Music composed in response to the Holocaust can add another dimension to our understanding of this event. A tragedy unique in human history has forced composers to experiment with new musical forms. Many of the pieces included here are memorials to victims. Several chilling pieces explore the dark side of the Holocaust and are intentionally disturbing, while other works are affirmations of faith and hope. Many are intensely personal, and all will expand our understanding of the Holocaust beyond mere words.
Karel Berman, Terezín. Terezín is a suite for piano written by Berman, a Holocaust survivor. He arrived in the concentration camp in 1943 and participated in many musical performances there.
Charles Davidson, I Never Saw Another Butterfly, 1968. This song cycle is based on the poems of the children of Terezín, a camp for artists and musicians who were too prominent to kill outright. It is written for a children's choir, with piano accompaniment. The TV documentary, "The Journey of the Butterfly," about Terezín and the art created there includes a performance of "I Never Saw Another Butterfly" by the American Boychoir.
Michael Horvitz, Even When God Is Silent. The text for this chilling music was found written on a wall in Germany by someone hiding from the Gestapo. Dramatic and chilling.
Wilfred Joseph, Requiem, 1963. A dirge for the Jews who died during World War II, it uses the Kaddish Prayer for the Dead as the main theme.
George Katz, Aide Memoire, 1983. A collage of music, phrases, slogans, and mass cries all taken from original sound documents of the Nazi period. They are put together to form Seven Nightmares, from which the dreamer can find no rest. Asleep, beset by terrible dreams, yet terrified to wake up and find the dream is a reality.
Oskar Morawetz, From the Diary of Anne Frank: Oratorio for Voice and Orchestra. This oratorio is dedicated to Anne Frank and uses excerpts from her diary as the text. It is a tribute to the courage and nobility of the human spirit.
Tera de Marez Oyens, Charon's Gift. This piece was written for the composer's husband. Oyens and her husband, Menachem Arnoni, made a trip to places associated with the deaths of family members during the Holocaust. Arnoni became depressed, unable to forgive himself for his own survival and attempted to take his own life, ending up in a coma for four days. "Like Orpheus, I descended into Hades there to plead with Charon. As he released . . . my dear one to me, Charon's gift was written in gratitude."
Krzysztof Penderecki, Dies Irae, 1967. A memorial to the victims at Auschwitz, Dies Irae allows the singers and players to improvise according to their talents and abilities. The chorus recites words, rather than singing them, and the instruments are the framework for the rhythm and pitch. It was first performed on the grounds of Auschwitz in 1967.
Steve Reich, Different Trains, 1988. Reich, an American composer born in 1936, spent his childhood shuttling by train between his divorced parents' homes during World War II. After he became a composer, he began to wonder how his life might have been different if he had been a European Jew, rather than an American. He felt that trains might still have played an important part of his life, taking him to a ghetto and an extermination camp. He wrote a unique and interesting composition for string quartet and synthesizers.
Simon Sargon, Shema. This work is named for the Hebrew word for affirmation of faith in God's unity. Levi's poem includes a quotation from the biblical prayer associated with Shema. Most of the poems were written within a few months of the liberation of Auschwitz. Throughout the cycle, Sargon's musical style is extremely vocal, fully exploiting the coloristic and technical range of the soprano in the lyricism of its lines.
Arnold Schoenberg, A Survivor From Warsaw, 1947. This is a true story about a survivor from the Warsaw ghetto. It is atonal, using a twelve-tone technique, which the Nazis had banned as degenerate. It was written for a narrator to half sing and half speak the story. The musical drama is six minutes in length, describing a moment at the beginning of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising when the crowds began to sing Shema Israel as a symbol of their unity in the face of death.
William Schuman, Ninth Symphony or Le Fosse Ardeatine. Schuman wrote this composition to commemorate the slaughter of 355 Jews, Christians and Italians in the Ardeatine caves. "I saw the cave and thought about all the people buried there and their lives. I'm a foe of forgetting."
Francis Schwartz, Caligula, 1975. Based on the names of concentration camps and massacre sites, Caligula has an eerie atmosphere created by electronic music and human voices chanting, howling, and groaning as they recite the familiar names of places that were once geographical locations.
Demitri Shostakovich, Babi Yar, 1962. Babi Yar is located in the Ukraine, not far from Kiev. It was there that the Nazis slaughtered 70,000 Jews. The text for this symphony is a poem by the Russian poet Yevgeny Yetushenko. The use of tolling bells and men's voices singing in the bass range creates a dark and foreboding musical composition. It is one of the first musical statements against antisemitism in Russian music.
Ben Steinberg, Echoes of Children. This cantata won the prestigious international Gabriel Award for outstanding creativity in broadcasting programming. Steinberg is the Director of Music for Toronto's Temple Sinai.
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A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust
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