Last night, an important and poignant moment took place at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance when their Contemporary Directions Ensemble performed “The Most Beautiful Time of Life” (Die Schönste Zeit des Lebens), a work that was arranged and performed by Auschwitz prisoner musicians but never heard outside the walls of the concentration camp.
Composed by Franz Grothe, the work was brought back to life thanks to the research of Patricia Hall, a U-M professor of music theory, who discovered the music's manuscript parts, handwritten by inmates, during her research at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum last summer.
At the first public performance of the work, dedicated to the musicians of Auschwitz-Birkenau, a packed room heard the piece performed as close as possible to how it would have been heard in 1943. Professor Hall, in remarks she made prior to the performance, quoted from one of the many letters she has received since the story went public: “Beauty, art and the human spirit can emerge in even the darkest places.”
Thank you for posting this.
Thank you for sharing this. It is also a reminder of how much music of Jewish composers was lost during the Holocaust, not only in terms of killing composers in their prime but destroying sheet music for existing works (anyone have the sheet music for Viktor Ullmann's first two string quartets?).
My grandmother's maiden name was Rochmann. I saw a book of piano pieces, "Edition Peters" or such, with that name across the front, a published book of compositions written by one of her close male relatives. It's still in the family somewhere; I doubt many copies still exist in the world. He and many of the Rochmann family were murdered by the Nazis. They were industrialists, architects, and artists -- what you might call pillars of their community -- slaughtered without mercy. My grandparents were able to escape -- he to New York and she and the kids (including my mother and uncle) to Guatemala City. Eventually they reunited and settled in St. Louis. "Oma" was a fine pianist. I once heard her play the first movement of Beethoven's "Hammerklavier" sonata, like it was nothing, and from memory. Doubtless she learned it during much earlier and happier times, before the Holocaust, when Berlin was an epicenter of Western culture, which of course it is once again.
Looking forward to listening to the record tomorrow. Most of my family were murdered there, just a few survived hidden in the cellars and running. At least 5 of my family members were musicians too as I know. There were 2 piano and 2 violin players.
Last February I attended a concert in the Castle of Dachau, part of the Violins of Hope program organized by luthier Amnon Weinstein.
As someone who lost almost the entire side of my paternal grandparents' families in the holocaust, this is truly heartbreaking to listen to. Bless the eternal power of music to remember, re-live, and heal.
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