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Hans Krása (1899-1944)
Brundibár (1943) • Overture for Small Orchestra
Cast Information on Brundibár (1938, re-scored 1943)
Czech libretto by Adolf Hoffmeister, English adaptation by Tony Kushner
Erich Parce, Stage Director
World première recording of the Tony Kushner libretto
Cast (in order of appearance)
Pepíček - Ross Hauck
Aninku - Maureen McKay
Ice Cream Seller - Jesse Parce
Baker - Evan Woltz
Milkman - Jadd Davis
Policeman - Michael Drumheller
Brundibár - Morgan Smith
Sparrow - Holly Boaz
Cat - David Korn
Dog - Auston James
Northwest Boychoir (Joseph Crnko, Chorus-master)
Music of Remembrance
Gerard Schwarz, Conductor
The fate of children in the Holocaust represents a uniquely haunting tragedy. It has been estimated that over one million children were murdered under Nazi rule. Children had even smaller chances of surviving than adults. In the ghettos they were especially vulnerable to disease and starvation. Not considered useful for forced labor, children were commonly selected for execution as soon as they arrived at the camps. At the Terezín concentration camp alone, 15,000 children under the age of fifteen passed through the gates between 1942 and 1944. Perhaps fewer than 100 of them were alive at the war's end. Yet, remarkably, many of Terezín's children were part of an inspiring creative legacy. In this recording we remember those children through the words they wrote, and the music they sang.
Music of Remembrance Artistic Director
Hans Krása (1899-1944) came of age in his native Prague, which was a major crossroads during a watershed period of European musical life. If his early promise had not been cut short by World War II and the Holocaust, Krása might have continued emerging as an influential composer of his generation.
Krása learned piano and violin as a child and went on to study composition with Alexander Zemlinsky. After graduating from the German Music Academy in Prague, he became a vocal coach at Prague's German Theater, and briefly worked in Berlin at the Kroll Opera before returning to Prague. While thoroughly grounded in the music of the classical and romantic masters, Krása was strongly influenced by the new directions of the early twentieth century, especially impressionism and other French music. In the late 1920s he traveled to Paris to study with Albert Roussel. Krása self-consciously sought to reconcile traditional tonality with modernism. Of his musical style Krása wrote: "I am sufficiently daring, as a modern composer, to write melodic music. This reflects my whole attitude to music, whether it is called modern or anything else. My music is strictly founded on the concept of accessible melodic character."
Krása's first important success as a composer came in 1920 with his Four Orchestral Songs, based on the "Songs from the Gallows" poems of Christian Morgenstern. His 1923 Symphony was performed under Serge Koussevitzky in Boston, and his 1933 prize-winning opera Verlobung im Traum (Betrothal in a Dream), based on a Dostoevsky story, was conducted in Prague by George Szell. Krása produced numerous chamber and vocal works, and composed incidental music to the theatre piece "Youth at Play" by Adolf Hoffmeister, later his collaborator on Brundibár.
Krása, a Jew and an anti-fascist, was arrested by the Nazis on 10 August 1942 and sent to the Terezín concentration camp. Like the other Czech composers imprisoned there – Viktor Ullmann, Gideon Klein, Pavel Haas – Krása became part of a remarkable creative community. Krása's compositions at Terezín include a set of songs, the Passacaglia and Fugue for string trio (1943), and the Overture for Small Orchestra (1943-44) presented on this recording. The children's opera Brundibár, which Krása re-scored at Terezín, is the core of an extraordinary legacy.
On 16 October 1944 Krása was deported to Auschwitz and murdered upon his arrival.
Overture for Small Orchestra was composed at the height of Brundibár's popularity at the camp, and there has been speculation that he intended it as an introduction to the children's opera. The overture is scored for 2 clarinets, 2 trumpets, 4 violins, 2 violas, 2 celli, and piano. With the exception of the violas, the work's instrumentation is similar to the opera, and contains at least one melodic parallel. Survivors from Terezín have recalled that Krása was ordered to compose the work by the camp's Nazi authorities, who thought that Brundibár – like any opera – required an overture. However, there exists no evidence that the overture was ever performed at Terezín, and Krása's intent for it remains unclear.
Brundibár is known today as the children's opera that was performed 55 times at the Terezín concentration camp near Prague. Its casts needed constant replenishing when the child performers were transported to death camps after most shows. Although the Nazis exploited Brundibár in propaganda intended to convince the world of their benign treatment of Terezín's inmates, nearly all of the children who performed in the opera were deported to Auschwitz and died in the gas chambers.
In 1992 Brundibár was republished, and since then the opera has been performed at least 100 times across Europe and the Americas. More than sixty years after Terezín, Brundibár continues to speak to people of all ages through its story, music and legacy. In 2003, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner and illustrator Maurice Sendak collaborated on a striking picture book of the Brundibár tale, and this has become the basis for a new production of the opera using Kushner's English-language libretto.
Tony Kushner offers the following remarks:
In 1938, the Czech Ministry of Education and Culture sponsored a competition for a children's opera. Among those vying for the prize was a 40-year-old Prague composer, Hans Krása, whose entry, libretto by the playwright Adolf Hoffmeister, was Brundibár (the word is Czech for bumblebee).
I haven't been able to find out whether Brundibár won the competition or whether the competition was ever concluded. A few months after the opera was completed the German army invaded and occupied Czechoslovakia. Krása, who was Jewish, would have been barred from participation in such a contest, his music unperformable before a