Thoughts on the Musical
History of the Germans in Bessarabia: An Attempt to Approach a Life's
Translation from German to English by
Dr. Elvire Necker-Eberhardt, edited by Dwayne Janke
Article appeared originally with German text
written by Karl F. Hasenfuss in the Jahrbuch der Deutschen aus
Bessarabien: Heimatkalender 2005, Pages 119-128.
In searching for documents on the
history of music of the Germans in Bessarabia, we find in the book
by Jakob Becker, Bessarabien und sein Deutschtum (1966), this sentence
(on page 153): “You cannot talk about art at all.” A
little later: “Music had to conform to similar conditions.
The area of music too lagged behind other parts of the world.”
However, at the end of the paragraph, surprising statements
are found which contradict this assumption: “Besides community
and church choirs, brass bands also have to be mentioned. Pastor
Bienemann, Arzis (1859-1868), deserves credit for his work with
church choirs. As far as folk songs are concerned, nobody undertook
as much as Director Albert Mauch (Principal of the Wernerschule).
It was he who introduced song weeks in schools for our teachers’
association, and organized song festivals (in Arzis on Sept. 23,
1892, in 1923 and 1924 in Tarutino and Kischinew). He gave us the
text and melody to our Heimat song: “Gott segne dich, mein
Heimatland. . . . ” Some communities had orchestras with violins,
guitars, mandolins and balalaikas.”2
After mentioning Herbert Irion from Klöstitz,
Jakob Becker states that harmoniums were more widely used than pianos;
then he concludes: “The Bessarabian Germans were, and still
are, music-loving people, maybe because they are so emotional”
(ibid page 154).
This latter statement caused us to research the various
village books for this topic because local memories will help most
in this area. In H. Weiß’s book, History of the Community
Teplitz (1931), we find on page 295 the following notice: “The
Teplitzers always showed great love for music.” The next sentence
states: “In the years 1860-61, some music fans founded a brass
band with 15 instruments.” The German Volkskalender for Bessarabia
(DVK) proves this to be true for other communities too. Some of
the editions I consulted mention under “Music,” brass
bands and string orchestras.
There communities, the number of instruments—when known—and
their conductors are mentioned. In 1928, nineteen brass bands and
eight string orchestras are listed; in 1938, this rose to 20 and
10. In the DVK of 1938 on page 49, under “1936-1937 in the
German communities of Bessarabia: Important Events from Oct. 15,
1936-Oct. 17, 1937,” and under May 23 (1937), the following
announcement is found: “Johann Krause‘s 50th Singer’s
Anniversary (Tarutino).” Individual’s musical interests
like this prove that continuous work with choirs must have been
Culture in Bessarabia
In the course of our presentation, we want to answer the question
about what the Bessarabian Germans did or understood by “cultural
achievement” or “art.” In my opinion, everyday
objects also have to be considered, which have been documented in
photos and belong to the area of practical art and design. We consider
here altar crosses, chandeliers, organs, cemetery crosses or useful
objects like blankets, kerchiefs or tablecloths, as well as carriages
In the DVK of 1930, machines, books, material, dye industry and
cattle feed are advertised, as well as bells, harmoniums or brass
instruments. On page 167, we find an advertisement by a Transylvanian
company whose instruments have won prizes at the World’s Fair
in 1862 at London; in 1867 at Paris; in 1873, 1888 and 1892 at Vienna;
in 1876 at Philadelphia; in 1890 at Graz; in 1893 at Chicago; and
in 1906 at Reichenberg.
The DVK of 1930 shows how important it is to look at presentations
of various communities. Sexton Friedrich Rüb writes on page
76 in his article, “Die Gemeinde Gnadental”: “Presently
there are 23 harmoniums in our village and 4 pianos.” He poses
the question, how an enthusiasm for them started, how keyboard instruments
were taught or learned and what was played. Naturally the question
arises whether sheets of this music still exist such as those we
have for the “Heimatlied.” Maybe an oral tradition existed
for texts, melodies and accompaniment, as is still the case for
To better understand the musical history of the Bessarabian Germans,
I shall quote from Wilhelm Mutschall’s book, Geschichte der
Gemeinde Tarutino—von 1814-1934. Mutschall states that his
written treatise for the community of Elisabeth (later called Tarutino)
goes back to 1912 because it was planned to be ready for the anniversary
year of 1914.
It was Mutschall’s intention to show the community’s
rise from poverty, and partly also the moral decay, to the existing
culture obvious in the anniversary year.
Mutschall states that a schoolroom had been added next to the prayer
house. “We have to give the community a lot of credit when
the families employed a teacher, even though they had only been
able to find protection in mud huts.”1 We have to remember
that before the French Revolution, schooling and science were under
the auspices of churches, monasteries, princes or trade unions.
The community of Tarutino tried to establish—according to
Lutheran tradition—reading, writing, arithmetic and religion
(page 24) in their village situation. Mutschall summarizes the efforts
of the first teacher this way: “In one word, he achieved culture
to a considerable degree.”
Musical Training and Choir Work
Mutschall also quotes Pastor J.S. Helwich, who had become the 4th
pastor in 1831. He states that sextons and teachers could neither
write nor sing. Only 3 or 4 hymnbooks were used in the village.
Since pastors looked after schools, Pastor Helwich developed curriculum
for 2 and more classes, with detailed instructions on how to teach
the material. In a supplement, he even provides teaching methods.
Christian Fiess’ Heimatbuch Sarata: 1822-1940, which came
out in 1970, confirms this. On page 216, we find printed “Veygels
Entwurf zum Schulprogramm” (“Veygel’s Plan to
an Educational Program”) of 1831. I am pointing out those
under 12h); here subjects are mentioned which were supposed to be
thoroughly learned in the church schools. I quote: “12h) Church
Music, Choir Singing, Piano and Organ Music.”
This could be the reason why in the 1840s, Tarutino received a
harmonium for the prayer house under the 6th pastor; it was later
substituted by an organ (page 23). In connection with the building
of the church in 1862, we find references on page 74 to the organ
builder Karl Engelmann from Odessa and the royal court organ maker
Keller from Darmstadt. The organ itself is described: “The
organ has 2 manuals and 16 registers and cost 2,000 rubles.”
A photo of the organ is found on page 224 of the photo supplement.
It also has to be mentioned that in Karl Roth’s Heimatbuch,
i.e. Lichtental-Bessarabien—Geschichte einer schwäbischen
Gemeinde (published in 1969) their organ is described on page 185.
There are references to the various registers.
At the end of the report of July 25, 1865, about the “solemn
act of dedication,” we find the notice that “the divine
service continued according to the agenda.” Mutschall continues:
“The service was embellished by the contributions of the men’s
and mixed choir” (page 77).
We find additional news about these choirs on page 108. In 1863,
Gustav Hoffmann from Oderwitz in Saxony had begun his service as
sexton. Mutschall writes: “Hoffmann earned his greatest merits
with his attending to singing in schools and church. Even though
nature had not provided him with a special voice, nonetheless he
was a great friend of singing and practised a lot hitherto unknown
children’s songs with the help of a violin. Its content and
melody appealed to a child’s emotions. The mixed and men’s
choir he started ranked first among all German church choirs. He
produced the notes for his 20-30 choir members with tireless patience.
Whatever he wrote was neat, appealing, and beautiful, joyful for
everybody. At the dedication of the church, all guests were surprised
about the magnificent choir music. Even in his earlier years he
dared to perform parts of Haydn’s Creation (“The Heavens
Declare. . . .”) with organ accompaniment. But when he wanted
to start string music in church, many shook their head, and several
men left the church.”
If Bessarabia’s cultural work is to be evaluated, in my
opinion we have to consider what the settlers—including those
who arrived later—brought along in experiences and knowledge
from their homeland as far as social, professional, church and cultural
areas are concerned. We also have to consider each influence that
every new pastor introduced into the existing mother colonies. In
one place, Mutschall states Bessarabia had been a mission field.
We have to add that this mission field continued growing internally.
Therefore it has to be distinguished between actual quality and
somebody’s personal opinion.
It is certain that much musical knowledge was introduced from the
outside into Bessarabian communities through the purchase and use
of organs, so much so that the organ courses offered in the 20th
century logically followed. As far as I know nobody ever researched
organ building in Bessarabia.
Mutschall mentions that Hoffmann—coming from Saxony—introduced
a lot of children’s songs that were unknown until then. In
a similar way, the deaconesses from Neuendettelsau, or Bessarabien
Germans studying abroad, must have influenced their communities.
Wilhelm Mutschall himself is an example of this. He tells us in
the appendix to his book that he had spent
3 years of his training in the mission school of Neuendettelsau.
He returned on Easter 1873. Neuendettelsau had a brass band.
At this point in our report of past achievements, I would like
to add that the Protestant Brass Service in Germany (EPiD) published
in its sheet music by Haydn of “Gloria—Let us play to
the Honour of God 2004,” a work by Hoffmann from Tarutino
of 1865, for 2 brass bands and drums (i.e. “The Heavens declare.
. . .”). Hoffmann performed works of culture.
Songs and Singing
We are approaching the question of the cultural value of a musical
work, a question important not only for Bessarabia. Is only a church
hymn of cultural value? Mutschall mentions that pastors had to approve
dance music at weddings. Erwin Heer writes in his report of 1980
(on page 109), about the “Material for Instruction and Learning
in Bessarabian Elementary Schools,” that some communities
had refused to allow the “Liederstrauß” (bouquet
of songs) in their schools because it was too worldly. This “Liederstrauß”
was a collection of folk songs put together by Pastor Beck.
An additional question exists whether there is cultural value to
songs with stanzas, several stanzas with differing content sung
to a single melody, or songs where every stanza has its own music.
It has to be remembered that the concept of “song of art”
was coined. When Becker talks about the Bessarabian Germans as being
music lovers because they are so emotional, in my opinion this is
referring to when they used songs with stanzas and such great power
was emitted that their influence reached beyond the mind into the
area of the emotions. When Luther in his song, “Mine is the
best time of the year,” cites two verses of the Old Testament
where therapeutic power emerges from music, this can also be proven
for the songs used in Bessarabia.
I conclude that in Bessarabia, the area of music was a cultural
development. A further proof of this we find in Mutschall, when
he says that the divine services proceeded according to accepted
custom (i.e. the congregations had found a way to sing songs acceptable
in a church service despite any individual’s opinion of how
it should be sung).
The song festivals mentioned by Becker are additional proof. In
the Heimatbuch Sarata, we find a picture of a choir, which shows
the great number of people interested in music. In one place I found
a notice telling of the existence of a community choir. After I
attended a service in September 2002 in the renovated church of
Sarata, I tried to imagine how the hymns must have sounded earlier
in the crowded “Dome of the Steppes.”
Late in 2002, a condensed report of the history of brass bands
in Bessarabia was published in Pastor Schlemm’s book, Brass
Band Work in the East before 1945, with the help of Mr. Isert and
Mr. Häfner from the Bessarabian Heimatmuseum. I witnessed the
composition of this article. Whoever has access to Bessarabian sources
will quickly realize that we lack a report of the overall work of
the choirs. The notice in Mutschall, that Hoffmann’s choir
was first among the German church choirs, indicates that around
1865 other choirs must have existed in other communities too. I
also want to point out that in an earlier Heimatkalender, two concert
programs were published (i.e. in 1994, page 61). If you purchase
one or the other, you will notice that the quality of music of the
Bessarabian Germans is worthy to be heard. Obviously we are dealing
with an earlier period, but the history of music teaches us that
quality surpasses time and is discovered continuously.
To better evaluate the development of music in Bessarabia, it
is important to provide further examples. In a biography of the
sexton Friedrich Rüb, we find the notice that he wanted to
further the singing in their houses through his students. Obviously
his intentions were successful. Erwin Heer mentions in an article
in the Heimatkalender that he remembers songs from the organ book
and also melodies from the time when he attended the Wernerschule
in Sarata. A new edition of the pieces which parents and grandparents
remember hearing at church would allow their grandchildren to hear
them again. As is the case with the village plans, these editions
would help people recognise musical pieces.
In 1968 Friedrich Fiechtner from Gnadental, for many years editor
of Heimat, the supplement to the Mitteilungsblatt, published the
collection of songs entitled, “Ich bin das ganze Jahr vergnügt”
(All year long I am happy). Shortly before his death in 2003, I
learned from Georg Hermann from Gnadental, who had completed the
Wernerschule, that he had wished Fiechtner had published the melodies
to his songs for more parts.
Through conversations with Bessarabian Germans I learned that they
love to sing. Therefore it is desirable, in my opinion, to offer
weekends in North and South Germany for singers and instrumentalists,
where Bessarabian German music would be practised. The “Foundation
for the Preservation of the Cultural Heritage of the Russian and
Black Sea Germans” in North Dakota, USA, has published two
song books. The table of contents may aid to stir up the “community
memory” (Gemeinde Gedächtnis) in order to collect the
songs which have been sung in the different communities. Surely
such music could be included at the bigger conventions of the Bessarabian
To refute the argument that a rich musical culture is unusual for
Bessarabian Germans, I want to point out the book by Richard Baumgärtner
and Artur Kräenbring from 1968, Das höhere Schulwesen
der Deutschen in Bessarabien (The System of Higher Learning of the
Germans in Bessarabia). In it we find: “The History of the
Russian Werner-Zentralschule in Sarata from June 25, 1844, to June
25, 1894 (published for the 50th anniversary of the school by its
teacher, W. Mutschall, which was first published in Odessa in 1894).
On page 83 (according to the page numbering on the upper margin),
we read: “These musical instruments we find in the school:
1 physharmonium , 1 pianino,3 6 brass instruments.” The high
number of brass instruments indicates that they must have been used
in class with the intent to make music together. A photo in an older
edition of the Heimatkalender proves this, since it shows a group
of about 14 brass players of the Wernerschule.
To conclude, I would like to encourage the comparison of the different
reports of culture in Bessarabia in the 60 years after Resettlement.
In the Bessarabian Heimatkalender of 1950 (on the pages 130-132),
a plan for a “Book on all of Bessarabia” is introduced.
Contributors are asked to help. In 1966, Pastor Albert Kern’s
Heimatbuch der Bessarabiendeutschen was published. The articles
“Kirchspiel Sarata,” pages 393-414, and “Pfarrgemeinde
Gnadental,” pages 233-238, fail to mention singers and instrumentalists.
In the same Heimatkalender of 1950, Ilse Meyer publishes two articles.
Ilse Meyer is the wife of Pastor Rudolf Meyer and the daughter-in-law
of Pastor Alfons Meyer, who was pastor in Sarata for 36 years—from
1882 to 1918. The two articles are “Weihnachten in Bessarabien”
(Christmas in Bessarabia), pages 40-43, and “Ostern”
(Easter), pages 48-49. On page 48 we find: “The choir embellished
the celebration; trumpets accompanied the congregational singing.”
Original photos from Bessarabia in the Heimatkalender 1951 show
brass instrumentalists ahead of the procession of Tarutino confirmants
of 1938, page 79 (picture taken by Artur Kräenbring), and on
a funeral procession in Sarata, page 84.
You may find this Heimatbuch in the local library. It portrays
an incomplete picture to outsiders, however. Even in this Heimatbuch
der Bessarabiendeutschen, a notice could have been included like
the article about Alt-Elft. In three lines on page 118 we find the
following text: “The cultural needs of the community were
taken care of. Besides the ladies club an educational club, a church
choir and a brass band exists.”
This compilation of existing dispersed sources completes the picture
of the musical history of the Germans from Bessarabia.
Brass band in Eigenheim
1928/29 led by Teacher Johannes Gäßler
Caption: Church choir
of Lichtental in 1893 under the leadership of Sexton Jakob
Brass band in Arzis
in 1917-22 (Picture Archive of the Hilfskomitee)
Brass band Albota
(Picture Archive of the Hilfkomitee)
brass band (Picture Archive of the Hilfskomitee)
trumpet band (Picture Archive of the Hilfskomitee)
Church Choir Picture archive of the Hilfskomitee
1 Mutschall is referring to the
primitive dwellings that the Germans had to construct when
first establishing the first mother colonies in Bessarabia.
2 This is a Russian lute.
3 The nature of these two previously mentioned instruments
is unknown to the translator.