About violinists, violins, and the violence that occurs between the two.
Sunday, July 3, 2011
Alma Roseˊ (Alma Maria Rose´) was an Austrian violinist and conductor born (in Vienna) on November 3, 1906 (Heifetz was 5 years old and would live an additional 81.) She is remembered for having (for ten months) conducted the world’s, and possibly history’s, most notorious orchestra – the all-female orchestra which played for inmates at the Auschwitz-Birkenau prisoners’ camp (in Poland, also known as Auschwitz II – there were three Auschwitz camps, Birkenau being the largest) during the final days of World War Two. It is important to point out at this juncture that Alma Rose´ was Jewish, although both parents were converts and were well-assimilated into Viennese Christian society, as she was. Her father was long-time Vienna Philharmonic concertmaster Arnold Rose´ (one and the same who turned Fritz Kreisler down after Kreisler’s audition to join the orchestra. He was highly respected and esteemed all over Europe.) Her uncle was composer-conductor Gustav Mahler, on her mother’s side. She may even have been named after Mahler’s wife, Alma Mahler. She was also at one time married (1930-1935) to brilliant Czech violinist Vasa Prihoda (1900-1960.) Books have been written (by Fania Fenelon and Richard Newman) and films produced about her (one of them using an Arthur Miller script) which go into great detail concerning her activities during her tenure at Auschwitz-Birkenau, if one can call it that. It is generally agreed that her talent was modest but that she had great ambition. She studied at the Vienna Conservatory and at the Vienna State Academy. Her debut came in 1926, playing the Bach double concerto alongside her father – that in itself is indicative of her abilities. (They recorded the concerto two years later and – amazingly - an audio version is available on YouTube, here. If you choose to listen to it, be prepared to hear a bombastic cadenza, some odd-sounding glissandi, and a style of playing which is very much from a long, long time ago. Don’t say I did not warn you.) She never became a full-fledged solo artist or an acclaimed concert violinist. However, in 1932, she formed an all-female orchestra called The Vienna Waltzing Girls (or The Waltzing Girls of Vienna) and enjoyed great success with the highly-accomplished ensemble, which toured all over Europe. It was a wonderful life – while it lasted. The orchestra quickly disbanded after the German annexation of Austria in March of 1938. Shortly thereafter, a few months before the outbreak of World War Two (September of 1939), with the help of several friends, including Bruno Walter, Carl Flesch, and Adrian Boult, she and her father managed to make their way to London. Since Arnold Rose’s pension had been terminated by the Nazis, they experienced acute financial difficulties. In England, they played where they could. At this point, Arnold Rose´ was 76 years old. Alma returned to Holland to play and earn money for expenses back in London. She considered it safe to do so and she had many engagements. However, after the German invasion of the Netherlands in May of 1940, she could no longer perform openly and went into hiding for many months, eventually making her way to France, from where she hoped to get away to safety. In late 1942, she tried to transfer herself to (neutral) Switzerland but was betrayed to the Gestapo and captured before she could do so. She was then interned at Drancy (near Paris.) A few months later, in July 1943, she was sent from Drancy to Auschwitz. When she arrived, she was not immediately recognized. She was placed in a block from which inmates were taken for medical research purposes - experiments. In the nick of time, someone identified her and she was then engaged as a musician for a rag tag orchestra which then already existed at the camp. Among them were at least three professional musicians. The camp commander was a serious music lover. Eventually, Rose´ took over the duties of a full-fledged conductor and arranger and built it up to include 45 members, much larger than a typical chamber orchestra. She would also occasionally play violin solos with the orchestra. It is generally agreed that she treated the players quite harshly. On or about April 2, 1944, Rose´ attended a birthday party for one of the camp’s block leaders where, it has been said, she ate some bad meat. As soon as she arrived back at her private quarters, she exhibited symptoms of food poisoning. She was taken to the camp infirmary and, despite treatment, died two days later – April 4, 1944. She was 37 years old. During her tenure, none of the orchestra members died – whether from natural or other causes. Her 1757 Guadagnini violin – which she had entrusted to some friends in Europe – made its way to London in 1945 or 1946 and was soon sold to Felix Eyle, concertmaster of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra at the time. A usually reliable source has it that Zakhar Bron (Russian violin pedagogue) now owns it.