A Program of Music by Jewish Composers, 1891-1970

In pre-World War II German society, Jews took full part in the creative life of the culture. Although there were restrictions on Jews as a group (for example, membership in certain organizations was regularly forbidden to Jews), individuals were free to pursue their creative, educational and professional endeavors, resulting in a highly assimilated German Jewish population. The result of this assimilation was to produce artists who were proud of both their Jewish identities as well as their nationalities. During World War I, Jews initially fought gladly for their country, happy for the opportunity to demonstrate their patriotism. At the same time, Jewish cultural societies, student groups, and synagogues flourished, signifying a strong sense of Jewish identity within the dominant German culture. The rise of Nazism, however, made clear that Europe’s history of anti-Semitism was a far less distant memory than it had seemed to assimilated German Jews.
The composers on this program represent Jews from across the spectrum of observance, but because of the Nazi program of systematic persecution of all Jews (in Germany as well as the countries they invaded), these individuals were turned into a monolithic, generic and stereotyped mass. It was no longer possible for them to be both German and Jewish, and in this way the Nazis silenced some of the most gifted voices in their artistic world. Their stories are unique as are their compositions, and some have gone largely unheard due to the success of the Nazi suppression of their art. For example, Robert Kahn wrote over 200 songs, but since he was no longer allowed to publish his music after 1933, these songs as well as his other compositions languish in obscurity, most not even available in the U.S. In this program I seek to tell the stories of these individuals, and let their unique voices be heard.

Soprano Caroline Helton has put together an intriguing program of music by European Jewish composers whose lives were upended by the Holocaust. The program is attractively diverse and includes songs written by German, Austrian, Czech, and French composers who were compelled to leave their homes for England, the United States, or Canada as the forces of National Socialism engulfed much of continental Europe. The music spans almost 80 years, from the early songs of Robert Kahn, written in the 1890s to Oskar Morawetz's From the Diary of Anne Frank, premiered in Toronto in 1970. The pieces are stylistically diverse, ranging from the lyrical post-Romanticism of the songs by Kahn, Kurt Weill, and Erich Korngold to the astringent modernism of Morawetz's ambitious 18-minute setting. The music recorded here does not reflect a specifically Jewish cultural identity, meaning in general the use of folk traditions associated with Eastern European Jewish communities, but the five songs from Milhaud's Poëmes juifs, Op. 34, composed in 1916, use anonymous texts with Jewish themes. The highlight of the program is Korngold's inventive and generously melodic five-song cycle, Unvergänglichkeit (Immortality), Op. 27, written in 1934. Its depth and substance are sad reminders that Korngold's forced exile meant the end of his career as a composer of "serious" classical music. Also especially memorable is Weill's Youkali from 1933, a melancholy "tango habanera" written in the cabaret style characteristic of his collaborations with Bertolt Brecht. Pianist Kathryn Goodson accompanies Helton on this appealing release

Produced by Dr. Stephen Lancaster
Recorded, mixed, and mastered at the Duderstadt Center Audio Studio, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, March 2010
Mary Simoni and David Greenspan, engineers
With assistance from Block M Records Interns (PAT 100/300)

Voices of the Holocaust
Block M Records 027

Caroline Helton, soprano
Kathryn Goodson, piano
Kurt Weill : Ofrah's Lieder
  1 No. 1, In meinem Garten stehn zwei Rosen 2:25
  2 No. 5, Nur dir fürwahr, mein stolzer Aar 1:20
Robert Kahn  
  3 Ständchen, Op. 12, No. 2 3:03
  4 's ist ein so stiller, heil'ger Tag, Op. 27, No. 2 2:08
  5 Mädchenlied, Op. 22, No. 1 1:00
  6 Leise Lieder sing' ich dir bei Nacht, Op. 31, No. 5 3:11
  7 Der Gärtner, Op. 16, No. 1 1:31
Erich Wolfgang Korngold  
  8 No. 1, Unvergänglichkeit 2:39
  9 No. 2, Das eilende Bächlein 1:50
10 No. 3, Das schlafende Kind 2:27
11 No. 4, Stärler als der Tod 2:01
12 No. 5, Unvergänglichkeit 2:52
Darius Milhaud  
13 No. 1, Chant de Nourrice 4:54
14 No. 3, Chant du Laboureur 2:23
15 No. 4, Chant de la Pitié 3:38
16 No. 6, Chant d'Amour 1:31
17 No. 7, Chant de Forgeron 1:38
Oskar Morawetz  
18 From the Diary of Anne Frank 18:14
Kurt Weill  
19 Youkali 5:53