Encore: The Stamic Quartet plays music by composers who perished in the Holocaust

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Today we devote the whole of Encore to one disk. It is entitled 'Czech String Quartet Discoveries' and was issued privately by the celebrated Stamic Quartet - making it rather difficult to get hold of, but well worth the trouble. It features music by Pavel Haas - whose 'From the Monkey Mountains' quartet we discussed last month - and Erwin Schulhoff, Hans Krasa and Leos Janacek. All of these, with of course the exception of Janacek, are composers who perished in Nazi concentration camps.

Now, unfortunately, they are perhaps best known for the tragic way they died rather than for the lives they led and the remarkable music they composed. So who were these composers and what did they accomplish despite the nearly impossible times in which they lived?

As we have recently spoken about Pavel Haas, we will focus on Krasa and Schulhoff. Hans Krasa was born to a prosperous family. His father was a Czech lawyer ('krasa' means beauty in Czech) and his mother was German-speaking Jewish. The children were educated in German-language schools. Young Krasa met with early success, having a piece performed in Salzburg when he was only 11.

He went on to study with Alexander Zemlinsky in Prague and Berlin, and with Albert Roussel in Paris, and made a name for himself when only 21 years old with the performance and publication of his Four Songs for Orchestra. He wrote his string quartet the next year, in 1921, which features on this excellent CD.

Krasa was deeply involved in Prague's artistic life, being great friends with, among others, Adolf Hoffmeister, an artist and writer with whom he wrote the work he is probably best known for - the Czech language children's opera Brundibar.

This was performed some 55 times in the Terezin ghetto, cynically described at the time as "the town Hitler gave to the Jews", where Krasa was interned in 1942, and where, incredibly, he continued to compose, as did so many of the artists sent to Terezin.

We turn now to Erwin Schulhoff, a composer a few years older than Krasa, for whom a great musical future was predicted by none other than Antonin Dvorak. But Schulhoff never studied with Dvorak - he was too young. He did go on to study in Vienna and Leipzig, and over the years avidly absorbed and experimented with everything from Dadaism to neoclassicism and twelve-tone composition.

Moreover, he was a wonderful jazz pianist - and it was unusual at the time for a classical artist to be thoroughly conversant in jazz. He was also very successful, especially in Germany - until his appearances were banned.

Like most men of his generation, he fought in the First World War, and this experience radicalized and disillusioned him. He came to support the early communists and looked to Russia as the answer to rising Fascism in Germany.

In the 30s, he adopted a socialist realist style of composition, that is to say, a heroic and perhaps bombastic style, even basing a cantata on the Communist Manifesto.

But this is in a very contrasting style to the earlier String Quartet No. 1, featured on this CD and written in 1924.


CDs reviewed in this programme are provided by Siroky Dvur