Auschwitz music manuscripts for performance at Sadler’s Wells

Copyright: Leo Geyer

A young composer has pieced together incomplete musical works he stumbled across in the archives at Auschwitz, and restored them into an opera-ballet that will be performed for the first time this month in central London.

Leo Geyer, aged 31, discovered the music manuscripts by accident while having an offhand conversation with an archivist when visiting Auschwitz seven years ago for a research project.

He says: “When I first looked, I saw incomplete pieces, many with burnt edges. What caught my eye was one faded manuscript with a sketch for a composition, but it was incomplete and unsigned. 

“Strangely, the handwriting was identical to mine. I felt it was my duty to finish the sketch and let this lost voice be heard.”

He was able to piece together some of the manuscripts and re-compose sections, trying to work out who the authors were and when they wrote the piece. The finished piece is called The Orchestras of Auschwitz.

Auschwitz, a complex of concentration and extermination camps operated by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland, had several orchestras and Mr Geyer discovered the ways in which music was played. In one instance they played marching music when prisoners left the camp for hard labour in fields and factories, and when they returned, often carrying the dead.  

“I’m not Jewish, but I am human,” Mr Geyer says. “I stand by the people who were persecuted and killed for no reason other than who there were. And, in my own way, I’m here to make the world a better place.

“With this project I hope to encourage the public to commemorate and learn from history, so that we can do better. Change happens when we stand together.”

The Orchestras of Auschwitz will be performed by the Constella Orchestra, which he founded, with performers including Simon Wallfisch, whose grandmother, Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, is an Auschwitz survivor.

The concert, at the Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadler’s Wells, on Monday 27 November, celebrates the 10th anniversary of Constella Music and includes premieres of Mr Geyer’s opera ballet London Portraits, fused with jazz and street dance; and The Water Boatman , a piece for double bass and loop pedal.

 Tickets are available here.  


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