The Thinking Heart 

a cantata in remembrance of Etty Hillesum

 Music by Robert Perretti

Libretto by the composer based on 

the journal and letters of Etty Hillesum

Play a song from the cantata with its story


for Announcements of Future

Performances. Or contact us at:

The Premiere was performed

on November 5, 2019 at 

The Wine Family Sanctuary

Congregation Beit Simchat Torah

130 W 30th Street, New York, NY

For reviews of the Premiere

Next event in Floral Park, NY on Jan 23, 2020 at 

the North Shore Towers Community Assn: 

A video presentation of the Nov 5th premiere performance followed by Q&A with the composer



The Thinking Heart Cantata tells the story of Etty Hillesum, the Dutch, Jewish woman whose courage during the Holocaust make her a comfort to all victims of oppression. The cantata’s story is based on the journal Etty kept until her deportation to Auschwitz.

May 1940. Nazi Germany occupies the Netherlands. Dutch Jews feel the mounting weight of fascist persecution. New regulations limit their freedoms, threaten their well-being. Uncertain and afraid, Dutch Jews awake from their denial. They realize the real intent of their conquerors.

The Nazi pogrom overruns Amsterdam and the world of Esther Hillesum. Etty is twenty-six, well-educated, worldly, and Jewish. She speaks three languages, studies law and psychology. She reads St. Matthew and St. Augustine. She has a lover.

Etty’s journal is the record of her life caught up in the Holocaust. Rather than escape, she stays with her people to console them. She faces Nazi torment with inner strength and compassion. She chooses not to hate. Rising above despair, she refuses to let suffering rob life of its beauty.

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Etty embraces the suffering of her people as their ‘Thinking Heart’. With an arm around a shoulder, a kind word, searching for medicine or helping a mother give birth in a fetid barracks, she gently comforts them. She goes to the rail car singing—undefeated—knowing that life was full and beautiful because she had lived it.



The Thinking Heart Cantata was written as a reminder: what happened to Etty Hillesum can happen again, to anyone, any time, in any place.  


With your support, performances of The Thinking Heart let more people know. And when people know, they will remember. 


The Thinking Heart Cantata is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization. Contributions for the charitable purposes of The Thinking Heart Cantata must be made payable to “Fractured Atlas” only and are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.



An Interrupted Life, 

the journal and letters of Etty Hillesum


Introduction by J.G. Gaarlandt

Published in the United States by 

 Henry Holt and Company, Inc.

Etty Hillesum’s courage and compassion during the Holocaust is revealed through her journal, the story of a woman whose life resolves into beautiful wholeness. Etty’s journal was edited by Mr. Jan Gaarlandt, Balans Publishing, and member of the Etty Hillesum Foundation, the Netherlands.  

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Robert Perrettis music has been played at venues as diverse as Western Illinois University, St. Peters Church, NY, and the New York Botanical Garden. He served as composer in residence for City Chamber Music Collective and is now developing Opera for Dessert, chamber operas by new composers. 

Just pages into reading Etty Hillesums journal, Robert knew that her story should be told in music. The Thinking Heart Cantata was written to honor her as a woman whose life inspires, and to remember all victims of events that should never be repeated. 

Robert lives in New York. Visit him on Facebook at Robert Perretti, composer.

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The Thinking Heart Cantata honors Etty Hillesum. Etty embraces life in its wholeness. Suffering does not wash away its beauty. Unselfish service to others gives it meaning.


The cantata tells her story to both inspire and inform us.  It also carries an important message: what happened to Etty can happen again. To reach as many as possible with this message, The Thinking Heart is written to be practical in scale and length for various venues and ranges of artists.


Education is a key part of the mission. We welcome participation with the media, museums and other organizations in expanding awareness of Etty’s courage and compassion.


When more people know,

they will remember.  


Play an excerpt from the cantata premiere


The Thinking Heart Cantata

in New York City on November 5, 2019

The cantata premiered at the Wine Family Sanctuary of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in New York City. The event brought together an ecumenical audience with members of ADL remembrance of the Holocaust, area churches, synagogues, the general public, and the Dutch Consul. 


The cantata weaves brief musical reflections, solo arias, and choral songs with a spoken narration of Etty’s experience—largely quoted directly from her journal. Robert Perretti’s score evokes—in musical brush strokes—the personalities of Etty and others who suffered with her. Traditional chorals alternate with lush profusions of sound to create poignant descriptions of characters and events.


The Thinking Heart Cantata succeeds. It informs. It unites a haunting story with music that serves it beautifully. It reminds us that it does matter how we treat each other. And the more people know, the more they will remember.


Deborah Karpel’s bright soprano gave life to Etty Hillesum as the worldly, unsure woman who rises to almost Zen enlightenment against a backdrop of terror and death. Jonathan B. Lerner narrated. Aram Tchobanian conducted the cantata chorus and opus87 Music ensemble with such feeling that each of the voices and instruments gave witness to one of history’s darkest moments.


“Robert Perretti’s music sets her words so effortlessly, it’s as if one could imagine she would have written the music herself.” Rolando Gori, composer


“Your music was able in a sublime way to fully understand this complicated and heroic woman, who in many ways was ahead of her time.” Cordula Hahn, staff member Hidden Child Foundation/ADL 


“THANK YOU, Robert. It was a deeply moving evening. … You pulled together a great story and literally made it ‘sing.’ You enlisted a great cast of musicians. It was an inspired, inspiring evening.” Hilda Regier 


“I wish I had the adjectives to describe how fitting and beautiful your music is in furthering the story.” Ron Cohen 


“It was extraordinary. A story that I will never forget. And beautifully told in music and words.” Robert Landon, writer published in the LA Times, NY Times and Lonely Planet



“It was a privilege to be part of the premiere of your beautifully moving work. Etty appreciated intensely the fullness of life because it was so severely threatened; so did I appreciate intensely the beauty of your music, thinking of her vulnerability as my own. … The performance was impeccably professional. The soprano voice was gorgeous, the chorus and quartet profoundly moving, with all the performers in accord with their tone, timing, and shades of feeling.”   Ruth Ward, author, ‘The Puppeteer’s Daughter’

“BRAVO!!!!  Once word gets around, ‘The Thinking Heart Cantata’ will be performed again and again!” Geraldine Schaledler, Country Neck Cultural Society


“It was truly a gift to sing your thoughtful concept and beautiful setting of Etty’s words.”  Jann Degnan, singer


“It is such a joy to work with you! I can't tell you how many people came up to me with tears in their eyes to say how beautiful the work is and how much they were moved by it. … With sincerest affection, admiration, and gratitude for having been included in this soon-to-be historic work of art.” Aram Tchobanian, Conductor

“Thank you for taking your composing talents and transforming the difficult memories of the Holocaust into a hauntingly beautiful vehicle as not to forget the horror of this event.” Barbara Reiter


“I very much liked the music. There were parts of the music I liked in particular,  especially the dialogues between the soprana and the chorus. The quality of the musicians was outstanding.”  Dolph Hogewoning, Dutch Consul General



We look forward to

your comments about the cantata,

interest in independent performances,

museum relations and press inquiries.


To be in touch with us 


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When more people know,

they will remember.