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short novel of sublime tragedy telling the story of the preparation and performance of Verdi's Requiem by Jewish artists in a prison ghetto in Hitler's Germany. Out of the tragedy and horror of the mass genocide of the last war have come many tales of the incredible reaching of the human spirit in the face of certain, agonizing, and terrible death. To comprehend such enormity and to convey it is an almost impossible task in which this author has succeeded by using as his vehicle the performance of a deeply spiritual work of sacred music. The idea for preparing the Requiem in the prison ghetto of Terezin came to conductor Robert Schachter slowly -- to bring together the most diverse group possible and let all men come and hear what art could be achieved. But when an old beggar suggested that no Jew could perform the work since no Jew believed in hell, Schachter found his real impetus. The present hell was greater than even Dante could imagine, and this was a chance to do a new requiem expressing a ""fanatical faith in historical justice here in this world"". The artists are carefully, painfully selected and instruments smuggled in, yet with each discovery of a new voice the transports to the death camp rumble and the tormented conductor is left facing empty chairs. Retreat however is impossible and finally the Requiem is performed after searing losses of performers, and audience through torture, death and humiliation. ""Libera nos"" thunders the gigantic choir for the last time as Eichmann in the audience comments ""very interesting!"". The company is not separated as promised as they all ""ascend together into the first wagons of the first transport"". Beautifully translated from the Czech by Edith Fargeter, this is a shattering, brilliant distillation of a poetic comprehension of the moment of tragedy.

Pub Date: Oct. 21st, 1963
Publisher: Knopf