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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

Music can be escape as well as resistance

By John Terauds on October 4, 2013

Alice Herz-Sommer
Alice Herz-Sommer

Joyce DiDonato and Gidon Kremer believe artists should stand up to homophobic laws and punishments in Russia. Others believe music should stay away from politics. It’s not a new debate. But why can’t music be both?

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, Editor-Emeritus of Ludwig van Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at the University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
John Terauds

I can’t think of a more incisive example than the role of music in Nazi Germany, where it was used for good as well as evil political purposes, and where a desperate search for relief from terror masqueraded as escapism.

Filmmaker Malcolm Clarke has managed to incorporate all of these issues along with a sheer love of life itself in The Lady in Number 6. Ostensibly, this is a documentary about Czech pianist Alice Herz-Sommer, who gave more than 100 recitals as a prisoner at the Terezin death camp from 1943 to the end of World War II. With any luck, she will turn 110 next month.

It casts those who dismiss music as escapism in a whole new light when someone like a fellow Holocaust survivor extolls the value of listening to the music stored in memory: “You can go into another world, one that is much nicer than the one we’re actually living in.”

In other words, just the act of learning, making and listening to music — any music — might have value that we cannot estimate or predict.

Herz-Sommer’s story is at once heartbeaking and heart-warming. Aside from the overly schlocky background music, Clarke’s documentary is a beautiful effort (you can rent the film online here). There is another nice, earlier documentary about Herz-Sommer made by Christopher Nupen, entitled Everything is a Present, available on DVD (details here).

Here is an extended trailer for Clarke’s film:

John Terauds

 

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, Editor-Emeritus of Ludwig van Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at the University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
John Terauds
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