Italian Researchers Assemble Archive of Music From World War II Concentration Camps

Classic Arts News   Italian Researchers Assemble Archive of Music From World War II Concentration Camps
For the past 15 years, Italian musician Francesco Lotoro has been collecting thousands of forgotten works composed in the prisons and concentration camps of World War II. His collection will be archived and displayed in a library scheduled to open in September at Rome's Third University.

The Associated Press reports that the library will offer scholars 4,000 papers and 13,000 microfiches, including music sheets, letters, drawings and photos. The music, scribbled on diaries, paper and even toilet paper between 1933 and 1945, ranges from operas composed in Nazi camps to jazz pieces written in Japanese POW camps.

"We are trying to right a great wrong: These musicians were hoping for a musical life for themselves, and they would have had it if their destiny had been different," Lotoro told the AP. He has traveled widely (largely working alone and usually at his own expense) to track down musical works from museums, archives and antique shops, as well as from survivors or their families.

Lotoro, a 42-year-old pianist who converted to Judaism in 2002, is also arranging and recording some of the works for a collection of 32 CDs, five of which have already been issued. Musicians and singers who live near his southern Italian town of Barletta often spend their Sundays recording the music with him, reports the AP.

The project took off after a trip Lotoro made to Prague in 1991, when he first began researching music written during the Holocaust. "I left for two weeks with a small bag hoping to bring back a dozen works, but in the end I had to buy a bigger suitcase to carry home hundreds of manuscripts and photocopies," he told the AP.

Among key works discovered are those of Rudolf Karel (1880-1945), a Czech composer who was arrested by the Nazis for taking part in the resistance in Prague. While in a military prison and suffering from dysentery, Karel composed numerous works on toilet paper, including a five-act opera and a nonet.

Many of Lotoro's finds are pieces written in Theresienstadt, a Czech town used by the Nazis as a transit camp and a sort of Potemkin village to show visiting Red Cross officials.

The Rome library will include, in addition to music by Jewish composers, works by Gypsies imprisoned by the Nazis, choral songs by Dutch women interned by the Japanese in Indonesia, and the music of Edmund Lilly, a U.S. colonel from North Carolina who wrote songs and poems in Japanese camps.

Also in the collection are the works of Berto Boccosi, an Italian captain who began writing an opera while held by the Allies in an Algerian camp. According to the AP, Lotoro is also researching music written by German officers imprisoned in Soviet camps.

"Music is a universal language, so the music written by the German officer and by the Jewish prisoner have the same historical value," he said.

Conductor James Conlon, whose "Breaking the Silence" concerts at Los Angeles Opera, the Ravinia Festival and numerous other venues have revived the works of composers suppressed by the Nazi regime, told PlaybillArts, "This is wonderful news. There is an enormous volume of music from this period that remains unknown and largely unplayed. This is another important step towards correcting our concept of the history of 20th-cenutry music and making up for the lost lives, lost art, and lost decades of music-making that should never have happened. I hope to visit the museum on my next trip to Rome in November."

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