Music in and About Shoah



Larry Polansky

Dartmouth College

Department of Music



Dartmouth Humanities Institute

Cultural Memory and Present

Spring, 1996

Rough Draft



Revised from

Humanities Forum Presentation

Lecture Notes

May 9th, 1995


[Music in and about shoah

May 9th, Dartmouth Humanities Forum]


Prefatory Note (to the Humanities Institute)

This "paper " is a preliminary attempt, in the form of evolving lecture notes, to approach the topic of music and shoah. The current document is a recently rewritten version of a Dartmouth Humanities Forum presentation I gave last spring, with some effort made to integrate ideas emerging in this institute. The tone is a spoken one, not a written one, andI do not currently intend this work for publication.

At a fundamental level, I am uncertain as to the credibility of some of the questions raised in this paper. For the Terezin composers (a strange name for a group of four composers who had almost nothing in common except for the final few years of their lives), a "ghettoization" of their work may invoke the problematic, and even more important, less interesting aspects of "the holocaust effect" and "shoah business"? Ullman and Krasa's common musical thread is their victimization, not their scores. To hear their operas played together (...Kaiser... and Brundibar), as we did at Dartmouth last fall for example, is, from a musical point of view, a programming travesty, and from some standpoint at least, morbid. The two composers could not have been further apart in terms of aesthetic, musical intent, and style.

Yet this kind of revisionist historical grouping may be essential, at first, to the eventual liberation of these composers' music (to be heard "alongside of," to paraphrase Susan Brison, its historical fascination). For that reason alone it may be important to begin with what is almost certainly a myopic and at least partially confused attempt to distinguish these composers from their contemporaries, at least in this one way.

The topic seems clearer for the second part of the talk -- the musical aesthetics of "holocaust memorials" and composers who clearly work in a post-shoahmusicalshoahway. This idea has received a great deal of attention in literature and visual art, but almost none (to my knowledge) in music.

LP, April 25, 1996



* This talk is an attempt to establish what some of the issues might be regarding music and shoah, in a sense, to help define the topic itself. I speak as a composer, not a musicologist, and as such my focus will be more on compositional and musical issues than historical ones. I will use as examples pieces which span almost 50 years, some written in the context of shoah (and thus perhaps "survivors"), and some written in response to it.

* One of my interests is in attempting to clarify what the study of music in and about shoah might be, especially regarding composition and musical aesthetics. I will like to pose some questions about aesthetic issues that ought to (but are frequently not) dealt with in relation to shoah. These questions have been raised often in the discussion of post-shoah film, literature and visual arts, but seldom in music.

* This talk is meant as a beginning, a first attempt at formulating questions, not in supplying answers. Much further work needs to be done. I would like to express my appreciation to Prof. Marianne Hirsch and Prof. Leo Spitzer for their kind introduction to speak to their Dartmouth class on "holocaust memory" in the fall of 1993. It was there that I first attempted to "outline" what the topic of music and shoah might be. This present talk is in some sense an extension of what I said in that class. For reasons that it might be interesting to discuss in a different context, I have omitted from this talk the consideration of what I call "nazi music theory and history" – an important but controversial and often (deliberately) overlooked topic.

*Music can be, and often is, described as a narrative without meaning, or a story about nothing. If this is the case, how can it evoke or express a human response to this most extreme of human events? Primo Levi has said that "there is no story in Auschwitz," and other writers on shoah have expressed similar ideas. Traditional and conventional archetypes of narrative and of meaning break down in this context, whose description need not and perhaps cannot conform to conventional narrative modes.

*How can a music, a composer (and listener) respond to this situation, especially in light of the powerful urge to confront or memorialize shoah?

*This question has been discussed often in literature, and has of course raised important issues in reception theory. By selecting a few important musical works, each of which has a somewhat different relationship to shoah, I am interested in posing this question to reflect on more general notions of composition, art, and memory. Music's relation to narrative is in and of itself an unusual one. In approaching this topic I was curious to see if there were ways in which these newer, post-shoah forms ("incoherent narratives?") influenced musical ideas.

*Also as a composer, and as someone who is considered a jewish (and I use that word having no clear idea what it means to me or my family anymore) artist myself who is part of the first generation born after the shoah, I am interested in developing my own thoughts on musical and aesthetic issue of memorialization through the consideration of a number of other composers' attempts. (Although my own work has not been, by and large, explicitly concerned with shoah either as memorial or as referrent).

*Musical responses have taken a number of forms, from within shoah and in memorial to it. I will try to contrast what I call the "parallelism" of extremely different composers like Hans Eisler and Steve Reich, to the more conventional narrative of Schoenberg, and also mention some other approaches as well. My interest is less in establishing a theory of "music and shoah" than in suggesting a number of ways that these works may be heard, appreciated, and better understood, both by shedding light on the works themselves, and by placing them in the more general context of music in and about shoah.

Listening Experiments

*I'd like to start with some short listening experiments. We'll hear two musical excerpts, without introduction. Although of course the title of this talk tells you something about these pieces, my intention here is to raise fundamental questions about aesthetics and context.

<Play Gideon Klein String Trio, first movement>

*The music itself, taken completely out of context, with no historical, biographical or even chronological information, suggests nothing extraordinary. One may like it or not, be interested in it or not, and may even have some notions about each piece's stylistic and historical context (for example, some might note the strong influence of Janacek). But there is nothing in the music itself to suggest the extremities of its compositional situation.

<show facsimile of Gideon Klein String Trio score>

Terezin and Gideon Klein

* What we just heard was the beginning of the first movement of the String Trio, written by the composer Gideon Klein, in the Terezin concentration camp. It is probably from 1942.

*Terezin was primarily a way-station for Czech jews who were to be sent to Auschwitz. In its earlier years the camp was also used by the Germans as a propaganda gesture of a sort of model community and arts utopia. Besides the famous Nzi film ("Hitler Builds a City for the Jews") Terezin is the subject of a number of books and collections about the almost unbelievably fertile artistic life there, as well as for its peculiar role in shoah. Artistically I say it was "almost unbelievably fertile," because of course it was a concentration camp in all other respects. Conditions were horrific and the death rate was extremely high, especially for children.

*Among the many composers, musicians and artists imprisoned at Terezin were the four composers Gideon Klein, Victor Ullman, Pavel Haas, and Hans Krasa. In 1942 Klein was 23 years old, Haas 43, Krasa 43, and Ullman 44. Haas, Ullman and Krasa were transported to Auschwitz on October 16th, 1944 (strangely, ten years to the date prior to when I was born) and died on October 17th. Ullman took the precaution of leaving his scores in Terezin, and many of these scores and others by these composers turned up in the collection of the Terezin historian H.G. Adler. Other scores were unearthed many years later by Josef Karas, author of the essential book Music in Terezin. One of the scores discovered by Karas is Krasa's famous and popular (during the 1930's, and at Terezin) children's opera Brundibar, which is now performed frequently.

<show slides of performance and set for Brudibar>

*Ullman also wrote an opera in Terezin, called The Emperor of Atlantis,which has recently received a number of important performances as interest in these four composers (and others from Terezin) has increased. This opera is minimally staged and has a small cast. It is a highly allegorical (almost comedia del arte), approximately 45-minute long drama about the downfall of an evil dictator. ...Kaiser... was not actually performed in Terezinshoah– they tried (and rehearsed), but it was not permitted. This musically sophisticated and brilliant opera makes use of a number of recognizeable and highly suggestive Germanic tunes, like "Duetschland Uber Alles" (especially in the now famous "Drummer Girl's Announcement" at the the end of Scene 1) and the hymn "Ein Feste Borg Ist Unser Gott," but also refers to the work of Josef Suk (especially in the opening tritone theme and its persistent use throughout the work), a turn of the century Bohemian composer import to most of the Czech musicians at Terezin. Suk's symphonic work Asreal, about the jewish angel of death was well knownshoahto Ullman and the other composers in Terezin, and the musical references were quite clear to the prospective audience. Suk was Dvorak's son-in-law, and this work was written in part in reference to Dvorak's death and the death of Suk's wife.

<play excerpt from Kaiser..., "The Drummer Girl's Announcement "Hallo, Hallo, Achtung, Achtung" from Scene 1>

*Ullman is probably the most well-known of the four composers I have mentioned.

< show portrait of Ullman by Peter Kien; Kien is also the librettist for The Emperor of Atlantis>

He was a student of Schoenberg student, highly influenced by Berg's music, and an interesting and advanced composer who became a kind of voice for Terezin-music through his music criticism written there, and his founding of the New Music Society in the camp. Lately, his complete works are becoming better known (including his landmark set of piano sonatas) and widely performed and recorded (in part because of his Terezin identity). For example, the excellent recording of ...Kaiser... on London, is issued as part of the Entartete Musik series, although Ullman was never mentioned (as far as I can tell) in the 1938 Duseldorf exhibit. Another work on the London series, Krenek's Johny Spielt Auf was one of the "featured" works in that exhibit, along with Schoenberg's Opus 11 Drei Klavierstucke, which seems to have been "public enemy #1" purely on the basis of its atonal abstraction. Interestingly, Ullman seems to have conducted the Krenek opera in 1929. It seems clear, at least to me, that had Ullman not been murdered he would have had an important place in the history of 20th century music. Considering the circumstances under which it was written (or not!), ...Kaiser... is an extraordinary, complex, and powerful work, and interests me more each time I listen to it.

< see poster from a New Music Society concert in the handout>

*Gideon Klein, by far the youngest of the four, was a student of the avant-garde composer Alois Haba, but was perhaps more closely alligned musically with Janacek. Klein was a precocious musician and a fascinating person as well. Imprisoned at a very young age, he became known at Terezin as a virtuosic and sensitive performer (he was an extraordinary pianist who gave many recitals there) and composer. Ullman talked about a kind of "personal magic" that Klein had, and others describe him as a source of inspiration and vitality in the midst of the fear, death, starvation, sickness, and hardship [reminding me very much of Katharine Conley's description of Desnos in the same camp]. His work underwent a radical transformation while in the camp, moving from a Janacek-influenced Czech style to one that integrated a different form of "nationalism." He wrote in his diary while in Terezin: "Four months in Terezin. Sensation: I am becoming a Jew to all intents and purposes here. The Czech songs and culture are becoming indifferent to me, I am reaching the conviction for which I was heading – to become a real Jew." (Karas, p. 73).

<show portrait of Gideon Klein>

*One characteristic story about Klein (also from Karas) concerns the composer Pavel Haas. When Haas arrived at Terezin, already in his forties and ill, he was too depressed to work and participate in musical life there. Klein brought him some handmade music paper (on which he had apparently drawn the staff lines himself), set it in front of the despondent Haas, and implored him to start composing again as a way past his depression, and according to Haas' sister "to stop wasting time." Haas did, and though only a few of his pieces still survived, he is now widely known as one of the four major Terezin composers. Haas' pre-Terezin work has also recently become the subject of a major recording project, and he is now being referred to as "Janacek's most famous student." (Michael Kube, Liner Notes to Musica Rediviva CD).

<show portrait of Klein by Peter Kien>

*Klein was the only one of the four not to be sent to Auschwitz. He diedshoahlater, in Furstengrubbe in 1945.

<show the facsimile of the score for theshoahKlein String Trio >

* Knowing the context of Klein's String Trio significantly changes our perception and memory of it. In fact, we are forced to re-remember it. Only the most deliberately rational explanation, and even in that I would suggest it is a false rationale, takes the position that the "music is what it is" and must be judged, evaluated and understood as a piece of music which stands alone – just the score. The Klein trio was composed under circumstances that make its every note at least interesting, and as such, it raises questions of reception, context, and meaning.

* How can we really understand this piece, much less place it in a musical-historical context? Is there any justification, or anything to be gained in doing so? In "pure" listening (an illusion in and of itself), we must, at least in part and with respect to the artist, consider it as a piece of music like any other – Klein was a sophisticated and serious composer. Extreme sentimentality or explicit reference to the daily realities of Terezin are probably, from what we know of Klein, not what he would have intended. In trying to glean a programmatic intent from it, or even trying to discern a direct response to Terezin in the music, we may be making a similar mistake as when, as the musicologist Rose Subotnik (and others like Susan McClary) point out, we try to understand a score apart from its musical contexts, political and social ramifications.

* When I played a recording of another piece written in Terezin to Leo Spitzer and Marianne Hirsch's class on the Holocaust a few years ago, we had an interesting discussion about this issue of musical context. A very insightful student (whose name I unfortunately never learned) pointed out that these composers were of course not trained, and had no experience in, writing music in this specific situation – it is entirely possible that they simply wrote the music they knew how to write (what else could they do?), or were personally interested in writing. Perhaps this was their most comforting and in fact only possible response. This can not of course be entirely the case, since often the Terezin composers wrote textually based works which reflected their situations (the operas, settings of folk songs, especially Hebrew ones, etc.). However, it is a simple and perhaps reassuring response: composers stubbornly and persistently kept writing their own ideas in the face of horror, oppression and victimization.

*Another student pointed out that all composers, and artists, are products of their times and environments –Ives was a product of turn of the century New England, Grainger a product of Australia, Cage of mid-century New York. Is it then the extremity and the uniqueness of these composers' situation that makes the issue of reception more interesting, or is this a kind of "holocaust effect" exoticism? Another student thought the Klein example was simply atonal and ugly.

Experiment #2 Hans Eisler: Memorialization

<Play opening from Eisler's score for the film Nuit et Bruilliard>

<Second example: music from the gas chamber scene>

<Both examples are played without showing the film, and without saying what they are>

*The second piece of music's context is also interesting. It is music for film, from the famous 1951 work Nuit Et Bruillard (Night and Fog) by Alan Resnais, with music by the refugee composer Hans Eisler. By 1955 Eisler was not only a refugee from the germans, but had been deported from the U.S as well (for not testifying against his brother during the McCarthy hearings). It is telling and somewhat ironic that this film, which by the way never uses the word jew (as far as I can tell), talks about holocaust victims as "deportees," "inmates," "workers" etc.

*Eisler was an important composer and theorist in film and theater music, music and politics, and a number of other areas. For him, the disassociation that we hear in these examples (sweetly lyrical strings under the images of the gas chambers, for examples) is a film music technique. In his pioneering book Music for Film (recently published in a new english edition, from Cambridge Press [REFERENCE?] he lists it as one of the fundamental ways that music can and should relate to image–subverting it. This technique in Night and Fog has to do with what might be called parallellism as an aesthetic memorialization technique.

*Eisler referred to the use of music to offset, subvert and undercut dramatic imagery as "anti-catharticism," the use of a highly subdued musical language to recontextualize a more obvious visual image Compare this, for example, to the way John Williams emphasizes the images in the filmshoahSchindler's List by providing music which, though it may or may not really have anything to do with the images it accompanies, is directed at the kinds of associations people are likely to (even mistakenly) make with that music – much like associating Aaron Copland's music to Billy the Kid with the American west! However in Nuit et BruillardshoahEisler often resorts to direct or apparent contradiction, as in the solo violin with a great deal of vibrato over the nazi march near the beginning of the work, or the repeating string tune behind images and descriptions of the gas chambers

*In one of the few things (I've seen) written about Nuit et Brouillard, Royal Brown in his recent book Undertones and Overtones: Reading Film Music, says:

"Eisler's nonstop music for the film offers a perfect example of a non-narrativizing, non-mythologizing film score. ... Eisler's score does not even attempt to join with the visuals and the voice-over narration to create a closed off universe of consummated affect. Instead he wrote a score of chamber-like proportions... a solo flute and clarinet back the post title sequence, for instance – that moves parallel to the filmic and verbal texts. Occasionally dramatic, occasionaly sad, once or twice ironic (as in a brief reworking of "Duetschland Uber Alles" or the backing of shots of the german war machine with only a pizzicato violin and snare drum), Eisler's often rather pastorale music communicates on a visual level what Nuit et Brouillard often communicates in its visuals....

<Now show the film with these same two passages of music>

Musically representing shoah: parallelism and narrative

* Memorialization, and the problem of artistically representing shoah, has been much discussed, as in for example Young's discussion of holocaust memorials in public monuments and Freidlander's work on kitsch in certain film genres. The dictum that there is "no story in Auschwitz" and Adorno's statement that there can be no poetry after the shoah,shoahthough resonant and in some way true, are also invitations to keep working. Writers like Philip Roth and composers like John Zorn have based a great deal of their work on the implications of that statement for the next generation -- writing and composing about the very dilemma of being part of the generation whose culture is based on the ramifications of its horrifying immediate prehistory. Zorn and Roth both deal not with shoah but with growing up after it occurred. This is perhaps related to what Marianne Hirsch has called "post-memory." [Reference].

*Aesthetic parallelism, oblique aesthetic strategies dealing not with polarities of good and evil, but with a more humble acceptance of shoah as something that happened to people and was constructed by other people, seems to be a common and rather logical approach. In Maus, for example, germans are caricatured as cats, but the prisoners as mice. Wiesel, usually an extremely direct writer, accompanied his most well known novel Night ("a novel about Auschwitz") with the "parallel" Dawn, an equally disturbing novel. Levi embeds some of his finest writing (from a purely literary standpoint) about Auschwitz in The Periodic Table, in which the shoah is juxtaposed with other completely unrelated circumstances, and thus placed in the context of extroardinary human events, not in an unassailable context.

*This kind of parallelism allows the artist to avoid, among other things, a kind of narrative sentimentality that the facts of the shoah might impose, as well as the severity of shoah's impact on the integrity, coherence and resonance of story. As Young points out:

"The criterion for representing the Holocaust cannot just be propriety or awe, as would be appropriate in the face of a cult object.... Obsessive focus on the unspeakable and unrepresentable, as it was compellingly articulated by Elie Wiesel .... blocks that insight..."

Schoenberg: A Survivor from Warsaw

*By contrast, one of the most famous musical memorials, Schoenberg's A Survivor from Warsaw, is a rather conventional ("coherent") narrative confrontation of events. Opus 46, written over a two week span in 1947, like some of his other very late pieces (for example the Kol Nidre, but with the notable exception of the Violin Phantasy) is a very direct expression of his powerful (if idiosyncratic) identification with jewry and zionism which he developed after his arrival in the U.S.

*Survivor... takes a traditional narrative approach, though with elements of what I have been informally referring to as parallelism. The text is, according to Schoenberg " based partly upon reports which I have received directly or indirectly" and describes a kind of dream sequence of someone hiding in the sewers of the Warsaw ghetto; a few excerpts from the half page or so of text are given in the handout.

< text from Survivor... excerpt...>

*Even though I think that Survivor... is a more or less traditional (though brilliant and moving) approach to memorialization, the idea of parallelismshoahis noticeable in the careful and deliberate use of three languages: german, english and hebrew, each with a radically different musical connotation. For Schoenberg, language was crucial (even the title of this work suggests that, as does his use, for example, as I've pointed out elswehere, of the spelling for the Phantasy, his next work). Where Maus makes use of an actual species parallelism in the depiction of prisoners and guards as different animals; Schoenberg makes a linguistic distinction, replete with meaning (the narrator, the "survivor," speaks English).

*Schoenberg, being from an older tradition, confonts the narrative directly. One senses (from this work, but also from his life's work) that he doesn't acknowledge or accept in the possibility of the kind of aesthetic (and perhaps moral ) failure that might deter others (like the possibility of composing a kind of "Peter and the Wolf in shoah"). In fact Schoenberg, when targeted by the Nazis in the Entartete Musik exhibit (Opus 11 Drei Klavierstucke as a kind of headline of everything that was wrong with contemporary music), was surprised, because he considered his music to be the ontological embodiment of the german musical tradition! His traditional, almost heroic approach is in fact very much in the tradition of the music theoretic principals that nazi music theorists like Raabe described, even though Schoenberg to them was the ultimate modernist.

*Even the opening measures of ...Survivor... create a mood (with trumpet fanfare) markedly different from Eisler's musical ideas (in fact Eisler and Schoenberg had a long and notorious feud). Elsewhere, Schoenberg uses traditional orchestrational techniques, like the use of trumpets and percussion to evoke the army, and the trombone doubling the male chorus who are used only to sing the [mv or "Shema Yisroel." An interesting aspect of ...Survivor... , and an example of indirection and a form of parallelism is its row (or more accurately, the two hexachords which more or less comprise a row, as is so common in Schoenberg's later music), and the row's relationship to the [mv, the climactic melodic statement of the piece.

< play excerpts from Survivor...: the beginning, near the middle, and right before theshoahentrance of the sh'ma tune )

*Charles Heller, in his article on traditional jewish materials in Survivor... tries to show possibleshoahprovenances of the melody used for Schoenberg's [mv.

< musical example of the row, and the versions of thesh'ma>

< sing each one, show the construction of the row from his chromatic alteration of thesh'matune>

Reich: Different Trains

*More contemporary composers have often adopted a kind of deconstructionist, agressive approach to shoah. The aesthetic of the post-shoah generation, again in a kind of parallelism, has its own way of avoiding the impossible issue of depiction, of narrative. Typical of this are perhaps John Zorn's group Masada and the new musical "jewish renewal" and klezmorim movement. Zorn's approach is perhaps exemplified by his now famous performance of his Kristallnacht (and it seems that a great many composers have written pieces called that in the last 10 years) in Berlin, in which the audience was made to wait for over an hour in a windowless, hot, crowded hall with no chairs, without being told what was going on. His recent recordings with the band Masada take a less explicit approach, integrating what seem to be klezmer musical ideas in the context of the kind of experimental improvisation with which he is most comfortable.

*Other examples of recent musical memorialization are the piece "Shadrach," by the Beastie Boys, who might acccurately be called the best jewish rap group in the world; Captain Beefheart's earlier "Dachau Blues"; the work of Anthony Coleman, and frequent Zorn collaborator guitarist Marc Ribot's underground hit "Yo, We Killed Your God." These younger composers and musicians are not afraid to adopt a kind of "in your face" aesthetic, playing with inter-generational concepts of tragedy and guilt in a strangely disarming but effective way. The annual Festival of Radical Jewish Music in New York (founded by Zorn) is notable in the range of expression and directness of reference to shoah.

*These contemporary musical memorials perhaps represent an unexpected approach to Young's statement that post-holocaust generations employ a:

"mimetic approximation, a nmemonic strategy which recognizes the event in its otherness and beyond inentifcation or theraputic empathy but which physically relieves some of the horror and the pain in the slow and persistent labor of remembrance." (Young)

*Steve Reich, one of the pioneers of minimalism and electro-acoustic music in this country, and also a composer to whom jewish identity and religion are extremely important, has adopted a different approach in his famous work Different Trains. This piece depends almost completely, and explicitly on this notion of parallelism: parallelism of sounds, of languages, of eras.

*It is interesting and somewhat ironic that Reich employs a technique in this piece, that of music imitating speech sounds and melodies, that was one of the fundamental ideas of the Czech composer Janácek, who referred to it as "nápevky mluvy´" or "speech melody" (Beckerman). Reich also uses this technique it in his later multi-media work The Cave. Janácek implored composers to "write down voice rhythms" and use them as melodic and rhythmic material, strangely linking Reich to the Terezin composers (like Klein) who were so influenced by Janacek. [This connection to the Terezin composers is coincidental – when I mentioned it to Reich in a personal conversation, he said that although he knows Janacek's music well, he wasn't aware of the relationship to Klein, Haas, Ullman, and Krasa].shoahReich has acknowledged Janacek's ideas specifically in relation to The Cave.

*Different Trains is a sonic representation of a number of train trips, including ones that Reich took as a child at about the time of the shoah, as part of a divorced, bi-coastal family. Sonic imagery (train sounds, voices, the string quartet, which follows exactly the melodic contours of the voices) is mixed with train sounds of Europe, recollections of survivors, and American porters (and Reich's own nanny). Each of the work's three sections is about a different time, a different place (Europe, America, after the war).

*Different Trains of what might be called the "it could have been me aesthetic," something which the post-shoahwriter Phillip Roth exploits to tremendous effect in the Zuckerman novels, particularly inshoahThe Counterlife, and The Ghost Writer (part of the Zuckerman trilogy) where Zuckerman meets and has a strange romantic attraction to a woman who turns out actually to be Anne Frank. Roth (like Reich) deals with the culture inherited from shoah, rather than the direct experience of shoah. It could be said that Roth (and Reich) and to some extent Speigelman, write(or composing) about something distinct from Weisel, Levi (and Schoenberg): the experience of growing up in the previous generation's experience. Where Roth and Speigelman use dark humour, Reich, uses suggestive train sounds and unusual samples. In Different Trains Reich's sounds themselves are the historical referrents, abstracted and interestingly recontextualized by the use of the string quartet to imitate vocal inflections and natural speech melodies.

< play musical excerpt: short example from Different Trains>

Mayn Rue Platz ()

* Folk and widely-known prayer-music have an essential function in the music discussed here, from Ullman's use of german tunes ("Deutschland Uber Alles" and "Eine Feste Borg...") to Schoenberg's central use of the sh'ma and even Zorn's frequent use of hebrew and yiddish melodies and quotes.

*In the study of music in and of shoah, it is of course important not to overlook, for lack of a better phrase, the folk music of the resistance, and the songs that had wide currency thoughout European jewry and which are essential toshoahmusical of memorializations. The hebrew song "Ani Ma'amin" ("I believe") is often cited as the most widely sung of resistance, in interesting relationship to "Ha Tikvah"'s current status as a kind of universal musical memory/experience. The latter, for example, is often sung by the audience at the end of Terezin Foundation concerts, perhaps symbolically expressing a perceived change from the tradition of ha'shanah ha'baahshoahto that of "ha'shanah ha'zeh"

*The song I would like to perform, as a kind of coda to this talk, is called "Mayn Rue Platz" (, "My Resting Place"... in Hebrew, "Makom Minoochati"). One of my favorite songs, it is often cited (perhaps mistakenly) as one of the most popular and widely known and sung Yiddish resistance song (although as Flam make clear in her book Singing for Survival: Music of the Lodz Ghetto, musical traditions were often localized and extremely isolated by the circumstances of the shoah). It is not a resistance song per se but a lament, in fact, a love song placed in the context of oppression. The text is written by M. Rosenfeld, a New York poet. I am unclear how or how much it could have been known in Europe during the war – a subject I hope to research in the near future – so I have no notion at this point about its contemporary relationship to the events themsleves. However, it was one of the standard klezmer "ballads," and has continued to live in the klezmer revival as an important tune for groups to play, so for that reason alone it is worth mentioning here.

The song's structure is remarkable. The first three verses are from one lover to another describing where he (she) can't be found ("where myrtles grow" [mirtn grinen], "where birds sing" [feygl singen], "where fountains spray" [fontanen spritzen]) and where he/she can ..., ("at machines" [bay mashinen], "where chains sound" [keytn klingen], "where tears are shed and teeth gnash" [trern rinen tseyner kritsn]). The fourth, last verse asks the lover to simply "come ... and bring solace to my resting place" using a kind of parallelism and narrative structure common to much folk music.

* Unlike the Hebrew tunes I've mentioned, this yiddish tune is characteristically not in the harmonic minor (like "Ani Ma'amin") but modal, creating a wonderful ambiguity between the Em/G relationship (aeolian/major) through the use of the minor v chord of Em as the regular three chord of G major. The final cadence (where the leading tone of Em might be used in the V chord) is often played as minor, or simply without a third, stressing the ambiguity. Another common variation on this lovely waltz, which we will not do today, is to insert two measures of 2/4 meter at the end for near the cadence, disrupting the metrical regularity in a way typical of yiddish and klezmer music.

*Although this tune could be certainly called "sentimental" it is full of a kind of irony and word play ("mortn grinen, feygl singen, kleytn klingen") which, like Survivor..., makes it extremely powerful and universal, irrespective of its social context.

<performance example: "...Rue Platz">


*A preliminary attempt at defining what the study of music in and about shoah might consist of

*Introduction to some of the important and explempary pieces of art music in and about shoah

*The idea of musical parallelism as a way of portraying the unportrayable


References (incomplete)

Beastie Boys. "Shadrach." From Paul's Boutique CD.

Beckerman, Michael. Janácek as Theorist. Studies in Czech Music No. 3. Stuyvesant, NY: Pendragon Press. 1994.

Brown, Royal S. Overtones and Undertones: Reading Film Music. University of California Press. 1994.

Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band. "Dachau Blues." Trout Mask Replica.Reprise CD 2027-2

Flam, Gila. Singing for Survival: Songs of the Lodz Ghetto 1940-5. University of Illinois Press. 1992.

Grabs, Manfred, editor. Hanns Eisler: A Rebel in Music. New York:International Publishers. 1978.

Haas, Pavel. Musica Rediviva. Blaserquintett Op. 10, Suite für Klavier, Op. 13, and other works. Orfeo. CD.

Heller, Charles. "Traditional Jewish Material in Schoenberg's A Survivor from Warsaw, Op. 46. " Journal of the Arnold Schoenberg Institute. III/1:69-74. March, 1979.

Karas, Joza. Music in Terezin, 1941-45. Stuyvesant, NY: Pendragon Press. 1985.

Klein, Gideon. String Trio. On Silenced Voices. CD.

Reich, Steve. Different Trains. Nonsesuch. CD.

Ribot, Marc. "Yo We Killed Your God".

Ringer, Alexander. Arnold Schoenberg: The Composer as Jew. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1990.

Schoenberg, Arnold. A Survivor from Warsaw. Op. 46, (Score and CD).

Ullman, Victor. Der Kaiser Von Atlantis (The Emperor of Atlantis). London. CD.

Vinkovetsky, A., Kovner, A., and Leichter, S. editors. Anthology of Yiddish Folksongs. Volumes 1-4. Jerusalem: Mount Scopus Publications. 1987.

Young, James. Holocaust Memorials...


"Hitler Builds a City for the Jews".

Resnais, Alain, director. Nuit et Brouillard ("Night and Fog"). Music by Hanns Eisler, commentary by Jean Cayrol. Argus Films. 1955.


Text Excerpts:

Narrator's Text from A Survivor from Warsaw

Arnold Schoenberg

Op. 46


"I cannot remember ev'rything! I must have been unconscious [most] of the time ...! I remember only the grandiose moment when they all started to sing, as if prearranged, the old prayer they had neglected for so many years – the forgotten creed!

But I have no recollection how I got underground to live in the sewers of Warsaw for so long a time...


<4th Paragraph>

The trumpets again. "Get out! The sergeant will be furious!" They came out; some very [slowly], the old ones, the sick ones, some with nervous agility. They fear the sergeant. They hurry as much as they can. In vain! Much too much noise, much too much commotion! And not fast enough!

The Feldwebel shouts, ,,Achtung! Silljestanden! Na wird's mal, oder soll ich mit dem Jewehrkolben nachelfen? Na jut: wenn ihr's curchaus haben wollt!"


<Last two paragraphs>

They started slowly, and irregularly: one, two, three, four, ,, Achtung!" ...

They began again, first slowly: one, two, three, four, became faster and faster, so fast that it finally sounded like a stampede of wild horses, and [all] of a sudden, in the middle of it, they began singing the SCHeMA YISRO L.

<Male chorus enters>



Nit zukh mikh dort vu mirtn grinen,

Gefinst mikh dortn nit, mayn shats!

Vu lebns velkn bay mashinen,

Dortn iz mayn rueplats..


Nit zukh mikh dort vu feygl zingen,

Gefinst mikh dortn nit, mayn shats!

A shklaf bin ikh — vu keytn klingen,

Dortn iz mayn rueplats..


Nit zukh mikh vu vu fontanen shpritsn,

Gefinst mikh dortn nit, mayn shats!

Vu trern rinen, tseyner kritsn,

Dortn iz mayn rueplats..

Un libstu mikh mit varer libe;;

To kum mit mir, mayn guter shats,

Un hayter oyf mayn harts, mayn tribn,

Un makh mir zis mayn rueplats!



Music of the Holocaust: "Possible Topics"

Polansky, November 14, 1994

Revised, April 28, 1996

Music of the Pre-Holocaust

*The contemporary "problem": Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Krenek, Hindemith, Eisler, Bartok

*Schoenberg's Opus 11, Stravinsky's Histoire du Soldat: what's wrong with this music?

*older problems: Mahler and Mendelssohn

*"solutions": Wagner ("Das Judentum in der Musik" (1869)), Bruckner, Strauss (?)

Music of the Ghettos and the Resistance

*music as spiritual release, community mechanism

*sources: Gila Flam's work on the Lodhz ghetto; various anthologies of ghetto and resistance songs

*sonic icons: "Ani Ma-amin", "Ha Tikvah," "Mayn Ruen Platz"

*cultural makeup of the ghettos (classical musicians, klezmorim, choirs, cantorial and liturgical traditions)

*the consciousness of remembrance and testimony

Music of the Camps

*Terezin composers:Ullman, Klein, Klasa, Haar; how to listen to this music?

*Joseph Karas' memoires of Terezin

*the multiple functions of music in the camps (propaganda, community, and a third, less easy to identify, which I would call: "unavoidability")

*example: Eichmann and the Terezin performance of the Verdi Requiem.

*Messaien's Quartet for the End of Time

Music of the Nazis

*the politics of aethetics (contemporary analogies)

*what is music? what is "volk" music?

*Entartete Musik/Entartete "people"

*Goebbels, Raabe, and the "music of the nazis"

Music of the Post-Holocaust

*the aesthetics questions: how to remember (examples: James Young, Schoenberg, the Topography of Terror" )

*is memory the important issue (e.g Roth)

*Eisler and Resnais: the aesthetic of understatement (c.f John Williams?)

*the relationship question, and ideas of "ownership," aesthetic techniques (e.g Reich): what does it mean to adopt the aesthetic of "it might have been me"?

*important examples: Schoenberg (1947): Survivor from Warsaw; Shostakovich (1962): Babi Yar, Reich (1988): Different Trains; Zorn (ca. 1990): Krystalnacht (and the band Masada, the new klezmorim, and the radical Jewish music festivals at the Knitting Factory).