Pavel Haas

was born in Brno in June 1899, and began his formal music studies at age 14.  Studies were interrupted by his military service in the Austro-Hungarian army in 1917.  In 1920 he became a master pupil of Leos Janácek, who had a decisive influence upon Haas’ own style, apparent especially in the use of Moravian melodies.

Haas’ personality has been described as „a mixture of wit, nuanced irony, depth and elegance.“  These characteristics were tragically eroded for ever by his imprisonment at the Terezin concentration camp.  Already excluded from the music profession as a consequence of the 1938 Munich Agreement, his life was radically changed by the occupation of Czech territory in 1939, as the Nuremberg Laws were enacted in his homeland.  He divorced his non- Jewish wife, in order to protect her and his son from the Nazis.

He had already obtained great successes in the Thirties; his opera The Charlatan, the Piano Suite and a series of songs seemed to presage an international career.  He was at the height of his creative powers when he was deported to Terezin in 1941.  There he was deeply depressed, losing all desire to compose.  Fellow composer and prisoner Gideon Klein, however, encouraged him to such an extent that he eventually completed a number of works in the camp.  Sadly, only three of these eight works have been saved: the Four Songs from Chinese Poetry, the Hebrew Al Sefod (Mourn not) for men’s chorus, and the Study for Strings, doubtless the most widely known.

The great Czech conductor Karel Ancerl, whose birthday centennial was celebrated in April, was also a Terezin prisoner.  He had asked Haas to write a work for the camp orchestra.  The Nazis’ misuse of the work for their propaganda film „The Führer gives the Jews a City“ was both cynical and mendacious; following months of „beautifying“ the camp prior to the visit by the Danish Red Cross, not many weeks passed before most of the musicians were deported to Auschwitz, where they were murdered along with thousands of other Terezin victims  -  and Pavel Haas was murdered with them.  Karel Ancerl survived the Holocaust, and after the war found the orchestral parts of the Study in Terezin.  The score was taken to Auschwitz by Haas, and is lost.