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5 Jun 2007 00:00 - 00:00

Czech Songs and Psalms

Songs from the Theresienstadt Ghetto by Pavel Haas and Viktor Ullmann as well as Dvorak's wonderful ten Biblical Songs performed by Scottish singer Brian Bannatyne-Scott and Czech pianist Tomas Spurny.





Brian Bannatyne-Scott (Bass), Tomas Spurny (piano)


Dvorak – 10 Biblical Songs in Czech




Haas---Chinese Songs

Ullmann---Hafiz Songs





Brian Bannatyne-Scott was born in Edinburgh and studied at the University of St Andrew’s and the GSAMD. He has appeared at major venues and festivals such as La Scala , Milan, Paris Opera, Opera National du Rhin, the Salzburg Festival, ENO, the Royal Opera and The Edinburgh International Festival.


His recent engagements include Baron Ochs in "Rosenkavalier" in Bielefeld, Swallow in Opera North's award-winning "Peter Grimes", Parson in the "Cunning Little Vixen" at the Bregenz Festival,  Hobson in "Peter Grimes" in Brussels and Bilbao, Geronte in "Manon Lescaut" at Opera North and Poet in Philip Glass's "Orphee" at the ROH. His extensive discography includes "King Arthur" (Purcell) on DG Archiv, "Midsummer Night's Dream" on Philips, Handel's "Tolomeo" on Mondo Musica and "L'Incoronazione di Poppea" on EMI.




The pianist and musicologist Tomáš Spurný was born in the Czech Republic into a family of musicians who taught him to play piano and bagpipes. Later he followed piano studies by obtaining a music degree. After graduating he became involved in joint Czech-German musicological and ethno-musicological projects.


As a pianist Tomáš Spurný devotes himself to chamber music and song accompaniments, collaborating with many Czech and overseas singers. In addition he heads the folk ensemble The Bagpipers of the Bohemian Forest, with whom he has performed both at home and abroad, also publishing two separate, thematically distinct CDs of reconstructed, authentic Czech folk music of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.




Music from Theresienstadt:


Pavel Haas (1899-1944) was an important successor to his teacher, Leoš Janáček. His promising career as a composer was violently interrupted in December 1941, when he was taken off to the Theresienstadt concentration camp.


Haas’s FOUR SONGS to the words of Chinese poetry were composed in February April 1944. Haas chose to set to music four poems from the collection New Songs from Ancient China. These poems, written in a quite different situation, took on a new meaning in the Theresienstadt ghetto.


The songs were first sung in the assembly hall of Terezienstadt Town Hall on 22nd June 1944. Not long afterwards, on 17th October, Haas was murdered in the gas chambers of the Auschwitz concentration camp.



Viktor Ullmann (1898-1944), composer, pianist, choirmaster, conductor and music critic, was one of the victims from among the Prague German Jewish musicians in World War II. On 8th September 1942 he was deported to the Theresienstadt ghetto. Even in the extremely difficult conditions of the ghetto he succeeded in maintaining his artistic activity. Ullmann was deported to the Auschwitz death camp, where he died in a gas chamber, probably on 15th October 1944.


Only a part of Viktor Ullmann’s work has so far been found. Before the outbreak of the Second World War Ullmann wrote some forty works, mostly orchestral, chamber and piano compositions and two operas. His literary works and approximately twenty fragments of his almost finished or complete compositions written in Theresienstadt have also been preserved.




Antonin Dvorak – Biblical Songs


Biblical Songs - lyrics


In February 1894 Antonín Dvorák (1841 – 1904), who had then been in America for two years as Director of the New York Conservatory of Music, received news that his father was gravely ill at home in Bohemia. Dvorak’s immediate reaction was to set aside the cheerful Piano Suite in A which he was working on in order to sketch and complete a cycle of ten songs for low voice and piano on text drawn from the Psalms.


Although he was a devout Catholic, Dvorak chose texts from the Protestant Kralice Bible of 1613, the Czech language equivalent of the Authorised Version. He made a careful selection of particular verse from particular psalms, occasionally omitting verses or joining verses from different psalms together to create  “original” settings. It is tehrefore likely that the words he chose expressed what he wanted or needed to say at this time of uncertainty. Of course, Psalm 23 and Psalm 137 – “By the rivers of Babylon” – could have appeared in any general collection of “sacred songs”.


Yet taking account of his personal circumstances, it os difficult to avoid viewing Dvorak’s choice of “The Lord is my shepherd” as a reyching out for comfort as his father lay dying or seeing in the exiles’ lament of Psalm 137, an expression of the helplessness he must have felt at being so far from home when he was most needed there. Throughout his entire three year stay in America, Dvorak suffered acutely from homesickness and although his American sojourn produced a number of great works including the Symphony No. 9, Op 55 (From The New World) and the String Quartet in F Major, Op 96 (The American), the question of “how to sing the Lord’s song in a strange land” was always present for him. Dvorak completed the cycle in trhree weeks between 5th and 25th March 1896, with some songs taking their final form quickly -  Song 2, the first to be written, was sketched and completed in a single day – while others, for example Songs 6 and 8, took several days between the initial sketch and completion which suggests that he may have experienced some difficulty with setting these texts.


The order in which he completed the songs is different from that he chose for their publication and performance and so it is legitimate to look for a deliberate pattern in their ordering. Songs 1 and 2 describe God’s power and majesty which evoke awe and fear and command obedience, Songs 3 to 6 progress from fear and helplessness at the contemplation of death through implicit trust in God’s mercy in the face of that fear to praise of his greatness. Songs 7 and 8 return briefly to doubt, anguish and despair before Songs 9 and 10 reaffirm supreme concidence in God’s glory and greatness. Dvorak mirrors these changes of mood in the musical settings which show elements of his “American” style, blending elements of Bohemian folk music with influences from Native American music and Spirituals which he had heard during his stay in the United States. 


Notes by David Moncur






Tickets: £10

For bookings:

The Spiro Ark, 25-26 Enford Street, London, W1H 1DW

Tel. 020 7723 9991

Fax 020 7723 8191

Email education@spiroark.org

Web site www.spiroark.org


30 Kensington Palace Gardens
W8 4QY London
United Kingdom


5 Jun 2007 00:00 - 00:00


Czech Centre, Spiro Ark

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