Last year I blogged about the ‘Holocaust Memorial Day’ in a more general way. Today and this year, I would like to encourage you to commemorate this day with music.
Whereas anti-Semitism, xenophobia and fearing “otherness” have – unfortunately – been part of many Western societies, the term ‘holocaust’, and what it means for us today is a very twentieth-century concept to refer to the systematic approach of murdering people. However, it is wrong to assume that all music relating to ‘holocaust’ must be post 1945.
Michael Tippett wrote A Child of Our Time between 1939 and 1941 as a reaction to the Reichspogromnacht in 1938. (Kristallnacht is the word the Nazis used, and was meant in a positive way, whereas the Russian ‘pogrom’ does not have any ambiguity about the violence and destruction against Jewish citizens and their property in Germany; it is the latter which is used nowadays in Germany). According to David Matthews, Tippett found the African-American spirituals used in his oratorio appropriate, as they expressed a suffering similar to those of the Jews (see the preface of the 2007 Eulenburg edition, pages v and vi, @ UL: M210.b.200.7. At the Pendlebury you can find a recording at classmark: CD.A.163.
Of course, because Tippett was not Jewish, and was observing the atrocities of the 1930s and 1940s from a relatively safe distance, it was perhaps easier for him to write a work which can be perceived not as condoning the Nazis, but rather concentrating on the atrocities themselves.
I briefly mentioned to my colleague Margaret that I was thinking about writing a post for this blog for today, and she gave me an insightful idea. She suggested another angle: commemorating those Jewish composers who died in concentration camps, such as those who perished in Terezin or Auschwitz: Pavel Haas, Gideon Klein, Carlo Taube and Viktor Ullmann. One way of getting an idea of the music which was composed by some of these incredibly talented composers, under unimaginable conditions, is to listen to a CD called Terezin: The Music 1941-1944, which is available at the Pendlebury Library at CD.A.77. Please spare a moment of your time today and think of these composers. Whereas their lives were short, their music can still be listened to, celebrated and remembered.