Music makes us humans rich. It is the revelation of the divine. It takes us to paradise.
Alice Herz-Sommer, born 1903 in Prague, is the oldest living Holocaust survivor. She is also an extraordinary pianist and teacher, whose skills were exploited by the Nazis to give concerts for prisoners at the Theresienstadt concentration camp where she and her family were imprisoned. Holocaust memoirs abound, but what makes Alice’s story unique is her unquenchable zest for and delight in life, and her fierce devotion to protecting her only child from the harsh realities of camp existence. Also unusual in many Holocaust memoirs, Alice’s life post-Liberation occupies nearly a third of the book, as she attempts to re-establish a life for herself and her son (her husband and mother died in the camps), first unsuccessfully in Prague before moving to Israel and finally London, where she now lives. There are many exceptional and unexpected turns to Alice’s life, but musicians in general and pianists in particular will love the section in which many of Chopin’s horrendously difficult and beautiful Etudes are analyzed for their musical content and how it reflects the events of Alice’s life at the time. 16 pages of photographs show Alice’s family, friends and career highlights but the most touching images in the book are a series of 4 photographs of Alice at age 102, listening to music in her home in Hampstead. She is thoughtfully and actively engaged with the music. The final photo shows her leaning back, hands on her cheeks, eyes closed, and a brilliant smile of rapturous delight. Inspirational to pianists, certainly, but it’s an unforgettable and uplifting story that will engage many.
Check the BPL catalog for this title: Alice’s Piano