Concentration music is such a vast and partly unexplored heritage, that the eight thousand scores that have emerged so far could one day represent “only a fragment of what was created” in the more than twenty years spanning from the opening of Dachau to the closing of the last gulag. This is what Francesco Lotoro, pianist and conductor from Barletta, writes in Un canto salverà il mondo (lit. A song will save the world, published by Feltrinelli). A witness book to retrace the sense and breadth of the mission to which he chose to devote his life: the enhancement of an immense intellectual and moral heritage that is now the focus of various projects, starting from a Citadel that will be built in his hometown in the future by redeveloping an old abandoned industrial area.
A universal boundless challenge. As a matter of fact, the author believes that being Jewish means “taking care of music written by other peoples”.
A song, he explains, will save the world. And it will be “uninterrupted, ancestral, carrying the smell of a polished stone, as intense as a rainbow after the heavy rain, accompanied by melodies that silhouette our metropolises’. Such will be the essence of this music, “more like real dreams than insubstantial reality”. Nothing will be left “of the Ghetto, the Lager, and the Gulag”, instead.
This conviction is the hallmark of the project that will lead to the establishment of this new ensemble, but also of the many initiatives undertaken to date, which have earned him, among the most prestigious honours, the title of Cavaliere dell’Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana and the French title of Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres. In addition to the 8,000 scores, Lotoro now has 12,500 documents of music production in the camps (microfilms, diaries, music notebooks, phonographic recordings, interviews with survivors) and several thousands of texts and essays. From Budapest to Prague, from Tel Aviv to Shanghai: the book is always on the move, in search of characters and sources of light. Anecdotes, struggles, hope, as well as many extraordinary encounters in the sign of that beauty as Resistance which has been and continues to be, in its reverberation, “an evolved form of electromagnetism of the spirit capable of transforming the negativity of the physical place into the positivity of the mental and spiritual place”.
Un canto salverà il mondo allows us to appreciate the values that have inspired a relentless commitment that will perhaps never end. Indeed, it is impossible to detach oneself from it when something has entered your soul in such an all-encompassing way and when one has set oneself the objective, even at the cost of many personal sacrifices, of “making reparation for the suffering of all kinds endured by the musicians who wrote this music” and of “finding every tiny trace among the papers and scores left on every shelf in the world”.
Lotoro reminds us that music will be born wherever there are conditions of imprisonment and suffering. And that also “works of mediocre level or of good craftsmanship at most” can exist together with “masterpieces”. What they have in common is a condition of captivity capable of making the entire production, regardless of the more-or-less-accentuated artistic value of the individual work, “an authentic masterpiece of genius”. It is, therefore, music that annihilates dictatorships and ideologies by simply existing.
Music produced in captivity “had thaumaturgical powers, it literally overturned the humanitarian coordinates of the sites of imprisonment and deportation, it pulverised the ideologies behind the creation of Lagers and Gulags. Maybe it didn’t save lives, but surely this music will save us”, emphasises Lotoro.
That is why, as he has been doing for over thirty years with inexhaustible passion, it is urgent to recover, study, archive, and perform.
The author wonders: “If twelve years of the Third Reich destroyed a two-thousand-year-old cultural heritage in Germany, how many years will it take to restore treasures and heritages created under National Socialism and Stalinism, which have sunk into oblivion for seventy years and are far from being fully recovered? It is no coincidence that his journey begins in Terezin, the camp of the most ruthless Nazi propaganda but also “the last bastion of the great Central European musical literature of the first half of the 20th century”.
With its liquidation came the end of a world that included such great names as Franta Goldschmidt, Pavel Haas, Bernard Kaff, Petr Kien, Franz Eugen Klein, Gideon Klein, Viktor Kohn, Hans Krása, Egon Ledeč, Rafael Schächter, James Simon, Carlo Sigmund Taube, Viktor Ullmann and František Zelenka. These names made up the Jewish musical elite of Central and Eastern Europe.
Translated by Gianluca Pace and revised by Alice Pugliese, students at the Advanced School for Interpreters and Translators of the University of Trieste and interns at the newspaper office of the Union of the Italian Jewish Communities.