NEW MUSIC: Paul Sandfort – Overture ‘Brundibar’

13 November 2005
Paul Sandfort – Overture ‘Brundibar’

The year 2005 marks the 60th Anniversary of the end of the Second World War, and also of the liberation of many of the Nazi concentration camps, including Terezin, in the Czech Republic.

In the Terezin ( or Theresienstadt) camp, a 10,000 capacity garrison town near Prague crammed with 60,000 prisoners, there took place a unique chapter in the cultural history of Europe, whereby the Nazis imprisoned many of the leading Jewish artists and musicians from across Europe and allowed them the ‘freedom’ to practice.  In truth, conditions were overcrowded, prisoners starved and disease rife, but in spite of this many cultural activities were permitted and organized, firstly in secret and then officially sanctioned by the Nazis under a system called freizeitgestaltung. Lectures, cabaret, puppet shows, plays and concerts were organized. A number of operas were performed including Tosca, Aida, Carmen, La Boheme and Die Fledermaus – some in concert version with piano and some fully staged with orchestra. All this time there were transports toAuschwitz in progress, with a constant stream of new performers toreplacing those selected to be taken away. During 1944 the cultural activities were increased for the benefit of the Red Cross and other international agencies. The Nazis wished to demonstrate how ‘humanely’ they were treating the Jews and so they made a film “Hitler gives the Jews a City”. Boys and girls were given new clothes, and filmed enjoying lovely food and playing in a ‘park’. A concert was filmed, together with a children’s opera ‘Brundibar’, archive footage of which still remains. After the filming finished, many of those who took part, including a well known film director KurtGuerron, were transported to Auschwitz where they were immediately killed.

In 1938 Hans Krasa wrote an opera for children entitled ‘Brundibar’ for performance in a Prague orphanage. When, four years later he found himself in Terezin, with the director of the orphanage, they adapted it for the resources available in the camp.

Brundibar – roughly translated ‘Bumble Bee’ is the simple story of two children, who, assisted by three animals, a cat a dog and a sparrow, overcome the wicked old organ grinder Brundibar who steals the money they have earned in order to buy milk for their sick mother. The theme of overcoming bullies and the obvious parallels with Hitler seem to have been either ignored or overlooked by the Nazis, since they permitted more than 50 performances including one for the visit of the Red Cross. Given the positive message of the opera, it is tragic that, of the 15,000 children who passed through Terezin, only about one hundred survived. One of them is PaulAron Sandfort who has prepared an overture to the opera and is able to be with us with us today for its first public performance.

Paul Aron Sandfort (pseudonym Paul Aron), was born Paul Rabinowitsch the 12th of July 1930 in Hamburg,Germany. In 1936 he immigrated to Copenhagen. His father, Aron Rabinowitsch, and his mother, MariaWarschavsky, were both of Jewish-Russian origin. His father perished in Auschwitz 1943, and so to honour his father Paul has taken the name Aron as an Author’s pseudonym for his Danish and English publications. As a schoolboy he learnt to play the piano and the trumpet entering the Tivoli Boys’ Guard orchestra in Copenhagen. In October 1943 he was deported to Terezin where he played the trumpet in the orchestra also took part in performances of the childrens’ opera ‘Brundibar’. He also played at a performance in honour of the visit of the Red Cross commission in June 1944. On that occasion he was photographed by the Swiss delegate Marcel Rossel – happy Jewish children at play. He also played the trumpet in the propaganda film called “Hitler presents the Jews with a City”, after which thousands of the children were sent to their deaths in Auschwitz, as they were of no further use for propaganda. A few weeks before the end of the war in 1945 he was liberated by the Danish Red-Cross and returned to Denmark.

After the war he studied for a PhD. in Musicology and German literature. From 1962-64 he became an assistant stage director at the Rome Opera House, subsequently teaching musicology and literature at high schools and conservatories in Denmark. In 1972 he changed his surname to Sandfort and has been stage director at performances of the children’s opera ‘Brundibar’ throughout Europe. In 1998 Bonn at the Memorial Day for the Holocaust victims in Germany he was awarded the decoration of merit by the President Roman Herzog. He has also written an autobiographic novel “Ben”, published in Danish, German, English and Italian, and has translated the libretto of “Brundibar” into Danish.

Paul Aron Sandfort compiled and wrote the overture to Brundibar early in 2005. It consists of a number of themes from the opera connected together and is designed to be played as a prelude, running straight into the action without a break. For this performance a concert ending has been added.  Hans Krasa adapted the scoring for the available instrumentalists in Terezin and  it is this scoring which Dr Sandfort uses in the overture :  4 violins, cello, flute, clarinets, trumpet , piano , guitar and accordion.

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