The Saving Hand of Homesickness Still Guides me Back Toward Healing: History of the Schnittke Family -- A Life Like Singing With a Gag in Your Mouth

Doch Fuehrt Mich die Rettende Hand des Heimwehs Zurueck zur Genesung --
Geschichte der Familie Schnittke: Ein Leben wir ein Gesang mit dem Knebel im

"The Saving Hand; History of the Schnittke Family." Volk auf dem Weg, Autumn 2004, 28-29.

Translation from German to American English by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado

Life for Germans in the Volga-German Republic before the war, and life afterwards, scattered as they were into the four winds -- they are worlds apart, and there is the accompanying trauma the German-Russian have never overcame. Life before and after -- it has a thousand different faces, a thousand turbulent and moving stories. One of these is of the family of Harry Schnittke and Marie Vogel -- a German Jew and a Volga-German. From this marriage, there came children who by their lives and achievements were far ahead of their times, who attempted to change their surroundings through their open-minded thinking. In the Soveit Union, there were only a few German families who as affected by their times and who in turn rewrote, the history of the times as much as these did. We are here dealing with parents who were to their children a paradigm of constancy, intelligence, and goodness of the heart. We are dealing with a world-famous composer, who three decades ago was nearly totally ostracized and clearly a person of much suspicion, yet who still found the strength not to be overcome by the events of the times. We are dealing here with a poet who attempted to give a voice to the decades of silence of his ethnic group. And we are dealing with a family who were able simultaneously to preserve and to absorb the spirit of the times.

"The Community of Yesteryear -- Exiled. The Ancestors Remain."

After more than 30 years, brothers Alfred and Viktor Schnittke visited for the first time again their hometown of Engels on the Volga. Their first stop was the Heimatmuseum, in which they searched without success for any trace of Volga-Germans. Disappointed, Viktor Schnittke would write in his short story "Kindheit in Engels [Childhood in Engels]:" "And then I ask myself: where is there any talk of Volga-Germans here? The fact that thousands of German farmers had worked the steppes for 170 years, and that Pokrovsk had been the capital city of the Autonomous Republic of Volga-Germans, is not mentioned in the Engels Heimatmuseum. Not a word about the contribution by the Volga-Germans to the economic and cultural development of the region, not a word about the hard work of Soviet-Germans during the war. Engels itself cannot simply be disconnected form the history of Volga-Germans ... One must not erase from a city -- from oneself -- the past, because thereby one loses one's spiritual wealth." In the music of Alfred Schnittke, as well as in the poetry of Viktor Schnittke, the past and the present are inseparable, and their German roots were for both of them the impetus for and the source of creative work.

Plows move across the graves.
The dead lie deeper.
The community of yesteryear -- exiled.
The ancestors remain here.

My ancestors were farmers,
Crisscrossed the fields with their plows --
In bright sunshine as in the rain,
With the song of the butterfly or a bird.
Stepping through the timeless plain
In steady to-and-fro rhythm,
They silently assented to what was given
And did not wish otherwise.
I do not wish to argue with fate,
But even the city dweller at night
Has the farmer's blood coursing through his veins,
Excited by his dreams.

Grandfather Josef Vogel was born in Kamenka on the Volga and spent his entire life there, but it was his fate to die of typhoid fever on the Turkish front in 1917. In his own father's home, Josef Vogel had taken the young Pauline Schechtel as his wife, and there Liese, Pauline, Marie, Ose and Sascha were born. The house, by then, is still standing in Kamenka: "The floor boards, painted brown, the bright boards of the ceiling, the arched window frames have never been changed. Joerch Vogel, my great-grandfather, was a good carpenter."

The paternal grandparents, Baltic Jews from the Riga area, had emigrated to Germany at the beginning of the century, lived in Berlin and Frankfurt/Main, where Harry Schnittke was born. In 1926 the Schnittkes, who had kept their Russian citizenship, returned to Moscow.

At age 16, Harry went to Engels. At that time capital city of the Volga-German Republic, where he went to work for the German-language newspaper "Nachrichten [News]." There he met the Volga-German Marie Vogel, who was working as a proofreader. They married in 1932 in Engels, and their three children Alfred, Viktor and Irina were born there. Grandmother Pauline Vogel was part of the family; the "Volga-German" dialect and High German were both commonly spoken in the Schnittke household -- something that distinguished the family from others in their area of the Soviet Union.

One morning, as Maria Vogel opened the August 28, 1941 issue of "Nachrichten," she came upon the decree concerning the deportation of the Germans. It would be the final edition of the newspaper -- the Germans were indeed deported. Harry Schmidt was able to demonstrate that he was Jewis,h even though he was born in Germany. According to prevailing law, families whose head was not German were not allowed to be deported. Even grandmother Pauline was allowed to stay. Although the Schnittkes escaped the problems of deportation, Trudarmy and separate settlements, their "guilt" pressed on them doubly -- as Germans and as Jews.

During the onset of the war, Harry Schnittke had been political director of a trade school in Engels. In 1942 he volunteered for service in the army. What happened with the family he left behind is documented by Viktor Schnittke in his short stories that describe everyday wartime life authentically. Every night, grandmother would pray: "Dear Mother of God, full of mercy ... why are you letting us be treated this way and come to shame ... we are being shamed with mockery by our neighbors around us ... help us ... preserve the children, protect them in need and hardship ... hold your protecting hand over them that they may not suffer mockery and hardship." That same prayer that made mockery and hardship its main themes was also intended for Siberia and Kazakhstan, to where her four children had been exiled, and also for life in a home that was no longer such.

"Neighbors, strangers, schoolmates and others in school in Engels had two problems with me. First that I was German and secondly that I was a Jew. I, a seven or eight year-old, was called 'Fritz' and 'Fascist,' and I had to take it all in. We were after all a German-speaking family ... But at the same time I was also called "Abram' and 'Zhid' (a la "pig-Jew"). Why did people do that? There wasn't really anything Jewish in the family -- neither faith nor language, only father's origins and the word 'Jew' in his passport might have been remotely Jewish," wrote Viktor Schnittke about his feelings.

During wartime, most had to worry about survival. Extremely hard work saved the Schnittke family from starvation. "Every day, from six till eight in the morning and each evening from seven to nine, grandmother is carrying water. When I close my eyes, I can still see her, a tall and thin person, with two full pails on a yoke across her shoulders, plus another pail in her hand, striding strongly along the street. Of the Russian language, grandmother knew only curse words, but even these superficially, without knowing their concrete meaning. At rare moments of grave agitation, they well up within her and tumble out." To be able to feed the children adequately, grandmother sold on the market anything valuable she had. "Toward noon, grandmother comes home and she brings some millet in a linen bag. A safety pin is still on her dress, but her ring is now missing." What the family was forced to endure -- a kind of trauma that continues subconsciously even after the war -- is described in the following poem.

During the worst of the war,
Our neighbors tore down our fence
And used the slats as fuel for their furnace.
(They were able to do so without a problem --
We were the ones who were denounced.)
And now wild dogs
Eat our vegetables without being stopped,
And they stomp our seedlings
Into the ground.
During the worst of famine,
Our Catholic grandmother
Ground a handful of glass shards
And mixed the powder with our last bit of flour
And baked a nice pancake.
These she gave to the dogs.
For several weeks the pancake lay in the garden.
Not one of the hungry animals
Ever took the slightest notice.
Lord, have mercy
On all who suffer hunger.

During the war, Marie Vogel taught German at the local middle school. "Mother sometimes sits up into the night, poring over school notebooks, wrapping paper and newspapers... In addition to the moody subjunctive, she also worries more about giving the half-orphaned and half-starved girls of war something much more important, something totally outside of linguistic knowledge..." writes Viktor Schnittke.

In the service, Harry acted as interpreter and military correspondent. In 1946, he was given a position as local reporter and translator with the "Oesterreichischen Zeitung [Austrian Newspaper]," a daily published by the Soviet oocupation for the population of Vienna. The family was supposed to follow him there, so in July, 1946, their meager furnishings were sold and the books entrusted to grandmother -- off to Vienna they went. The Schnittkes spent the two years in Vienna living in a roomy baroque house.

In 1948, the family returned to Russia and at first settled down in the village of Valentinovka near Moscow. Harry Schmittke, with his encyclopedic education, was employed as translator in the German department of the magazine "Neue Zeit [New Times]" and also served as an interpreter in demand for significant political gatherings. Marie Vogel did teach German for a while, but then managed the reader correspondence department of the central German-language newspaper "Neues Leben [New Life]," which began publication in Moscow in 1957.

"No worry was too minor without her wanting to ease it"

The name Marie Vogel became known well by Volga-Germans following the lifting of supervision of the Germans. Many came to appreciate this woman and to seek her advice. Tall, slim, and with a somewhat wild shock of hair that was difficult to tame -- even superficial contact with her gave away her genuine nature. And it is thus that many of Marie's graduates and students of the Marxstadt Pedagogical Technicum remember her.

"In conversations with her own kind, her name is often mentioned. She is reported to have helped her people in the most difficult of times, whenever she was able. And helping others was always paramount for her. She was a woman who always thought more of others than herself," remembers the author Viktor Aul, who briefly studied alongside Marie Vogel before the war in the German Pedagogical University of Engels.

Marie did not learn of the tragic story of her relatives until the 1950s. And the tragedy of her people became evident to her in the letters from her readers. Of course, she did not leave any letter unanswered. Readers entrusted her with their problems and life stories, sought advice, or simply a kind word. And she tried to help people to find lost relatives and to reestablish at least a small part of a just world. Without worrying about her own time, she would write letters, pleaded with, and sent applications to all sorts of institutions. By living humanely every day, she became an example even to her editor colleagues.

Former NL-photoreporter Anatoli Yegoshev recalls, "Marie Vogel, who served for years as reader correspondence editor, was a woman who seemed to combine all good human qualities in one person. But her most important trait was her good heart. Not only her readers, but we, her colleagues benefited from it as well. Not a day passed that she didn't converse with a half dozen visitors to the newspaper office from near and far. No problem was too minor for her that she did not wish to alleviate it."

The period of political "thaw" during the 1960s was also a time of hope for return to the old home. "If our work here at the newspaper is to make any sense, it does not lie in reprinting party propaganda from national papers, but in practically and actively helping our people" was Marie's conviction. She joined with all her strength in the German autonomy movement that arose in the 1960s. Schnittke's poem "Ein Menschenleben" depicts Mother just as we and others remember her:

"Just as all natural beings tend to be loyal,
So were you toward all humans.
You came from the country,
Yet your warm gaze looked upon all
Life, far and wide, across field and meadow.
Few called you Mother,
Yet for many you became
Sister and support
In distress and bitter poverty.
The vessel of your own sorrows was heavy,
Yet it poured forth, without fail,
Joy and life
From your hardworking heart ...

It was Marie Vogel who, after the establishment of the nationwide German newspaper, helped uncounted readers to assume a personal feeling toward "Neues Leben." Year by year, there was an increasing number of those who trustingly turned to the paper with their requests, petitions, and complaints. Naturally, they all received information in a friendly manner. Surely, most did not realize how much effort it took in research, orhow much time spent on phone calls it took to obtain answers. Help with complicated pension problems; with trying to locate lost relatives -- a service thanks to which so many were able to reunite with their loved ones; the column "Where are you, friends of our youth?" -- all these and more she either provided the impetus for or at least supported with all the energy of her forthright personality. Letters with requests or with expressions of gratitude kept reaching Marie Vogel even after she became a pensioner with a heart condition.

Her September, 1972 obituary in NL reads: "In our minds, the reader correspondence department and Marie Vogel were simply inseparable. Hardly anyone else might have assumed such a gigantic task, and no one may have possessed her enormous sense of moral obligation, as bravely and strongly as she and a small circle of colleagues spurred on by her example. Times of grave difficulty had left behind so much heartache and insults, and so many disheartened souls needed to be helped up -- via judicial advice, via a helpful hint, or simply by a warm word of encouragement ..."

This puddle in the grass --
The rain of the previous evening --
Lays open my mother's sign,
My dead mother's sign.
This whisper of the leaves --
Across the times --
Is the breath of my ancestors,
The eternal breath of becoming.

Harry Schnittke followed his wife [in death] in 1975. Both found their rest in the Vvedenski Cemetery in Moscow (formerly a German cemetery). Their entire set of relatives from the Engels area is scattered across the Urals, Siberia, and Kazakhstan. And even her sons were unable to find the answers to questions that tormented their mother. Are their even such answers?

Their villages are floating
In the fog of the past.
Their herds are grazing
Below the horizon.
The bells of their churches
Are lying in the ground.
What keeps this scattered
Ethnic group together?
Is it the consciousness of centuries
Of past errors?
The dreams of the fathers?

"Thorny is the Path of a Composer ..."

This statement applies to the dramatic fate of the Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich in the Soviet Union, and Alfred Schnittke as well, would create within his traditions. His own life was like a path of stones, replete with disdain and deprivation. Alfred Schnittke is part of the avant guard of Russian music that has been a worldwide sensation since the 1980s. His work, characterized by multiple styles, demonstrates the essential trends and is consistent with German and Russian tradition.

Today Schnittke is considered as being among the most successful composers of his time in all of Europe, but the path toward this fame was not covered with roses.

"From early on, I dreamed of composing music. My mother remembered that even as a two year-old I was already drumming with spoons and lids," recounted Alfred Schmittke, who was born on November 24, 1934. He experienced his first real contact with music during a brief visit to his grandparents in Moscow in 1941, shortly before the outbreak of war. They took their seven-year-old grandson to a preparatory class in the Central Moscow School of Music, but all too soon he had to return to Engels, where his family spent the war years.

After the war, when previously confiscated radio receivers were given back, Alfred would listen to the radio and try to sing arias from operas. He was most strongly fascinated by opera. Except for radio programs, the eleven-year-old had hardly any other contact with music, save his attempts at playing the harmonica.

In 1946 the family went to Vienna for a period of two years. During concerts the young boy, with his enthusiasm for music, dived into the mysterious world of Schubert and Beethoven, whom he desired to master. As far as musical instruments, the family had only an old accordion; Alfred played familiar melodies on it by ear. When he started to invent some melodies, he was taken to the pianist Scharlotte Ruber, who lived in the neighborhood. Schnittke practiced everywhere he could: with acquaintances who had a piano, or in the empty officer's casino. Consistently he made attempts writing his own compositions. Scharlotte Ruber granted him much leeway, played four handed alongside him, praised him at the tiniest success, and tried to persuade his parents to get him into musical training.

Moscow was at first not the right place for intensive musical studies, so he reverted again to the old accordion. Still, Schnittke tested himself with a "Concerto for Accordion and Orchestra." He dabbled in musical theory through self-study. Only at the Moscow Music Institute, where Schnittke launched into training for choir directing at the age of fifteen, was he able to continue the piano lessons begun in Vienna. His sound training enabled him soon to be able to play works by Grieg, Schubert, Schuhmann and Rachmaninov. His intensive involvement with music theory inspired him to some compositions, which he entrusted to the pedagogue Jossif Ryshkin.

Although his parents did not exactly understand his passion for music, they bought their son his own piano. At the time, that was not a simple matter: the family lived in a tiny two-room apartment; one room was the father's workroom, and the piano was in the children's room. Under these circumstances, the family did not have great enthusiasm for music. Alfred received more support from his music teacher, Vassiliy Shaternikov, even if the latter was rather skeptical about his pupil's compositions.

It did not take long for Alfred to learn the consequences of the sporadic nature of his musical training in his childhood years: he had many gaps to fill. He commented on this later on: "One jump forward always required two backward. All this playing with styles that I am drawn to may just be an urge to fill the gaps in my musical development in childhood and to return to a childlike acceptance of the classics. Even the fact that my ancestors had left Germany 200 years earlier was for me a kind of time span to bridge, as though I might be forced to live through these 200 years and repeat them."

After he completed the Music Institute in 1953, he transferred to the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory and into composition class led by Yevgeni Golubev. Here Schnittke was studying under a different framework of instrumentation, musical analysis, and theory of form. These years were characterized by "intensive taking in of musical impressions and gathering up the potential for experiencing music." He became familiar with the music of Webern, Schoenberg and Berg, who gave him considerable impulses for his own compositions. And old chorales, the music of Bach, Mozart, Schubert, Bruckner, Mahler, Shostakovich, Nono and Ligeti -- these were all among the things that drew him toward creative work. In a special way, a performance of the Tenth Symphony of Shostakovich (1953) marked an important watershed in his path toward a personal profile.

In 1958, Schnittke completed his studies at the Moscow Conservatory and began a three-year candidacy [for composition]. The contemporary phenomenon of political opening up that was taking place at the time also began to impact other parts of life. It was one of the prerequisites that allowed composers to reestablish contact with the international musical scene. It also set off intensive efforts toward mastering previously banned works by Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Stravinsky, Orff, Hindemith, Honegger, Mahler, Ives and other composers.

The political "thaw" also brought about a certain loosening in personal matters -- musicians were finally allowed to travel. From 1962 on, several composers took part in the annual festival of contemporary music, the "Warsaw Autumn," and they took along recordings of new works. As Alfred Schnittke remembered, "Toward the end of 1963, the Italian composer Nono visited our country and presented his own compositions to, among others, the composers' society. For the first time, we got to experience an avant-gardist in the flesh. His appearance did not mesh with the cliche of a person completely unfamiliar with our culture, a very dry and mechanical personality. In reality the composer was temperamental, impulsive, sensitive, and intelligent. This constituted a kind of psychological breakthrough."

Later on, Schnittke was able to make contact with Western composers such as Karlheinz Stockhausen, Witold Lutoslavski, Gyorgy Ligeti, Henri Pousseur and others. He corresponded with them for years, exchanged notes, recordings, and books: "Despite some quarreling and differences of opinion, there was this feeling of belonging, an awareness that this musical development was not a private matter that each effects for himself."

By 1968 yet another turn took place in the Soviet Union -- an earlier development, a kind of incipient spiritual emancipation, was being reined in again, and all progress was turned back. All works of advocates of the new music were rejected as avant-gardist and repressed with methods even more refined than before. The doors of publishers and purchasing commissionwere now closed to the unpopular composers, as much by artists societies as by the cultural ministry. Teaching was in most cases out of the question -- for the officials' fear of "contaminating" the upcoming composer generation. Only few composers found the strength to go up against this pressure, and some resigned and left for foreign soil. Those who remained and dared to think in a contrary manner were not listened to, their existence simply ignored. As Alfred Schnittke described the situation of that time: "There were many reasons to quit, to give in to what was going on ... The braking mechanism worked perfectly ... A kind of mistrust developed even against oneself."

Between 1961 and 1972 Schnittke taught instrumental technique, composition, counterpoint, and scores at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory. But his real living he earned with music for the cinema. Schnittke worked nearly 25 years in this genre and composed music for more than 60 films. In retrospect, he considered his work in films as an outstanding education, compositionally and stylistically. Film gave him the opportunity to try new methods, and it demanded unusual dramatic as well as musical solutions: "I wrote a number of marches, boring waltzes, background music for escapes, shootings, and landscapes."

His work in films began in 1962 with the title "Der Eintritt ins Leben [Starting into Life]" by Igor Talankin. Both were enthusiastic and experimented heavily in the direction of "wild and impudent modernity," and they intended to avoid every cliche of film music. With each score, Schnittke's confidence grew, especially since he was able to work with many talented film directors. Schnittke represented the multifaceted and flexible composer. Effortlessly, he was able to combine the dramatic, lyric, comedic and ironic. As director Alexander Mitta commented: "Schnittke's music possesses & an unusual quality: it develops along with the film .. His music has depth and is multidimensional."

His poly-stylistic manner as method -- meshing musical periods and spaces -- also did not come about without influence from his work in film. Schnittke built on tradition and modernity at the same time, by working with musical tradition self-confidently and wrapping the musical past into a new unity. "There is nothing that is new. Everything which allegedly exists in a new way - everything has been there before! Yet it grows anew. Poly-stylistic tendencies exist today in latent fashion in every from of music. Stylistically sterile music would be dead music," was Schnittke's conviction.

In addition to his composing, Schnittke also analyzed scores by Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Stravinsky and wrote theoretical treatises about them. There are about 20 theoretical pieces of writing by Schnittke, nearly all mere manuscripts that are kept in the library of the Moscow Conservatory. He also expressed his theoretical views of music in various interviews and essays.

A major milestone and sign in Schnittke's creative work was his First Symphony (1972), in which all developments and musical styles of the 1960s (classics, modern material, old church music, waltzes, polkas, marches, songs and jazz) flowed together and documented a new compositional identity: "The First Symphony to me constitutes a summation of several creative searchings and problem resolutions ... It is a kind of reaction to the times ..."

The premiere of the First Symphony in February of 1974 in Gorki engendered controversial discussions, with headlines in various press organs of the Soviet composers society: "Should Schnittke's First Symphony be allowed to be performed in public concerts?" or "Serious harm to all of music!" In his own contribution to the discussion, Schnittke wrote: "Fortunately, music has developed -- and will continue to develop -- independently of the appropriateness of it expressed by the opinions of musical experts."

A Fine Line Between Good and Evil Ran Right Through his Heart, and Much Struggle Took Place at This Line"

Once judged to be a contrarian, a person could remain in bad graces in the Soviet Union for a long time. Even his thesis work, the oratorio "Nagasaki" for mezzo-soprano, mixed chorus and orchestra, with its expressive musical language and a series of unusual instrumental effects, departed strongly from the usual norms. However, his composition did not bring about the dreaded consequence of the concentration camp -- instead, sweetness and light were employed as a kind of whip. In 1975, Schnittke was even offered the presidency of the composers' guild of the USSR. He rejected the offer. Not once did he have to beg for a recommendation letter in order to perform one of his "deviant" works.

Concerts by Schnittke were often impossible to stage, simply because advertisements were removed quickly, so nobody would attend. Even in the Conservatory he was constantly exposed to discrimination, which finally led to his resignation and to his decision to become an independent artist. Schnittke was not allowed to attend performances of his own works in other countries, even if it was a premiere, for example, the world premiere of his Second Symphony under the direction of Gennati Roshdestvenski in London in 1980. After Schnittke received an invitation to a composers' concert in Duesseldorf, the organizers received a telegram from the cultural ministry in Moscow stating that the works of this composer were not appropriately representative of Soviet music.

Even years later, in 1984, when the emigre violinist Gidon Kremer was about to premiere the Fourth Violin Concert, which had been dedicated to him, he received a call from the cultural ministry: "We don't need Schnittke. Play some Beethoven." During twenty years of creating music, only two of the seventy of Schnittke's compositions were bought by the cultural ministry. Still, Schnittke never played up to official plaudits and affirmation in order to further his career. Besides, the composer detested any forceful act that might be intended to destroy the spirit: "Every composer can be compared to a spring. A certain amount of pressure is beneficial -- it energizes creative energy. But it is important that this pressure does not become too powerful, that it does not drag one down like a gravestone. The totalitarian Soviet system was just such a gravestone," wrote Schnittke in the early 1990s.

Any acknowledgment Schnittke received came from Europe, far from the concert halls of the Soviet Union. He became one of the most published composers by the music publisher Hans Sikorski in Hamburg and by Universal-Edition of Vienna, and he became a member of various art academies in Europe: the Academy of the Arts in West Berlin (1981), the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts (1986), the Swedish Royal Academy (1987), the Hamburg Art Academy (1989), the Academy of Sachsen-Anhalt and the Jena Art Academy (1992), and a year later he became an honorary member of the Vienna Choral Society. He also received a backlog of years of commissions.

Authors' evenings, authors' concerts, multi-day festivals (as of 1989 in Nishni-Novgorod and Stockholm, as of 1990 in London, since 1993 in Turin), all of which were dedicated exclusively to his music, became a major part of musical life in foreign countries and even in the Soviet Union. Schnittke was a popular invitee as a lecturer. One of the first lectures by him, on the subject of Austrian music of the 20th Century, took place at the Vienna Institute for Music and Performing Arts. In 1989, he taught at the Hamburg University for Music and Theater Composition. When in 1990 three Alfred Schnittke music festivals took place in Sweden (Stockholm, Goetheborg, Malmoe), forty CDs were issued -- an honor that hardly any other living composer was given. In 1998, a Schnittke Society was founded in Sweden.

In October 1992 Aflred Schnittke -- the first German artist to do so -- received one of the valued (200,000 DM) and most important international awards that was called by some the "Nobel Prize of the Arts", the "Praemium Imperiale" prize, from the Japanese Society for the Arts. Two further important honors followed shortly after: the Bach Prize for the year 1992 in Hamburg, and the Prize of the Russian Cultural Foundation in Moscow in 1993.

International recognition of Schnittke's works was met in the Soviet Union with a frosty distance on the part of the official cultural organs. "It is curious why this Schnittke ignores the traditions of our country's music and turns instead to the questionable experiments of Western European avant-gardists ... This is how directly we expressed ourselves to the composer, yet he replied that the Germans may be hearing in his music much that is Russian," one can read in the minutes of a meeting of a cultural commission.

Far more important to Schnittke was his relationship with people, in bad and in good times. It may well be thanks to his honest and forthright relationships that he survived the cold atmosphere of the 1970s. The people were mostly those who had an important role in his creative efforts as a composer. He held especially warm regards toward his friends and interpreters such as Gennadi Roshdestvenski, Gidon Kremer, Valeri Polyanski or Vladimir Krainev. "The world surrounding us in those days was unique. The system suppressed mercilessly, but it also tended to unify. We had a few dozen close friends, not only musicians, writers or directors, but also diplomats. They needed us, and we needed them. Today this circle of people is scattered all across the world. The powers that be have put us under great pressure, without mercy, but we always found the strength to rise up again ... My music was never more in demand than in Russia of those times," declared Schnittke in retrospect while ill in Hamburg.

All of his life, the composer had the feeling of a person who, due to circumstances, never was part of normal relationships. The disquieting sensation during the war years in Engels of being a stranger in his own country never left him in later life. His heritage created a precondition of a confused psychological conflict, which occupied him for years: "I am living in Russia, although I have nothing Russian in me -- a half-German, half-Jew -- a rather tragic constellation. Nowhere am I at home." Even though by his heritage he was not rooted in Russia, Schnittke still felt bonded to the country in which he and his ancestors spent their lives.

"On the other hand, what I have composed is certainly connected with German music and the strict logic of the Germans ... Perhaps that may explain the interest in stylization and old music -- the music of a time when my ancestors left Germany," wrote Schnittke. His connection with Germany is shown particularly in his Third Symphony, which he wrote for the opening of the Leipzig Gewandhaus. He let his composition flow through the entire history of German music - from the middle ages to the present -- by allowing himself to be inspired by works of 30 German and Austrian composers of all times.

In the process of self-discovery, German and Russian literature also played no minor role for him. Here, too, we see several consistent areas of attraction. Thomas Mann, whose "Doktor Faust" (1947) Schnittke read at least three times, left a particularly deep impression on him. But names such as Hermann Hesse, Franz Kafka and Guenter Grass, as well as Bulgakov, Mandelstam, Achmatova, and Nabokov also developed into important points of reference for him.

The struggle between good and evil eventually developed into the main theme of Schnittke's work. Evil to him was anything that degraded the individual's conscientiousness into one of the masses. This was demonstrated most impressively by his cantata "Die Geschichte des Doktor Faust [The Story of Doctor Faust]." Schnittke tied an idea from a popular book of 1587 to the project for a Faust opera. Faust, who symbolizes the eternal struggle between good and evil, occupied a key position in Schnittke's work: "Faust, who has sunk deeply into evil, still retains that valuable quality which characterizes man -- his conscience."

Schnittke's position regarding faith developed from this conviction. Tradition and pluralism were for him one concept even for other areas of life. When he felt the need to embrace a particular faith, he let himself be baptized via the Catholic rite. By family tradition he felt obliged to be a Catholic, but spiritually he felt closer to a Russian-Orthodox priest, to whom he confessed and from whom he sought advice.

Schnittke's body of work is dominated by instrumental music, in which the symphony and concerto grosso are of central significance. As many as 40 orchestral compositions (among them symphonies as well as instrumental concertos, some including voices), several stage compositions (ballet and opera), ten vocal works as well as dozens of instrumental chamber and piano compositions form one outstanding cultural heritage. Of symbolic nature is the opera "Leben mit einem Idioten [Life with an Idiot]," which he fashioned after an idea by the Russian writer Yerofeyev and which premiered in 1992 in Amsterdam. It is a thoughtful, sarcastic confrontation of society, with human ideals and hopes as well as the impossibility of realizing them.

It was about 1985 when many professional matters began to take a positive turn for Schnittke, and as an artist he was very happy about it. He was finally allowed to be present at performances of his works in England, the US and, of course, Germany. But in addition to his creative successes, there was another change taking place in his life. His untiring work as a composer (in the first half of 1985 alone he produced six major works), coupled with psychological upheavals he had endured in the Soviet Union, finally began to ruin his health.

In the midst of his work on the ballet "Peer Gynt," a work commissioned by the Hamburg State Opera, the composer suffered a stroke in 1985. The choreographer John Neumeier of Hamburg then conceived his piece (freely after Henrik Ibsen) as a life-and-death cycle that was depicted= as a metaphorical grappling with the thought of death.

After 1990, Schnittke maintained dual German and Russian citizenship and lived alternately in Hamburg and Moscow. Despite the explosive increase in his fame, he never tried to make himself stand out as person or as composer. "Alfred possessed a unique synthesis of extraordinary genius and of plain intelligence. He was always thoroughly approachable, but reserved and totally without arrogance -- qualities that characterized all of the Schnittke family, in fact. He was friendly and modest, and he had a sense of humor. Only during premieres did he wish not to be disturbed because he was so excited each time. Music was his life, but family was also very important to him; he loved his wife Irina and his son Andreiy above all else, remembers Viktor Schnittke's wife, Yekaterina Kasenoova-Schnittke.

The fact that Alfred Schnittke was able to experience world-wide recognition while still living was partly due to his wife Irina -- his real muse. "Our life with Schnittke might be described as a dramatic and tragic symphony. Not only because the last few years were so difficult. Was it easy living with Schntitke? Easy. There was some rain, though. And whose fault was it? Naturally, mine..." she once reported. Following Schnittke's death, the widow has constantly been on the road as if following the shadow of her husband: a Schnittke concert in the US, a series of concerts in Germany, a festival in Moscow.

As a young girl, Irina took instruction in musical harmony from Schnittke while studying at the same music institute. Common attendance at concerts brought them closer. After her training, Irina worked in school of music for children. Just about the time they were planning to get married, Schnittke received his first major grant: "With the money, we arranged our wedding, but after that we experienced penniless times again. There were commissions from the cultural ministry, but Schnittke rejected any and all jingoistically patriotic commissions," recounted Irina. They had a piano for two, and that worked for them for a while: as soon as Alfred was finished with his work at the piano, Irina would sit down and play Shostakovich, Rachmaninov. But this bothered his concentration, so she stopped playing. Wishing to be financially independent, she went on a concert tour. "But after my guest appearance trip through Siberia, Alfred told me he was unable to write music when I was not at home." So she concentrated her efforts on the home, on the welfare of the family. "I do not see this as a sacrifice -- it was my choice," she says in retrospect. At some time then, after about 15 years of marriage, Schnittke insisted that his wife play his works.

Son Andreiy, with bis own musical talent, also experienced difficulties with his father's fame. He eventually chose an area of study for which his parents had little understanding -- biochemistry. At the institute he played in a rock band. Later on, Andreiy attempted to write film music, and not without success, and he discovered his passion for photography.

By autumn of 1991 Alfred Schntitke found himself again close to death. In a Hamburg hospital he lay in a coma for several days. Yet even after that, his vital inner strength and ability to create remained unbroken. The extreme experience with near-death did alter many things in the composer's life. The most important aspect of this new life was his new sense of time. Every minute, every hour and every day held its own value. He was forced to limit the writing process of composition because the writing down of notes became more and more difficult for him. And after signs of paralysis in his arm handicapped him, composing became for him a real physical strain. So Schnittke concentrated on the essence of the composition process -- listening internally to the music-to-be. For him, this stage had always been the significant act of creation - a balancing act between the earthly and the secretive divine.

"The musical language of Schnittke, though complicated to grasp, is deep and multifaceted. At the same time, it is so strongly laden with emotion that by its very emotion it allows the listener to feel what the composer wishes to transmit. Schnittke is undoubtedly one of the most, if not the most, significant figures of musical culture of the 20th Century. Neither philosophical chasms nor a stroll into the cosmos remain inaccessible to Schnittke. Only few are allowed to speak with God," writes the famous pianist Vladimir Krainev.

Alfred Schnittke died in August, 1998 and was interred at the Novo-Devitchye cemetery in Moscow. Shortly before his death he had completed his Ninth Symphony.

In the early 1990s Schnittke, in a brief talk on Prokofiev, explained why that composer's life was so dramatic. "He opposed the disparaging powers of destruction with his kind of music that was filled with courage, and he exposed his heart to an incredibly strong tension, a searing gap between good and evil." Schnittke thereby also described his own life rather closely. The line between good and evil ran right through his own heart, and a constant struggle took place at this line.

"The way home will likely be far. I fear I will not manage it."

"What the famous Alfred Schnittke is to music of the world, that is what his younger brother Viktor Schnittke is to the poetry and prose of the German-Russians," according to a comment by the German-Russian author Nelly Wacker regarding the book "Stimmen des Schweigens [Voices of Silence]" that was published in 1992 and which presented Viktor Schnittke as a deep, sensitive and sophisticated poet. While the composer Schnittke made his pluralistic profile understandable by musical means, the poet Schnittke would express his poetic identity through the verbal form. That was not an easy task, particularly since he wrote his poems in German, Russian and in French.

As Yekaterina Kasennova-Schnittke described her husband: "This was a person with an absolutely non-Russian mentality." The conflicting heritage -- half German, half Jew -- was for Viktor Schnittke, too, born on January 31, 1937, no easy burden.

I became lost in foreign languages,
Associated with foreign tribes,
At twenty-four I stand confused,
In a foreign world.
The way home will likely be very far,
I fear that I will not manage it.
As a signpost -- here an inscribed stone,
There a light extinguished.

In 1961 he graduated from the Moscow Pedagogical Institute for Foreign Languages, where he took up two distinct subjects -- German, which he needed for his diploma (he knew German better than his teachers), and English. After that, he worked for a while as proofreader for the newspaper "Neue Zeit [New Time]," and as of 1970 as editor and translator for the publisher "Progress" ("Raduga"). By his choice of profession and career Viktor followed the his parents' footsteps, with whom he felt connected to the very end. In his poems he conducted a constant conversation with them. Was it out of loneliness? Was it homesickness? Guilt? A wish to reconcile?

Father, I think of you so often --
You did not always do right by me.
When you said a word,
It was like a stab
Which made me defenseless,
And then you would come and wish to
Be as my friend --
I did not find the correct tone.
We had so much and so little in common --
I was a wayward son.
Your German was perfect,
Mine was like
A deserted home.
You were at home in the large city
And I
Outside. I knew beforehand
That in parting
You would not forgive
My secretly being different.
Yet at times it seemed to me
That you loved me.
To me that was like bread and wine.

The hopes and expectations of the 1960s, a newly awakened faith in truth, even for German Russians -- all of that soon descended into resignation and a feeling of no way out. During that period, young Viktor remained quiet. He was listening to the "Silence of Eternity" and "Decades of Silence" of his ethnic group which he "had originally been part of." Until he found his own voice. He published his first piece in "Neues Leben." There followed 100 poems and several short stories in German-Russian periodicals and collections as well as in the almanacs "Heimatliche Weiten [Expanses of Home]" (Moscow) and "Phoenix" (Alma-Ata). His own early childhood experiences and the fate of his countrymen finds a constant echo in Viktor's texts.

"His voice is like a lasting echo -- one thinks of his poems, one returns to them, and one reads them repeatedly and with intensive readiness for experience," writes the author Lia Frank in "Neues Leben" in 1978. She continues: "Viktor Schnittke's texts continue the best traditions, they live with the deepest sympathy for everything that is visible and already not visible. It is as if he were seeking a path to himself and a secure hold on the world around him, one that allows neither individualism nor freedom for personal development."

Wherever my path was winding,
Wherever prophetic voices
Lured me, I found
A way back to home's shores.
Eyes covered with sand --
Ears deafened by slogans --
Man's tortured understanding --
Home and language stolen away --
My father's home burned down --
The heart full of deprivation and desperation --
Still, a rescuing hand
Of homesickness leads me toward healing.

"Sensitive, delicate, in love with language he, the Moscovite, remains movingly bonded to the Volga-German home of his mother. They really have something, these brothers Alfred and Viktor, even then younger one, the one we are talking about here, even he knows how to compose remarkably well," as the literary critic and translator Johann Warkentin would present the poet Viktor Schnittke at an authors' day of "Soviet-German Literature Today" in Berlin in 1990. Viktor attempted, in a very authentic manner, to fathom and sort out his German roots -- in poems and short stories that sprang from tough inner struggle; out of a process of catching up, one that most German-Russian families in the Soviet Union was not even basically familiar with:

I have spoken
With a hundred voices,
And none of them was me.
I have kept silence
With a thousand voices,
And each one was genuine.
And still it seems to me at times
As if I had committed treason
On myself and mine,
As if I thereby
Left us all to the mercy of nonexistence.

What does this harsh, severe language
Mean to me?
Only mother's sound and childhood.
Only Father's final word.
Only dream and refuge.
Only a breakthrough toward understanding.
Only the future.

His central theme is the struggle of humanity to live his true life, despite all external interferences. Viktor owes his parents and grandparents, especially his grandmother Thea Schnittke, his interest in German and Western literature. Thea Schnittke played a special role in the family, as Yekaterina Kasennova-Schnittke remembers: "This admirable woman did not miss a single concert in the Conservatory, which she often attended along with Viktor and me. She was current on all current musical and literary developments."

Viktor read all of his poems to his elder brother, who had a fine ear for the poetical. He trusted his brother without reservation and discussed all problems with him. After Alfred had become ill, Viktor published two volumes: "Stimmen des Schweigens {Voices of Silence]" and a collection of poems in three languages. Additionally, there was a series of concerts at which Viktor presented his poems and Alfred played a musical interlude for each poem met with great success. These events began in small rooms and ended up in the great hall of the Moscow Conservatory.

A sister of the two, Irina Schnittke, also born in Engels, continued the "German line." She graduated from the foreign language department, and along with her mother worked for "Neues Leben," where she was responsible for the teachers' page, and then she instructed in German at the Moscow High School. Her son Dima also was fluent in two languages and is a successful businessman. As is Viktor's daughter Mascha, who wrote poems in childhood and who discovered her talent for languages early on.

After Alfred moved to Germany, phone and mail contact between the brothers never ceased. And later, when Viktor was allowed to travel to Germany, he always visited his brother in Hamburg. During his final visit with Alfred, who was in critical condition, Viktor stayed with him for three days in the hospital. The poet took a part in a poets' reading series of the Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland and was to lector on his poems and stories at the University of Regensburg. But on November 17, 1994, Schnittke suffered a serious stroke, and when Yekaterina Kasennova-Schnittke arrived in Germany, his situation was hopeless. Progressive brain death left no hope for his survival. Viktor Schnittke was cremated in Germany and buried at his parents' grave -- according to his last wish. He was only 55 years old.

I dreamt
That I was to be the last to die
On this used-up planet.
Whom could I choose to inherit
our visions,
The books of the great prophets?
Irrevocably, the earth is contaminated,
Dead are the muddy waters.
No more planting or reaping,
Or filling kegs with wine.
Falling birds, desires drying up,
Cattle dying in the meadows ...
No more meetings or love,
Hugs, conception, children.
There once stood cities,
There once glowed the sun,
But nothing lasts or has being.
When last I saw Mother
She was like a nun,
Covered in silent mourning.

Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.

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