Fortunoff Archive Presents Music from Testimony

By Stephen Naron - December 17, 2018

The project began when former Geoffrey H. Hartman Fellow Sarah Garibova chose the testimony of Liubov N. for her annotated critical edition of a testimony. Liubov N. was born in 1921 in Zvenigorodka, Ukraine. After Zvenigorodka was invaded and occupied in June 1941, she was forced to move into the town ghetto where she performed forced labor. She was later brought to a concentration camp in the village where she built roads and sorted through the clothing of people who were murdered. She was able to escape with four friends and hide until the end of the war. After the war, she became a passionate advocate for the construction of monuments to commemorate the dead at mass graves in Ukraine.

Among Liubov's other recollections of Zvenigorodka concentration camp were two songs and two poems that the prisoners wrote and recited. Garibova and the Fortunoff Archive worked with Slepovitch to create full arrangements of the songs and compose and arrange music for the poems. The result is five pieces, now available on the Fortunoff Archive website. The lyrics and their translations by Daniel Kahn are included, as well as notes prepared by Slepovitch providing analysis of the songs. Performers include Sasha Lurje (vocals), Joshua Camp (accordion, piano), Dmitry Ishenko (contrabass) and D. Zisl Slepovitch (composition, arrangements, artistic direction, clarinet, alto saxophone, flute).

The archive is continuing to work with Slepovitch to record additional songs from testimonies for the public, with another set of recordings scheduled to be released in early 2019.

The Fortunoff Archive hopes that these songs will bring another dimension to testimonies. In his opening presentation at the Hartman Fellowship Symposium in May, Professor Timothy Snyder notes how testimonies, as an audiovisual resource "have a special ability to cross the membrane between death and life." The songs in testimony are actually sung, and that "can't happen in a written source. That can only happen in a visual or an audio source." Through Slepovitch's arrangement and performance, these songs are "brought into the present. And that is also a reading of a source, but it's a different kind of reading. The songs that are performed in this camp are about dying and about death. And yet the effort to recall them -- whether anthropological, ethnomusicological, or historical-- can also mean that they are recreated. And that recreation then creates links between people who are no longer living and those alive today."

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