Music in Charlotte Salomon's work


Life? or Theatre?

Charlotte Salomon was 22 when she fled the disintegrating world of Jewish Berlin to live with her grandparents in southern France in 1938. When her grandmother took her own life at the outbreak of the Second World War, and Charlotte Salomon discovered that this was how her mother had also met her end, she launched into Life? or Theatre?, a totally insane project to preserve her sanity.

In several hundred gouaches (opaque watercolours) she recast her life as an illustrated theatre piece. Charlotte Salomon was murdered in Auschwitz in 1943.


Besides her remarkable ability to recall the spoken and written word, Charlotte Salomon also possessed a tremendous knowledge of music. Apparently, while she was painting and writing Life? or Theatre?, she would hum the melodies that she recollected in her head.

Her work is packed with references to operas, lieder and popular tunes. Some melodies reappear throughout the work. Fragments of Bizet’s Carmen occur as background music to scenes featuring opera singer Paulinka Bimbam and voice coach Amadeus Daberlohn. When the narrator ('Charlotte') and Daberlohn are together, the accompanying music is Schubert’s Der Tod und das Mädchen (Death and the Maiden).

Net als in de film

Soms past Charlotte Salomon muziek, net als in films, als versterking van stemming en emotie toe. Of juist omgekeerd, dan kiest ze muziek uit die tegengesteld is aan de sfeer op dat moment, waardoor de scène een ironisch karakter krijgt. 

Als Daberlohn zich klein en zwak bij de grote Herr Singsang voegt, klinkt het overwinningslied uit Carmen. Deze dramatische weergave benadrukt Daberlohns opgeblazen zelfbeeld op een komische manier.