Gideon Klein's Trio, a central work in the string trio repertoire, performed at numerous Performing the Jewish Archive events.
Gideon Klein’s String Trio was composed whilst the composer was imprisoned in the Terezín (Theresienstadt) prison camp and ghetto. It was completed in October 1944 just ten days before his deportation to Auschwitz and his eventual murder in the Fürstengrube slave-labour camp. It is one of a number of important compositions composed by Klein and other composers in Terezín. This short work is deceptive. With its Classically-inspired proportions, it seems to be, on the one hand, accessible and light-hearted, avoiding the Modernist language of some of Klein’s earlier works. On the other hand, its apparent, though largely concealed, references to works by other composers, and folk music of his native Moravia, hides a profound message about the level of Nazi deceit in Terezín, as well as the fracture of European and, indeed, Jewish culture.
The middle movement is longer than the combined durations of the energetic outer movements which flank it. This second movement is a set of variations on a Moravian folksong, The Knezdub Tower, a song about a wild goose flying up into a high tower. This symbol of freedom, referencing Klein’s own Moravian roots, had strong resonance for the imprisoned Klein, and was a link to an idyllic childhood. Using this wistful melody, Klein creates a set of variations, the emotional heart of the Trio.
There is some evidence that the work was rehearsed immediately following its completion. However, the first performance was by the Czechoslovak String Quartet, on 6 June 1946 in the Suk Hall of Prague’s Rudolfinum. The concert was organised by Klein’s sister, Lisa Kleinová, herself a professional pianist and pedagogue. In the programme notes, the conductor Karel Ančerl, who was also interned in Terezín, wrote about Klein’s activities in the ghetto: “Where there was a valuable cultural performance, there for sure Gideon Klein was the initiator. It is difficult to say how and to what dimensions Gideon Klein would have grown under normal circumstances. One can say with certainty that he could have been among the best, achieving the utmost perfection as a pianist, in composing and conducting.”
Ančerl based his remarks on only a small number of extant compositions by Klein at the time. In 1990, all of Klein’s pre-Terezín works were rediscovered, and Lisa started to oversee the publication of these.
In the past few years, the Trio has become part of regular string trio repertoire, and is now considered to be one of the last century’s finest examples of its type.