Sophia von Wilcken, and excerpts from Adolf Hoffmeister’s libretto for Hans Krása’s opera "Brundibár" (G)
During 1998 and 99, my daughter’s school friend Sophia took part in a series of performances of Brundibar, the children’s opera written by Hans Krása and Adolf Hoffmeister (first performance in Winter 1942/43). The original opera was performed over fifty times in the Theresienstadt concentration camp, not far from Prague where Krása had lived. Brundibar, a story of courage in overcoming oppression, was a singular source of light in the inconceivable darkness of life there as a camp inmate.
At an early rehearsal for the recent Berlin performances, a Theresienstadt survivor came to relate her past to the participating children. For Sophia, then aged 8, it was an unforgettably intense experience as she heard of this woman’s life in the camp. She had herself taken part in the opera, once playing the "Cat" (Katz’) and once the "Sparrow" (Spatz); she related also that shortly after these performances had taken place, the inmates were separated and sent to Auschwitz where most of the young performers, including this particular survivor’s only sister, and composer Hans Krasa himself, were then murdered. Sophia dictated the text of her poem Katz’ und Spatz to her mother the very same evening after rehearsal.
My setting combines Sophia’s text with short fragments from the original Brundibar text. Originally commissioned for children’s choir by the Australian children’s choir Gondwana Voices, this SATB version has been jointly commissioned by the Swedish Radio Chorus and the Melbourne Chorale.
© Brett Dean
This programme note can be reproduced free of charge in concert programmes with a credit to the composer
"Dean’s brief work has a centred emotional impact, due partly to the muttered sounds that pepper the opening pages and the later oscillation between sudden strident bursts and very quiet passages. There is no attempt to mimic the physical awfulness of the Jewish Holocaust experience; rather, the work makes its impact by understatement, hinting at horrors rather than spelling them out and reaching its final bars by snuffing out the various individual voices until an awful silence prevails; a highly effective and affecting piece." (Melbourne Age)