Patricia Hall went to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum in 2016 hoping to learn more about the music performed by prisoners in World War II death camps. The University of Michigan music theory professor heard there were manuscripts, but she was "completely thrown" by what she found in the card catalogs: Unexpectedly upbeat and popular songs titles that translated to "The Most Beautiful Time of Life" and "Sing a Song When You're Sad," among others, per the AP. More detective work over the next two years led her to several handwritten manuscripts arranged and performed by the prisoners, and ultimately, the first performance of one of those manuscripts since the war. Hall and colleagues gathered last month to record "The Most Beautiful Time of Life" and plan to perform the work Friday during a free concert at the university.
"You want people to be able to hear what these pieces sound like," says Hall, whose recording will become part of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum, which has also obtained a baton of one of the inmate orchestra's conductors. "Even in a horrendous situation like a concentration camp … these men were able to produce this beautiful music." Hall believes the popular fox trot was performed in 1942 or '43 in front of the commandant's villa for Sunday concerts for Auschwitz garrison. Although the prisoners didn't compose the songs, they had to arrange them so they could be played by the available instruments and musicians. While musicians received more food and were spared the hardest labor, Hall said they weren't immune to the greatest horrors of the camp, describing 50 who were "taken out and shot."
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