SILENCED COMPOSERS

by jenniferlbryce

A couple of years ago I wrote about composer Messiaen’s, The End of Time, written while incarcerated in a German prisoner of war camp during World War II. Last week, the Australian National Academy of Music (ANAM) reminded us of the music of those composers who did not survive – composers who were Jewish victims of Nazism. Three of these composers were in their 40s when they died/ were murdered, and one was only 26. We can only know their early and mid-career music, and must imagine what they might have created had they lived their natural life-spans.

All of the music in this concert was for wind instruments, some also with piano. The first piece was a wind quintet by Pavel Haas, written when he was in his early twenties, some years before the war. Although I play a wind instrument, I sometimes don’t like the medium of wind quintet – the winds, I feel, need support from a more flexible, perhaps forgiving timbre, maybe a ‘cello. But in the case of Haas’s Wind Quintet Opus 10, the medium seems absolutely right. For example in the first movement (Preludio) the clarinet and oboe play a short driving rhythm beneath the soaring melodic flute. There is delightful playfulness in a Ballo Eccentrico movement. Much of the music in this concert was joyous, written well before awareness of the dark days to come.

There were two pieces by Erwin Schulhoff who, the program tells us, was a child prodigy pianist. At the outbreak of WWII he tried to resettle in the Soviet Union, but was arrested in Prague. We first heard Schulhoff’s Divertissement for oboe, clarinet and bassoon, written in 1927 and redolent with jazz chords and rhythms – there is a movement entitled Charleston. Then, after interval, a flute sonata also written in 1927, which displayed the superb playing of guest flautist Silvia Careddu, who, among many other posts, is principal flute in the Wiener Symphoniker.

Although Leo Smit’s Sextet for five winds and piano was written in 1933, this was its Australian première. Smit studied in Amsterdam and was influenced by the composers known as ‘Les Six’, particularly Francis Poulenc. The structure is traditional: three movements, Allegro Vivace, Lento and Vivace. I loved the first movement – a bouncing rhythm, sustained by the piano, then in the slow movement there is a beautiful oboe solo, with, perhaps, fleeting touches of Cole Porter. The final movement is another energetic vivace.

The concert finished with a wind octet (two each of oboes, clarinets, bassoons and horns) by Gideon Klein who, the programs tells us, had to turn down a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music, London, because of restrictions on travel for Jewish people. Undoubtedly, if Klein had been able to take up this scholarship he would have survived. Instead, he was deported to Terezin, a concentration camp in north-eastern Czechoslovakia – a propaganda tool to look like safe, modern accommodation, but it was a staging post to extermination camps such as Auschwitz, where Klein’s life was ended.