April 9, 2014
Like an echo in a grand concert hall, the tragic stories of Holocaust victims continue to reverberate, and Justin Rito is listening.
Rito, a D.M.A. student in the Michigan State University College of Music, is composing music to convey the emotion in Miklós Radnóti’s poetry. Radnóti was a Hungarian poet raised in a Jewish family who was shot and killed by German soldiers after forcibly marching across Hungary.
“I was drawn to the story because of its range of human experiences, some poignantly sad and others joyful,” Rito said. “Eventually, we witness his body and spirit crumble under cruelty and reflect the human qualities war took from us.”
Radnóti documented his final journey in four short poems of thoughts and memories titled Razglednicas, or “Picture Post Cards.” In them, he foretells his death and describes thoughts of his closest friend and his wife, represented in Rito’s music by a violin and an English horn, respectively.
“The song begins softly but quickly gets very active and tense to represent marching,” Rito said. “Then the violin and English horn enter. Their solos are the silver lining in this story. His remembrance of his loved ones is really compelling.”
Rito has experience drawing musical inspiration from heavy topics. He wrote his last song cycle during the Iraqi War about the wife of a soldier who was away in Iraq. He said a range of emotional experiences is crucial to composing moving music.
“I’ve written pieces trying to be funny or lighthearted,” Rito said, “but it’s more interesting if a musician doesn’t write with the same emotional quality all the time. It helps me grow as an artist.”
With a bachelor’s and two master’s degrees related to music already in hand, Rito has years of experience in higher education that have improved his music performing and writing talents. Still, he credits Ricardo Lorenz, MSU associate professor of composition and Rito’s faculty adviser, for pushing his skills to a new level.
“Every week I show him what I’ve written,” Rito said. “He gives me feedback on the effectiveness of my communication, helping me find the sounds that can really draw people into my music.”
Before he graduates, Rito would like to create a piece for the Spartan Marching Band and have a performance for all his works in the fall. His positive experience at MSU has him hoping to find a career at a university after his time as a student has ended.
“I would really like to teach composition and other music classes,” Rito said. “I’ve always enjoyed music, and working as a professor would let me keep surrounding myself with it.”
Story by Alex Barhorst, MSU journalism senior
Photo by G.L. Kohuth