search
Inna Rogatchi
War & Humanity Special Project

Melodies of Memory: Felix Klein and His Quartet’s Unique Mission

Inna Rogatchi (C). Memory Melodies. 2023.

Part I of II.

A Violin on a Piano

The first thing which grabbed my attention when entering a festive hall of the Residency of the German Ambassador in Vienna last Spring 2023, was a violin on a grand-piano. There was something special in this instrument, the sensation which one feels but not necessarily is able to formulate.

Inna Rogatchi (C). The Legacy of a Sound. 2023.

I was told the story of this violin a half of a year later in Berlin while speaking with its owner, and it has been astonishing. I realised then that the special affinity that I felt with that beautiful instrument was not without a reason the first time I saw it. But meanwhile, the concert was about to start in Vienna, and the music which the lucky invited audience was listening, was not a regular chamber music. Every piece played at the concert had its own destiny, not to speak about the composers who created that music. Jewish composers, all of them, deliberately so.  

Zemlinsky, Schulhoff and Kreisler were played by the Diplomatic String Quartet Berlin at the special concert in Vienna in April 2023 for the participants of the European Conference on Anti-Semitism. If only we knew what would expect all of us, the participants of that regular important working high-level European and American gathering, in just six months, on the mainstream of our all’ activities. But back then, everyone was so very happy during the concert in Vienna. The music performed by the Quartet was a gift for us all, and it was perceived like that, gratefully and with a deep appreciation. We all understood and actually felt the connection. 

Alexander Zemlinsky, Viennese Jewish talent, student and brother-in-law of Shoenberg, ardent follower of Mahler, my great-great-uncle, had to flew Berlin where he led Kroll Opera House in early 1930s, the same as my great-uncle and his wife, Mahler’s niece Eleanore Rose, violinist herself, had to do at the same time, only to be in urgent need to run for his life again in 1938, following the Anschluss. Zemlinsky and his wife’s efforts to leave their native country was a drama filled with an accelerated  despair and fear, as for countless others. The same as Marc Chagall’s wife Bella, and due to the same reason, that deeply enrooted traumatic syndrome, Zemlinsky, the one of the stars of music of the XX century, fell very ill in the completely alien for him ( as for the Chagall family) US, to the degree that when he, as Bella did, contracted pneumonia, in the case of Zemlinsky after series of strokes, his weakened body housing the shattered soul, could not overcome it. As in the case of Bella Chagall. Alexander Zemlinsky died in New York two years before Bella, for the same reason. And pneumonia was only a physical part of it.

Inna Rogatchi (C). Music in Exile collage. 2023.

Fritz Kreisler , a world-famous player and composer genius from Vienna, whose father was a doctor of Freud and other creme a la creme of the treasury of European culture,  had the same dramatic route of his life, having running from Berlin to the States in 1939, never returning back, and spending the last third of his life far from his homeland which in the case of European cultural heritage, was a tremendous, ever-painful and never compensated loss for all those brilliant, talented, punished without punishment outstanding expats who had to run for their lives from the Nazi-terrorised Europe. 

Erwin Schulhoff’s life was abruptly and violently ended when he was just 48. It had happened in the Wurzburg internment camp in Bavaria where a poor great musician, the one of the fathers of jazz as we know it, was sent after his arrest in Czechoslovakia where he also ran from Berlin just after the Nazi took power there in the early 1930s. He was studying under Debussy? Dvorak personally praised him? He won the Mendelssohn Prize twice? Who cared about yet another Jew who was declared as one of ‘the degenerate musicians’ by the Goebbels gang early on? 

Unlike Zemlinsky and Kreisler, Schulhoff’s music was almost forgotten, due to his tragic destiny, for practically a half of a century. His slow return from oblivion has started from the 1990s, and it was very heart- and mind-warming that The Diplomatic Quartet Berlin included Schulhoff’s piece in their special concert in Vienna, I thought.  I was right: every time the Quartet’s founder Dr Felix Klein speaks about Erwin Schulhoff, his face is enlightened from within with that special smile of tangible enthusiasm. I just cannot tell enough, in writings, using such imperfect instrument as words, how much I am grateful to Felix and his colleagues from the Quartet who are retrieving the music of the Jewish composers from the period between 1890 and 1940 , sometimes from a complete oblivion, and bring it back to us today. This is  a special mitzvah, and it is done with no fuss whatsoever. As it usually happens when people implement mitzvah in an organic way for them.  

The Violin’s Travels

Coming back to the violin that has caught my eye before the memorable concert of Jewish composers in Vienna, six months later I asked Dr Klein, the Diplomatic Quartet Berlin’s founder, about his instrument. I understood that it is an instrument with a history, but I had no clue how far back that history runs. My friend and colleague Felix spoke about his violin with warmth. He had all the reasons for that. As it transpired, he had inherited his French-made XVIII century violin from his father, Hans Dietrich Klein who was a devoted superb amateur violinist. Hans Dietrich had made an uneasy choice of not becoming a professional musician due to the circumstances of the family which came to Germany from Transylvania and which has quite a remarkable history of its own. I wrote about Felix Klein’s father and grandfather in one of my essays. 

What’s more, Felix  who started to play violin from the age of six, was very lucky to come to study with the same fantastic teacher who was the teacher of his father. Rarely, such unique cases are still happening even in our time. Elisabeth Dieffenbach was not only outstanding violin teacher in Darmstadt, but also a leader of quite well-known in the city with a very rich musical heritage female string quartet. Miss Dieffenbach, who was Felix’s principal teacher when she was 72 and he was 10 years old, left in her testament her main treasure, her violin, to Felix’s father who , in turn, has left that extremely special for the Klein family instrument to his son. 

That heritage line would be enough for a special story for the violin in question. But then, Felix, in his soft under-stated way, mentioned almost off-hand: “My teacher has told me that Joseph Joachim  had  and played the violin before”.  I was  – and still am – in a total awe. 

Joseph Joachim. Vintage Postcard. Internt Archive. Free Image.

My friend Felix is playing on the instrument which was in hands of the one of the greatest violinist ever lived, a Jewish prodigy from Hungary, who starting performing publicly at seven, made his international debut in London at the age of thirteen, playing the Beethoven’s Concerto for Violin with Felix Mendelssohn conducting himself. I saw closely, examined in detail visually,  photographed and could actually lightly stroke ( I did not) the instrument on which  played the great Joseph Joachim, a protege and close student of Mendelssohn, a life-long friend of Brahms ( whom my great-aunt remembered well herself, and I do have her personal recollection of ) and both Clara and Robert Schumanns.  Joseph Joachim was the first musician in history who was with great difficulties to be persuaded  to make the first musical  record ever. The year was 1903. Four of his recordings still exist, fortunately. This is a big-sized stone in the foundation of world culture. 

Joseph Joachim who was the founder of  the best in Europe Joachim String Quartet , and my great-great-uncle Arnold Rose  who was officially known as ‘The First Violin of Vienna” for a half of a century, would found his famous Rose Quartet  just thirteen years after Joachim. The Joachim Quartet was performing for 38 years, until the death of its great founder. The Rose Quartet was performing for 55 years, until its famous founder had to run for his life from Vienna  to London after the Anschluss. And now I am learning that Felix Klein who is a founder of the Diplomatic String Quartet Berlin which focuses on the music of the Jewish composers in between 1890 and 1940, is playing on the instrument on which Joseph Joachim himself has played 120 and more years before. 

We also know, as Felix told me, that maestro Joachim did prefer that very instrument, the other one of two of his French-made violins among his dizzy collection of the instruments, some of them a stars of all times, made by Stradivarius, Guarneri, Rugieri, and Guadagnini, when playing in England where he was extremely popular and where he gave many concerts during many years. According to my research, this violin most likely was made by famous French luthier Charles Jean-Baptiste Collin-Mezine

I do believe in human and spiritual energy, its preservation and transmission. I felt and experienced it many times, including Auschwitz, Mauthausen, and Paneriai, streets of Toledo and Jewish Quarters of Rome and Bologna,  Prague and Casablanca, Venice and Krakow,  and in many other places where it still exists. It goes nowhere, it only accumulates. And in this sense,  musical  instruments, especially ones such as a violin which is in immediate contact with  several parts of a musician’s body, are incredibly important and is very tangible part of human heritage in generations.  

I have had this special affinity to historic musical instruments for many years. It always tells me some core parts of our history in the most authentic and beautiful way. I simply love it. And Felix Klein’s violin which was the violin of his father, his teacher and one of the instruments of Joseph Joachim sings its incredible story in its delicate and beautiful voice for over two and a quarter of  centuries by now. 

Memory Melodies

Like his father, Felix Klein had to make an uneasy choice between becoming a professional musician and the career of a lawyer and diplomat. He also continued his violin learning when in London. The second choice prevailed, and I had written about it in detail previously. As his father, Felix played in different orchestras and ensembles all his life, non-stop, often being the only non-professional musicians in many of them. As his teacher, he inclines toward chamber music calling it ‘more individual and and being closer to him’. In this respect, we are the members of the same club, as well as in many other of our choices and deeds. 

In a convincing stroke of uniqueness of our all and each’ destiny, Felix’s profession and occupation eventually led him to his current rarely harmonious combination of his profession and his other part which is just wrong to call a hobby. It is the core of his  and his colleagues’ life, their music. 

The Quartet was founded in 2016 and its first concert was part of the International Days of Jewish Music in Mecklenburg. The Quartet’s first violinist  is still the same founding member, well-known German violinist Matthias Hummel.  The other two members have been changed, and currently there are Waltraut Elvers who plays viola and Gabriella Struempel, playing cello. Gabriella is the daughter of a Holocaust survivor from Hungary, who was raised in a Catholic family under a false identity. I have spoken with her about her family’s experience. The three members of the Quartet are professional, well-known and highly demanded musicians in Germany and Belgium. 

The Diplomatic String Quartet Berlin, August 2023. From the left: Felix Klein, Waltraut Elvers, Gabriella Struempel, Matthias Hummel. (C) The Quartet Archive. With a kind permission.

End of Part I.

About the Author
Inna Rogatchi is author of War & Humanity special project originated in the aftermath of the October 7th, 2023 massacre in Israel. Inna is internationally acclaimed public figure, writer, scholar, artist, art curator and film-maker, the author of widely prized film on Simon Wiesenthal: The Lessons of Survival and other important documentaries on modern history. She is an expert on public diplomacy and was a long-term international affairs adviser for the Members of the European Parliament. She lectures on the topics of international politics and public diplomacy widely. Her professional trade-mark is inter-weave of history, arts, culture and mentality. She is the author of the concept of the Outreach to Humanity cultural and educational projects conducted internationally by The Rogatchi Foundation of which Inna is the co-founder and President. She is also the author of Culture for Humanity concept of The Rogatchi Foundation global initiative that aims to provide psychological comfort to wide audiences by the means of high-class arts and culture in challenging times. Inna is the wife of the world renowned artist Michael Rogatchi. Her family is related to the famous Rose-Mahler musical dynasty. Together with her husband, Inna is a founding member of Music, Art and Memory international cultural educational and commemorative initiative with a multiply projects in several countries. Her professional interests are focused on Jewish heritage, arts and culture, history, Holocaust and post-Holocaust. She is author of several projects on artistic and intellectual studies on various aspect of the Torah and Jewish spiritual heritage. She is twice laureate of the Italian Il Volo di Pegaso Italian National Art, Literature and Music Award, the Patmos Solidarity Award, and the New York Jewish Children's Museum Award for Outstanding Contribution into the Arts and Culture (together with her husband). Inna Rogatchi was the member of the Board of the Finnish National Holocaust Remembrance Association and is member of the International Advisory Board of The Rumbula Memorial Project ( USA). Her art can be seen at Silver Strings: Inna Rogatchi Art site - www.innarogatchiart.com
Related Topics
Related Posts