Norbert Glanzberg may be an unknown name to some readers, just as it was to me, but he had a quite illustrious career and met many important personalities during his long life. Born in Poland in 1910 he grew up in Würzburg in Bavaria, where he also studied music. He was a brilliant pianist but having met Richard Strauss his dream was to be a conductor. When he was 21 he started writing film music for the German studio UFA. His first score was for Billy Wilder’s first movie. But in 1933 ‘the small man with the toothbrush moustache’ rose to power in Germany and Glanzberg, who was Jewish, left for Paris. It took him several years to adjust to the French chanson, but then for many years he was accompanist for artists like Edith Piaf and Yves Montand. He wrote numerous songs for them. He also composed film music for Brigitte Bardot. In later years, when the new pop and rock music had made his musical style unfashionable, he returned to classical music and composed the Holocaust Lieder
and Suite Yiddish
in the 1980s. Having for so long written music for the popular market his talent for creating catchy melodies is evident in these works. Especially in the Suite Yiddish
he excels in popular rhythms: polonaise, waltz and even samba.
The Holocaust Lieder
were composed in 1983 after Glanzberg had read a collection of poems called Der Tod ist ein Meister aus Deutschland
(Death is a Master from Germany). The poems were written by prisoners in concentration camps by Jews and resistance fighters, most of them killed in the camps. Glanzberg chose twelve poems of very different kinds and created a cycle that gives a picture of different moods, feelings and situations in the concentration camps: fear, desperation, resignation. In the last four songs there is a conciliatory and rather peaceful atmosphere. In Abschied
the poet is but a few breaths from death. Following the texts while listening is a heart-rending experience that provokes both anger and sorrow and having played the cycle through the first time I didn’t feel able to express my reactions in writing. I put the disc aside for a couple of weeks and returning to the songs the day before writing this review I eventually found I could handle the various feelings. The combination of words and music hit me just as strongly the second time and I believe most listeners will feel the same.
The music is easy to take to one’s heart. It is written in a late-romantic idiom that should pose no problems for listeners with little experience of ‘modern’ music. Schumann and Brahms with a pinch of Richard Strauss and a smattering of Weill and Eisler provide the roots but Glanzberg’s melodic prowess is distinctively his own - and very attractive too. Like the poems themselves the music differs greatly from song to song. The opening song in particular has a declamatory style with quite knotty harmonies, utterly well suited to the long poem. The third song, Transport
, is frightening and eerie and in both cases Roman Trekel’s somewhat dry tone and expressive singing is ideally suited to the songs. Other songs are achingly beautiful: Für Ule
(tr. 2) and the folksong-like Lied zur guten Nacht
(tr. 4). But it is the cycle as an entity rather than the individual songs that make listening such a strong experience and the last four songs come as balm after so much heartache. I urge readers to explore this moving work. Roman Trekel has long been one of my favourite Lieder singers and though he has lost a little of his sonority he makes the most of these songs. His enunciation is crystal clear and in the more inward songs he sings with ravishing beauty. The conductor here, Daniel Klajner, made the orchestrations in 2001, encouraged by the composer, who unfortunately didn’t live long enough to hear them.
The Suite Yiddish
, composed a year later, was clearly intended for orchestration though the original was for two pianos. Frederic Chaslin has dressed the work in colourful garb with echoes of both Richard Strauss, Franz Lehár, Gustav Mahler and Dmitri Shostakovich. Glanzberg was inspired by Isaac Bashevis Singer’s books but also by songs his mother sang to him. The suite can be characterized as ‘light orchestral’ with fresh melodies, alluring rhythms and attractive orchestrations. In the fourth movement, marked Allegro giocoso
, Chaslin employs wood-blocks and whip to draw a picture of a horse-ride. The second movement is a riveting waltz and in the final Und trotzdem
we are offered a real rhythmic feast. I won’t say that this is a central orchestral masterpiece but it is great entertainment and should be a hit on any symphony orchestra’s ‘pops’ concert.
The SACD recording is full and atmospheric and the booklet has notes by Klajner as well as Chaslin. I am confident that this disc will be close to my CD player in the future.
Holocaust Lieder for baritone and orchestra (orch. Daniel Klajner) (1983) [38:34]
1. An die Völker der Erde [3:15]
2. für Ule … [2:20]
3. Transport [3:22]
4. Lied zur guten Nacht [3:44]
5. Die letzte Epiphanie [2:45]
6. Nachtgedanken [2:23]
7. Der Ofen von Lublin [3:38]
8. Versprich mir eins … [3:53]
9. Alter Baum [3:45]
10. Im Gefängnis [2:07]
11. Greta [3:11]
12. Abschied [3:35]
Suite Yiddish (1984) (orch. Frederic Chaslin) [31:25]
13. In Shtetl [3:18]
14. Di Bobe gedenkt in ershtn Bal [5:01]
15. Viglid [4:30]
16. Jossele un Jankele af der Britshke [2:09]
17. Mitzve Tantz [6:29]
18. Pogrom un Kaddish [7:16]
19. Und trotzdem [2:22]