Shoah for Solo Violin and Sacred Temple

What makes the soul shrink?

Friedl Dicker-Brandeis (1898–1944) filled up two suitcases with nearly four thousand and five hundred drawings made between 1942 and 1944 by children to whom she taught clandestinely   at the Terezín ghetto. She made her pupils see that drawing was a means of communication, and, furthermore, it turned out to have a therapeutic effect on them. That collection of drawings is all that remains of those children’s souls. I felt fortunate in that those souls as a whole made me cry and in feeling an urgent need to write music so that they are never forgotten.

 

Why did I write the partita?

It usually happens that, after a sorrowful incident, a commemorative event takes place. It also often happens that a homage of that sort includes music as a means of emotional communication. On such occasions, it is very common that the music is interpreted by a soloist. A cellist sometimes. Other times, a violinist. Often, at this kind of ceremonies, music written in the baroque is used. And rather frequently, music by Bach is chosen. Lastly, as a general rule, different movements from his partitas are used.

 

What most people don’t know is that, in the baroque, music hadn’t yet reached its highest degree of emotional expression, at least as we know it nowadays. It is also unknown by a great majority that a partita is composed of a collection of dances. Allemande, corrente, sarabande, bourrée, jig, gavotte, and chaconne are some of the dances which may be part of the aforementioned kind of suite. It is obvious that Bach did not write those dances with the aim of stirring people’s emotions. Much has been said about the Chaconne in D minor. It has been speculated that Bach, at some point between 1718 and 1720, placed his notes on the stave after returning from a trip and finding that his wife, Maria Barbara, had died. But the master of masters did not write music as an emotional vehicle to the enjoyment of art, but as part of his civic or religious task, as a Lutheran organist. His music transmits indescriptible emotions of great sensitivity, and yet its expressiveness is not comparable to that of music in later romanticism. It is not a matter of limitation, but of styles and ways of writing with different purposes. Moreover, Bach was far from imagining the barbarity which lay ahead of the human race in the twenty-first century.

 

Even though a sarabande or a gavotte may be performed at a slow tempo, it seems rather inappropriate to use dance music as a way of lifting up the spirituality of the soul to remembrance. It has been done though. It has been performed. And it will keep being performed in situations surrounded by all-encompassing sadness. Because, among other things, and although Bach’s music transcends spirituality and is written to the glory of God, most grievers are usually paying attention to their memories.

 

However, I felt the need to write music which would straight honor the Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust because I believed that I might recall their presence out of emotion. Therefore, it is not about having a violinist showing off his or her virtuosity, oblivious to the feeling of sadness or evocation. It is not, either, a partita in the strict sense of a suite of dances. Movements and tonality don’t correspond. There is no alternation between fast and slow movements. Lastly, it is not a matter of lifting up violin music to summits dreamt of by Ysaÿe. Absolutely not.

 

We have been so fortunate as to have the 1691 “Auer” Stradivarius at our disposal, courtesy of Mr and Mrs Dubois from the Canimex Group, made at a time where Bach was still alive, and which was once owned by Leopold Auer, who was the original dedicatee of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto and one of the greatest exponents of the Russian school of violin pedagogy. This fact has given the work you are about to listen to a higher emotional meaning, at least from my point of view, which is that of a humble music writer.

 

Also, the fact of having the violinist Vicente Cueva by my side during the process of writing the music, has led it to the category of playable, whereas Auer rejected premiering Tchaikovsky’s piece because of its “unplayableness”. I am not a violinist. Nor was Tchaikovsky. So if Tchaikovsky and Brahms needed a violinist to make their works playable, I have even more so needed one myself for this partita. I say this in all sincerity and humility.

It is probable that, at the time this text was written -February, 2017-, we may be faced with the longest violin solo work in human history. This does not make it better than the worst dance written by the Master, but it does increase the difficulty in the violinist’s endeavor to keep up the highest spirituality for over fifty-six minutes. Such a considerable length of time filled with just a naked violin might displease any listener, regardless of his or her desire for spiritual union with the soul of the deceased. And, as if this were not enough, the fact of holding that state of sadness for such a length of time is not something that a performer can overcome without psychological, technical and physical training.

 

I have tried to have Bach’s presence in a subliminal way while writing this work. I have also tried to take Jewish music in my heart so that it mixes with my way of writing music. Therefore, it is not a suite of dances. Quite the opposite, it is a suite of memories of abominable events.

 

Everything we did not do, but that ought to make us feel permanently ashamed.

I. Yom HaShoah

It is the Day of Commemoration of the Holocaust in Israel. On that day, at 10 am, the air raid sirens sound. People embrace silence and transportation comes to a halt. On motorways, drivers get off their vehicles and stand up while the sound propagates through the air they breathe.

 

Sobibór is an extermination camp located in Poland, near the village of the same name.  Nearly two hundred and fifty thousand Jews were killed there. Almost every Jew who arrived in Sobibór was immediately executed. Upon arrival they were informed that they were just passing through on their way to other working camps; before they would embark again they had to take a shower and disinfect their clothes. Men were separated from women and children. They ought to undress and hand all their valuables over. Then they were forced to run towards the gas chambers while blows, screams and warning shots hailed down on them.

 

Every time, between four hundred and fifty and five hundred and fifty Jews were crowded inside the chambers, which were afterward hermetically sealed, and poisonous gas was injected through the tubes. About thirty minutes later all of them were dead. Work units made up of other Jews, known as Sonderkommando, took the bodies away, removed all the gold teeth and disposed of the corpses.

 

Between July and August, 1943 a group of prisoners led by Leon Feldhendler organized themselves clandestinely. Their plan was to formulate an uprising and a massive escape. By late September, Soviet prisoners of war arrived in the camp from Minsk. Among them was lieutenant Aleksander Pechersky, who was designated as commander of the clandestine group, with Feldhendler as second-in-command. The plan was to kill the SS soldiers, seize their weapons and fight until they made it out of the camp. The uprising took place on October 14, 1943. The prisoners killed eleven SS personnel and a great number of Ukrainian guards. Approximately three hundred prisoners managed to escape, but a great part of them were captured and assassinated. The prisoners who had not taken part in the escape were also killed in retaliation. Around fifty fugitives lived through the war. They ran for their lives towards the unattainable horizon, at the same time witnessing the bullets take the life of those who, like them, sought freedom.

 

II. Getto Warszawskie

It was November, 1940. Nearly four hundred and fifty thousand Jews were confined to the Warsaw Ghetto. It was indeed the largest ghetto in Europe. Jewish people were forced to wear a white armband with a blue Star of David. Surrounded by walls built with their own hands under the surveillance of strict and violent guards, the Jews of Warsaw were isolated from the outside world. Inside the ghetto their lives would oscillate between a hopeless struggle for survival and death by disease or starvation. Life conditions were unbearable. An average of six or seven people lived in just one room, and food portions only represented one tenth of the necessary daily intake. Economic activity in the ghetto was minimal and generally illegal, the smuggling of food predominated. The individuals who participated in such activities or had some savings were able to survive much longer in the ghetto.

 

However, the ghetto walls could not silence the cultural activities of their inhabitants, and, in spite of the terrible life conditions, artists and intellectuals went on with their creative endeavors. Moreover, Nazi occupation and deportation to the ghetto served as an incentive to the artists and encouraged them to find some form of expression to portray the destruction which pervaded their world. In the ghetto, there were clandestine libraries, subterranean archives, youth movements and even a symphonic orchestra. Books, study, music and theater served as an escape from the harsh realities of life around them and as a reminder of their previous lives.

 

The densely populated ghetto turned into a focal point of epidemics and mass mortality. To such a extent that institutions within the Jew community like the Judenrat or the charitable organizations were unable to counteract them.

 

Thus, while a girl sitting on the floor, stiff with cold, held her already dead brother in her arms, people would pass by, struggling to survive. This is not a figment of one’s imagination. It is part of a series of silent film stills depicting daily life, and they are available on the Internet for everyone to see.

III. Terezín Through the Eyes of the Children

This is how the idea for the partita originated. In order to celebrate our silver wedding anniversary, my wife presented me with a vacation in Prague. We visited the Jewish Museum, where we saw an exhibition by the name “Children’s Drawings from the Terezín Ghetto”. Nazi propaganda, to mark the visit of the Danish Red Cross, filmed the concentration camp in a way that would depict life there as sheltering, protecting, safeguarding. Work, concerts, education, clothes, cleanliness, leisure. Everything was thoroughly set up.

 

When reports on extermination camps came to light, the nazis decided to submit Theresienstadt to an investigating commission by the International Red Cross. In preparation for the visit, more deportations to Auschwitz took place with the aim of reducing overcrowding. Fake stores were opened, a cafeteria, a bank, a school, kindergartens and the like, and flower gardens were planted all over the place. After the visit, the nazis produced a propaganda film about the new life of Jewish people under the auspices of the Third Reich. When the filming ended, most of the actors, including nearly all the independent leaders and the majority of the children, were sent to the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

 

As I already mentioned above, Friedl Dicker-Brandeis (1898-1944) filled up two suitcases with nearly four thousand and five hundred drawings made by children to whom she taught clandestinely at the Terezín ghetto. To see the abominable portrayed as normal in a child’s drawing placed me right away before the stolen infancy and the destruction of personality, and when the sadness which emanated from each and every one of those drawings pervaded my emotional state, a melody appeared in my head, which I whistled and recorded on my mobile phone. Those are the first notes of this piece which tries to level with sadness. That collection of drawings is all that remains of those children’s souls.

 

IV. Babi Yar

Every Jew who lived in Kiev was aware of the order. They thought they were going to be deported. The previous night, September 28, 1941, they had read it: those who did not turn up would be shot. The order was clearly stated: “All Yids of the city of Kiev and its vicinity must appear on September 29, 1941 at 8 am on the corner of Melnikovskaia and Dokhturov streets. Bring documents, money, valuables, and also warm clothing, linen, etc. Any Yids who do not follow this order and are found elsewhere will be shot.” They thought they were going to be deported.

 

They were split into groups of ten. No matter whether they belonged to different families or a whole family was present. They were taken to the ravine, and once there, they ran into the ugly truth. I can picture them begging, embracing each other or saying goodbye while blows and screams urged them to undress. After the bursts of gunfire, the naked bodies fell into the ravine, all heaped up on top of one another. They thought they were going to be deported. Then, another group of ten. And another one. And another one.

 

September 29 followed September 28. Then came September 30. The number of souls that departed from Earth at Babi Yar stand at one hundred and fifty thousand. And although they thought deportation awaited them, they were frightened when they arrived at that corner. They walked under blows and screams until they reached the ravine. Ahead lay their fateful outcome. Dark which devoured all light in hope.

 

No Jews remain in Ukraine.

 

V. Bergen-Belsen

Alma studied the violin and dreamed of becoming a great soloist. And fame was on her side until, despite being Mahler’s niece, the Gestapo arrested her. After spending some time in Drancy, she was deported to Auschwitz. Nothing remained of “The Vienna Waltzers”, her well-known orchestra. Then she became conductor of the Women’s Orchestra of Auschwitz. But their interpretations were not meant to praise the beauty of the spirit or to calm down the anxiety of the soul. It was actually humiliation trying to break the prisoners’ will at the public executions. Or to cheer up the arrival of trains, full of passengers supposedly on their way to disinfection before being handed a new uniform. Or to encourage those who headed for hard labor at below-zero temperatures.

 

In October, 1944, the women’s orchestra was sent to Bergen-Belsen. To coexist with the deepest misery was a new experience for them. Two bands played all day long while two thousand men, whipped to the beat of Lehár and Strauss, dragged corpses towards the pits. In the end, the orchestras were broken up.

 

A lifetime loving music. A lifetime.

 

I doubt that Lily Mathé, who achieved success in Hungary by playing the violin, would not writhe on the inside while trying to hide her magic from the SS so that they would only hear the notes and not the art behind them.

VI. The Last Breath

“Shtiler, Shtiler” (Hush, Hush) is a piece frequently used in ceremonies of remembrance of the victims of the Holocaust, and despite the fact that the music is vaguely reminiscent of a lullaby, the lyrics are devastating from the very first verse. A mother tells her son to stop weeping at the disappearance of his father, since their enemies will not understand.

 

Dario Gabbai was forced to join the Sonderkommando, which was composed of Jews among whose tasks were to accompany the newcomers to the so-called showers, take the bodies away from the chambers, examine all natural orifices in search of something of value and take the corpses to the crematorium. Among the newcomers he recognized two friends of his. He explained to them what was actually going to happen and suggested where to stand inside the chamber so that death would embrace them as soon as possible.

 

In the second verse, with the coming of Spring, also the son is sent to his death.

Not directly based on the melody, but in a rather close style, I tried to imagine a wordless song whispered by a mother to her daughter in order to calm her down. Only she was aware that their fate would take them to the gas chamber, exactly as Dario said to have occurred.

 

In the third and last verse of the song, the mother promises her son that the sun will shine again, and freedom will be back, bringing his absent father with it.

Jorge Grundman

Jorge Grundman is a classical music writer. He holds a Ph.D. of Arts at the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, a Master in Musical Creation and Interpretation at the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos and at the Real Conservatorio Superior de Música de Madrid; a Bachelor of Science and Music History at the Universidad de La Rioja; a Bachelor in Audiovisual Engineering at the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, and a Bachelor in Computer Technology at the Universidad Pontificia de Comillas. He is currently professor at the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid.

 

His music has been performed and broadcast in radio and television in many countries like the USA, the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, France, and Spain. It has been premiered at emblematic venues such as the Carnegie Hall in New York, and in Madrid at the Auditorio Nacional de Música and at the Teatro de la Zarzuela.

 

Among the performers of his pieces are prestigious soloists such as the Brodsky Quartet, the Trío Arbós, and Ara Malikian. He has received several awards, being the only Spanish composer who has been awarded a prize at the 12th Independent Music Awards, and at the 13th International Songwriting Competition. He has also received the Boston Metro Opera Concert Award and the Boston Metro Opera Director’s Choice Award.

 

Among his latest outstanding works are “A Mortuis Resurgere: The Resurrection of Christ” for Soprano and String Quartet, and the opera “Cinco horas con Mario”, based on the novel of the same title by Miguel Delibes. In addition to that, his work “A Debt to Bach” for Orchestra and Choir was recently premiered at the symphonic hall in the Auditorio Nacional. His works are published worldwide on Music Sales Classical.

 

Vicente Cueva

Vicente Cueva is one of Spain’s leading violinists of his generation and has won the heart of many an audience with his warm sound, his honesty in the approach to the classical repertoire and his freshness and dynamism interpreting contemporary music. His dedication to violin pedagogy has made him gain considerable prestige, and many of his pupils belong to the country’s principal orchestras and conservatories.

 

He is currently professor of higher education at the Centro Superior Katarina Gurska,  concertmaster and conductor of the Orquesta de Cámara de España, and from 2010 guest soloist with the Orquesta Sinfónica de Bilbao (BOS). He combines all these activities with an incessant concert activity that has taken him to theaters and concert halls throughout Spain, Europe, the United States, Central America and Africa. He has also collaborated with the Orquesta Sinfónica de Euskadi (OSE) as associate concertmaster. In 1992 he formed the “Pablo Sarasate” violin duo, and recorded Bèla Bàrtok’s Complete Duos for Two Violins and Sergei Prokofiev’s Sonata op.56. In 1994 he received the “Luis Coleman” Spanish Music Prize in Santiago de Compostela. In 1999 he joined the Spanish National Orchestra as first violin by taking a competitive examination.

 

He began his musical studies under the tutelage of his parents and was admitted shortly afterwards at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Madrid. In 1995 he moved to Barcelona, where, under the supervision of Agustín León Ara, earned a degree summa cum laude in violin and chamber music. Between 1999 and 2001 he improved his studies of violin and chamber music by attending masterclasses given by the prestigious violinist Klara Flieder in Vienna.

 

Out of his passion for chamber music, in 2012 he founded the Habemus Quartet, which is the only Spanish string quartet devoted to contemporary consonant music, and has made recordings for Televisión Española. In 2014 he recorded Jorge Grundman’s Complete Sonatas for Violin and Piano with pianist Daniel del Pino for the Non Profit Music label, a work which received a nomination in the 2015 Independent Music Awards for Best Classical Album.

 

Vicente Cueva plays the 1691 “Auer” Stradivarius violin, loaned by the Canimex group.

Collaborating Companies

Produced by

Non Profit Music Foundation

 

Musical Production and Sound Engineering by

Javier Monteverde

 

Edited, Mixed and Mastered at Cezanne Producciones

by Javier Monteverde

 

Recorded from

January 27 to February 3, 2017

 

Photographs by

Ángel Colomé

 

English Translation by

Enrique Cueva

 

French Translation by

Ibidem Group

 

Shoah for Solo Violin and Sacred Temple
Shoah for Solo Violin and Sacred Temple
Shoah for Solo Violin and Sacred Temple