A TRIBUTE TO ALICE HERZ-SOMMER
She looks at us from the screen
And gives us the sweetest smile.
She says, “Life is a present.
Music is my religion,
And piano saved my life.”
“How?” we ask her in awe.
She pauses to tell us more.
“Growing up in Czechoslovakia
In a family of musicians,
With Kafka, Mahler, and Freud as friends
How much more prestigious
Could our status be
In that secular circuit of
My older sister Irma, my first piano teacher,
Awakend in me that unstoppable itching
To be a musician, the best one I could
With Arthur Schnabel affirming,
Fastforward, my pianist career took off,
With concerts in Prague and Dusseldorf,
My family life was a dream come true:
A loving husband and son – both Jews…
But paradise, only everlasting in heaven,
Was interrupted, disrupted, destroyed.
Where is my Gan Eden?
Instead, alone with a child in a cattle train
For Teresienstadt to become my terrain.
But something inside me
Whispered, “Don’t let go.”
Or, maybe, the look on my son’s face
Told me there was hope.
As long as I had him
Next to me – in my arms,
I was happy, and so was he,
And we had a few laughs.
Then a miracle happened - I was asked to perform.
Heavenly waters emerged from a perfect storm.
They asked, “ Do you play music?
Can you perform for the Furher?
Myself and many other musicians
Said, with reluctance, “Sure…”
Reluctance, mixed with excitement –
We shall survive!
That’s how piano saved my life.”
With a dreamy look on her face.
At a hundred and eight
She is still making her case.
“Life is a present. God is with us.
Live every day as if it’s your last.”
The people of London,
Her neighbors and passersby,
Come to hear her play - every day
Piano is her life.
Her old fingers, wrinkled and freckled
Still dance pirouettes – she never settled.
And once she is gone,
Her neighbors and friends
Will continue hearing
The heavenly sounds
Once carved out with her hands.