The adage about beautiful art being created against a backdrop of terror and upheavals has always fascinated me. I was thinking of its ironies recently as I sat listening to utterly lovely chamber music, of the most civilised and uplifting, and realised that I was facing a huge and dramatic Julian Story 1888 painting of "The Black Prince at the Battle of Crecy" hanging on the wall of the Telfair Museum of Art Rotunda Gallery. I looked further around the walls and there was another savage battle scene, also painted in 1888 by Josef Brandt, simply entitled "A Battle".
Granted that the chronologies of all these contexts were totally unrelated. The Savannah Music Festival concert featured a wonderful Mozart 1785 Piano Quartet in G minor and Dvorak's 1878 String Sextet in A Major being played by violinist Daniel Hope, pianist Sebastian Knauer, violists Philip Dukes and Carla Maria Rodrigues and friends. The subject of Story's monumental painting was the 1346 Battle of Crecy, a pivotal battle during the Hundred Year War when the Black Prince Edward of Wales killed King John of Bohemia. The 1656 battle depicted in the other painting recorded a skirmish between Swedes and Polish troops. Nonetheless, the juxtaposition for me, during that concert, reminded me that innumerable musical masterpieces, so much visual art, so many other kinds of artistic creation, are produced at periods of huge strife and stress, whether of war, economic distress or personal illness and suffering. To me, the capacity to create beauty and uplifting art at such times is one of mankind's most admirable characteristics.
Daniel Hope has programmed a very special concert on April 1st, in Savannah's Temple Mickve Israel, which perfectly illustrates this capacity to create beauty in the face of unspeakable suffering. Called "Forbidden Music", the programme features music created in the Theresienstadt concentration camp north of Prague by young Jewish musicians before they met their death. Daniel Hope and his wonderful musician friends will be playing a String Trio composed in 1944 by Gideon Klein. Klein was born in the present-day Czech Republic, deported to Theresienstadt (where he organised concerts with his fellow prisoners) and thence to Auschwitz before meeting his death in Furstengrube concentration camp in January, 1945. Another work featured in this programme again underlines this juxtaposition of beauty and terror: Siegmund Schul's Two Chassidic Dances, Opus 15. Schul, a young German composer, was deported to Theresienstadt with his wife in 1941. Whilst there, he composed this and other compositions, testaments to his strength and resiliency. He died in Theresienstadt in 1944, victim of tuberculosis.
The list of works of art of all description that we inherit from men and women of enormous talent and courage is huge. I think it is good to remind ourselves always that whatever our personal travails, we can find inspiration and encouragement from others that - yes, despite everything, we can still be artists and produce work that can be of value to others.