baritone, ensemble & electronics
as part of Orchestras of Auschwitz
Text by Leo Geyer
Commissioned for the opening of the Sir Martin Gilbert Education Centre and first performed on the 12th September 2017 at the centre by Constella OperaBallet, sung by Simon Lasker-Walfisch and conducted by the composer.
Duration 10mins | Difficulty Professional
clarinet in Bb | baritone | violin | cello | fixed tape electronics
Blackbird is a response to the process of discovering the music manuscripts written and performed by musicians in Auschwitz, works which remain largely unknown today and at the time of writing, have never been performed since the camp was active. The title Blackbird alludes to birdsong I overheard whilst conducting research in one of the former blocks which hold the archives at Auschwitz. Typically, visitors to the Auschwitz-Birkanua Museum are only allowed as part of tours, where the guide's whisper into microphones transmitted to headphones. I was moved by the silence of not only the visitors but also of nature itself; the only sound I could hear was a single blackbird, stuttering his song as if caged by the deafening silence.
During my research I was particularly taken by a handwritten sketch for an operetta overture, which is set in a woodland in Northern Poland. Recognising the uncanny similarities between the composer's handwriting and my own sent shivers down my spine. It was clearly a working score, with many details missing as the composer sketched out their ideas. Tragically the manuscript was not signed, and therefore the writer is unknown. As the sketch was incomplete, I suspect that the piece was never performed. I therefore felt that this score, and this prisoner’s voice, should be heard and remembered.
As I left the camp, walking under the dreaded gates, my heart was heavy. I felt burdened by the responsibility and gravitas of my upcoming challenge to remember those lost, to honour Sir Martin’s work and that of this unknown composer. At that precise moment, a blackbird sung again, this time without faltering – singing his song, pure and true. I’d like to think it was the same one as before, who had now found his courage. I listened as his song cut through the silence. It was a powerful moment, and its message clear.
Please note that this music is in copyright and it is illegal to copy or perform from the perusal score.
12th Sept 2017 - Constella OperaBallet, Sir Martin Gilbert Learning Centre