Viktor Ullmann (1898-1944) was a composer of German-Jewish heritage who spent his life in the Czech and German cultural spheres. He studied composition with Arnold Schoenberg and developed an interesting style that brings together influences from the Second Viennese School, Hindemith, and satirical cabaret, among others. Under the tutelage of Alexander Zemlinsky, Ullmann became an accomplished conductor with what is now the Prague State Opera (he was among the first to conduct Ernst Krenek’s opera Jonny Spielt auf). He was also a music critic and at one time managed a bookstore dedicated to the philosophy of anthroposophy.
Ullmann was imprisoned in the Nazi camp of Theresienstadt (Terezin, near Prague) in 1942, where he was assigned to manage cultural life rather than the manual labor many inmates had to do. In October 1944 he was transported to Auschwitz with his family and many colleagues, where he went to the gas chambers almost immediately.
The two years in Theresienstadt were, ironically, the most productive time of Ullmann’s compositional career. In addition, Ullmann’s Theresienstadt manuscripts were saved while most of his earlier works are lost. So, despite his many accomplishments before 1942, Viktor Ullmann runs the risk of having his personal tragedy overshadow his artistry.
Kaiser von Atlantis Resources
Reviews and Observations
In “Does the Holocaust Make the Music Sound Sweeter?”Bernard Holland suggests that Ullmann’s tragic life story lends undeserved credibility to his music. “For all the fluency and charm, there is no striking voice. There are no inspiring surprises, but at least no unpleasant ones, either. Ullmann comes to us from these recordings as a skilled journeyman, a composer with a lovely gift for songfulness and sure musical tools. He died in his mid-40’s. Would a longer life have allowed him to be great? Who can say?” Joseph Kalichstein responds.
Klezmer Shack reviews James Conlon’s 2005 series of Ullmann performances at Ravinia 2005.
Review of the Shirai recording of Ullmann lieder , from the Canadian Association of Teachers of German.
Kenneth Woods blogs about Ullmann and the role of “relevance” and reviews Ullmann’s third string quartet.
Lyrod Simool blogs about the integrity shown in Ullmann’s one-act Theresienstadt opera The King of Atlantis.
More Viktor Ullman Web Sites
Biography and a comprehensive list of works, both lost and surviving.