Image from Brundibar
© Maurice Sendak 2003
ON THE BRIDGE / BRUNDIBAR
COMEDY ON THE BRIDGE
libretto by Tony Kushner adapted from Václav Kliment Klicpera
music by Bohuslav Martinu
libretto by Tony Kushner adapted from Adolf Hoffmeister
music by Hans Krása
production designs by Maurice Sendak with Kris Stone
music director and conductor Valerie Gebert
directed by Tony Taccone
Study Guide compiled by Dave Maier, Outreach Coordinator, and Jessica Modrall, Education Intern, additional material provided by Berkeley Reps literary department
A GRAND AND INTIMATE JOURNEY
AT PLAY WITH MAURICE AND TONY
TONY KUSHNER ON MAURICE SENDAK AND BRUNDIBAR
MAURICE SENDAK: BIOGRAPHY
NO LIGHT WITHOUT THE DARK: THE INCOMPARABLE MIND OF MAURICE SENDAK
MUSIC WITH A POINT
THE HISTORY OF TEREZÍN
THE MUSIC AND CULTURE OF TEREZÍN
HUMOR IN THE FACE OF INHUMANITY
ACTIVITIES FOR ELEMENTARY AND MIDDLE SCHOOL CLASSES
ACTIVITIES FOR HIGH SCHOOL CLASSES
A TRAGIC LULLABY
A GRAND AND INTIMATE JOURNEY:
A LETTER FROM THE ARTISTIC DIRECTOR
Like so many other people, I first discovered Maurice Sendak through my children. Their love for his books merged happily with my own joy in discovering his singular imagination. The worlds he described were filled not only with an endless array of fantastical creatures and brilliant landscapes, but with a mischievous sense of humor and a deep sense of empathy for children trying to survive a truly scary world. The laughter and happiness in these books never seemed entirely removed from the cares of life, but motivatedusuallyby loss, by the need to find some way to triumph over suffering and sorrow.
Partnering with Tony Kushner (he of his own fantastical creatures and brilliant landscapes), Sendak recently illustrated the tale of Brundibar, an allegory rooted in the rise of fascism in Czechoslavakia before World War II. Not satisfied with publishing a wonderful book, the two subsequently turned their enormous talents to designing and adapting the famous childrens opera by Hans Krása. Offered a production at the Chicago Opera Theater, they decided to pair Brundibar with Comedy on the Bridge, another one-act of the same period by Bohuslav Martinu. Taken together, the pieces form a picture of modern culture which is both terrifying and splendid: communities struggling against the mighty forces of war, despair and powerlessness with endless vigor and ingenuity. While Comedy is more focused on an adult experience and Brundibar on children, both seek solace from oppression through compassion, humor, solidarity and, ultimately, creativity.
Tonights production attempts to realize the ambitions of both the music and the narrative: an evening designed to satisfy almost all of your aesthetic appetites. We are overjoyed to be able to present the work of two of Americas preeminent artists supported by the wealth of talent of our own artistic community. The chorus of 29 children in this show comes from virtually the entire Bay Area, while the remainder of the extraordinary and unique cast hails from every part of the country. It is, both literally and figuratively, our own little circus.
Needless to say, it has taken the full measure of the skills of the staff at Berkeley Rep to produce this project. We have embarked upon this journey, together with our good colleagues at the Yale Repertory Theatre, in an attempt to create a piece of art that is both grand and intimateand which, with regard to both content and form, raises the proverbial bar. We thank you for your continuing support as we expand the definition of what is possible.
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AT PLAY WITH MAURICE AND TONY:
HOW THE FRIENDSHIP BETWEEN TWO CELEBRATED ARTISTS BECAME A COLLABORATION FOR THE AGES
Tony Kushner, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, is editing an essay for the upcoming coffee-table book The Art of Maurice Sendak: 1980 to the Present (Harry N. Abrams, 2003), while Maurice Sendak, the famous childrens book artist, is completing a drawing for the final pages of his first childrens book in a decade, Brundibar, (Hyperion, 2003), which grew out of an opera he produced with Kushner.
After an extraordinary, virtually unpublicized friendship of almost 10 years, Kushner and Sendak recently crossed a line. They are no longer mere friends, simply basking in their mutual regard for each other. This year they became artistic collaborators. With a new production of their adaptation of the opera Brundibar (which premiered last summer), a childrens book version publishing this Novemberart by Sendak, text by Kushner (Michael di Capua / Hyperion Books for Children)and the coffee-table book arriving the same month, their years of friendship are about to erupt in a wellspring of creative achievement.
At first glance, the two seem worlds apart. Kushner, 47, is from the South and came of age in Louisiana during the Vietnam War and post-Stonewall era. Sendak, 30 years his senior, is from the North and came of age in Brooklyn during the Great Depression and World War II. But soon after meeting, as Kushner and Sendak revealed in recent interviews with the Forward, an unexpected friendship burgeoned between them.
As it is, perhaps, with all great collaborations, the parties cant agree on how it all began. According to Sendak, the two first met after a production of Kushners Angels in America, with Tony sweeping out after the performance like the Phantom of the Opera. Pure fantasy, Kushner insisted, in a separate interview. He made that up. He must be thinking of this great black Issey Miyake raincoat I used to wear. Instead, he distinctly recalls first meeting in the early 1990s after Sendak learned that Kushner was a fan of Herman Melville. Sendaks appreciation for Melville cannot be overstated; he owns a first edition version of each of his novels in addition to a signed copy of Moby Dick. He sent word that he was interested in meeting me, Kushner said. I had been a Sendak fan since my earliest years. I was raised on his books.
From their first meeting, it was clear they had much in common. Though generations apart, Kushners deep emotional fascination with the Jewish immigrant world in which Sendak was born helped them overcome their age gap. Ironic as it may seem, when Sendak recalls a word from his youth whose meaning escapes him, he calls Kushner to find translation for his latest slice of yidishkayt.
We come from a world of pro-union activists, socialists, Republican-hating New York Jews, and neither of us has betrayed that tradition, Kushner said. We read the paper the same way. We get angry at the same villains.
I love Tony, agreed Sendak. We both have mentshlikhkayt, a deep sense of humanity. Kushner added: We both agonize over the fact that we lose a lot of working time to our friends. On the other hand, we are absolutely incapable of turning our backs on the world.
As Kushner writes in his introduction to the coffee-table book, what attracted him to Melvillethe figure that, at least in his view, first brought the two togetherwas the 19th-century authors reckless ardor for the truth and a conviction that truth must be spoke, no matter how shocking, how unpopular or ugly or despairing it may be. The same could describe the motivations of both Sendak and Kushner. As they see it, while their respective fields are worlds apart, their work speaks a common language, searching for hope in the face of great evil or hardship, and using art as a vehicle for confronting an audience with hard truths. Whether addressing poverty or AIDS or the cruelty of adults, they both seek to help others view the world with unjaded eyes and an open heart.
It was this shared language that spurred them toward collaboration. Michael Di Capua, Sendaks editor of 40 years, who worked closely with both on the Brundibar book, told the Forward that the foundation of the friendship between Kushner and Sendak is that each thinks the other is an amazing genius. From Tonys point of view, Maurice is a hero from childhood while Maurice feels in Tony, both intellectually and artistically, he has met his match.
It was perhaps with this in mind that Sendak first approached Kushner about Brundibar, shortly after receiving a CD of the opera. Brundibar was created by Hans Krása in Czechoslovakia in 1938, but was not performed until 1942, when it was finally produced in a Jewish boys orphanage in the Prague ghetto. Set in a thinly veiled Nazi-occupied Prague, a Christian boy and girl devise a plan to raise money to buy milk for their infirm mother: They decide to sing in the street, but are frustrated by a bullying, child-hating character named Brundibar, an allegorical stand-in for Adolf Hitler. After recruiting the help of various talking animals and 300 Jewish schoolchildren, Brundibar is thwarted and, for the moment, evil is defeated. This tale of resistance took on added weight after all involved in its production were transported to Terezín, a concentration camp, where imprisoned children performed it dozens of times.
When Kushner first heard the music of Brundibar, he was stunned. Its one of the most beautiful pieces of musical theater ever written for children, he said. A few weeks later, when Kushner turned in the new English libretto, Sendak decided it would not only be an opera, but a childrens book as well. Thus began not just one, but two collaborations.
And then two became three, when the publisher working on the coffee-table book about Sendaks work asked Kushner to write the introduction, which quickly grew into a book-length essay.
Though Sendak was tentative about collaborating with a friend, both men soon came to appreciate the experience. I cant have a friendship without collaboration, Sendak explained. As artists, were just too busy. Moreover, the friendship helped shaped the collaboration. Tony kept me toned down, Sendak said, in reference to the bitterness and anger that arose while tackling such issues as child poverty and mass extermination. He softened the raw bones that were poking out, so to speak.
In the end, the friendship did more than survive. We came through the collaboration stronger, said Sendak, which is astonishing. Di Capua described their relationship as appearing ten times stronger now because of their having been down in the pits together, hammering out all this work. Without any question their collaboration has intensified what was already a very intense relationship to begin with.
Its my crowning achievement, Sendak said of the opera and book, my last great collaboration. Kushner had a similar response. Although friends for so many years, Kushner still cant get over the fact that he has created a book with his childhood hero. I am absolutely certain this is going to be one of the things in my life that I am proudest of.
Still, one is curious how Sendak finds hope in the face of war, the Holocaust and the realization that historys lessons often go unlearned. Kushner suggests an answer in his introductory essay, writing that in his work Sendak resolves the dilemma between facing despair and locating hope by discovering the only place in which hope can be locatedin community, in society, with and through other people. When asked where he finds it in his own life, Sendak said, I find hope in knowing as an older man I can still be engaged with the world and that I can have friendships with people like Tony.
When the title character in Brundibar first appears in the book, singing his awful hurdy-gurdy songs about killing children, two Jewish boys stand behind him, defiant, arms wrapped around the other, dancing with joy, even though their yellow stars mark them for future destruction. Standing behind Hitlers back, they dance. Sendak called it the books great irony. It is also a portrait of what has been achieved by two artists forging their friendship into a unified creative voice, grounding themselves to fight the good fights. As Kushners text for Brundibar reads, Our friends make us strong.
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TONY KUSHNER ON MAURICE SENDAK AND BRUNDIBAR
Recently Maurice has been working on opera designs for Brundibar, by Hans Krása. Brundibar, Czech for bumblebee, tells the story of two small children, Pepicek and Aninku, whose mother has fallen ill; the brother and sister travel to a nearby city to bring back milk to make her well. Upon arriving, the children realize that they need money, and their attempt to earn some by singing in the town square is thwarted by the villain of the opera, Brundibar, a teenage hurdy-gurdy player and a bully. Frightened, the two kids hide in an alley; they are rescued by a friendly sparrow, cat and dog who, along with 300 school kids enlisted for the purpose, help Aninku and Pepicek drive the bully away. The kids sing a beautiful choral number, and consequently get plenty of cash from an appreciative audience of grown-ups to buy milk for their mother, who drinks the milk, or mleko, as it is called in Czech (say it out loud and you will realize that its a much better word than its English equivalent), and is restored to health.
Its a sweet tale, but it has a tragic history. In 1938, the Czech Ministry of Education and Culture sponsored a competition for a childrens opera. I havent been able to find out whether Krásas Brundibar won the competition, or whether it was excluded from the competition, or whether the competition was ever concluded. A few months after the opera was completed, the German army invaded and occupied Czechoslovakia, and Krása, being Jewish, would have been barred from participation in such a contest, Jewish music having been declared unperformable before a general audience by Nazi race laws.
Brundibar was not given its premiere until 1942, at the Vinohrady, a Jewish boys orphanage, which had become a concert and recital hall for the Jews of the Prague ghetto. The piece was given three performances before the Nazis rounded up the operas designer, conductor, director and accompanist, all the boys in the orphanage and Krása. All were transported to the concentration camp at Terezín.
In September 1943, this same group, all inmates of Terezín, staged a new, co-ed production of Brundibar using the camps imprisoned children. Krása brilliantly orchestrated the piano score for a small ensemble, taking advantage of the fact that some of Czechoslovakias best musicians were prisoners in Terezín. The opera became a hit among the inmate population. Brundibar is a political allegory, an almost undisguised cry for resistance to Hitler. In photos of the production, the boy playing the organ grinder, Brundibar, is wearing a moustache.
Brundibar was performed 55 times at Terezín. Jews sang it for Jews during the Freizeitgestaltung, or free time period, the Nazis permitted the inmates of Terezín. Paradoxically, before long the camp officials recognized the operas propaganda potential. It was performed for the International Red Cross representative sent to inspect camp conditions, who went away impressed with the kindness of the Nazis and the cultured atmosphere of the camp. Segments of a performance were then filmed for inclusion in the Nazi-produced documentary, Der Führer Schenkt Den Juden Eine Stadt (The Fuhrer Gives The Jews A City).
Nearly all the children who performed it were eventually sent to Auschwitz, where they were murdered. Krása was killed there in October 1944.
Maurice, Michael di Capua and I have struggled to make a childrens book out of Brundibar, one that honors the martyred dead. Our discussions have raised the question: in a world of trouble and woe and worse, what are children to be told? How much do they need to know so that they are prepared to meet the world? How much can they handle, and at what point does truth, when it is terrible, faith-destroying, hope-destroying, unassimilable truth, become unsuitable for children, with their still undeveloped capacities to sustain its reception?
Ive been moved and have felt privileged to observe first hand how deeply Maurice suffers a picture book. He drew Brundibar twice; he produced an entire set of sketches and then, losing faith in the approach he had taken, considered abandoning the book. Jules Feiffer, having heard what a rough time his old friend was having, called Maurice to tell him about some new watercolor pens hed just bought. He wanted Maurice to try them. It was intended, Jules told me, as a kick in the ass. It worked. Maurice began again, with remarkable results.
One of our discussions centered around the character of Brundibar, played on stage by a boy but intended to represent Hitler himself. Maurices first impulse was to draw the organ grinder as Hitler. We agonized over the results. It was too horrible, and it raised all the old questions. When you are reading this book to a child, are you meant to stop and explain to the kid who this scary-looking man was, or what hed done? I felt the choice wed made was unfair to parents, and inappropriate to the tale, to the impulse to present an allegory. So we turned Brundibar to Hitler in a clown costume. Still it seemed wrong; in the opera, Brundibar is a boy, bigger than the two protagonists but not as formidable a foe as an adult would be; and again, was it right to play hide-and-seek with Hilters visage, an icon of human evil? Maurice went back to work and made the decision to turn Brundibar back into a boy; to give him Napoleons hat; to festoon his upper lip with a moustache that threatens to become rats whiskers; and finally, to put into the boys head staring eyes of psychopathic blue.
As a way of addressing our concerns about the tale and its history, Maurice evolved a narrative strategy for Brundibar. He explained to me that the storys first partAninku and Pepicek going to fetch milk for their mother, their inability to get it, their terrified retreatwas to be taken at face value. Our readers were meant to understand that this part relates the story exactly as it happened. The storys second partthe childrens rescue, their triumphwas possibly real, or possibly merely a victory dreamt by two cold, homeless kids for whom the morning will bring no good news. Possibly its our wish that everything will work out for them, even as we know that often it doesnt.
But his Brundibar illustrations seem to describe a path that diverges from his own strategy. The first images, those in the real part of the book, are brightly colored. Theyre folk drawings, almostGod forbid I should say theyre done in a fat style. After the kids hide in the alley and meet their animal rescuers, Maurices drawings assume a greater degree of elaboration, historical specificity, of gritty reality. The triumph, which he grievingly reads as an improbable wish, appears paradoxically to be more real, more substantial than the reality it flies away from. I dont think that Maurice devised this schematic in advancehe seemed rather surprised to notice hed done it. Its an instinct for hope he has, a reflex for hope. It comes from his bones, or flows from his beleaguered heart, down to the fingertips of his soft, pale, subtle hands.
(Excerpt from The Art of Maurice Sendak as printed in The Guardian on December 6, 2003. http://www.guardian.co.uk/weekend/story/0,3605,1099755,00.html#article_continue)
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MAURICE SENDAK: BIOGRAPHY
Best known for his childrens books, Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen, Maurice Sendak has spent the past fifty years bringing to life a world of fantasy and imagination. His unique vision is loved around the globe by both young and old. Beyond his award-winning work as a writer and illustrator of childrens books, Sendak has produced both operas and ballets for television and the stage.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, to Polish-Jewish immigrant parents, Sendak was a frail and sickly child. Spending much of his young life indoors, he turned to books at an early age. His view of the outside world was often limited to the family that came to visit him and the little that he could see from his window. It was during this time that he began to draw and to allow his imagination to run free. At age twelve, he went with his family to see Walt Disneys Fantasia. This animated world, constructed completely of invented characters and fantasy, had a great influence on him.
Throughout high school, Sendak continued to draw, and after graduating, published a handful of illustrations in the textbook Atomics for the Millions. In 1948, he began working for F.A.O. Schwartz as a window dresser and continued there for four years while taking night classes at the New York Art Students League. After finding work illustrating Marcel Aymes The Wonderful Farm and Ruth Krausss A Hole is to Dig, Sendak left F.A.O. Schwartz to become a full-time, freelance childrens book illustrator.
Throughout the 1950s, Sendak worked regularly, producing nearly fifty illustrated childrens books. He saw in book illustration the opportunity to expand the imaginary world of the reader. While many illustrators had concentrated on clarifying the images in the text, Sendak believed that an illustration should add to the mystery of the work. His oddly grotesque characters seemed strangely inviting in their imperfections. Unlike much of the Disney cartoons and the illustration that followed it, Sendaks artistic imagery brought a self-conscious attention to its origin and its maker.
By the early 1960s, Sendak had already gained a following as one of the more expressive and interesting illustrators in the business. In 1963, his book, Where the Wild Things Are, brought him international acclaim and a place among the worlds great illustrators. For this project, Sendak worked as both the illustrator and the writer. It is the story of a young boy named Max, who is sent to his room only to find his imagination has created a new world there, populated by wild geographies and monsters of all kinds. Initially, its graphic portrayal of the toothy wild things concerned parents, but before long it was a favorite among children everywhere, having been translated into fifteen languages and selling more than two million copies.
Over the following years, Sendak created dozens of popular childrens books including one of his best known, In the Night Kitchen (1970). In the late 1970s, Sendak turned his attention to other forms. While continuing to write and illustrate, Sendak began producing and designing performances. Incorporating much of the same imaginative design that had made his books so popular, Sendak put on a number of operas, including Mozarts The Magic Flute and Prokofievs Love for Three Oranges. In 1979, he turned his book, Where the Wild Things Are into a popular opera, and four years later designed a winning production of Tchaikovskys ballet The Nutcracker.
Throughout the past fifty years, Maurice Sendak has been one of the most consistently inventive and challenging voices in childrens literature. His books and productions are among the best-loved imaginative works of their time. Like the Grimm brothers before him, Sendak has created a body of work both entertaining and educational, which will continue to be popular for generations.
In his book, Angels and Wild Things: The Archetypal Poetics of Maurice Sendak, John Cech, Professor of English at the University of Florida and a past president of the Childrens Literature Association, wrote, Indeed, without Sendak, an enormous void would exist in contemporary American (and, for that matter, international) childrens books. One can only try to imagine what the landscape of childrens literature would be like without Sendaks fantasies and the characters and places visited in them. These fantasies essentially broke through the relatively unperturbed surfaces of postwar American childrens literature, sending his childrenRosie, Max, Mickey, Jennie, Idaon journeys into regions of the psyche that childrens books had not dared visit before. That these journeys have been embraced by countless other childrens authors and their audiences since Sendaks seminal works is apparent when you look at the childrens books presently being published.
MAURICE SENDAK HONORED
Since the first book he illustrated in 1951, Maurice Sendak has illustrated or written and illustrated over 90 books. The list of awards presented to him is too long to include in full. Sendak received the 1964 Caldecott Medal for Where the Wild Things Are and the Hans Christian Andersen International Medal in 1970 for his body of childrens book illustration. He was the recipient of the American Book Award in 1982 for Outside Over There. In 1983, he received the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for his contributions to childrens literature. In 1996, Sendak was honored by the President of the United States with the National Medal of Arts. In 2003, Maurice Sendak and Austrian author Christine Noestlinger shared the first Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award for Literature.
(http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/database/sendak_m.html and http://childrensbooks.about.com/cs/authorsillustrato/a/sendakartistry.htm)
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NO LIGHT WITHOUT THE DARK:
THE INCOMPARABLE MIND OF MAURICE SENDAK
No one does childrens stories like Maurice Sendak over a hundred books in all. Hes won nearly every major prize for childrens literature plus the national medal of arts. And no wonder. Just look at these titles: In the Night Kitchen; Higglety Pigglety Pop; Outside Over There; Chicken Soup with Rice; and of course, the most loved and famous of all, Where the Wild Things Are.
My friend Joseph Campbell once told me long before I met you that one of the great moments in literature is this scene in Where the Wild Things Are: And when he came to the place where the wild things are, they roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws till Max said, Be still! and tamed them with the magic trick of staring into all their yellow eyes without blinking once. And they were frightened and called him the most wild thing of all and made him king of all wild things.
Joseph Campbell went and got that and read it to me. And he said, That is a great moment because its only when a man tames his own demons that he becomes the king of himself if not of the world. And he said that was a great moment in literature.
Thats very moving. I did not know.
But you were just making it up?
I was just making it up. A long time ago. I was 32 when I did that book. But if hes right, thats a wonderful and touching idea.
But do you believe its true? Do we all, adults and children, have to come to grips with our own untamed passions and
Oh, yes. Were animals. Were violent. Were criminal. Were not so far away from the gorillas and the apes, those beautiful creatures. And then, were supposed to be civilized. Were supposed to go to work every day. Were supposed to be nice to our friends and send Christmas cards to our parents.
Were supposed to do all these things which trouble us deeply because its so against what we naturally would want to do. And as it turns out sometimes the so-called right way is utterly the wrong way. What a monstrous confusion.
Is writing books like this something like guerilla warfare?
Yes. Thats well said. Because youre really fighting yourself all the way along the line. And I dont know I never set out to write books for children.
I was watching television. Christa Ludwig who was a great opera singer, had a surprising interview at the end of the concert where the guy said, But, why do you like Schubert? You always sing Schubert. And he sort of faintly condemned Schubert. I mean, hes so simple. He just does Viennese waltzes. And she smiled. And she said, Schubert is so big, so delicate, but what he did was pick a form that looked so humble and quiet so that he could crawl into that form and explode emotionally, find every way of expressing every emotion in this miniature form.
And I got very excited. And I wondered is it possible thats why I do childrens books? I picked a modest form which was very modest back in the 50s and 60s. I mean, childrens books were the bottom end of the totem pole. We didnt even get invited to grown-up book parties at Harpers.
It was a womans world, wasnt it?
It was a womans world. And you were suspect the minute you were at a party. What do you do? I do books with children. Ah, Im sure my wife would like to talk to you. It was always that way. But, my thought was thats what I did. I didnt have much confidence in myself never. And so, I hid inside, like Christa was saying, this modest form called the childrens book and expressed myself entirely.
I wasnt gonna paint. And I wasnt gonna do ostentatious drawings. I wasnt gonna have gallery pictures. I was gonna hide somewhere where nobody would find me and express myself entirely. Im like a guerilla warfarer in my best books.
You deal so often in your work with the courage of children. What does it take for a child to have courage? And what do you mean by it?
Enormous innocence to really not know how evil the world can be.
Brundibar ends saying, The wicked never win. We have our victory. Yet, tyrants come along. But, you just wait and see. They topple one, two, three. Our friends will make us strong. And thus, we end our song.
Turn the page.
Its a P.S. from Brundibar. They believe theyve won the fight. They believe Im gone. Not quite. Nothing ever works out neatly. Bullies dont give up completely. One departs. The next appears. And we shall meet again, my dears. Though I go, I wont go far. Ill be back. Love, Brundibar. What are you saying there?
Well, you cant get rid of evil. We cant, and I feel that so intensely.
Theres a powerful illustration here. The children are on the backs of blackbirds. Theyre flying through the starlit sky. Why blackbirds?
I dont know for sure. Because the blackbirds are in this book, theyre both pro the kids and against the kids. Just like fate. Sometimes it goes your way. Sometimes And also a blackbird is from my passion for Schubert songs and his blackbirds and his birds of doom or birds of good.
Tony Kushner, your friend and collaborator, says you have a mind darkened by both fatalism and faith.
You agree with him? He knows you.
Yeah, he knows me almost too well. Fatalism, yes. Yes. Having lived through the wars in Europe and having lost so many people in my family when I was a child. Faith? Total faith in art. Total faith in art.
Art has always been my salvation. And my gods are Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson, Mozart. I believe in them with all my heart. And when Mozart is playing in my room, I am in conjunction with something I cant explain.
I dont need to. I know that if theres a purpose for life, it was for me to hear Mozart. Or if I walk in the woods and I see an animal, the purpose of my life was to see that animal.
I can recollect it, I can notice it. Im here to take note of. And that is beyond my ego, beyond anything that belongs to me, an observer, an observer.
(Excerpted from the March 14, 2004 transcript of PBS NOW with Bill Moyerssee the whole interview at berkeleyrep.org/sendak reprinted with permission from Maurice Sendak and Public Affairs Television)
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MUSIC WITH A POINT:
TONY KUSHNER ON THE SURVIVAL OF TWO WORKS OF ART THAT DARED TO ASK FOR HOPE IN A TIME OF WAR
In 1938, the Czech Ministry of Education and Culture sponsored a competition for a childrens opera. Among those vying for the prize was a 40-year-old Prague composer, Hans Krása, whose entry, libretto by the playwright Adolf Hoffmeister, was Brundibar (the word is Czech for bumblebee).
I havent been able to find out whether Brundibar won the competition, or whether the competition was ever concluded. A few months after the opera was completed the German army invaded and occupied Czechoslovakia. Krása, who was Jewish, would have been barred from participation in such a contest, his music unperformable before a general audience according to Nazi race laws. Brundibar was not given its premiere until 1942 at the Vinohrady Jewish Boys Orphanage, which had become a concert and recital hall for the Jews of the Prague ghetto. Before the first performance, Krása, as well as the operas conductor, Rafael Schaechter, were arrested and sent in the first transport of Prague Jews to Theresienstadt, or Terezín, the Nazis model ghetto for the Jews of Central Bohemiain reality a concentration camp and a way station for the death camps of Auschwitz, Birkenau, Treblinka.
In spite of the arrests, Brundibar was performed at the Vinohrady Orphanage, conducted by a teenager, Rudolph Freudenfeld, son of the orphanages director. The piece was given three performances before the transports rounded up Freudenfeld father and son, director and designer Frantisek Zelenka, pianist Gideon Klein, who had been the accompanist, and the boys of the Vinohrady Orphanage.
Rudolph Freudenfeld had hidden a copy of the piano score in his luggage, and so Brundibar arrived in Terezín, where Krása was now the inmate in charge of music for the Freizeitgestaltung (Free Time Activities Administration). Krása brilliantly reorchestrated the piano score, taking advantage of the presence in Terezín of a number of talented instrumentalists. In September 1943, the Vinohrady group, now concentration camp inmates, staged a new, co-ed production, cast with imprisoned children. The opera itself became a hit among the inmate population; Rudolph Freudenfeld conducted, Zelenka directed and designed a new set, the poet Emil Saudek wrote a new anthem for the operas finale, emphasizing Brundibars political value as allegoryin photos of the production the boy playing Brundibar is wearing something like a toothbrush moustache.
Brundibar was performed 55 times at Terezín. It was begun by Jews for Jews, but before long the camp officials recognized the propaganda potential of Brundibar, with its singing prisoner children and happy (or at least momentarily distracted) prisoner audiences. The opera was performed for the International Red Cross committee-of-one (an inexperienced young man, utterly charmed and duped by the Nazi commandant) sent to inspect camp conditions. Segments of the performance were filmed and included in the film Der Führer schenkt den Juden eine Stadt (The Führer Gives the Jews a City), produced by the Nazis and directed by a camp inmate, the great actor and singer Kurt Gerron.
The operas conductor and director, the poet Saudek, Kurt Gerron and nearly all the children who performed Brundibar were eventually sent to Auschwitz, where they were murdered. Brundibars composer, Hans Krása, died in the gas chambers in Auschwitz in October 1944.
Brundibar is a beautiful childrens story, extolling the virtues of courage and cooperation and collective action against tyranny. In a sense, its a tale of the outrage and rebellion of even the natural world of dogs, cats and sparrows against things as unnatural as injustice and poverty and the suffering of children. Its a tale of the power of music to make miracles happen. Its a story of good defeating evil. But its history is haunted by a single instance of evil defeating good. I suppose one could say that the music triumphs: today Brundibar is performed all over the world, the Jewish people have survived. On the other hand, one must always be wary of drawing false reassurances from the horrific lessons of the Holocaust, perhaps especially now, when children all over the world are in such mortal dangerpoor children, children in war zones, Jewish and Palestinian children, as well as homeless, uninsured, unprotected children in the United States. I think in dark times such as these, Brundibar, both the opera and its tragic history, shouldnt offer us a reassurance; we shouldnt draw comfort from the fact that, even after the worst has happened, people and art survive. Some people do, many people dont; some art survives, but of course much creative brilliance, like Hans Krásas, is extinguished before its time. Heres what I think Brundibar offers us, its final exhortation: Be brave, and you can make bullies behave! Rely on friends! And tyrants of all kinds, in every generation, can be and must be resisted.
Comedy on the Bridge (Veselohra na moste), by the prolific Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu, was commissioned by Prague Radio in 1935, written that year in Paris and broadcast in 1937virtually contemporaneous with Brundibar. The libretto is based on a 19th-century play by Václav Kliment Klicpera, but the story of people trapped between warring armies, exposed and vulnerable on a bridge, must have had an ominous contemporary resonance for Martinu. The world in the mid-1930s was watching fascism rise, Germany arm itself, Stalinism darken in the east and the looming Second World War, already discussed in some quarters as an inevitability. By the time Comedy had its first live, staged performance, in May 1951 in New York, Martinu had been living in the United States for 11 years. Far more fortunate than Krása, Martinu arrived in New York in 1940, a refugee driven out of Prague and then Paris by the Wehrmacht. He never lived in his homeland again.
Though not nearly as tragic as Brundibar, Comedy on the Bridge is another work whose history is intertwined with war and oppression. Both are products of the middle of the 20th century, at a time when the world was sunk in nightmare. Their beauty is testament to the creative power of human beings, even in dark times, to turn ugliness into music. But its music with a point, or rather two simple but all-important points: fight together for justice; work, hope, pray and strive for peace.
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THE HISTORY OF TEREZÍN
Terezín is the Czech name for a fortress town built in 1780, which is located roughly 35 miles north of Prague. When it was constructed, the political situation in the area was quite different from today, and certainly very different from what it would become during WWII. In the late 18th century, neither Czechoslovakia nor the Czech Republic existed. This part of Europe instead consisted of ethnic regions such as Bohemia and Moravia, along with the areas of present-day Hungary and Romaniaall part of the expansive Austrian Empire governed by the Hapsburgs. Of chief concern to the Hapsburg emperor of the time, Joseph II, was encroachment by the Prussians from the North into Bohemia. As a security measure, Joseph II declared that the garrison town should be built for protection from such an invasion.
Named Theresienstadt (Theresas Town) after Josephs mother Empress Maria Theresa, the city is comprised of two partsthe Large Fortress and the Small Fortresswhich took ten years total to construct. The Large Fortress is best explained as a fortified town, outfitted with a number of buildings intended as army barracks, administrative offices, private residences and the like. Located within star-shaped rampartstwo sets of brick walls and bastions with a moat in betweenthe area was intended to sustain a constant population of about six thousand, with capabilities of up to around fourteen thousand if necessary. Situated between the rivers Ohre and Elbe with a view towards the Sudeten mountains, the city contains a non-descript geometric layout with a large square, or market place, at its center and three smaller rectangular parks among the uniform blocks of buildings.
The Small Fortress is located just one kilometer down the road to the East on the other side of the Ohre River. This served as 18th-century Theresienstadts true military center from a defensive standpoint, and was designed as a miniature version of the larger garrison town. Underground tunnels link entrances in and out of the fortress and the land between the ramparts is replete with storage areas and prison cells. Though equipped for defense, the Small Fortress was never needed as Joseph II had anticipated. Its role and purpose in history shifted over the coming centuries to a high security military prison, and would eventually hold its most famous inhabitant, Gavrilo Princip, the assassin of Archduke Francis Ferdinand. This 1914 assassination is commonly believed to be the impetus for World War I. However, Gavrilo Princip would not be the only prisoner of note as the 20th century continued.
Joseph II was an enlightened emperor, and though his mother was anti-Semitic, he was not. Upon his mothers death in 1780, this mindset was proven in part by one of his first actions as emperor wherein he reversed her three-year mandate that all Jews be exiled from the Austrian Empire. In 1850 the Jewish Quarter in Prague, Josefov, was named after the emperor to honor him and commemorate his support for the Jewish people. It is with great irony then that this fortress town of Terezín, built by a rare open-minded emperor, would be used two centuries later by the greatest anti-Semites of all, the Nazis
Over the period of time from Josef IIs reign to WWI, the dual monarchy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was established and claimed control of the Czechoslovak lands. Due to simple geography, the Czechs were more influenced by the Austrians and the Slovaks by the Hungarians. Though their historical backgrounds were similar, the Czechs and Slovaks were two distinct peoples with slightly different languages and customs. The separate influences of Austria and Hungary helped further these differences. By the turn of the twentieth century, however, the Czech and Slovaks were tiring of their roles as properties of empires, and began entertaining the idea of declaring their own independent states.
This idea, in the form of joint sovereignty, became reality after WWI and the Treaty of Versailles, through which the Austro-Hungarian Empire was broken apart into new countries. Established as a sovereign state, the Czechs and Slovaks were finally able to institute their own government free of outside rulers. However, the new Czechoslovak Republic initially lacked firm territorial boundaries and a defined voting population, as it was comprised of a number of different ethnic regions and groups. Inhabitants not only included Czechs from the Moravian, Bohemian and Silesian regions and the Slovaks, but also Hungarians, Poles and Germans, many of whom were settled in the Sudeten mountain region.
In truth, a large percentage of the overall population was of German descent, tracing back historically to early settling of the Czech lands. Despite their separate cultures and languages, the Czechs and Germans had been coexisting for centuries with pockets of each ethnicity spread throughout the landscape. Their intermingling influences are apparent in such things as the absence of the Cyrillic characters in the Czech and Slovak languages, which are otherwise of Slavic origin (like Russian). German influence also accounts for the Czech and Slovak embrace of the Roman Catholic Church as opposed to Eastern Orthodoxy.
During the rule of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, German was the language of the intelligentsia and the cultured. For example, famed Czech author Franz Kafka (18831924) wrote exclusively in German, despite being fluent in Czech for all other purposes. The heightened focus on German-related interests in the Czech lands through these years is part of what caused further rifts between the Czechs and Germans when the Czechoslovak Republic was formed. While minority rights were protected as the fledgling government struggled to balance multinational interests, the Czech-Germans nevertheless had no real part in political affairs of the country. For years the Czech-German political parties fluctuated in acceptance and dissent over their place in the government. By the time the Nazis were steadily gaining power in Germany, however, many Czech-Germans loyalties turned Nationalist in favor of Germany over their local environment.
The final straw was when the Nazis annexed Austria in the Anschluss of 1938. It soon became apparent that the Czechoslovak Republic was Hitlers next target for expansion, and his wish was soon granted. In the Munich Agreement, the Allies determined the Czechs fate in order to appease Hitler and, they hoped, avoid an outbreak of war. France, Britain and Italy met with Germany to determine a redivision of Czech territory without any input from the Czechs themselves, who were forced to be helpless pawns in a political chess game.
In the end, the Czechoslovak Republic was significantly reduced along all borders, particularly along the highly-German Sudeten mountain range. These losses concerned the Czechs in terms of future German incursions, and with good reason. Within six months the Nazis had invaded Bohemia and Moravia and German occupation had begun. The Slovaks were also implicated, as they had seceded from the Czechoslovak Republic just a day before the invasion to form a separate state allied with the Nazis. By March of 1939, the Czechs had lost their autonomy, their government heads had fled to Britain and France to create a government in exile, and Hitler was making himself comfortable on the throne in Prague Castle. It was a new regime, and one of the first items on the checklist was to clear out all the Jews in the Czech lands.
From 1939 to 1941, the new position as citizens of the German Protectorate became increasingly difficult for the Czechs and particularly the Czech Jews. Limitations were placed on everything, from shopping hours to available merchandise, and bans were placed on most public entertainment, transportation, telephone use and interaction with Aryans. In September of 1941 all Jews were required to wear the yellow Star of David as public statements of their ancestry, and in the Nazis eyes, lowered status. Under the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, only slight distinction was made between half-Jews, full-blooded Jews and non-practicing Jewsin effect, all variants were destined for eventual liquidation in Hitlers gameplan for the Final Solution. To facilitate further isolation of the Jews, Deputy Reich Protector Reinhard Heydrich supported efforts to gather Jews from widespread regions into large groups that could then be transported to the death camps of the East. A place like Terezín could be no better for the purpose of storing gathered Jews, for a garrison town can keep people in as effectively as it can keep people out. And so Terezín, or Theresienstadt as the Germans preferred to call it, was selected as a major player in this darkest chapter of 20th century history.
POPULATION AT THE CAMP
Children also had access to art supplies thanks to the tireless efforts of Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, who was an artist and drawing instructor. The artistic efforts of the children of Terezín are among the most moving remnants of these terrible times. Drawing became a sort of therapy for the confused children whose normal lives had been snatched away, and for some who were too young to even remember normalTerezín was all they knew. Through their artwork, present-day viewers can see the world of the camp through their eyes, see what they missed and see what they hoped for in the future. One of the most tragic statistics is that of the 10,000 children who made their way through Terezín, only the tiniest percentage survived. Some place the uncertain figure at 100, others at 1000, but either way it is abominably small. For thousands of children, the one mark they managed to leave permanently in this world was an imprint of crayon or pencil on paper. For this reason these drawings are preserved with utmost care, in museums from Prague to Israel to Washington, DC.
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THE MUSIC AND CULTURE OF TEREZÍN:
HANS KRÁSAS BRUNDIBÁR, AND THE SURREAL CULTURAL LIFE OF THERESIENSTADT
Krása then, like the other eminent Czech Jewish composers whom the Nazis sent to Terezín and then ultimately to Auschwitz, Viktor Ullmann and Pavel Haas, belonged very much to the Central European traditions of late romantic and early twentieth century modernist music. There is no small irony in the fact that the town of Terezín or Theresienstadt was originally developed as a military garrison by the Austrian emperor Joseph II, whom Mozart at times served, and was named in honor of Josephs mother, the empress Maria Theresia, the monarch of Mozarts childhood and youth.
The Nazis occupied the Czech lands of Bohemia and Moravia in March 1939, and Brundibár was first performed secretly in a Jewish orphanage in Prague on November 27, 1941. In 1942 the Nazis transported several of those who had run that orphanage, some of the children who had lived there and eventually Krása himself to the transit camp established for Jews in the old eighteenth garrison town north of Prague, Terezín. When the Nazi authorities permitted the Jews there to organize a semblance of communal life, Krása along with the other musicians, actors and artists mounted musical and theatrical performances. Krásas considerable talents and energy enabled him to become head of the musical section of the Jews leisure time organization in the town.
Terezín (or Theresienstadt) occupies a special place in the history of the Nazis policies of genocide and their brutal efforts to achieve the social and cultural reconstruction of Europe. Even with its high rates of disease and mortality, Terezín served at times as a model concentration camp that the Nazis used to try to demonstrate their benevolence toward Jews and other prisoners for the International Red Cross and world opinion. Because of this, the inmates of Terezín were allowed at least for a time to develop a much more elaborate musical and artistic life than most other ghettos and camps established by the Nazis. In the Czech lands, the first mass relocations of the Jewish population began with a transport of 350 Jewish men from Prague to the walled town of Terezín on November 24, 1941. Terezín was to serve as a transit camp, already in January 1942, large transports began taking Jewish prisoners from Terezín to larger camps in Poland, the Baltic and the Nazi occupied western Soviet territory.
The walled town of Terezín with the attached forbidding small fortress came to be the most important visible symbol of the Holocaust in the Czech lands. The Habsburg authorities had built Terezín in 1780 as a fortified garrison town to deal with the threat of possible future Prussian incursions. It had high ramparts shaped as a twelve-pointed star with six gates, large blocks of military barracks and streets laid out in a rectilinear grid. Later in the nineteenth century, the Habsburg authorities continued to maintain garrisons in the town of Terezín and to use the Small Fortress as a prison, as did the Czechoslovak government as well after 1918. In the late 1930s the town of Terezín had only 3,700 inhabitants residing in 219 buildings, with on average an additional 3,500 soldiers in the garrison at any one time. In terms of its architecture and location near rail lines in northern Bohemia, the walled town was ideally suited to serve the Nazis as the major collection point for the Jews of the Bohemian lands as well as for many from Austria and Germany when the Nazi authorities proceeded to try to destroy the remaining Jewish population of Central Europe.
The Nazis turned the town of Terezín into a closed ghetto settlement for relocated Jews after November 1941. Here as in the ghetto communities established in Nazi occupied Poland, the German authorities imposed strict rules; and they began executing Jews there as early as January 10 and February 26, 1942. The first transport of 1,000 Jews out of Terezín left for Riga on January 9, 1942. Terezín would serve as a labor ghetto and more importantly as a collection point for thousands of Jews who were then transported on to other labor camps or the death factories in Poland and the Baltic. Between January 1942 and October 1942, the native non-Jewish population of Terezín had been removed; and the Jewish population of the ghetto had risen to some 60,000. In the meantime, the Nazis made the decision to remove from Terezín many Jews from the so-called Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia who were under age 65 and able to work. They then tended to concentrate in Terezín older Jews from Germany and Austria.
The terrible crowding and limited food rations made for wretched conditions in Terezín, but the Nazis soon found it convenient to use Terezín as a model ghetto for propaganda purposes to try to show the rest of the worldunder carefully controlled conditionshow humanely they were treating the relocated Jews. With growing numbers of deportees brought from Germany and Austria and later Denmark and Western Europe, Jews from outside Bohemia and Moravia soon outnumbered the Czech Jews in Terezín. Like other ghettos in the Nazi network of urban ghettos and concentration camps, Terezín developed an elaborate Jewish civil administration with a Jewish council of elders under SS supervision.
The Nazis desire to use Terezín as a model ghetto resulted in there being greater scope here than elsewhere for cultural activities, including lectures, dramatic presentations and many concerts. Inmates of Terezín created a considerable body of poetry and art, some of which survived the war. For propaganda purposes and their own desire to document the process of liquidating the Jews and other racial enemies in Europe, the Nazis made many photographs and took film footage of the Terezín community, including the musical and dramatic performances. The Nazis also permitted Jewish religious observances in Terezín, and they allowed a Red Cross commission to inspect a suitably beautified ghetto on June 23, 1944, after the tide of the war had clearly turned against Germany.
Later in September and October 1944, as the German military forces continues to retreat in Eastern Europe, the SS authorities stepped up transports of Jews out of Terezín, hoping to liquidate this ghetto before the Allied forces penetrated into Czechoslovak territory. In about a month, some 18,000 inmates were removed, including much of the remaining inmate population under age 65. Thanks to negotiations with the SS command undertaken by the former president of the Swiss Confederations, Jean-Marie Mussy, one transport of some 1,200 Jews left Terezín on February 2, 1945, for Switzerland. The Nazis began another beautification effort in late winter 1945, including this time the destruction of many of the documents and photographs dealing with earlier deaths and transports out of Terezín. A second Red Cross delegation appeared on April 6, accompanied by the SS officer in charge of the whole program of genocide, Adolf Eichmann.
The SS commanders had already been using Terezín for propaganda purposes for several years. Now in 1945, apparently, they were prepared to use the few Jews surviving there as pawns in negotiations with Western representatives. These efforts did not get far before the Allied military forces began to close in. In the meantime, though, the German authorities brought in some surviving inmates taken from camps in Poland that they were clearing before the advancing Soviet forces. Those last transports brought an outbreak of typhoid with them causing even more deaths just before the Soviet military arrived at Terezín on May 11, 1945.
The musical and dramatic performances in Terezín diminished after autumn 1944, but some cultural activity continued as late as early April 1945. By the end of 1944, most of the leading figures in those efforts had either been moved on to other camps, where they faced harsher treatment, or had died in Terezín itself. The talented artists and composers who had been there, including Krása, Ullmann and Haas, along with the majority of those who had passed through the town, did not survive World War II. It is estimated that the Nazis imprisoned 144,000 Jews at Terezín between 1941 and 1945; some 33,000 of them died there and another 88,000 died in Auschwitz or other camps to which they were sent. A few of the inmates of Terezín did manage to survive, including the famous rabbi from Germany, Leo Baeck; the Czech symphonic conductor Karel Ancerl, who went on to direct the Czech Philharmonic in the 1950s and early 1960s; the operatic conductor Robert Brock and the singers Hanus Thein and Karel Berman, who became leading figures in the Czech National Theater.
Once the extermination process was fully under way by the beginning of 1942, the Nazis had not intended any of the inmates of Terezín or the many other ghettos and camps to survive. Nor did the Nazis want any of the art and music of their racial and political enemies to survive. The Nazis war of destruction included not only their putative racial enemies, including groups such as Jews, Roma, the elite elements of Polish society, the severely handicapped and homosexuals, but also their political and ideological enemies, whoever they might be, and also the ideas and culture which the Nazis saw as alien to the German völkisch communal unity which they wanted to recreate to cure the evils of the modern world. When the Nazis removed Jews, Polish intellectuals, communists and freethinking men and women of conscience form society, they wanted to do away with all elements of modern culture that their enemies had created. That included Freudian psychoanalysis, the theory of relativity and atonal music and jazz, whether the authors were racial aliens to the Nazis or not. Thus Hans Krása and the other composers and artists of Terezín were targeted for destruction both for their religion and family descent and for the modern art and ideas they produced.
The Nazi definition of just what was degenerate art or music was often arbitrary, vague or flatly contradictory. Other than because of the circumstance of parentage, why should the music of Robert Schumann be acceptable and treated as echt German but not that of Felix Mendelssohn? Why were the symphonies of Bruckner and Franz Schmidt acceptable but not those of Gustav Mahler? Why should the works of Arnold Schönberg and his Christian colleagues Alban Berg and Anton Webern be treated as gross perversions of the Berman classical and romantic musical traditions rather than as, in many ways, a logical outgrowth. Along with the campaign of racial purification, the Nazis were engaged in a culture war motivated by their extremist ideology that fought many of the most creative trends and developments in contemporary international intellectual and artistic life. Like most such extremist culture war, it could not be advanced significantly without harsh coercive measures and, often, outrageous propaganda; and in the end that culture war could not be won.
Modernist thought, art, music and popular culture survived in the lands outside the Third Reich; and even inside Hilters so-called New Order, it survived in the Nazis own concentration camps and the hearts and memories of many who lived outside the camps. Modernist culture revived in Europe after 1945. Hans Krása, Viktor Ullmann and Pavel Haas died at Auschwitz, but their work survived. Not all their compositions are deathless masterpieces, but with performances like those of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra this season, we have a chance to put these works back in their rightful context of the great tradition of European music.
(January 4, 2004Gary B. Cohen, University of Minnesota, Department of History. http://music.minnesota.publicradio.org/programs/spco/features/0401_theresienstadt.shtml#)
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HUMOR IN THE FACE OF INHUMANITY
At Bohuslav Martinus funeral in 1959, a friend noted, His music is the music of our times, because it expresses profound basic problems. This could have been said of Hans Krásas music as well. Both of these men were modern Czech composers using their artistic talent to grapple with enormous problems. How does one confront the horror of war and tyrannical leaders? How does one retain ones humanity in an increasingly alienating world? How does one express the complexities of the 20th century through music? Although they had different compositional styles and dissimilar personalities, one outstanding characteristic can be found in both Comedy on the Bridge and Brundibar: humor.
The Czech people have long been known for their sense of humor, even in the grimmest of circumstances. Some attribute this to the fact that, in the past, Czechs lived in a relatively small, peaceful society surrounded and usually dominated by larger, more aggressive cultures. Their sense of humor helped them survive and even, at times, thrive under these conditions. In the 19th century, Czechs were part of the vast Austro-Hungarian Empire. World War I gave birth to Czechoslovakia as an independent republic in 1918, as well as its most famous and humorous fictional character: Sweik in The Good Soldier Sweik by Jaroslav Hasek. Haseks ironic anti-war novel, one of the first of its genre, set a standard to which other more recent works such as Catch-22 and MASH are often compared. The irreverent Sweik, who was either a very clever trickster or a bumbling fool, maneuvered his way through World War I with an ease that reminds one of his latter-day protégé: Forrest Gump. It was in this Sweikian comic tradition that Bohuslav Martinu, who was born in 1890 and lived through World War I, wrote Comedy on the Bridge.
Though best known for his serious orchestral and chamber works, the situation in Europe was far too grim during Hitlers rise to power for Martinu not to respond humorously. In Comedy on the Bridge, which is based on an earlier play by 19th-century Czech playwright Václav Kliment Klicpera, a kind of anti-fairy tale ensues between Popelka (Cinderella in Czech) and her male admirers. Trapped on a bridge between two ever-warring armies, the mundane concerns of Popelka and the others are raised to the height of absurdity by the extremity of their situation. As heads literally roll, Martinus libretto is punctuated with a deeply ironic musical accompaniment. Whether or not the characters in Comedy live happily ever after depends largely on ones personal philosophy.
Hans Krása (18991944) was the personification of what many considered twoor even threedistinct cultural traditions that coexisted harmoniously in Czechoslovakias democratic First Republic, which lasted from 1918 to 1938. His mother was German, his father was Czech and the family was Jewish. The wealthy and well-educated Krása was part of the dynamic German intellectual community in Prague at the time. Although composing came easily to him (unlike Martinu), Krása penned relatively few musical compositions. The main reason for this was that his life was tragically cut short by the Nazis in Auschwitz. However, prior to the war, he also seemed to lack creative drive. During the lively inter-war period, Krása spent most of his time discussing arts and politics with friends, playing chess and attending theatrical events and nightclubs. As the situation in pre-World War II Czechoslovakia became increasingly serious, however, Krása responded in kind. He wrote Brundibar in collaboration with librettist Adolf Hoffmeister in 1938. During the two years he spent in the Terezín concentration camp (19421944), Krása wrote three new compositions and revised two older pieces, bringing his total number of compositions to about a dozen, of which Brundibar is now the most famous.
The humor in Brundibar is gentler and ultimately more optimistic than Martinus Comedy, though this childrens opera also has surprisingly dark and mysterious moments. Whereas Comedy on the Bridge represents the more cynical Sweikian comic tradition, Brundibars humanistic and folksy qualities hearken back to the comic tradition of Karel Càapek. Càapek, author of the sci-fi play R.U.R. (Rossums Universal Robots) and the novel War with the Newts, was deeply concerned with social justice and the fate of humanity in the face of extremism. When Brundibar was performed in Terezín, Krása changed the lyrics (with the help of poet Emil Saudek) to emphasize the importance of fairness and resistance, rather than the love of ones parents and country. The ending became, He who loves justice and will abide by it, and who is not afraid, is our friend and can play with us. Playwright Tony Kushner, one of the great social critics of our age, continues in this same tradition with his funny and exhilarating adaptation of Brundibars libretto. Kushner retains Krásas messageand further stresses the merits of banding together to confront evil. As you will hear the children sing in this performance, Our friends make us strong! With Krásas triumphant music, the combination is unbeatable. Tyrants beware!
(By Lauren McConnell, Ph.D.)
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ACTIVITIES FOR ELEMENTARY AND MIDDLE SCHOOL CLASSES
DRAWING EXERCISEWHAT DOES A BULLY LOOK LIKE?
Draw a picture of a bully.
What do they look like? What do they wear? What are their facial expressions like?
THEATRICAL EXERCISEBECOMING YOUR BULLY
Look at your drawing. Stand like your bully. How are they different from you? Walk around like your bully. What kinds of things does your bully say?
WRITING EXERCISEIF YOU WERE CONFRONTED BY A BULLY, WHAT WOULD YOU DO?
Imagine a scenario in which you are confronted by a bully. What would you do? Talk about different options and the likely consequences for each choice. Have your students write a fictional account of how they would deal with their bully.
THEATRICAL EXERCISESTAGING YOUR BULLY STORIES
Divide the class into groups of three or four. Choose one students bully story to act out.
Cast each member of the group as a character from the story. You may need to alter the story to fit the number of actors in each group. (Keep in mind that actors can play inanimate objects or animals.)
Tell the story with three frozen pictures:
Present these to the class. Have the audience (the other students) talk about what they see. You can then have the actors fill in the story around the frozen pictures to complete the play.
THEATRICAL EXERCISESTAGING BULLY STORIES AS OPERA
Once your students have staged their plays try asking them to sing their parts. They dont have to sound good. Just have fun!
THEATRICAL EXERCISEBECOMING ANIMALS
In Brundibar the children reach their goal with the help of animals (a cat, a dog and a bird). Ask your students to pretend that they are an animal sleeping in their home, nest, den, etc. Ask them to wake up and explore their surroundings. Perhaps they can look for food or play with a neighbor animal. Ask them to imagine how this animal might speak and move. Then bring them back home to sleep.
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ACTIVITIES FOR HIGH SCHOOL CLASSES
WRITING EXERCISECREATING A FABLE
Brundibar is a fable, reflecting the situation in Europe leading up to and during World War II. Have your students write a fable reflecting an important current issue.
Brainstorm with the class on current issues that effect their lives.
Have them choose one and write a fable that reflects the issue they have chosen.
Encourage the use of animals as characters.
1) a legendary story of supernatural happenings.
2) a narration intended to teach a lesson; one in which animals speak and act like people.
THEATRICAL EXERCISESTAGING STUDENT FABLES
Have the students divide into groups of four or five. Have them share their stories with each other and choose one that they will stage.
Have the students tell the story of the play in three frozen pictures:
Make sure that each student in the group participates in each frozen picture. If there are not enough characters the students can also play inanimate objects. Show these to the class.
Have the students fill in the story around the frozen pictures. They can now use movement and voice to tell the entire story. Show these to the class.
Have them perform their fables as operas. They can do everything they have done in the previous part, but now they must sing! Have Fun!
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MATERIAL FOR THIS STUDY GUIDE
Madeleine Oldham, Literary Manager and Dramaturg, Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Lauren McConnell, phD, Visiting Scholar, University of California, Berkeley
Rubin, Susan Goldman; Fireflies in the Dark: the Story of Friedl Dicker-Brandeis and the Children of Terezín; Holiday House, NY; 2000
Fireflies in the Dark: the Story of Friedl Dicker-Brandeis and the Children of Terezín by Susan Goldman Rubin
Nesarim: Child Survivors of Terezín by Thelma Gruenbaum
I Never Saw Another Butterfly: Childrens Drawings and Poems from Terezín Concentration Camp by Hana Volavkova
Music in Terezín by Joza Karas
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A TRAGIC LULLABY
Towards the end of Brundibar, the children take a stand against the big bully, and lift their voices in song with the hopes of raising enough funds from the townspeople to buy milk. Instead of a rallying, cheerful tune, their song is a bittersweet lullaby. Tony Kushners lyrics tell of the passing of time and the separation occurring between mother and child, sadly mirroring the harsh reality of what happened to almost every child of Terezín who gave life to Brundibar.
In the basement, down below;
On the roof, where breezes blow;
Evry kid in each apartment,
Rich and poor and quick and slow;
Knows when night is gathring nigh,
Mommy sings a lullaby:
Mommy sings rockabye,
Baby when you are grown,
Youll sing a lullaby and
Ill be left alone.
Baby blackbird, fly now;
Time to go;
Who knows why?
Spring is gone,
World awaits, its
Time to fly
Trees grow high, rivers dry,
Clouds and hours billow by,
Day by day, flown away
Baby, in such a rush,
Grew up, grew straight and tall;
Maybe youll feel a blush
When, Mommy, you recall:
Naked how you bathd us,
In the old
Gave us milk,
Youll soon forget
Trees grow high, rivers dry,
Clouds and hours billow by,
Day by day, flown away
Now you are very old;
Your hair is soft and grey;
Mommy, the cradles cold.
Blackbird has flown away
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