A Foreword to the Programme
The jazz oratorio H.M.S. Royal Oaks was written by Erwin Schulhoff together with the playwright, writer and journalist of the Frankfurter Zeitung Otto Rombach (1904–1984) in 1930. They were inspired by a real event from 1928. On the HMS Royal Oak, a huge battleship that had been cruising the world’s oceans since 1915, a quarrel broke out between officers over the music played by a small band in the officers’ mess. The dispute got completely out of hand and the men involved ended up court-martialed. The whole affair was widely reported in the world press.
Schulhoff’s oratorio starts at this point. It is a parable of how the world is changing, with a music oscillating between Igor Stravinsky, Kurt Weill, Arnold Schoenberg, film music, jazz band, popular song with many catchy tunes. The story is told by a narrator, indulgently commented on by his musical colleagues. The content is roughly as follows: the British naval ship HMS Royal Oak is on a voyage of exploration in the South Pacific. The sailors love jazz, but the captain bans it on pain of punishment. This leads to a mutiny by the crew. The case goes to court, which – along with the public – sides with the sailors. In the end, they all sing together: 'All men, from boy to minister, are subject to the changes of time; only the philistine remains eternally the same, because out of sheer convenience he forgets to live. All men – from spelunkers or castles – submit to the rhythm of the world. The Philistine wants to dilute life with his simplicity by barking at us. But we don't care about all prohibitions, you citizens with flabby bellies. Because for blacks, whites, and redskins alike, these screeching, squeaky, funny notes are the ones you dance to. Hallelujah!"
The original score by H.M.S. Royal Oaks is for large jazz orchestra: three violins, soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, three horns, two trombones, sousaphone, percussion (chimes, xylophone, vibraphone, bells, big drum, tam-tam), two banjos, two accordions, piano, speaker, jazz singer, and chorus. The piece has been arranged for small student ensemble.
The premiere of H.M.S. Royal Oaks took place on 9 May 1931 at the Frankfurt Radio. The first stage performance took place a year later on the "Young Stage" in Wrocław. Today’s concert commemorates exactly 80 years since the death of composer Erwin Schulhoff in the Wülzburg internment camp.
Terezín Music Academy – Day I
Terezín Music Academy – Day II