July 18, 2007

The Terezin Ghetto children's opera Brundibar in a new English recording

From Cesky Rozhlas/Radio Praha:

It is quite possible that you will have heard Hans Krasa's famous children's opera Brundibar, but it is less likely that you will have heard it performed in English. Naxos has now come out with a first English language recording.

We recently featured music by Hans Krasa on Encore, and as we mentioned then, he is, tragically, best known today not for his enormous musical gifts, but for the fact that, like many gifted Czech and German Jewish musicians, he was transported during the German occupation to the ghetto in Terezin (Theresienstadt) , and later to Auschwitz, where he perished.

The children's opera Brundibar was staged 55 times in Terezin by the children imprisoned there. It is chilling to think that the cast had to be renewed constantly as a growing number of the children were transported to Auschwitz. The performance on this CD is by a group called Music of Remembrance, along with the Northwest Boys Choir - Joseph Crnko, director - from Seattle. Lovely music, and nicely written for children it was composed just before Krasa's internment.

Amazingly Krasa did continue writing music in the appalling conditions of Terezin, and the CD also includes his Overture for Small Orchestra, written for the players he had at his disposal in the ghetto - that is 2 clarinets, 2 trumpets, 4 violins, 2 violas, 2 cellos and piano. There are reports from survivors that the Nazi commandants pushed him to write this as an overture to Brundibar, which was hugely popular among the prisoners, because the Nazis thought that, to be a proper opera, Brundibar needed an overture. As it uses themes from the opera, this is not unlikely.