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David Nowakowsky (1848-1921) was a Jewish composer whose tombstone was destroyed and whose unpublished manuscripts had to be buried in occupied France while his surviving family escaped to Switzerland.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