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The second work on the programme, Ullmannn's, was an odd choice for this particular matinée. It is characterised by highly emotional, sometimes most unbearably desperate music. The piece was written in the concentration camp of Theresienstadt, some three months before the composer was deported to Auschwitz where he and his wife were gassed in October 1944. All the time during his imprisonment by the Nazis, Ullmann courageously sought refuge in music, composing some of his most brilliant works there and using music as a statement for the invincibility of the human spirit. At the time of writing the music, the composer was very much aware of the fate awaiting him and his wife. Much of his despair over his inability to save his wife or himself from their gruesome end went into Ullmann's music. Unlike many of his other works, Ullmann had heard this piece performed, with himself at the piano, in the concentration camp. The composer's tragic life and death stands in stark contrast to that of Schoenberg, who immigrated to the United States in 1933 and spent the war years in safety. When Ullmann was deported to Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1942, Schoenberg was already an American citizen. While Ullmann fought for his survival and eventually died, Schoenberg taught music at the University of California in sunny Los Angeles. So it was a strange combination to perform these two composers immediately following each other.

One might have expected a few words of introduction about the fate of Ullmann, especially since we were in Munich, which was once a Nazi stronghold. But: nothing! Fischer-Dieskau launched into the work as if it were just another piece of music written by any odd composer.

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Copyright © 5 March 2006 Tess Crebbin and Sissy von Kotzebue, Germany


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