Dispatches From the Fronts


Juilliard in WWII

The VVV News (Vigilance—Valor—Victory) was dedicated to members of the Juilliard community who were involved in the war effort. 

 (Photo by Juilliard Archives)


This article is part of a special section on Juilliard and the military in World War II.

Joseph Novotny

When Joseph Novotny (’47, tuba; faculty 1955-77) applied to Juilliard in 1946, he included this photo. Novotny, who went on to play for the New York Philharmonic for many years, passed away earlier this year.

(Photo by Juilliard Archives)


During the war, Juilliard sprang to action with The VVV News (Vigilance—Valor—Victory), a newspaper dedicated to the nearly 600 men (plus a number of women) who were involved in the war effort overseas. It was led by longtime Baton editor Dorothy Crowthers (Diplomas 1914 and 1917, voice) along with associate editor Justine Shir-Cliff (Diploma ’44, B.S. ’49, voice).

John Villari (’48, music theory) wrote about a night attack in Italy. “We’ve given [the Germans] a terrific beating and [they have] hit back—rather hard, too. We are making continuous night attacks and the dirty weather is on schedule with each attack. That fog seems to be another very personal enemy, fighting and sabotaging us every step of the way. In the darkness and obscurity, you are walking into trees, stumbling over rocks, falling off rock walls—the exertion making you sweat and the damp night chilling you. The heavy combat boot cuts into your ankle, and a wrinkled sock marks off a spot on your heel for a blister. You stumble over a stone, your head jerks, and that all-purpose pot which sits on your head slides gently over your eyes. Pack straps cut into your shoulders, rifles slide off them.” After the battle, he wrote, “We could relax now. We could think of the boys we lost, of the close ones we had—the ones too close for comfort, the ones that made us quiver all over, the ones we wished would have hit us rather than scare the heck out of us. We now could shave, brush our teeth, eat three hot meals a day—write a letter with clean hands. That’s the way it is after each battle.”

There was a report in the December 1944 issue from a trip Yehudi Menuhin (’26, music theory) took during which he played 45 times in England, France, and Belgium. “It would have been two weeks shorter, but for the cable sent by General Eisenhower to Lawrence Evans, Menuhin’s manager, requesting that changes be made in Menuhin’s American tour to permit him to remain in Europe longer to play for the American troops.” The previous year, Menuhin went to the Aleutian Islands and played 60 concerts for U.S. soldiers, followed a few months later by 28 concerts for servicemen and three public concerts for civilians in the Hawaiian Islands. “It is likely that Menuhin’s record of war activity exceeds that of any other leading musician,” the editors wrote.

Irwin Hoffman (Diploma ’48, orchestral conducting) wrote, “Being entirely separated from music in my work has of course caused me a great deal of unhappiness, but then my leisure has been turned towards composing and practicing. (I brought plenty of manuscript paper and also my violin with me which at present is tied to the top of a vehicle.) I am in the process of writing an oratorio based on the Bible and which I hope to have completed before final victory.” Hoffman gave violin concerts on the ship to Europe and in France he “had the privilege of playing an immense organ, in one of the beautiful cathedrals—as the shells came ripping by—odd surroundings for Bach and Handel.”

Harold Gilmore (’40, violin, ’47, composition) wrote from the Dutch East Indies: “A large bomber just passed directly overhead and I didn’t even look up. What a change from the time I first wrote from Africa, during my days with the British Eighth Army. I have been transferred to the band in the brigade, and we spend our time giving shows to the guys in the front lines where they don’t allow the shows from the States to go. We seem always to play our show in a heavy rain but the G.I.’s never leave until the last number is finished so we don’t mind the rain too much. It’s kind of hard on the instruments though, and most of the music in the show is specially arranged and the ink runs all over! Nevertheless, I feel very lucky to have this swell job of arranging music for this outfit and a chance to entertain, because I do have a pretty good idea of what some of the guys go through and I feel that anything that I can do for them isn’t half enough.”

Moreland Kortkamp (’44, piano) wrote, “We were the first Concert Group of its type to be sent overseas. Our group consisted of five young Americans—soprano, baritone, violinist, ’cellist, and pianist. Our programs were planned to include classical and light opera numbers that were familiar to the average G.I.”

The musicians were doubtful as to how concert music would be received and discovered that the Special Service Officers were also dubious. When they arrived in Oran for the first concert series the captain in charge said to them, “‘Oh, long-haired music. We’ll have to be careful where we book you!’ But after a week of successful concerts there, the captain changed his attitude and scheduled a special performance for us at the Opera House. Even the French newspaper critics came, and the following morning a review in the paper stated, ‘Last night we had a chance to change our opinion of American artists,’ and went on to describe our program. Rena Robbins (’45, violin) and Marcia Barbour (’46, cello) of Juilliard were also in our group.”

During the tour, the group flew from city to city, spending several weeks in each place and playing in all the surrounding camps and hospitals. “We started in Casablanca, travelling along the coast of North Africa.” While they were playing for the Fifth Army combat troops, “we were billeted in tents just 18 miles behind the front lines [and the day after they arrived], it started to rain, for four solid days we tramped around in the rain and mud, giving shows in between cloudbursts. Our mess halls and tents were flooded, and when you sat at the table, the chair would sink down so far you practically disappeared under the table.”

Jerome Wigler Reminisces

Jerome Wigler (Diploma ’41, violin) landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944, as a Medical Corps medic, fought in the Battle of the Bulge, was wounded in Belgium, and received a Purple Heart and two Bronze Stars. Read more about his time in the war—and as the longest-serving musician in the Philadelphia Orchestra.​

Holocaust Memorial Concert

To mark the 70th anniversary of Germany’s surrender, David Lisker (M.M. ’10, violin) has organized a concert called Echoes of Hope at Merkin Hall on May 9. The program will feature the music of nine Jewish composers, eight of whom perished in concentration camps. The real tragedy of the war is “not simply the murder of countless people,” Lisker told The Journal, “but that so many bright talents were not allowed the opportunity to realize their potential, depriving humanity of whatever might have been. I firmly believe that if some of these composers had survived the Holocaust, they would be regarded among the greatest composers of the 20th century.” That said, Lisker designed the program “not to depress the audience, but rather to inspire them and give them a chance to appreciate each composer solely for his contributions independent of the fact that he was in the Holocaust.”

The composers are Erwin Schulhoff, Gideon Klein, Hans Krasa, Robert Dauber, Viktor Ullmann, Carlo Taube, Ilse Weber, Pavel Haas, and Mieczyslaw Weinberg. The musicians, in addition to Lisker, are Regi Papa (M.M. ’10, violin), violist Cong Wu, Michael Katz (M.M. ’11, cello), pianist Renana Gutman, and soprano Meredith Lustig (BM ’09, MM ’11, voice).

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