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Marc NEIKRUG (b. 1946)
Through Roses (Music-drama for an actor and eight solo instruments) (1979-80)
Will Quadflieg (speaker); Pinchas Zukerman (violin); Michel Rouilly (viola – alto); Wolfgang Bogner (cello); Gunter Rumpel (flute); Eduard Brunner (clarinet); Anne Leek (oboe); Pierre Beboux (percussion); Marc Neikrug (piano)/Christoph Eschenbach
rec. Zurich; Radio DRS; Studio 1; June 1985
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 4159832 [43:40]
Experience Classicsonline


A man is on a bench on a station platform, slowly waking from a nightmare. He is agitated: “Time. What time is it?” He looks for a clock, becoming aware of the music in his head which disturbs him continuously: “Silence. Silence. Silence!”  Gradually the music stops: “It stopped. Good. That’s called mental discipline. Missed the train! Missed the train! Yet again!” So begins Marc Neikrug’s heartbreaking odyssey Through Roses.
 
There are moments of revelation in works of art that have affected me profoundly and will stay with me forever: Dali’s Christ of St. John on the Cross, Rembrandt’s St. Paul in Prison, the death scene of Abraham Lincoln’s son in Gore Vidal’s Lincoln, Somerset Maugham’s The Moon and Sixpence, John Updike’s poem A Dog's Death, Robert Frost’s Never Again Would Birds’ Song Be The Same, the choir of angels in Mahler’s Symphony 2, the final act of Puccini’s La Boheme,  Sir William Walton’s A litany … Drop, drop slow tears or Olivier’s portrayal of Hamlet just to name a few. Through Roses is such a work…
 
A man, a Holocaust survivor and once destined to have been a great violinist, is possessed by the memory of his experiences at Auschwitz. As fate would have it, it was his ability to play the violin that kept him alive in the death camp. His role was to play music mornings and evenings for the work details leaving and arriving back to camp or to give “concerts” for the benefit of the camp’s commandants and their families. Sometimes, they’d have to play waltzes, faster and faster, as old men were forced to dance until they collapsed and sometimes, they’d have to play, as prisoners – women and children alike - were led to their deaths in the gas chambers.
 
The commandant lived just beyond the perimeter of the camp in a nice house with his wife and two children. This house happened to have a perfectly manicured lawn with a beautiful garden, maintained by his wife, featuring lovely red roses. This house was so close to the crematoriums that the shadows of the smokestacks fell on the lawn on particularly sunny days. There was a path between this house and the fence of the camp that led directly from inside the camp to the crematorium where the bodies were carried all day, every day. This is the backdrop of the nightmare that is Through Roses.
 
The musical style is that of “Sprechgesang” invented by Arnold Schoenberg in 1912 with his Pierrot Lunaire. Interestingly, the work most reminiscent is Schoenberg’s own “A Survivor from Warsaw” of 1947. The violinist, clutching his violin at all times, here so torturously and movingly portrayed by the late German actor Will Quadflieg (1914-2003), recounts his experiences in painful flashbacks that still torment him forty years later.
 
The score, for eight solo instruments, quotes fragments of military marches and popular songs, the slow movement of Haydn’s Emperor Quartet – which happens to be the melody of “Deutschland, Deutschland uber alles”, Beethoven, Paganini, Wagner, Berg, Mozart, Schubert and Bach. The Bach, for example, which serves to represent a particularly painful moment the protagonist recalls, is played in an imprecise manner representing the distortion of the incident in the man’s memory.
 
The music alternates between the lovely tunes he was forced to play as a prisoner as he remembers and the angular, atonal music representing his present nightmarish existence. Zukerman’s playing throughout is especially notable.  The original music composed by Neikrug is so effective and the interpolation and overlapping so successfully realized that you are there with him in his mental prison that has taken the place of the camp. Quadflieg masterfully and touchingly communicates the guilt, horror and poignant resignation of his character living in his solitary hell. 
 
The text was written by Neikrug himself and there are episodes here of great poignancy and poetry – the man trying to scratch off the number tattooed on his forearm, the man remembering the great promise he held of a virtuoso career before the war, recalling a lost love, lamenting his sleeplessness and his inability to remember his dreams, the trains and the dogs of the camp, the smell of the prisoners, the whining, the screaming, the unthinkable inhumanity of the guards, the savage treatment of the children.
 
And, finally, in perhaps one of the most heartbreakingly sorrowful moments in any piece of music that I know of, the violinist is haunted by the memory of one particular woman with beautiful, long hair that he saw in the camp from time to time. One day, as he’s playing, he sees her for the last time:

“What a lovely setting to play in. The commandant’s wife is so creative. She has made a floral paradise behind the house. Square lawns with rows of flowers along the edges, yellow, blue … And even a hedge of red roses. Red roses … lovely. Then through the roses, I see her. Did I? But no, no, no, it couldn’t have been, because of course there was no hair. And her hair was so full, so dark and thick. No, no, no, no, it wasn’t her! In any case I see a woman being carried by. On the pathway to the crematorium. What strange colors people can acquire. Blueish, grey. As the stretcher passes by she hears the music. She hears my violin! Still alive she looks up at me! She looks at me! And always at this point I’m amazed at how motionless I stood, and emotionless I watched. As they beat her. She died with a familiar smile … so strangely familiar. And the dogs barked. And I played on … I played on. No memory. Numb. Numb! Nothing was. Nothing ever will be. Nothing can ever be ... Oh Diotima! I shall find you there at last, you Gods of Death! There, Diotima, I will sing of you. But only tears. And in the night through which I wander, your clear eyes seem to fade away, heavenly spirit.”

Perhaps in the future, we may pass someone on the street, maybe haggard, maybe tormented, maybe with desperation or tragedy in their eyes – maybe we’ll stop and consider what may have led them to this sad height before we judge too harshly.
 
The work is performed in German - the booklet has notes and the full text in German with an English, French and Italian translation. Unfortunately this CD is out of print but is well worth the attempt to track it down. There was a film released of Through Roses in 1997 in a German production starring Maximilian Schell and directed by Jurgen Flimm which may be hard to find but was available on DVD.
 
A word about the composer: Marc Neikrug was born in New York on 24 September 1946, the son of the well-known and highly respected cellist George Neikrug; his mother was also a cellist. In 1964 he entered Detmold University in Germany and in 1971 received a Masters of Music from the State University on New York at Stony Brook. He studied with Gunther Schuller at Tanglewood and with Rudolf Serkin in Marlboro. His duo partner as a pianist has been the violinist Pinchas Zukerman for many years and they have toured and recorded together extensively. Another popular and acclaimed work of Neikrug’s is an opera “Los Alamos”, an anti-nuclear piece which was the first American work commissioned and premiered by the Deutsche Oper Berlin. Maestro Neikrug is currently the Artistic Director of the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival.
 
The current lack of an available recording of this unequivocal masterpiece is inexplicable. It remains one of the most moving pieces that I’ve ever experienced and one of my most cherished discs. This particular performance should be re-released and a new recording is long overdue.
 
Osvaldo Polatkan

Note
Here are several additional works related to the subject of the Holocaust that I have found to be substantial and worth investigating: 
“ A Survivor from Warsaw” by Arnold Schoenberg
“ Letter to Warsaw” by Thomas Pasatieri
“ Requiem of Reconciliation” by various composers
“ Symphony #3 – The Symphony of Sorrowful Songs” by Henryk Gorecki
“ The Song of Terezin” by Franz Waxman
“ Hebrew Requiem” by Eric Zeisl
“ Symphony #13, Babi Yar” by Dmitri Shostakovich
“ The Diary of Anne Frank” by Grigori Fried
“ A Little Miracle” by David Stock
“ Yellow Stars” by Isaac Schwartz
“ Mechaye Hametim” by Noam Sheriff
“ Di Naye Hagode” by Max Helfman
“ Quartet for the End of Time” by Olivier Messiaen
“ Deutsche Sinfonie” by Hanns Eisler
“ String Quartet #3, In Memoriam Holocaust” by Ruth Schonthal
“ Nenia Judaeis Qui Hac Aetate Perierunt” (In Memory of the Jews Who Perished in the Holocaust)” by Erich Itor Kahn
“ Voices from the Shadow” by Gershon Kingsley
“ The Holocaust Remembered” by Morris Bernstein & R.J. Miller
“ Elegy for Anne Frank” by Lukas Foss
“ Holocaust Requiem – Kaddish for Terezin” by Ronald Senator



 


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