One of several Czech composers to have been first sent by the Nazis to Theresienstadt (Terezin in Czech) and later to his death at Auschwitz, Pavel Haas was undeniably gifted.
Leoš Janácek's prize pupil, he had faced hardships before he was sent to Theresienstadt. After studying with Jaroslav Kunc and Vilem Petrzelka, Haas came into the orbit of Janácek from 1920 to 1922. In the elder composer's master class, Haas gained mastery of assembling various elements into a coherent style, first based largely on Moravian folk music and the jazz that had seeped into central Europe. Later, Haas found an icon in Stravinsky, whose irony he found congenial and whose colorful yet spare orchestration intrigued him. Still later, Haas forged ahead into the Czech avant garde, creating a modest oeuvre that was somewhat hampered by not being able to devote himself full-time to composition. Among works that attracted attention were his Saddened Scherzo, Op. 5; Fata Morgana, Op. 6; and From the Monkey Mountains, Op. 7. His Suite for Piano, Op. 13, drew attention abroad, establishing a reputation considerably enhanced by his opera The Charlatan (Sarlatán), which premiered in Brno in 1938. That score was awarded a prize by the Smetana Foundation. Following the occupation of Czechoslovakia by Germany, Haas was increasingly concerned with issues of survival. He felt compelled to divorce his Christian wife to protect her from the privations he understood to be inevitable. Yet he refused to succumb to injustices and psychological torture. Instead, especially after his imprisonment at Theresienstadt in 1941, he turned once again to Czech and Moravian sources, fashioning them into works of universal meaning. Of five works undertaken during his imprisonment, only three were preserved, and his Study for Strings required partial reconstruction. A Nazi propaganda film intended to show the world that Jews lived in positive conditions featured Haas leading a performance of this work by prison musicians. Only a month later, Haas and many of the other musicians were sent to Auschwitz where they were murdered. Haas died the same day as fellow composers Viktor Ullmann and Hans Krása.