79th Anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising 19th April - 16th May 1943
|Mariupol, Ukraine 2022 or Warsaw, Poland 1943 ?|
I had attended two wonderful concerts in Gdańsk as part of the magnificent annual Actus Humanus Festival over Easter. A sublime performance of that great work Leçons de ténèbres by François Couperin - William Christie and Les Arts Florissantes. The following evening, the desperately moving perfection of Lamentations by Orlando di Lasso - Paul van Nevel and the Huelgas Ensemble. Oh and a quite extraordinary carillion Bach concert in the Old Ratusz. More on these later.
The performances gave me much needed spiritual consolations of the highest musical achievement in a time of a needless and opportunistic war being fought on my doorstep and in addition the ghastly pandemic which has also taken so many lives.
Just now I cannot help reflecting on the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, living as I do where these tragic events occurred not so very long ago. I decided once again to read what I had written in my Polish book about this particularly valiant and frantic moment in the tumultuous history of this miracle of a city, Warsaw.
The pianist Władisław Szpilman (known under the witty pseudonym Al Legro and the hero of Polanski’s film The Pianist) wrote of the Café Nowoczesna where he played Chopin and more popular fare to earn money ‘This was the meeting place of the rich; dripping with gold and glittering with diamonds; this was where painted harlots, at tables bedecked with delicacies, seduced the wartime noveaux riches, to the accompaniment of popping champagne corks.’ 
After a tiring day at the ‘Umschlag’ one sadistic SS officer habitually drove around the ghetto streets in a Mercedes sports car picking off strays with his revolver. Another asked a woman carrying a baby on her shoulder if she had had a difficult day’s work. She responded positively to his gesture of concern. He then asked her if she would like a loaf of bread. She thanked him profusely for his generosity. As she walked away with optimism in her heart he took careful aim and shot her baby through the head.
(Text from A Country in the Moon: Travels in Search of the Heart of Poland Michael Moran)
|Willy Brandt, spontaneously fell to his knees (the Kniefall in Warschau) in a silent apology at the memorial to Jews murdered by the SS in the ghetto.|
|Ruins of the Warsaw Ghetto|
For vastly more detail and External references:
|Lt. to Rt. Michael Guttman, Martha Argerich, Annie Dutoit, Jing Zhao, Akane Sakai|
A backwater of the Vistula River near Młociny in Warsaw
|Szymon Laks with his wife and son |
(from the family archive/ Culture pl)
Thomas Mann, agonizing over the relationship of ethics and aesthetics in his novel Doctor Faustus, perceptively refers to music as ‘that curiously cabbalistic craft’. The composer Adrian Leverkühn makes a Faustian pact with Satan, a dalliance with the ‘poisoned butterfly’ of music. For the Nazis, German music became the emotional confirmation of their rightness in exterminating the disgusting ‘vermin’ in their midst. All musical genres were performed in the camp, from the symphonies of Beethoven to the blackly humorous song The Best Times of My Life.
The suicide rate of musicians was among the highest in the camps as they were occasionally forced to play their entire family into the jaws of death.
|Młociny Park in Warsaw on the morning of the concert|
The Largo was a profoundly moving and introspective period of unfathomable grief, plumbing the depths of the suffering human soul. The pain of attrition and the sudden mindless violence of war. The heart rending Jewish melodies Shostakovitch offers or possibly invents in the hellishly ironical danse macabre within the final movement were terrifying - in turn seductive, secretive, furtive, almost hysterical with anguish, wailing, the climactic piano part a lava flow of thunderous notes which only Argerich can command so awesomely with her genius. As the work closes the almost celestial harp arabesques on the piano laid over a world of suffering expressed in the violin and cello. Oh that desperate Jewish dance that sobbingly leads us back along a path of bleak yet infinitely courageous resignation to a blighted destiny...
|Detail within the Childrens' Memorial in the Jewish Cemetery, Warsaw|