Klein: Trio for Violin, Viola, and Cello
Surely no music in the classical repertory is so haunted as that produced by the composers who, in a state of incalculable hardship, managed to create compositions while incarcerated in the Terezín Concentration Camp. It was not designed to be a death camp, although many thousands of the detainees did perish there due to the harsh circumstances, lack of food, and insufficient medical care. Instead, the Nazis viewed it as a supply source for slave labor and, ultimately, as a temporary stopover for persons destined to meet their ends in Auschwitz. Initially, Terezín was envisioned as a camp for privileged and intellectual Jews, and in fact a density of artists, musicians, and literary types figured among the inmates. The composers included Gideon Klein (1919–45), Hans Krása, Pavel Haas, and Viktor Ullmann, all of whom perished before the end of the war and whose music remained largely silent until enjoying a revival in the past three decades.
Klein showed talent as a youngster and wrote his first compositions in roughly 1933–34. As a teenaged composer he avidly explored the latest developments in his field, writing not only works in the prevailing Expressionist style but also experimental pieces that use advanced twelve-tone techniques and microtonal intervals. He was studying piano, composition, and musicology at the Prague Conservatory and the Karl University of that city when the Nazis, newly occupying Czechoslovakia, closed Czech schools of higher learning in 1939. He was granted a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music in London, but the authorities refused his petition to travel due to his Jewish origins. He struggled by for two years, working under a pseudonym in small avant-garde theaters in Prague; but in December 1941 he was deported to Terezín.
There he proved valuable as a mainstay of the musical activities that were promoted for propagandistic purposes, busily organizing, directing, and performing in concerts, many of which included his compositions and those of his fellow inmates. Perhaps his youth endowed him with unusual hopefulness; in any case, he seems to have been a motivator, encouraging his older composer-colleagues to persist in their artistic endeavors. Along with most of Terezín’s creative population, Klein was transported to Auschwitz in October 1944. Instead of being murdered immediately, he was moved from there to the sub-camp at Fürstengrube, where prisoners worked (often to death) in a coal mine. In late January 1945, the Nazis burned the records at Fürstengrube and tried to transfer the prisoners to death camps, sometimes without success since other camps were filled beyond capacity even by concentration-camp standards. Klein likely died at Fürstengrube, although his end is not documented.
Klein’s String Trio was probably the last major work anybody com- posed in Terezín, its three movements being completed in September and October 1944. The relatively brief first and third movements are invigorated by almost neoclassical transparency. The emotional heart of the piece, though, is the middle movement, a set of variations on “Tá kneždubská veˇž” (The Kneždub Tower), a folksong from Klein’s native Moravia.—From notes by JAMES M. KELLER, SCOTT FOGLESONG, MICHAEL STEINBERG, and STEVEN ZIEGLER