Monday, May 12, 2014

Did a child of our time become an adult in Cincinnati?


Michael Tippett's oratorio A Child of Our Time was inspired by the story of Herschel Grynspan, the 17 year old German Jew whose murder of a German diplomat in Paris in November 1938 sparked Kristalnacht, and revealed to the world the full extent of Nazi antisemitism. The central narrative section of Tippett's oratorio leaves Herschel Grynspan - or 'the boy' as he is identified in the libretto - in prison. Grynspan was moved between Moabit Prison in Berlin and the concentration camps at Sachsenhausen and Flossenb├╝rg while the Nazis prepared the case against him. But in May 1942 Hitler indefinitely postponed his trial, and what happened to Grynspan after that is not known. It is probable that he perished in captivity, and he was declared legally dead in 1960 by the West German government. But there are more improbable versions of his fate, including this one recounted in Andy Marino's very readable* but out of print Herschel: the boy who started World War II.
One rumour has it that Herschel eventually lived in the mid-west of America, somewhere like Minneapolis or Cincinnati, and opened a record store. He might have married an American girl and fathered American children and never told them a thing about his other life. But if this is truly the case then how would we know?
Rumour it may be. But the thought of a middle-aged reinvented Herschel Grynspan mounting a window display in his Cincinatti record store to promote the 1958 release of Sir John Pritchard's definitive Argo LP set of A Child of Our Time is too delicious to dismiss entirely. Andy Marino has also written a recommended biography of another World War II hero, Varian Fry, whose most celebrated exploit is recounted in Walking the walk with Alma Mahler.


* Andy Marino wrongly states that Edith Sitwell was the librettist for A Child of Our Time. Tippett wrote his own libretto for the oratorio; the mistake, presumably, arose because the 1998 Belart CD re-issue of the Sir John Pritchard/Royal Liverpool Philharmonic A Child of Our Time coupled it with Colin Davis' 1968 recording of Tippett's motet The Weeping Babe, which sets Edith Sitwell's verse. Writing this footnote highlights, once again, the vagaries of classical music fashion. Sir John Pritchard (1921-1989) was principal conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra for seven years and a notable interpreter of Mozart and Richard Strauss operas. He was also very popular with orchestral musicians, a champion of contemporary music who gave the UK premieres of works by Stockhausen, Messiaen and others, and was one of the first prominent classical musicians to live an openly gay lifestyle. Yet today, he is a forgotten figure. The sound on the 1958 Sir John Pritchard A Child of Our Time is more than acceptable. But for those who want an excellent performance coupled with the latest in digital technology Sir Colin Davis' account encoded in SACD as part of a limited edition anthology of the conductor's work is also recommended.

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3 comments:

Pliable said...

Michael Strickland comments:

Late in his career, Pritchard was the Music Director at the San Francisco Opera, and though the standard repertory seemed to bore him, he was astonishing when he was interested. I remember a "Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk" with Josephine Barstow in 1988 that was one of the half dozen greatest opera performances I've heard and seen in my life.

Love the Herschel alternative reality tale where he puts the album cover of Tippett's oratorio in his Cincinatti music store window.

Pliable said...

Michael, thanks for that. If my memory is correct Sir John Pritchard was preparing a Ring cycle for San Francisco at the time of his death in 1989.

Michael Strickland said...

Dear Pliable: I think you're probably right about Pritchard and the SF Ring Cycle, which ended up being conducted by two conductors, one of them a very young Donald Runnicles who so impressed everyone that he was hired as Music Director for the company shortly after, where he stayed for over 15 years.