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an opera composed in Theresienstadt is to tour the UK this autumn ThE COmPOSER

viktor ullmann Ullmann was born 1898 in the city of Teschen (Těšín) in today’s Poland. his parents were Jews who had converted to Catholicism. Completing his schooling in vienna,

he volunteered for service inworldwar I and served in the Italian Campaign. Back in vienna he attended a composition course of arnold Schoenberg. In 1919 he moved to Prague where

he worked with alexander Zemlinsky. he received the herzka prize, once for his Schoenberg Orchestral Variations and again for his opera The Fall of the antichrist, along with his work as part of the Prague chapter of the International Society for Contemporary music. most of his work from this period is lost. In September 1942 he was transported to Theresienstadt. There he

was a piano accompanist and composedmusic as part of a cultural circle including Gideon Klein, hans Krása and other prominentmusicians. his works, besides The Emperor ofatlantis, piano sonatas and his third string quartet, included songs and choruses in hebrew and Yiddish. “It was perhaps the fruition of the cultural baggage he had been carrying his entire life, not dissimilar to Schoenberg’s unfinished Jakobsleiter – a work of cautious Jewishness by a questioning convert.” (michael haas) In October 1943 he was deported to auschwitz-Birkenau and

murdered in the gas chambers. The works composed in Theresienstadt were saved by a survivor.


peter Kien Kien was born 1919 in varnsdorf, Czechoslovakia. he studied at theacademy of Finearts in Prague until the racial laws were enforced. he then taught art at the vinohrady synagogue and produced a huge volume of

artwork. hemarried Ilse Stranska and tried to emigrate with his family but in December 1941 they were deported to Theresienstadt. here he produced numerous portraits, landscapes and genre sketches and wrotemany plays in addition to the libretto for The Emperor ofatlantis. In 1944 Kien, aged 25, was in the final transport toauschwitz with his parents and his wife. none of themsurvived.

the story The Emperor ofatlantis, ruler overmuch of the world, proclaims universal war and declares that his old ally Death will lead the campaign. Death, offended by the Emperor's presumption, breaks his sabre; henceforthmen will not die. Confusion results: a Soldier and a Girl-Soldier fromopposite sides sing a love duet instead of fighting; the sick and suffering find no release. Death offers to return tomen on condition that the Emperor be the first to die. he accepts and sings his farewell.


mIChaEL haaS, producer of the first commercial recording of The Emperor of atlantis, tells of how he came to appreciate the work and the composer’s wider importance

It was 1990. I was producer of the Decca recording series EntarteteMusik that eventually incorporated the oeuvre of 24 composers whose work had been banned by the Nazis. I felt that it was important that the series should not be side-tracked into focusing solely on recordingmusic fromthe concentration camps as in the late 80s and early 90s this was still fairly unexplored terrain. It was unclear howmuchmusic there was – or even if any of it could be any good. Indeed, ‘quality’was never a point of discussion. Themiracle was that it had been composed at all. Themany inspirational stories tended to eclipse the actual composers and, almost always, eclipsed their greater body of works. Few composers wrote their best works while interned but

Viktor Ullmann’s Der Kaiser von Atlantis was an exception. It was first performed in 1975 inAmsterdam, in what was

believed to have been an incomplete state withmany of the recitative pages irretrievably lost.Musicians had even employed themediumRosemary Brown tomake contact with Ullmann on ‘the other side’ in order to fill the gaps. Themusic, however, was not lost and there were several rewritten endings resulting from Ullmann and his librettist, 25-year-old Peter Kien, disagreeing about how to treat thematerial.At the conclusion of Der Kaiser, evil incarnate as the Emperor Overall can only reinstate death if he himself becomes the first to die – this redemption of the unredeemablemust have been the principal point of conflict as themultiple endings of the opera, varying fromthe serene to angry, bear out. To Kien, death and war were inevitable conditions of humanity – to Ullmann death was the definition of life itself. The work was never performed because of its distorted

rendering of ‘Deutschland überAlles’ and the none too subtle similarity between Overall and Hitler. Rehearsals were stopped and Kien, Ullmann and the composers Pavel Haas and Hans Krasa weremurdered inAuschwitz in October 1944. For our recording themanuscript and parts were simply

photocopied fromthe originalmaterial, and selected and reorganised tomake a coherent whole including an alternative ending. Chillingly,much of the text was written on the back of deportation lists. It was recorded in Leipzig, where the only suitable venue was a suburban church in a neighbourhood with the still charred silhouettes of buildings unchanged since their destruction 55 years earlier. At the time we did not appreciate the importance of

Ullmann, whose fame in 1990 rested largely on the composition of this one strange work fromTheresienstadt. Since then, his stature as a composer has grown enormously asmusicians have delved into hismany other works. People who worked with him have come forward with theirmemories and filled considerable gaps.When we recorded Der Kaiser we really didn’t know how to place himas a composer; we had no context to suggest the

m U S I C

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