HOLOCAUST - A Music Memorial Film from Auschwitz

Award-Winning Musical Film on DVD by the Auschwitz Museum
BBC co-production with Canada's CBC, Poland's TVP, and Germany's ZDF channels in association with Czech TV
Commemorate the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. The film followed three survivors from the concentration camp who were forced to perform music for SS and Nazi officers in the camp's orchestras and bands.
90 minutes
Requiem - Introitus
Kate Royal
- soprano solo
Camerata Silesia
Sinfonietta Cracovia conducted by John Axelrod
The Introitus of Mozart's Requiem establishes the film as a memorial to the dead from the very beginning.  Mozart's music is transcendent and universal, as are the words of this particular section of the Requiem Mass.  At this point we also establish the enormous disused armaments factory, built by the inmates of Auschwitz who were sent to labour there too, as the location for the orchestra in the film.  The American conductor John Axelrod, who is Jewish, is the principal conductor of the orchestra who come from the city of Krakow, 100km from Auschwitz.

Waltz in C sharp major (Opus 6 No 2)
Mazurka in A minor (Opus 34 No 2)
Emanuel Ax
- piano
When the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, the last sound to be heard on Polish national radio was the music of Frederick Chopin.  The Jewish American pianist Emanuel Ax is one of the world's most accomplished performers of Chopin.

Different Trains - mvt II "Europe - During the War"

The Smith Quartet and pre-recorded tape featuring the voices of Holocaust survivors, sound effects and two pre-recorded string quartets.
Written in 1988, Reich's quartet is one of the most evocative pieces written in connection with the Holocaust.  At the start of the Quartet, the Jewish American composer (who will turn 70 next year) recalls jouneys by train with his governess in America during the 1940s.  In the second movement (performed for the film) he imagines the very different trains he might have found himself on had he been living in Europe at that time.  In characteristic style, the piece uses small, repeated snippets of taped voices of Holocaust survivors, recorded during the 1970s.  Two additional pre-recorded string quartets are also played off tape (both pre-recorded by the Smith Quartet in this performance), along with various sound effects of trains.  Coupled with the ever-pervasive "paradiddle" rhythms of trains played by the live musicians, the music creates a kind of documentary collage.  The Smith Quartet, all of whom are British, have been performing this work for some years.

El Male Rachamim from the Jewish liturgy
Cantor Steven Leas

A lament for the dead sung in Hebrew and adapted in a special version here for use in remembering victims of the Holocaust.  The same prayers is often sung in the Anglo-Jewish community on memorial occasions.  The musical arrangement, incorporating solo clarinet, was written specially for the filn by Geoff Ellerby.

Marche Militaire
Sinfonietta Cracovia
Schubert's Marche Militaire is known to be just one of many marches played by the orchestras of Auschwitz.  It was specially performed for the film by the Sinfonietta Cracovia using an orchestration that could have resembled that of the camp's orchestras.  We hear it in part in the film, and in the background.

Symphony No. 3 "Symphony of Sorrowful Songs", mvt II
Sinfonietta Cracovia
conducted by John Axelrod
Isabel Bayrakdarian -
soprano solo
A prominent living Polish composer, Gorecki comes from the city of Katowice which is not far from Auschwitz.  The Symphony of Sorrowful Songs is one of his best known works, based on poetry connecting with the theme of motherhood.  The text of the second movement, heard in the film, comes from a message found inscribed on a Gestapo prison cell wall in 1944 by an 18 old-year girl, Helena Wanda Blazusiakowna.  The Canadian-Armenian soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian gives a powerful performance of the music, not least given that the snowy conditions in which she sings in the film are real.

Gypsy Lament
Iva Bittova
The liquidation of huge numbers of gypsies in Auschwitz is honoured with this song, composed by a gypsy widow who lost her family in Auschwitz.  It is sung in Romani by the Czech singer Iva Bittova who specialises in the performance of gypsy music, even though she is not of Roma descent herself.

Quartet for the End of Time - mvt II - Vocalise for the Angel who announces the end of time
Ian Humphries -
Deirdre Cooper - cello
David Krakauer - clarinet
Martin Roscoe - piano
Messiaen famously wrote his Quartet for the End of Time whilst interned in a German prison camp that was situated, like Auschwitz, in what is now southern Poland.  Among his fellow prisoners there were a clarinettist, a violinist and a cellist.  Messiaen was suffering from extreme malnutrition and was inspired by visions of the beginning of eternity.  It was first performed in 1941, in the same camp, in front of 5000 fellow prisoners.  Of this second movement of the Quartet, Messiaen wrote: "The first and third parts (very short) evoke the power of this mighty angel, a rainbow upon his head and clothed with a cloud, who sets one foot on the sea and one foot on the earth. In the middle section are the impalpable harmonies of heaven. In the piano, sweet cascades of blue-orange chords, enclosing in their distant chimes the almost plainchant song of the violin and violoncello".

The Emperor of Atlantis - excerpt - The Emperor's Farewell and closing scene
Iwona Hossa -
soprano solo
Tove Dahlberg - mezzo-soprano
Edgaras Montvidas - tenor
Gerald Finley - baritone
Sinfonietta Cracovia conducted by John Axelrod
The Czech composer Viktor Ullmann was one of a handful of composers imprisoned in the Terezin concentration camp near Prague and later transported to Auschwitz.  He wrote his opera "The Emperor of Atlantis" in Terezin but, as soon as the camp authorities realised that it was a thinly disguised allegory of Nazi genocide, rehearsals were banned and it was never performed in Ullmann's lifetime.  In the opera, the City of Atlantis, ruled by Emperor Uberall, is a place that advocates war against all.  Life and Death (both personified in the opera) have lost their normal meaning.  Death has gone on strike and thousands of people are unable to die.  At the end of the opera, the Emperor is confronted by Death who agrees to resume his duties if the Emperor agrees to die.  The Emperor concedes - as this is the only hope for humanity - and the aria we hear in the film is his last farewell.  Finally, four characters from the opera sing a darkly-scored quartet based on the famous Lutheran chrorale Ein Feste Burg:  they extoll the dignity of normal death and the lesson that thou "shalt not take the name of death in vain".

David Krakauer -
solo klesmer clarinet
Michael Ward-Bergeman - hyper-accordion
brass and shofars (played by members of the Sinfonietta Cracovia)
Commissioning a piece specially for this film was always an integral part of its conception.  The Argentine-Jewish composer Osvaldo Golijov, who lives and works in Boston, Massachusetts, came up with a fitting and strong idea:  a ritualistic piece to be performed outdoors by klesmer solo clarinet, brass, a special type of accordion and 12 shofars (antelope horns played in synagogue at certain Jewish festivals).  The word "Tekyah" is Hebrew for the particular type of shofar "call" that you hear towards the end of the music.  Golijov has written the following about the piece:  "The music is built of very simple gestures and elements.  I wanted "Tekyah" to be the music equivalent of those memorial services that consist of a simple naming of the dead.  This enumeration of names accumulates power by repetition, always slightly different.  So, "Tekyah" is this simple "naming litany" of "almost the same" motives that slowly metamorphose from the shofars' ritual blasts.   The accordion glissandi evoke for me the trains of death, the sirens (specifically the siren I heard in Jerusalem every memorial day calling for a minute of silence) and, at the same time, the refracted shofars that will be heard later, at the end of the piece.  The clarinet's motifs are the prayerful reading of names, each symbolising a being that once lived.  The brass chorale is the "chorus" of the dead unsilenced.  The shofars are many things, but I hear in them a primal howl of pain and at the same time the affirmation of Hitler's defeat, in this very place after all."

Maxim Vengerov
- solo violin
Bach's mighty Chaconne is known to have been an occasional audition piece for the orchestras of Auschwitz.  But above this, perhaps no music is more powerfully redemptive or symbolic of the surival of the human spirit than that of J S Bach.  Maxim Vengerov's final walk, whilst playing, at the end of the film (out of the infirmary and in the opposite direction along the so-called "barbed-wire corridor" to which people were forced to walk to their deaths) is intended as a redemptive act - a walk that finally takes us out of the camp and is symbolic of the survival of humanity.