For Victims (2011)

15 minutes
Baritone, String Quartet
Developed in association with American Opera Projects

Notes:

For Victims is a dramatic scene for baritone and string quartet based on two poems by David Shapiro: For Victims and The Dead will not Praise You. The work was commissioned by American Opera Projects and David brought together these two texts for this piece. The first text (that comes back at the end) is a memorial to the victims of Nazi atrocities who perished in the Holocaust. The second, The Dead will not Praise You, is a specific memory of the Cantor Berele Chagy, David’s grandfather. In an interview, David mentions the personal connection he has to the subject matter of his poem: “Even in my own family, the facts of murdered aunts were kept from me for decades. But my father and mother made their lives around and against racism, bigotry, and hatred. All too banal, spread out in history like a fable? No, a powerful musician like Mohammed works the hardest to show that art produces truths like a Holocaust museum, filled with almost hopeless music, not the false Romance of Wagner, but a new kind of structure that must be heard after Auschwitz.

— Mohammed Fairouz (2011)

Text:

For Victims

They have used the bodies of children
As improvised bridges
Which they later cross.
First the sun and the moon,
Then the earth comes in.
But they have lost
The atmosphere, which belongs to them

Light passersby

My grandfather emerges
in a synagogue
with familiar accents
unlike his noble voice
a pudgy little man
sweet tenor coloratura flautando
He marches down the aisle
with a blue white crown
Women ask questions
and they are charmed
and he is beloved
like etymology
Is my mother in attendance
or is she dead?
What are questions now?
Are the dead permitted to
sing? Is he serious?
Are the dead permitted
to return and sing?

— David Shapiro, ‘For Victims’ and ‘The Dead will not Praise You’

Copyright 2007 by David Shapiro. Used by permission of David Shapiro and The Overlook Press.

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