What do they do? They create

Mark Ludwig Violist, Boston Symphony OrchestraDirector, Terezin Chamber Music Foundation
during ARTS OF TOLERANCE, a series of workshops, performances and discussions organized by the Stories Exchange Project, 18-19 September 2000
TerezinCzech Republic
Here we are in the Attic Theater in Terezin. And you’re sitting on bare benches – as you would have been if you had been here when the music we’re about to play was performed in this space for the first time: when the Nazis were using Terezin as a transit camp from which to send Jews to Auschwitz.
Before the War Terezin had roughly six thousand people, and the peak prison population was something over fifty-eight thousand people. You had an environment of deprivation, lack of adequate medical facilities, overpopulation – overcrowding I should say – , and malnutrition. And you had thirty three thousand people who died during their incarceration in Terezin.
Worst of all – not only for performers but also for people who would have been sitting at a performance – , was the uncertainty. Would they be here the next day, or would they or their family members be sent off on a transport to the East?
Helga Weissova-HoskovaTerezin survivorPainter, Prague
Most of this music was performed in that attic where we have been today.
Zuzana PodmelovaTerezin survivorLecturer, Jewish Museum, Prague
But of course it was perfomed in a different way. You can’t compare it.
Mark Ludwig
How is it different?
Zuzana Podmelova
The whole atmosphere—a concentration camp: I can’t explain it to you, but it is so different.
Music meant such a lot for us because we felt like human beings again. We didn’t feel like animals. You could cry, you could open your heart….
For moments to forget, for half an hour to forget.
We could cry there, we could be happy there. We could remember and we could hope — - And all of us tried to take part. It was not so easy.
Helga Weissova-Hoskova
We were not only hungry physically: we were hungry for culture. We had very few meals, but people would give their last piece of bread to get a ticket for a performance.
Mark Ludwig
Yet in these conditions there was some phenomenal music created.
The people here were singled out to make them think they were no longer part of the fabric of society, and treated as if they’re worthless.
But what do they do? They create. They become examples of what is best in mankind.
Hans Krasa was a composer before World War II who had a very promising career. Orchestras throughout Europe and in the United States were performing his compositions. And when he was sent to Terezin he became very active in the musical life here as a performer and as a composer.
We’re going to perform the last work that he composed before he was sent to Auschwitz, the Pasacaglia and Fugue for string trio written in August of 1944
You’re going to hear the cello open up alone playing this thematic material – and it recurs over and over again: eighteen times. It becomes something like a musical mantra.
And then you’re hearing fragments of that in counterpoint. You’ll hear two types of music that come into play. You’ll hear a waltz, which I think you’ll feel is reminiscent of a better time. Then a folksong starts coming in. They’re interrelated musically. You’ll hear how they’re connected.
Yet they have a sort of tug-of-war. It’s a little bit of musical friction.
And from there it goes into a fugue which is very dance-like and ends in a frenzy, very emotional. There’s a lot of drama and excitement.
One thing about Krasa is that he had an incredible sense of humor and it came out in his music. He was always sort of tweaking your nose, making some musical fun. The imagery would be funny. And you’ll hear that in his music, especially in the Pasacaglia.
Gideon Klein was an extraordinary figure.
When he was incarcerated here in Terezin he was in his early twenties—and he brought so many amazing talents that with him. He was a pianist, one of .the up-and-coming gifted concert pianists in Prague. He was also a composer and a conductor, and he taught children here in Terezin.
When we talk to survivors who knew him, they think of him as a young Leonard Bernstein.
He was an incredible intellect who was enthusiastic not only about acquiring knowledge but also about sharing it with the people around him. He was such a vital force here in Terezin.
The String Trio is the last piece that Gideon Klein wrote. It was completed just days before he was sent on a transport to Auschwitz. He died in late January 1945, shortly after his twenty-fifth birthday.
The String Trio is an extraordinary work.
The first movement is very short and like a dance.
The second movement is a theme and variations. You may very well recognize the theme. It’s a Moravian folksong that Klein’s nanny had sung to him. So—like Krasa in the Pasacaglia – the composer is reminiscing about a better time.
This movement opens very warm and comforting, and you feel tenderness and security that Klein must have experienced in his early childhood. Then with each variation you get more musical tension.
You’ll recognize the theme, but it changes. It gets faster. The articulation is sometimes sharper.
And there’s what’s called pizzicato, a plucking of the strings.
There’ll be certain effects with the bow that give you different sound textures.
And I think – and I believe that my colleagues feel this way too – that this is a brilliant window into Klein’s mind: a musical portrait of what he had gone through in Terezin. When I talked with his sister, who passed away just a little over a year ago, she said that this piece revealed a lot about Klein’s life.
At the end of this movement you hear him trying to break through, resisting – and then becoming resigned.
Remarkably, the last movement is a lively dance. I think it’s a testimony to art as an expression of the will to survive.
It’s truly a fantastic work, a piece of music that we love performing. And it means so much to be able to perform it in this space here in Terezin.