My husband got me The Inextinguishable Symphony after he'd heard the author, Martin Goldsmith, talking about it on National Public Radio. I added it to my book pile, but the title... Inextinguishable Symphony. Doesn't exactly trip off the tongue. Try to say it out loud. Hard, right?
Eventually I picked it up. My husband knows I read a lot of books about World War II and the Holocaust (if you haven't read The Lost by Daniel Mendelsohn, go to Amazon and order it right now). So ignoring the title, I decided to give The Inextinguishable Symphony a try.
Why did I wait? It's a glorious book, an extraordinary book. Like The Lost, by focusing on a few families affected by the rise of Hitler in Germany and the eventual Holocaust, that somehow makes the events more personal, relatable, and horrible.
The book is "A true story of music and love in Nazi Germany." It's about Mr. Goldsmith's parents, Günther and Rosemarie. How they met playing in the Kulturbund orchestra, fell in love, and eventually made their way to the United States in 1941.
I didn't know the title of the book referred to Symphony No. 4 by Danish composer Carl Nielsen. I'd never heard about the Jüdische Kulturbund, a Jewish artistic organization set up (with help from the Nazis, believe it or not) in 1933 after Jews were no longer allowed to perform in Aryan theatres. The Kulturbund had an orchestra, they put on operas and plays and showed movies - but only to Jewish audiences.
The chapter where the orchestra performs Mahler's Resurrection Symphony (Symphony No. 2) will take your breath away. If you've never heard it, here's a version from YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GGgZZHDp00A). I don't want to say more about the performance of Nielsen's Symphony No. 4, the Inextinguishable, but that chapter is amazing as well.
As you might imagine, not every member of Günther and Rosemarie's family was able to escape from Germany. But there is something so life affirming and positive about this book - how music and art and love, in spite of everything, are inextinguishable.