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August 02, 2002 - Image 80

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2002-08-02

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before your mother!

The award-winning composer of Broadway's
`Metamorphoses" is haunted by his Jewish roots.


Jewish Telegraphic Agency

gone through a lot of metamorphoses."
These changes, in fact, trace a road
map of the complex history of Jews in
Europe and their fate.

At the outbreak of World War II, they
bought a house at Arcisate.
'All the family moved out here to
Arcisate from Milan," Schwarz said.
"They also took in other people, such
as an anti-fascist partisan fighter and
his wife.
"They used Arcisate as a refuge, but
also as a staging point for trying to go
to Switzerland, particularly after the
Germans occupied northern Italy in
1943," he says.
Schwarz's grandparents tried to make
it on foot to Switzerland, but were dis-
covered. Despairing, his grandfather

n a song about Italy that
appears on his recent CD,
Home, the American-born com-
From Italy To America
poser and songwriter Willy
Schwarz writes about the final resting
Schwarz's father was an Italian Jew
place of his grandparents and other
from Milan whose mother was a
member of the Rothschild family in
"In a little cemetery in the hills
Germany, and Schwarz's own mother
above Milano/ Sipping grappa, sharing also came from Germany.
gossip/All my ancestors are there/
His grandfather, who is buried in
And they argue about the family just
the Arcisate cemetery, was, Schwarz
like when they were alive."
says, "a typical assimilated Italian Jew
The cemetery he sings
about is in Arcisate, a historic
village in the province of
Varese, near the Swiss border.
It's a place that casts a huge
shadow on Schwarz's life and
The composer won this
year's prestigious Drama
Desk Award in May for his
music for the hit Broadway
drama Metamorphoses, an
evocation of the ancient
Roman poet Ovid's writings.
Metamorphoses also tied for
the Drama Desk honor for
best new play and won a
Tony Award for best director
in June for its director/play-
wright Mary Zimmerman.
Schwarz's soundtrack for
the show is an evocative mix
of ethnic influences, combin-
Willy Schwarz visits the grave in Arcisate, Italy, of his great-aunt Lina Schwarz, who was a
ing the voices of more than a
score of instruments — from well-known writer and activist.
an accordion to a conch
shell, from conventional key-
boards to the tabla, ocarina and oud
— a furrier who sold furs to the La
committed suicide by throwing himself
— most of which Schwarz plays him-
Scala opera crowd and who knew a lot
across a railroad track.
of musicians."
"This put everyone else at risk,"
A few weeks after winning the
In the early part of the 20th century, Schwarz said. "My grandmother was
award, the composer revisited the
Schwarz's grandfather's sister Lina
taken in and sheltered by a convent, but
Arcisate cemetery, where he spoke
became celebrated-in Italy as a poet
she then converted to Catholicism."
about the compelling influence his
and writer of children's books.
His grandparents on his mother's
family's European Jewish experience of
She also became a founder of the
side fled Berlin in the 1930s and made
assimilation, persecution and immigra- Italian branch of the Anthroposophist
it to the United States, where they set-
tion has had on his work.
movement, an esoteric spiritual move-
tled in Chicago.
"I feel very attached to this place. It
ment founded by the Austrian Rudolf
Schwarz's- parents, meanwhile, man-
is the patria — the homeland," said
Steiner, whose members carried out
aged to sail for America in February
Schwarz, 53, a wiry man with a bushy
experimental work in education and
1940 on the last trans-Atlantic passen-
mustache and gray hair. "I feel that my
ger ship to leave Genoa, bringing with
roots come through, somehow, in
Other family members also came
them their baby daughter, the first of
whatever music I write. My family has
under the influence of Anthroposophy. their seven children.

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