Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Viktor Ullman

Dr. Bob Prescribes Viktor Ullman

On September 8, 1942, the composer and pianist Victor Ullmann was deported from Prague and sent to the concentration camp-slash-ghetto of Terezín (what the German’s called “Theresienstadt”) some 20 miles north of Prague, in what today is the northwestern corner of the Czech Republic. Even though roughly 33,000 Jews died at Terezín – mostly of starvation and disease (including Ferdinand Bloch, the artist of the watercolor above) – it was not an extermination center. Rather, it was used as a holding camp for prominent Czech Jews and as a transit camp for Jews of various nationalities on their way to killing centers or slave-labor camps. Along with Ullmann, among the other “prominent” Czech Jews deported to Terezín were the composers Pavel Haas, Gideon Klein, and Hans Krása; the conductors Rafael Schächter and Karel Ančerl; the violinist (and former principal violinist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra) Julius Stwertka; the actor and director Kurt Gerron; the artists FrederikaDicker-Brandeis, Bedrich Fritta, and Malva Schalek; the poet Pavel Friedman and the architect Norbert Troller. Of this list of high-end talent, the only one to survive the war was Karel Ančerl. It was as a “holding camp” for prominent Czech Jews that Terezín earned its […]

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Music History Monday: Viktor Ullman, the Musical Bard of Terezín

We mark the death on October 18, 1944 – 77 years ago today – of the composer and pianist Viktor Ullmann, in a gas chamber at the concentration and death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau, in Nazi-occupied Poland. Last week’s Music History Monday focused on a soft-rock song entitled Je t’aime… Moi non plus by the French singer-songwriter, author, filmmaker, and actor Serge Gainsbourg (1928-1991), and recorded in 1969 by Gainsbourg and the English singer, songwriter, and actress Jane Birkin (born 1946). Musically, the song is, pardon, beaucoup de merde. Nevertheless, it climbed to number one on charts across the globe. That’s because over the course of the song, Ms. Birkin’s heavy breathing leads to a simulated orgasm at the “climax” of the song. As we observed last week, “sex sells.” We also observed that those arbiters of morality – of which there is never a dearth – declared the song “obscene” and it was banned from radio play by hundreds (if not thousands) of radio stations. I pointed out then as I would again now: that at an “obscenity level” from one to ten, Je t’aime… rates – maybe – a 00.5, while the tragic fate of the Czechoslovakian composer Viktor […]

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