The Music of Elizabeth Alexander

Be Grateful, My Soul

A passionate testament to life’s worth in the face of adversity and oppression

Music: Elizabeth Alexander

Words: Norbert Čapek

In 1941 Unitarian minister Norbert Čapek was imprisoned by the Gestapo, tried for treason, and executed despite being found innocent. A poem from his final letter from prison, cast here as musical outpouring of gratitude and acceptance, is a passionate testament to life’s worth and beauty even when shrouded in darkness.

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Composer Notes

Composer Notes

On March 28, 1941, Norbert Čapek, minister of the Unitarian Church in Prague, was arrested by the Gestapo, along with his daughter Zora. They were accused of listening to foreign broadcasts and BBC transmissions; in addition, Norbert was accused of “high treason,” with several of his sermons cited as evidence.

Zora was sent to a forced labor camp, from which she was subsequently released. She visited her father in Dresden Prison on March 31, 1942, the day before his trial. Knowing it could be their last meeting, he gave her a letter and poem he had written for her.

Although Čapek was found innocent of treason, the Gestapo ignored the court’s recommendation and sent him to Dachau. He was later sent to Hartheim Castle where he was executed in a gas chamber. Of the estimated 30,000 people killed there over the course of the war, more than 300 were ministers and priests.

The lyrics of Be Grateful, My Soul are adapted from a stanza of the poem Norbert Čapek wrote for Zora.


Poem in a letter written from Hartheim Castle, March 31, 1942

Even though a thousand times disappointed
and fallen in the fight,
even though faced with a world which now seems worthless,
I have lived amidst eternity.
Be grateful, my soul,
Be grateful, my soul,
I have lived amidst eternity.

Norbert Čapek

English translation by Zora Čapek
Adapted by Elizabeth Alexander

© by Ron Frederick. Reprinted by permission



Premiere: Voiceprint. Unitarian Universalist Musicians Network National Conference (Madison, WI)
Aurelia of Webster University / Stuart Chapman Hill (St. Louis, MO)
Canadian Mennonite University Women’s Chorus / Janet Brennaman (Winnipeg, MB CANADA)
Choir of First Unitarian Society in Newton / Anne Watson Born (Newton, MA)
Choir of First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville / Jaie Tiefenbrunn (Nashville, TN)
Choir of UU Fellowship of the Peninsula / Janet Gecowets (Newport News, VA)
Ladies Night Out Women’s Chorus / Lucy Allen Tenenbaum (Proctor Union, Wallingford, West Rutland & Castleton, VT)
New York School Music Association All-State Women’s Chorus / Christine Howlett (Peru, NY)
The College of William and Mary Women’s Chorus / Jamie Bartlett. Family Weekend Concert (Williamsburg, VA)
Vassar College Women’s Chorus / Christine R. Howlett (Poughkeepsie, NY)
West Chester University Cantari Donne / Ryan Kelly (West Chester, PA)
Women in Harmony / Catherine Beller-McKenna (Portland, ME)