Francesco Lotoro is an Italian pianist, composer, and conductor who has tirelessly recovered and promoted thousands of works of music composed by individuals in the concentration camps of World War II.
In his keynote address at RootsTech Connect 2021, Francesco explained that the beginnings of his research came from an inexplicable curiosity, “from something that mostly a musician can feel deeply.” The musician has learned from uncovering this music that “when a man loses his deepest liberties, then he sings more."
Who Is Francesco Lotoro?
In a word, Francesco is a musician.
Francesco was born in Barletta, Italy, a coastal city right at the top of the “heel of the boot.” His music career is extensive. He plays the piano, composes, conducts, and teaches piano at the Umberto Giordano Music Conservatory in Foggia. With all that, he continues to study at the Franz Liszt Music Academy in Budapest. He has worked to perfect his skills by studying with the talented likes of Viktor Merzhanov, Tamas Vasary, and Aldo Ciccolini.
But it doesn’t stop there. Francesco has composed multiple noteworthy opera and orchestra pieces, including a transcription of two Johann Sebastian Bach compositions. He has authored several volumes of musicology and even founded a symphony, called the Musica Judaica Orchestra.
What Does Francesco Lotoro Do?
Besides endless hours in this other work, Francesco has been working on something most musicians—in fact, most anyone—wouldn’t think of. He has been recovering and reviving music written in concentration camps during the Holocaust. Not only does he recover this music, but he also performs, records, revises, and archives it for future generations.
These compositions were often written by those directly in the camps who were experiencing extreme deprivation. Victims of different extermination, civil, and military imprisonment camps penned these rare works in the years between 1933 and 1953. A few of the original composers are still alive today, but many of the creative compositions were found in the possession of descendants who didn’t realize the meaning or history behind these musical compositions that had been passed down to them.
Francesco’s efforts have resulted in the recovery of over 8,000 musical scores over the last 30 years—and he says he has at least 10,000 more forthcoming. To organize these musical scores, Francesco has begun work on an encyclopedia dedicated to this music and its composers, the Encyclopaedia Thesaurus Musicae Concentrantionariae. He is currently raising funds to build a museum and theater dedicated to this music and its history.
Those who love family history know that it’s not the lists of names and dates that make family history exciting. It’s the stories. It’s the heart and the emotion that make us feel at one with our ancestors. It’s the personal connection that keeps us up late at night digging through dusty old boxes and scrolling through online archives.
Music is one of humanity’s deepest ways of expressing this meaning and connection. The composers of this music likely turned to this creative outlet because there were simply no words for the horrors they experienced. Francesco and others like him are recording a vital part of the story of the human family that will open life-changing doors when it comes to understanding these individuals and this tragic time in history.
Although the main RootsTech Connect event is over, you can still view Francesco's keynote address online.