children who passed through Terezin
You can find more, and much of their poetry, by clicking here

Works by all three composers can be found at various websites, or on CD from libraries and music scores. To hear the Ravel Kaddish, click here

The Book of Days on
July 27 has a piece about another major Jewish composer of the era, Ernő Dohnányi, and a surprising tale about his son. Click on the date to read it.

Amber pages:

1873, birth-date of Sergei Rachmaninoff

1621, the first treaty signed between American colonists and native tribes (you can tell who the april fools were!)

1665, the Great Plague hit London (and was wiped out by the Great Fire, a year later)

1918, Royal Air Force founded (a fact I mention only because my father served in it during the Second World War, and I spent three years as a cadet in it, between 1969 and 1972. 

1924, Adolf Hitler imprisoned for his involvement in the Beer Hall Putsch

1945, US forces D-dayed Okinawa. 

You can find David Prashker at:

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