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PublisherFidelio Music Publishing
for chorus and orchestra
May 22, 1965
Cincinnati May Festival
Betty Allen, mezzo-soprano
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra
Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, conductor
Music Hall, Cincinnati, OH, USA
When I received the Cincinnati commission for a work that would include a children’s chorus, my attention was drawn by chance to a book, I Never Saw Another Butterfly (1964). This was a collection of poems, together with drawings and watercolors, by some of the 15,000 children who were brought to the Nazi concentration camp of Terezinstadt near Prague. Before World War II ended, all but 100 of these children had been put to death at various other concentration camps, chiefly Auschwitz. I at once saw the possibilities of transforming this appalling tragedy into a cycle of songs for children’s chorus, mixed chorus, solo voice, and orchestra.
1. ON A SUNNY EVENING. The form here is the Passacaglia. The four-bar theme is first heard by the basses and celli. The theme itself is actually a twelve-tone theme. Now the full chorus enters to sing the first verse of the poem. The second verse is sung by female voices only. Then follows a short interlude, which features a flute solo in which the Passacaglia theme is transposed. This leads into the next section in which men only sing while the Passacaglia theme in its original key, but slightly varied, is now played by the high woodwinds. This is followed by another variation, which is, in the main, dominated by rapid passages in the violins. This section leads into the climax of the Passacaglia in which the entire chorus sings the final words of the poem against the theme, now harmonized and played by the brass section. The song finally comes to a soft ending.
2. FORGOTTEN. (for mezzo-soprano solo and orchestra). This song begins with the main theme of the orchestra, which at the entrance of the voice becomes the accompaniment in many variations throughout the rest of the song. In the middle of the song however, the orchestra has a short interlude in which the opening vocal theme is highly dramatized, returning to a Coda in which the very opening is again repeated to the end.
3. THE LITTLE MOUSE. (for children’s chorus and orchestra) The music here is highly descriptive of the very funny and most original poem.
4. BIRD SONG. (for mixed chorus and orchestra) After a mysterious introduction in the strings, the piccolo is heard in a highly expressive solo, which leads into the Ostinato, which accompanies the entrance of the mixed choir. This Ostinato is superimposed by a twelve-tone row which, throughout the piece, continues in many variations. The song ends with the piccolo again intoning the theme of the opening measures.
5. NOW IT’S TIME. (for children’s chorus and orchestra) This is the poem of the departing boat, which carries the prisoners in their imaginations to the land of freedom. An even and constantly pulsating rhythm makes one conscious of time passing — time running out. This is purposely composed in a most simple manner, with certain melodic strains repeating over and over. At the end, as the strain is sung for the last time, a viola solo makes a nostalgic commentary, interrupted by dissonant chords in the woodwinds, foreshadowing the disappointment of never reaching the land of freedom.
6. CONCERT IN THE OLD SCHOOL GARRET. (for mezzo-soprano and orchestra) In this song I was inspired by the tremendously imaginative lines of the poem, which have at times surrealistic overtones. Apparently the child who wrote this poem attended a gathering in which somebody tried to entertain by playing music on an old piano which had not been used for years. There is a rather ghostly atmosphere about all this and I have tried to capture it partly through the effect of a solo piano playing offstage.
7. THE GARDEN. (for children’s voices and orchestra) This simple and touching poem is sung by children against an Ostinato movement in the celli and bases that might suggest the walking of the little boy. An oboe solo separates the two verses.
8. FINALE: FEAR. (the entire ensemble and orchestra) I have chosen the poem FEAR for the finale because of its optimistic and positive thinking ending in which the thought of life and work, which is reiterated again and again: “We want to make a better world — we want to work — we want to live!” With these words the work ends in the purest and strongest of tonalities, C Major, against which the French Horns intone a fanfare-like sound, reminiscent of the ancient and primitive sound of the ram’s horn.
— Franz Waxman