Music, Composers, Musicians and Recordings, Art and Design

KAREL ŠVENK wrote many songs for his theatrical productions in Prague before the war and for the cabarets he created at Terezín. Only thirteen songs have survived,1 among them the most famous and memorable “Terezin March.” The others include “We Are Urging Time Forward,” “There is a Gaping Hole in Science,” “Lullaby” (“…One day all sorrow will disappear/One day you will remember/What went before/And laugh not only in your dreams./All sad things will end/And good times will yet return.”), “The Ballad of the Hungry Belly”; and songs that I believe derive from his years in Prague: “Black Jim,” “Les Cinq Etages,” “Diomed” (from F. Villon’s Le Testament), and “The Heroic Gunner Jabürek,” a powerful anti-war ballad.

Although the original script has been lost forever, love song – “Farewell” – that he wrote for The Last Cyclist remains. Here is a rough translation of the lyrics, ung by Manicka to Borivoj:

You’ve often told me that love is not enough, that it’s also important not to go hungry. Perhaps what you say is true. You are a wise, brave man. How could I have explained to you that women have more modest needs, that we are satisfied with a handful of downy feathers we can embrace [instead of food??]. But today it doesn’t matter anymore; today all of that is so far away. Why, oh why does spring blow into our lives on the wind only to have the wind carry it away again? Why, oh why, do we no longer have even the little that remained to us? Why are we losing everything? I do not know. I do not know.

I have chosen not to use it in the play – although I was very tempted to do so since it is a true “relic” of the original – for two reasons: I felt it would be jarring and perhaps distracting to suddenly introduce one song, however poignant, into the climactic scene of the play, which is no longer a cabaret, and It also seemed less “necessary” to me – i.e., as entertainment in a bitter time and place – for today’s audiences than it was for Svenk and his audience. Perhaps I will still find a way to appropriately adapt the lyrics and include it in future productions.

My script does include Švenk’s most famous song, known as the “Terezín March” written for The Lost Food Card, his first production in the camp. This song was so energizing and electrifying, it so captured the hopes of people living with a sense of numbing despair, that it became the unofficial “anthem” of the prisoners in Terezín. It was reprised again and again to conclude Švenk’s cabarets, sung spontaneously by the audience at the end of other camp productions, and is cited repeatedly and even reproduced word for word in memoirs and other descriptions of the camp written by survivors. The version in my play is the chorus, modified to omit a reference to the number of words were allowed to write on the heavily censored, optimistic postcards they were compelled to send to people at home, which would need too much explaining to be understandable to audience members today, and incorporating instead some of the text from one of the verses.

Where there’s a will there’s a way.
We’ll survive another day,
And together, hand in hand,
We’ll laugh at hardship.

Don’t despair, still believe
That the sun will shine again
And we’ll live to turn our backs on Terezín.

Listen!

Soon we will be homeward bound,
Our lives will start again.
And tomorrow we will pack our bags,
Free women and free men.

Where there’s a will there’s a way.
We will live to see that day.
On the ruins of the ghetto
We will laugh!

In Švenk’s song, the chorus is in a major key and the stanzas in minor key. This melody is strongly referenced in Stephen Feigenbaum’s edgy, exciting original music for the play, composed in 2011. Feigenbaum’s score is in two formats: full orchestration for six instruments (violin, viola, cello, clarinet, piano and percussion), and a reduction for piano only. The music for each and CDs of both are available for performance use. (See below.)

Although I always intended to incorporate the “Terezín March” into my script, I didn’t realize the need for incidental music, particularly as interludes between scenes, until the cast began rehearsing the first version of the current play in St. Paul. Happily, JACK ROSE (who in real life is a Software Engineer with more than 25 years designing front-end web interfaces, hosting platforms, and diagnostic software in the Financial Service, Academic, Entertainment, and Education industries), the Associate Producer of the Lex-Ham Theater in St. Paul, is also a gifted improv pianist. He created the first incidental music for my play, scored for piano and clarinet, much of it with a klezmer feel.

The following year, for the Ad Hoc Players’ performances at Temple Sholom of West Essex in Cedar Grove, NJ, I engaged the very talented CHARLES GREENBERG. Charlie Greenberg adapted, arranged and performed Rose’s music for the 2010 production and his version was used for the other NJ productions that followed. Greenberg made his Off-Broadway debut at Circle Repertory, musical directing and writing incidental music for the original production of A.R. Gurney’s Who Killed Richard Cory? Working with librettist Barbara Zinn Krieger, he composed Little Kit – a family opera , developed through the Eugene O’Neil Theater Center and subsequently produced by The Vineyard Theatre and Tribeca Performing Arts Center (1997 & 1999); Other works include The Butterfly (2008); José Limon: The Making Of An Artist (2009) and, in 2011, Sky Boys: The Buildng of the Empire State. His music also has been produced at Abrons Art Center, Westbeth Theatre, Symphony Space, the Lincoln Center Summer Festival and the Emelin Theatre in Westchester. His next show, A Boy Called Dickens -currently in development with Making Books Sing! – will be produced in 2014.

In 2012, we commissioned a new score for the play.

STEPHEN FEIGENBAUM is an award-winning 24-year-old composer of music for the concert hall and the theater. A native of Winchester, Massachusetts, Stephen majored in music at Yale College and is pursuing a master’s degree at the Yale School of Music. In 2008 his Serenade for Strings was recorded by the Cincinnati Pops under Erich Kunzel and released on a CD by Telarc. He is the winner of the ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Award and other national composition competitions and his work was recently read by the Albany Symphony as part of its Composer to Center Stage program. He has appeared as a composer on the National Public Radio show From the Top and as an a cappella singer on The Martha Stewart Show and NBC’s The Sing-Off. His music has been heard at Lincoln Center and Le Poisson Rouge in New York, Jordan Hall and the Hatch Shell in Boston, the Green Room in San Francisco, and in several international venues. It has been performed by musicians including the JACK Quartet, TwoSense (Lisa Moore and Ashley Bathgate), and Grammy-nominee violinist Caroline Goulding. Stephen was the 2010 ASCAP Foundation Young Composer Fellow at the Bowdoin International Music Festival and is a past fellow at the Norfolk (Connecticut) Chamber Music Festival.

This Terezín Music commission was made possible by a grant from dear friends of Naomi and Norman Patz. Stephen Feigenbaum’s score was commissioned by the Terezín Music Foundation as a living memorial to Karel Švenk and his fellow composers and musicians of the Terezín concentration camp who perished during the Holocaust. (www.terezinmusic.org).

The incidental music for the play has been recorded by Boston Symphony Orchestra members SI-JING HUANG, violin; SATI KNUDSEN, cello; and THOMAS MARTIN, clarinet. WON-HEE AN, piano, also performs with the Boston Symphony. JIM GWIN, percussion, is a member of the Boston Pops. MARK LUDWIG, conductor, and the director of the Terezín Music Foundation, is a violist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Ludwig, Won-Hee An and Si-Jing Huang are also members of the Hawthorne String Quartet, a group that has distinguished itself internationally by championing the works of composers persecuted by the Nazis, with an emphasis on the Czech composers incarcerated in Terezín.

Feigenbaum’s piano reduction of the score, designed especially for use in high school productions of the play, has been recorded by ALLISON BREWSTER FRANZETTI. A multiple Grammy® Nominee and 2008 Grammy® Nominee for Best Instrumental Soloist without Orchestra, she has received international acclaim from critics and audiences alike for her stunning virtuosity and musicality, both as a soloist and as a chamber musician. An accomplished accompanist, Franzetti has collaborated with some of the finest performers and composers in the world, including Sir James Galway, John Corigliano, Stephen Paulus, Lowell Liebermann, Robert Aldridge, Ransom Wilson, Eugenia Zukerman, Julius Baker, Robert White, and members of major US and international symphony orchestras. She has performed at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, at festivals in the United States, Mexico and Europe, and on radio and television.

THE CYCLIST ILLUSTRATION

Mark Podwal created this brilliant, haunting illustration for the play. It shows a fragile bicycle balanced on a barbed wire tightrope suspended over the rooftops of Prague. The front wheel is the clock on the old Jewish Town Hall, with Hebrew letters rather than numbers, which (when it worked) told time in the Hebrew direction (with its unnerving – if unintended – implication that in this place, at least, time moves backwards). Two Jewish stars are visible amid a welter of crosses. I think the picture conveys beautifully the precarious uncertainty, desperation and tenuousness of existence – the balancing act – of the Jews in the Terezín concentration camp who, despite everything, still managed to keep their spirits up and still thought they would be going home.

MARK PODWAL was initially best known for his drawings on The New York Times OP-ED page. Over the years, he has written and illustrated numerous books. Both his own works and those he has illustrated for others typically focus on Jewish legend, history and tradition. In the past two years, Podwal has illustrated a new Passover Haggadah for the Central Conference of American Rabbis Press; designed new embroidered textiles for Prague’s seven hundred year old Altneuschul; created a limited edition print for The Metropolitan Opera’s production of Nabucco; designed Hanukkah cards for The Metropolitan Museum and The Metropolitan Opera, and designed the poster image for The Last Cyclist. In 2011, he received the Jewish Cultural Achievement Award from the Foundation for Jewish Culture. In 2012, Czech Television produced and broadcast My Synagogue is in Prague, a documentary film about Podwal’s life and art. Mark Podwal is the author and illustrator of many books, including Jerusalem Sky: Stars, Crosses and Crescents; Built by Angels: The Story of the Old New Synagogue and Doctored Drawings. King Solomon and His Magic Ring, a collaboration with Elie Wiesel, won a Silver Medal from the Society of Illustrators in 1999, and You Never Know, his collaboration with Francine Prose, won a National Jewish Book Award in 1998. Fallen Angels, a collaboration with Harold Bloom, was published in 2007. He also collaborated with Academy Award winning filmmaker Allan Miller on the documentary House of Life: The Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague, narrated by Claire Bloom, which was broadcast on PBS in 2009 and 2010. His art is represented in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Fogg Art Museum and the Library of Congress. Podwal is represented by Forum Gallery, New York and has exhibited there since 1977. His papers are archived at Princeton University.

The poster, rack card and playbill cover were designed by BRYN HEATHMAN.

DAVE HILOWITZ is the designer of this website.


[1] According to Kobi Luria, who has recorded Švenk’s extant music on a CD called “Ghetto Terezin Cabaret Songs.” Anne Sofie von Otter has also recorded music from the camp; the CD is called Terezín/Theresienstadt.