Though one of the youngest composers in Theresienstadt, Gideon Klein (1919-1945) was one of the mainstays of musical life there. Born in the small town of Prerov in Moravia, he was a locally celebrated prodigy on the piano. He moved to Prague at age 12 to continue his studies, which ultimately included musicology and composition.
After the Nazi conquest of Czechoslovakia and the imposition of the Nuremberg laws, Klein was expelled from the Prague Conservatory and the Karl University and denied permission to travel to London, where he had been awarded a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music. He performed under pseudonyms until December 1941, when he was sent to Theresienstadt.
There Klein gave recitals, accompanied and arranged music for choral ensembles, played chamber music, and composed several powerful pieces, including this Fantasie a Fuga. The piece is structured in taut symmetry, with both the Fantasy and the Fugue divided in half and both almost equally polyphonic. Klein uses 12-tone rows and counterpoint in a highly personal, expressive way, suggesting evolutionary searching rather than mechanical predestination.
Klein finished the Fantasie a Fuga in 1943. His last work was a string trio completed just before he was sent to Auschwitz in October 1944. He was put to work in the coal mine at the Fürstengrube concentration camp, where he died in January 1945.
- John Henken is the Philharmonic's Director of Publications.