Burkhardt Söll

Kinderdinge: Music for Korczak and His Children

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Painter and composer Burkhardt Söll (born in 1944) is celebrated across Europe for his visual and aural art. His two symphonies and numerous chamber works have been performed from France to Russia, and his paintings have been exhibited in virtually every country on the European continent. This work, a smaller concert version of a musical theater piece, is based on the true account of doctor, teacher, and children's book author Janusz Korczak and his children. A Polish Jew, Korczak also ran an orphanage during the Second World War. The work is a tragedy as the children, their governess, and the doctor were dislocated from their home and sent to Treblinka -- where they were all assassinated. The piece was inspired by a design for children's furniture that Söll saw, covered entirely in black fabric. From there he began collaborating on a piece of musical theater, and scaled it down for a separate concert version for an eight-piece chamber orchestra and soprano. Söll is, among his generation, the most soulful and able of composers; his musicality is not reined in by institutional or vanguard concerns, he simply creates a body of music that gets the job done. Using Manuela du Bois-Raymond's libretto, and the truly fantastical voice of Djoke Winkler Prins, Söll paints the picture of this rather bleak wartime story in human terms, giving the children an identity not just textually, but texturally -- as the strings are the narrative voices of the adults, the reeds and woodwinds become the children's. His use of pastoral nuance and elegiac impressionism does not preclude the employment of other music (such as the modal or 12-tone music found toward the end of the work), nor does it insist upon using them. The story is vocally driven and musically painted, and Söll is unwilling to upset this delicate balance he has created in favor of drama, clarity, or any other artificial or merely subjective concern. The emotional transference of the musical and literary texts is clean and honest, and full of surprises in the string sections -- particularly in the cadenzas that unite each section and the reliance on wind harmonics developed first by Sibelius. As the story unfolds, the tension and sadness spread themselves out over the nearly 60 years since the incident took place, and each of the orphans -- as well as the doctor and the governess -- becomes a multi-dimensional person. The tragedy therefore becomes more poignant and completely devastating, but does not rule out the hope of transcendence: If this doctor, as well know as he was (who could have saved himself) was perfectly willing to lay down his life for a group of children who no one else in the world cared for, isn't there some light even in the darkest of corners? Kinderdinge is a brilliant and disturbing work that is neither morbid nor vulgar, but the voice of a saddened angel relating his sorrow.

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