1921: The War Against Music

What is 1921: The War Against Music?


“1921 -The War…” is the story of two once-famous Ukrainian composers who have been virtually wiped off the face of the earth.

1921 will be a feature-length video documentary shot in the Ukrainian locations where their music was composed (and later banned) and in the case of Nowakowsky’s music, where the music was buried in southern France to save it from the Nazis..

To do this I will be inviting interested bloggers to join us in Collonges-sous-Saleve, and Archamps France, (both are just outside of Geneva) and Odessa; Berditchev and other nearby regions, to tour with qualified genealogists and historians. I am contacting tour operators to provide group discounted tickets for the tour. Tour members will be featured in the documentary. If you can’t join us, then you can participate on-line. *(see below)

David Nowakowsky (1848-1921) was a Jewish composer whose tombstone was destroyed and whose unpublished manuscripts had to be buried in occupied France while his surviving family escaped to Switzerland.

Mykola Leontovych (1877-1921) is mainly remebered for only one song: “Carol of the Bells” (Shedryk). He was murdered by the CHEKA (Soviet State Security, -also known as the “Terror” police) to eradicate Ukrainian culture and religion.

While many other composers of this period were also suppressed and even executed, I have chosen to pair these two musicians because they both died in 1921, because they represent two of the main populations of Ukraine, Jewish and Christian,  and of course, because of the beauty and sometimes, similarities in their music.

My 2nd encounter with Nowakowsky’s music was in a hitch-hike ride back to New York from the Catskill mountains i n 1990 driven by my friend: David Lefkowitz, editor and performer of Nowakowsky’s music. During the ride I listened to a cassette recording of a concert by the Roger Wagner Chorale and Orchestra, performed at Royce Hall University of California in 1989. I was totally blown away. I asked where could I get a copy of this concert and the answer was: “Nowhere.” The California musicians had been paid for the concert, but not for the release of a recording.

In 1994 I produced and recorded my own concert, but instead of a whole symphony, I could only afford one violin, 1 cello, 8 choristers, (including myself) and the donated services of Mezzo-Soprano/composer Penny Blake and the late Tenor: Velmer Headley. I sang a few of the solos with the bulk of the concert sung by Velmer, Penny contributing newly written arrangements of folk-songs by Nowakowsky’s contemporaries.

A few years later I heard a CBC radio show on Leontovych narrated by the late conductor: Walter Klimkiw recorded in Winnipeg. Walter & I got together on the phone and began plans to have a joint concert. Although Walter died a few short months later, The dream never died.

Canada and the United States are one of the few places where both Nowakowsky’s and Leontovych’s music are available for study and performance.

Progress has been slow but steady. In 1995 Vanessa Redgrave invited me to give a recital in Hammersmith England, and I used that ticket to fly to France and record the story of how the music was saved, by Alexandre,  Nowakowsky’s great-grandson, who was 5 years old when he and his parents became stateless refugees, fleeing the Nazis, in 1937. That testimony has been mixed together with my concert as a DVD “feature”.

In 2006 BRAVO! Television provided $20,000. to make a 5-minute TV short, which I co-produced with Gold Star Productions in Vancouver recording the music in Toronto. The short won the audience appreciation prize at the Chicago REEL Short Film Festival in 2006.

To capitalize on the grant, I talked CBC radio into letting me make a radio documentary during the video production. CBC gave me a mini-disc recorder that together with my amateur JVC camera provided me with a mix of sound-clips from both the Toronto church where I was recording the music and on set in Vancouver. -Of course there was also a 9 mike set-up in the church which together with the other equipment provides a rich symphony of sounds for the radio doc.  Both the CBC radio doc and the BRAVOFact TV short are called: Music of a Forgotten Master.

2 Commentsto 1921: The War Against Music

  1. Free Piano says:

    Free Piano

    if i have just signed up but I actually would really like to see a specific letter (Lorelei Lee’s) is there some place i’m able to possibly look at it or obtain a copy somehow?

  2. master says:

    In 2012, I wrote a musical comedy, based on the Nowakowsky story, called: MUSICAL PAWNS. I had a wonderful cast of 10 Canadian actor-singer-dancers. We all went to New York City and performed in the FRIGID New York Theatre Festival, winning the Audience Choice Award that year. The show was repeated that summer at the Toronto Fringe (c). with a smaller cast but to a much larger audience. After that I teamed up with Dr. Kalli Paakspuu and editor Peter Gugeler and we dreamed up an experimental short film depicting the assassination of Mykola Leontovych set to the music of Carol of the Bells, performed by Jazz pianist: Paul Hoffert. The short was called: Schedryk, which is the Ukrainian title of what in the west is called: “Carol of the Bells”.
    During 2015 & 2016, the short was played around the world in such cities as: Bangkok, Paris, Rome, Venice, Toronto, New York, Whitehorse, Hamilton, and Muskoka.
    Kalli and I flew first: to The Paris Ethnographic Film Festival for a showing of Shchedryk. Then we filmed sites in Collonges-sous-Saleve and Archamps France, where we interviewed a professor at the Adventist College, whose grand-uncle was one of the martyrs of the Dutch-Paris Underground during WWII.
    Summer 2016, I was invited to speak in Seattle Washington at The International Jewish Genealogical Convention. On the way there I spent 3 days interviewing Dr. Stephen Brodsky on Vancouver Island, whose family had built Nowakowsky’s synagogue in Odessa. I then went by ship to San Francisco for a short rest, before travelling to Anguin California, to interview Herbert Ford, author of: “Flee the Captor” -the story of the Dutch-Paris Undergound.
    This year I filmed Dr. David Lefkowitz, editor of Nowakowsky’s music meeting with Toronto musicologist/composer Charles Heller, at the YIVO Archives in New York, where they pored over the original manuscripts.
    Dr. Heller analysed Nowakowsk’s musical technique, and David Lefkowitz explained some of the changes he had to make to the music when converting the settings from an all-male choir to a mixed male-female choir. David also pointed out the changes to the Hebrew text as some of the words and accents were pronounced differently in 19th century Russia, as they are today. His challenge was to make as few changes as possible, in order to preserve Nowakowsky’s original sound, but yet make it possible to perform them in the 21st century.
    The changes consisted of occasionally switching some of the tenor and alto lines in the choir, so they could “speak” better to the audience and small changes to the pronunciation. For instance: in 19th century Russia some of the “t” (Tuv) letters are pronounces as “s” and the vowels like the ai (ah-ee) are pronounced oy. Accents are sometimes seemingly in the “wrong” place. It would be 3 years after Nowakowsky died, that Alkalai published the first Hebrew dictionary and advocated that the Sephardic (Middle Eastern) pronounciation replace Ashkenazi (East European) way of speaking. Although most contemporary Jews and Israelis have adopted the Sephardic pronunciations, you can still hear the old accents around the world, especially among the senior population who were born in Europe.
    This year I have been concentrating on giving illustrated talks, showing the films and interviews I have recorded. My next scheduled talk will be at Chatauqua New York on July 23rd, 2017 during the Chatauqua Festival of the Arts, at the Reform Temple in the village. -Ron Graner

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