Concert pianist Carolyn Enger of Englewood, whose recording of Ned Rorem’s “Piano Music” was one of the New York Times’ favorite classical recordings of 2013, has created a unique performance piece that combines music, film, art, and literature with the audiovisual testimony and original artworks of her late father, Horace (Horst) J. Enger, and her godmother, Rosemarie Steinfeld of Tenafly.
The piece — called “The Mischlinge Exposé” — is about their experiences in Germany as “half-Jews” — Mischlinge — according to the Nazi Nuremberg Laws. Ms. Enger will perform it twice locally. (See box for details.)
“A psychologist might say it’s an attempt to get closer to my father,” Ms. Enger said. “That’s typical of second-generation survivors like me.”
“I’ve been reading about the topic for 20 years and it feels like sand going through my hands,” she continued. “The photos we see from that time, the movies and depictions, are hard to wrap my mind around. So this is my attempt to present a not-well-known topic in a beautiful and emotional way.”
The program features the music of German-Jewish-born composers Felix Mendelssohn, Fanny Mendelssohn, Arnold Schoenberg, Alexander Zemlinsky, Gustav Mahler, and Hanns Eisler, who was a Mischling, as well as readings of texts by Rahel Varnhagen and Heinrich Heine, Jewish converts to Christianity who felt deeply conflicted after their conversion. It also incorporates a work by contemporary Israeli composer Paul Ben-Haim and a new piece by composer Bruce Adolphe, commissioned by Ms. Enger.
“It may sound like a private subject, but from the personal comes the universal,” she said. “I hope that by setting one family’s story to music, this new work will offer a space for each listener to explore, finding room for their own stories of exclusion and inclusion, hardship and homecoming.”
Horst Joachim Enger was born in 1921. His mother, born a Jew, converted to Christianity after her marriage in December 1919. That was not an unusual action for German Jews at the time. She died when Horst was about 7. In the mid-1930s, he found himself labeled a “first-degree Mischling” because he had two Jewish grandparents.
“My father didn’t have a number on his arm but he was sent to a forced labor camp,” Ms. Enger said. “He was in the wrong place at the wrong time and lived to tell the story. But it was a story we didn’t talk about much.”
Horst Enger and his pregnant wife arrived in the United States on September 21, 1947. They later divorced, and Mr. Enger married his young daughter’s elementary school teacher, a Methodist.
“He kept moving forward,” said Ms. Enger, the daughter of her father’s second marriage, who was born on September 21, 1958, exactly 11 years after her father came to America. “He had many good qualities that I’ve been able to take into my own work.”
When Ms. Enger was baptized, her father chose Rosemarie and Harold Steinfeld as her godparents. “My father and Rosemarie’s brother Klaus were best childhood friends,” she said. “They were also Mischlinge in Germany. Rosemarie and Harold joined the Presbyterian church when they moved to Tenafly, partly because they liked the music. And we moved to Tenafly because the Steinfelds lived there.”
Ms. Enger said that when she 11, she decided to be a concert pianist. She added that she always had an active imagination. “As a teenager in Tenafly, when I heard the long train in Bergenfield, I imagined it was the train going to the camps.”
“The Mischlinge Exposé” started gelling in her imagination in early 2016. She and her assistant, Carrie Frey, were going through a basket full of articles about the Holocaust from the Jewish Standard and many other sources that she’d clipped over the years. She had attended many lectures about German Jews as well. Ms. Enger long ago had decided to identify with her Jewish roots; she had a Reform conversion in 1999 and an Orthodox conversion in 2010.
“I wasn’t sure what form the project would take,” she said. “At first I thought maybe it would be a lecture with a visual component of my father’s artwork. And then I started matching the texts with pieces of music on the computer. It’s still a work in progress. I play live with the film, so it’s like a silent movie experience in a way.”
The first performance of “The Mischlinge Exposé” was last October, and Ms. Enger has been performing it around the country ever since.
“I feel strongly that it sends an important message,” she said. “None of us is a pure race. We all have differences inside us. And if that’s the case, we can’t hold prejudices against whole groups of people and want to do harm to them. You have to see people and their actions on an individual basis. This is my contribution for healing the world.”
What: “The Mischlinge Exposé,” a multimedia concert combining live music with moving and still images of Nazi Germany and the audio and video testimony of two Mischlinge, “half-Jews.”
When and where:
On September 17 at 2 p.m. in the Maywood public library
On October 18 at 7 p.m. at Ramapo College in Mahwah
For more information: Go to www.mischlingexpose.com