Burning pages illustrative 390.
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BALTIMORE - Do the names Pavel Haas, Gideon Klein, Erwin Schulhoff and
Viktor Ullman ring a bell? How about Ferdinand Hiller, Ignaz Moscheles, Henry
Herz, Giacomo Meyerbeer and Karl Goldmark? They mean everything to Michael
Wolpe, an Israeli pianist who considers himself first and foremost a composer --
and a lover of the beautiful music they and others wrote.
determined to rescue their compositions and, in the process, their legacies.
Haas, Klein, Schulhoff and Ullman were murdered in the Holocaust. Hiller,
Moscheles, Herz, Meyerbeer and Goldmark were 19th-century composers whose work,
along with many others, was banned and burned by the Nazis, leaving many pieces
A decade-long search for their musical scores has led
Wolpe, head of the composition and conducting department at the Jerusalem
Academy of Music and Dance, to archives and libraries in Germany, America and
England, and to private collections worldwide. He hopes that “Seeking Kin”
readers can direct him toward some of the lost music; in December, he was
interviewed on the Israeli radio program “Hamador L’chipus Krovim” (Searching
for Relatives Bureau).
Recovering sheet music is not all Wolpe is after.
He also performs the scores, thus reincarnating the works and, by extension,
their creators. That sometimes entails additional toil to complete unfinished
compositions. It’s an investment Wolpe intently makes.
“Jews were very
involved in music in Central and Western Europe in the 19th century, not just
Mendelssohn and Brahms. Many of them have been forgotten because the Nazis
erased them,” said Wolpe, speaking from his Kibbutz Sde Boker home following a
tiring night shift running the communal dining room. “All these composers - one
reason they’ve been forgotten is anti-Semitism, period. I have an interest in
researching them and returning them to the stage.”
Wolpe searches by
sending letters and emails to experts at music archives and to colleagues in the
music field, who forward his requests. Wolpe knows what pieces to ask for by
reading biographies and period newspaper clippings and reviews.
years ago, fortune struck when Wolpe received an email from the Liszt School of
Music in Weimar, Germany. Its archive contains numerous scores that the Nazis
stole from Jews imprisoned at the Buchenwald concentration camp and then sent to
Weimar. Other pieces are archived there because the composers’ works were
performed over many decades at the city’s renowned music festival.
there entire worlds of Jews who wrote such beautiful music and had come to the
festival -- works on the level of Chopin, Berlioz and Schumann,” Wolpe said of
searching the Weimar archive. “I feel a deep obligation to bring it back to the
stage so people could enjoy it... That is my goal as a musician and as a
Wolpe first learned of the lost works several years ago during the
two-week summer seminars on Jewish musical history that he’s taught for the past
decade at at Givat Haim's (Ichud) Theresienstadt House, a wing built by
survivors of the Prague-area concentration camp. Wolpe had known of the great
Romantic-era composers Felix Mendelssohn and Gustav Mahler being born Jewish but
not remaining so, and he “wanted to learn about” other Jews who were among “the
greatest European composers of the 19th century,” he explained.
been assisted by Elmar Fulda, the Liszt conservatory’s vice president of
performance studies. Fulda, who is not Jewish, helps Wolpe in locating scores,
including one by Herz that they tracked down last year in a private collection
The two professors also co-founded the Young Philharmonic
Orchestra Jerusalem Weimar. Seventy students from the Jerusalem and Weimar
academies performed in the orchestra’s inaugural concerts in late 2011, visiting
Germany and Israel. They will tour biennially; the next concerts are planned for
Much of what the orchestra plays are the works of the late, great
European Jewish composers. One was Ullman’s Piano Sonata No. 7, for which Wolpe
wrote the orchestration in 2007. Another was Goldmark’s Violin Concerto in A
minor, a piece that Wolpe found in the Weimar archive two years
Fulda sees in his collaboration with Wolpe an opportunity to correct
an injustice. The musical-historical whole is akin to an apple, he said, of
which “the Jews were a very important part.”
“There was a time that the
Nazis took out a piece of this apple for stupid reasons. If you want to have a
picture of the music of the 19th and early 20th centuries, you have to put this
piece back, put this music back. It was part of the music world,” Fulda
“Most of this music was not banned because it was bad music,”
he said. “It is our duty to give this music back to the world.”