And You and I 1999, 6′

Sop solo, 2 pt children’s chorus, SATB, vn, db, pno

Text – Poem by Anonymous Girl in Room 28 in Terezín Concentration Camp and Song of Songs

Published by Boosey and Hawkes, Doreen Rao’s Conductor’s Choice Series.

And You and I (excerpt)

Commissioned by Lyric Opera of Kansas City, originally as a postlude to the Hans Krasa opera Brundibár

 

In writing And You and I, I had two principal objectives. I was asked to provide a musical experience specifically for the moments immediately following Krasa’s opera Brundibár; and I was asked to use a poem written by a little girl in the concentration camp at Terezín (Theresienstadt) to her friend.

In response to the first objective, I took the first three notes of the theme of the finale of Brundibár, a celebratory march of triumph, slowed them down and watched what happened next. They gave me a dark, somewhat quizzical theme to work with and lots of latitude. And they fit the first words of the poem.

As for the poem, in its English translation it is very basic language without artifice, a child’s bare-faced anthem. I faced it against several lines of the famous Song of Songs verses “Arise my beloved.” I wanted to use both English and Hebrew in the piece, so I took an old – I don’t know how old, perhaps ancient – nigun, or tune, to which has traditionally been sung the Hebrew text of these verses. I do not know if these sweet lines of springtime love have ever been used before to sound a desperate alarm – “Come away! Come away!” – but that is how they presented themselves to me when I read them thinking about the Holocaust and little girls writing poems to each other in concentration camps.

Little girls and boys should not know about Holocausts; the children’s voices in the piece never acknowledge the terror and desperation in the adult chorus and soprano solo lines. And the violin, in a cadenza, seems to reassure the children that they have the right to remain innocent. At the end, however, the children show us that they have never been innocent; they know everything: the past and the future.