Interview with Amarcord – part 1

Just a few hundred metres away, Johann Sebastian Bach lies buried in St Thomas’ Church. The five men around me grew up next to his tomb – quite literally. As choristers in St Thomas’ Boys Choir in Leipzig, they sang his music every week, just as the boys of his own choir had done in the same place three hundred years earlier. For St Thomas’, even Bach is comparatively modern; the choir was founded in 1212.

‘We do remember our shared childhood,’ says bass Daniel Knauft. ‘People think, “Oh, those neat little boys are so well-trained!” But even more important is the social life around it. As a child you take it for granted that you are singing Bach’s music. I still know it by heart. But you also become an independent person at an early age. It’s something you can really take with you for the rest of your life.’

The ensemble’s name, Amarcord, is drawn from Fellini’s Oscar-winning 1973 fi lm of the same name. The film tells of Fellini’s childhood in Fascist Rimini, including many schoolboy scenes. The word means ‘I remember’ in the Romagnolo dialect.

‘It’s more than a double meaning,’ explains bass Holger Krause. ‘We remember our childhood, we remember the tradition at the time of the music, the periods and epochs we have in our repertoire.’ Memory, at least for the older members of Amarcord, also means remembering the GDR, and the shadow of an oppressive regime.

‘Living in East Germany required conditioning,’ recalls Knauft. ‘You needed to know whom you could trust. I really had to be careful what I said to whom. And then we had the privilege of a choir that was an island of relative freedom of speech and thought. That of course attracted children from families who needed that freedom. Even as a child I felt that atmosphere strongly. In the choir, I could breathe again.’

The choir was allowed to tour to the West, but was also required to sing at key Party events. ‘The 40 years of the GDR are just footnotes in the choir’s history, in a way,’ says Knauft. ‘But it was also a time when the choir’s whole existence was at stake. They wanted to incorporate it into the communist youth organisation.’

‘In the 17th century, there was the Thirty Years War,’ adds tenor Wolfram Lattke. ‘And we had the Nazis, the Third Reich, and they wanted to turn the choir into something else. This could have happened many times in the choir’s history.’

Shirley Apthorp © 2011

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Welcome to Musica Viva’s International Concert Season blog. Here you can follow and read more about our wonderful touring artists.

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