Zwarte bloemen – Twelve Songs for Soprano and Ensemble

Composer: Josef Malkin (b. 1950)
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Composer: Josef Malkin (b. 1950)

Performance date: 29/06/2010

Venue: Bantry Library

Composition Year: 2009

Duration: 00:20:39

Recording Engineer: Anton Timoney, RTÉ lyric fm

Instrumentation: S-solo, pf

Instrumentation Category:Small Mixed Ensemble

Instrumentation Other: S-solo, cl, db, 2vn, va, vc

Artists: Danish Quartet (Frederik Øland, Rune Sorensen [violins], Asbjørn Nørgaard [viola], Fredrik Sjölin [cello]) - [quartet]
Dominic Dudley - [double bass]
Carol McGonnell - [clarinet]
Charlotte Riedijk - [soprano]

Zwarte bloemen – Twelve Songs for Soprano and Ensemble

words are planted like black seedlings forever in my mourning soul

I wash them with my tears and they are blooming with black blossom

And I embrace them with my music black as they are

Is there another colour? ‘To Ida’ Josef

The Dutch poet Ida Vos was one of a class of thirty five children
in a Jewish school in Holland in 1940 – only four of them survived the War and
the Occupation by being hidden in a series of safe houses. The rest were sent
east in the cattle trains. In 1975 she wrote a set of poems – Thirty-five Tears – in memory of the children in her
class who did not survive. Poems that were written because of the survivor’s
need to go back and tell the story – a story that cannot be told enough. Josef
Malkin took twelve of these poems for his orchestral setting that he called Zwarte bloemen. The Delft Chamber Music Festival
commissioned a version for chamber ensemble, which was premiered at last
summer’s Festival.

The twelve songs are written as if a
mother is singing to her child, so the songs are short and the music simple and
tuneful but the mother is the confused and frightened six-year-old thirty years
later. And the mother is as distraught as her six-year-old for she still cannot
understand how she survived and her class-mates did not, a mother trying to
reach back across the years to comfort that terrified six-year-old and all her
friends who did not survive.

These songs then tell of a doomed and
fractured childhood, of a child that wanted to go out to play but must remain
underground like a blind and frightened mole, a childhood where a yellow
butterfly is a badge of shame, where the street organ’s melody is a reminder of
the song sung by children as they were loaded onto cattle trains, and where a
famous theatre becomes the selection place for the one-way journey east. The
songs touch but do not dwell on the horrors – the Star of David badge, the
Hollandsche Schouwberg, the cattle trains, the poison gas, the crowded graves –
what comes across is the sense of total dislocation in place and in time. These
songs are sung by the thirty-six-year-old mother with the voice of the
six-year-old little girl trying to say the farewells that could not be said
thirty years earlier, they are also a voice for the voiceless.