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Can a 108-year-old pianist be over-publicised? Not if she is Alice Herz-Sommer, the Czech pianist and Theresienstadt concentration camp survivor. Still thriving in London today, Herz-Sommer has already received the tribute of Everything is a Present, a 2009 film by documentarian Christopher Nupen released on DVD (www.allegrofilms.com/alice) when she was a mere lass of 105. If you liked the film, you will enjoy these new books which likewise laud the subject, and rightly so. Alice’s Piano: The Life of Alice Herz-Sommer is followed by A Century of Wisdom: Lessons from the Life of Alice Herz-Sommer, the World’s Oldest Living Holocaust Survivor. The former solid study was originally published in German by Droemer Knaur Verlag in 2006 and Macmillan UK in 2007 as A Garden of Eden in Hell: The Life of Alice Herz- Sommer – and has subsequently been revised and updated. The latter is more of an extended magazine feature, and the somehow tasteless superlative of the subtitle, although doubtless meaning well, sets the gushing tone for the rest of the book. No matter; Herz-Sommer herself remains an upbeat and life-affirming musician, which is one key reason to celebrate her.

The compelling 26 Reviews of Musical Events at Theresienstadt, a 2011 publication from Bockel Verlag, illustrates how concentration camp musicians were subjected to the judgments of music critics who published articles in camp-produced media. Herz-Sommer was not judged by some penny-a-line hack, but by the sensitive and insightful composer and writer Viktor Ullmann, himself a fine pianist. In one 1944 review Ullmann calls Herz-Sommer the ‘Freundin’ (friend or sweetheart) of Beethoven, Schumann and Chopin, alluding to her as ‘this great, diminutive artist and justly admired pianist’. Ullmann was right; Herz-Sommer is still the piano world’s sweetheart.

BENJAMIN IVRY Read the full review on Agora Classica


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