Notes by Prof. David Bloch (Oct 2001)
Hans Krasa was born in Prague to a family of means, which generously supported his musical talent. He studied with Alexander Zemlinsky in Prague, took some lessons from Albert Roussel in Paris, and led a Bohemian life-style in the city of his birth. His op. 1, Four Orchestral Songs, on Christian Morgenstern's Gallows Songs (1921), and his Symphony (1923) brought admiration from critics, musicians and audiences alike, for his originality, his "spirit of ironic poetry", his extraordinary feeling for color, orchestration and textures. His Five Songs op. 5, often delicately expressionistic, and vintage Krasa, written with a sure response to the nuances of the texts. He was active in Terezin until his October 1944 deportation to Auschwitz, where he went immediately to the gas chamber.
While in the early 1930s Karel Reiner studied with Josef Suk at the Master School of The Prague Conservatory, his tendency was towards more avant-garde composition.
He was active in E.F. Burian's Theater D34 and the Pritmost Society for Contemporary Music. Interred in Terezin, where he wrote theater music, including for Burian's folk play, Esther, he also spent time in Dachau and Auschwitz and survived a death march.
While after his liberation his music became more traditional, in the 1950s he again took up his pre-war modernism. His three songs on poetry of the important Austrian dramatist, poet and novelist, Franz Theodor Csokor, reflect his earlier style and are characterized by rhythmic and percussive accompaniment to the more lyric vocal line.
Pavel Haas, the most gifted pupil of Leos Janacek, was born in and spent most of his life in Brno. He was always deeply interested in Moravian folk music and even more so after he studied with Janacek. Haas wrote orchestral works, three string Quartets, piano music, songs and an opera, Sarlatan. Anti-fascist to the core, in the late 1930s, he often quoted the well-known Hussite and St. Wenceslaus chorales. And in his unfinished symphony of 1939-1940 he audaciously juxtaposed the infamous Nazi Horst-Wessel Song together with a melody from Chopin's funeral march (Sonata No. 2). For his June 1944 recital in Terezin Karel Berman asked Haas to compose a new work for him. The composer obliged with his Four Songs on Texts of Chinese Poetry and quoted the St. Wenceslaus chorale in songs one and three. Viktor Ullmann, who wrote many concert reviews in the ghetto, expressed his appreciation as follows: "Once one has heard them, one would not want to miss Haas' topical songs so full of life, and live with them in intimate relationship".
Toghether with Kras and Ullmann, Haas also perished in Auschwitz.
Viktor Ullmann, by now very well-known for his pre-Terezin works and those written in the ghetto (piano, chamber and orchestral works, and operas including The Downfall of Anti-Christ (1935) and The Kaiser of Atlantis (1943), was also passionately addicted to composing Lieder (German art songs). He took poetry from the works of Goethe, Holderlin, Trakl and many others. His identification with anthroposophy notwithstanding, Ullmann was also very close to the Second Viennese School, with a particular fondness for the music of Alban Berg. Yet he was equally enthusiastic about Gustav Mahler, and was not averse, according to the mood of the poetry he selected, to a proximity to the cabaret style of Kurt Weill, for example. In his settings of four drinking songs by the 14th century Persian poet Hafiz, this cabaret approach (but not only that) is vividly and colorfully apparent.