A New Biographical Sketch
by Geoffrey Dean
Part 1. Nordhausen and Neuhaldensleben
The fourth surviving son of Carl and Elisabeth Schroeder, Emil Alwin Schroeder (Alwin) was born on June 15, 1855, in the German town of Neuhaldensleben. He was descended on his father’s side from several generations of northern Thuringian farmers, his paternal great-grandfather settling in Nordhausen, just south of the Harz mountain region. His mother’s side of the family hailed from about sixty kilometers northeast, in the northern Harz foothills of the Saxony-Anhalt region.
Like Alwin’s parents, who had started their married life in his mother’s hometown, his paternal grandfather had settled in the part of Thuringia that his paternal grandmother was from. In about 1810 Andreas Christian Schroeder (born ca 1783) moved east from his native Nordhausen to an area south of Sondershausen. A barber and restauranteur, he ran businesses in the villages of Oberbosa and Holzengel, about 7 kilometers apart. One of his restaurants, the White Stead in Holzengel, was still in operation as of 2019. His wife, Johanna Henrietta Schroeder (nee Dittmann, 1787-1832) was born in the village of Bendeleben, about 30 kilometers northeast of Holzengel.
Their first child, Johann August Schroeder, was born in Holzengel on January 1, 1814. Alwin’s father, Johann Christoph Carl Schroeder (Carl I, 1816-1889), their second son, was born two years later in Oberbosa, as was their daughter Louise. They had at least four other children, all born in Holzengel, where both parents died in the 1830s. Alwin’s uncle Johann August remained in Holzengel, farming land that once totaled 20 hectares. Still in the possession of Schroeder descendants, the farmhouse stands at the northeast end of the village, across from the St. Trinitatis church. The farmhouse was remodeled in 1912 by Alwin’s cousin Berthold Schroeder. Another cousin, Johanna (Schroeder-Kunne, 1835-1914), married the village teacher and organist at St. Trinitatis, where a 15-register Julius Strobel organ was installed in 1844.
Holzengel photos (taken August 2019):
The White Stead (above), Schroeder
farmhouse facade and as seen from the
St. Trinitatis churchyard (middle),
St. Trinitatis tower and ceiling/organ
Alwin’s maternal grandmother, Christiana Friederike Vollmer (nee Ploehmann), was from Quedlinburg, famous today as one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Germany, with many centuries-old half-timber houses and narrow streets paved almost exclusively with cobblestones. As a master roofer, his maternal grandfather, Christian Heinrich Vollmer, played an important role in building and maintaining these traditional local dwellings. Their daughter Elisabeth Charlotte Vollmer, Alwin's mother, was born in 1823. Alwin’s parents were wed in Quedlinburg nineteen years later, and at least five older siblings were born there, including Alwin's three surviving older brothers Carl Hermann (Hermann) in 1843, Adolph Friedrich Heinrich Carl (referred to below as Carl II to differentiate him from his father) in 1848, and Franz Ferdinand (Franz) in 1850 or 1851.
Known in musical circles as Carl Schroeder, Alwin’s father (Carl I) was a town musician and merchant in Quedlinburg during this period. Of his early musical training, little is known. A German town musician, or stadtpfeifer, was expected to be proficient on a variety of instruments, both winds and strings, and musical skills were honed through apprenticeships. Carl I might have completed such an apprenticeship in Quedlinburg in the years preceding his marriage. It seems likely that he studied with someone with special affinity for piano and string instruments, since he is credited with teaching Alwin (and presumably Alwin’s older brothers) to play the piano, and he played the viola in the family string quartet before passing this role on to Alwin in 1866. Among wind instruments, the clarinet seems to have been Carl I’s specialty, as suggested by his documented public solo performances on this instrument. In the years following his death in 1889, Carl I was often confused with another, unrelated Carl Schroeder (1823-1850), a short-lived Berlin opera composer and associate of Robert Schumann who happened to have been born in the same year as Alwin’s mother.
Three views of Augustinern, the narrow Quedlinburg street where the Schroeder
family lived in 1849. Their street address was 7-8-9 Augustinern, roughly
corresponding to the location of the houses in the right image
Between Franz’s birth and early 1854, when a non-surviving brother was born, the family was resident in Bleicherode, a Thuringian town west of Nordhausen. On September 8, 1854, the Schroeders relocated to the town of Neuhaldensleben, where Carl I served as a local Music Director for the next decade. Then with betwenn 5,000 and 10,000 inhabitants, Neuhaldensleben is situated about 85 km north of Quedlinburg and 30 km northwest of Magdeburg. Now known as Haldensleben, it is the seat of the present-day Borde district of Saxony-Anhalt. Like many other German towns, Haldensleben has a centuries-old statue of Roland, but onIy in Haldensleben does the statue in the central market square depict a “riding Roland” atop a horse. Members of the Schroeder family would have passed this statue countless times, always living within two or three blocks of it. For the majority of their Haldensleben years, they resided on the same side of Magdeburgerstrasse as the Roland corner of the square.
The "riding Roland" statue in
Haldensleben market square,
with city hall behind and
Magdeburgerstrasse (not in the
photo) to the right
Carl I seems to have wasted no time in establishing a multifaceted musical presence in Haldensleben, where several local ensembles coexisted during this period in a sometimes acrimonious rivalry for engagements at regional festivals, dances, and other civic events. The earliest extant local announcements of a concert led by the elder Schroeder date from December 1854, with the concert itself taking place at Herr Schmidt’s hall on Christmas day. Also starting in the 1854-5 season, he organized an annual concert series, held at the hall of Herr Rabe. The series appears to have consisted of four subscription concerts per season, with miscellaneous programs comprised of popular overtures, opera potpourris and arias (possibly in instrumental versions, as no vocal soloists are listed), dances, and instrumental solos.
Other ticketed local performances with Schroeder family involvement included the benefit concerts for the poor on March 7, 1856, in which his two oldest sons participated, 13-year-old Hermann playing the piano and 7-year-old Carl II—making what was perhaps his earliest public appearance—performing on both the cello (in a Mozart piano trio) and glockenspiel. On the subscription concert of January 17, 1857, Carl I himself was one of the instrumental soloists: his performance of a set of variations for clarinet was the second number of the second half of the concert, while a set of violin variations performed by Hermann occupied the corresponding place on the first half of the program.
These images from the Jan. 3, 1856 and March 1, 1857 issues of the weekly Haldensleben newspaper were provided by the Haldensleben District and City Archive
There can be no doubt that Alwin was born “into an atmosphere intensely musical.” For the Schroeder children, musical studies must have been an integral part of family life. Aspiring towards the highest attainments in the German musical tradition, Carl I was likely the original source of his children’s life-long reverence for the music of Bach and Beethoven. Combining unpretentious modesty with a quest for systematic method backed by scientific and encyclopedic musical knowledge, Carl I must have been an exacting teacher whose model his older children would emulate and improve upon as they pursued their own careers as teachers and performers. They also witnessed their father at work as mentor to a series of musical apprentices, and from a certain point Hermann and Carl II no doubt assisted him in training them. This must have been a seminal experience, particularly for Hermann and Carl II, whose later contributions to the progress of musical education in Germany can be counted not only by the students they trained, but also by the exhaustive courses of study they created and the musical institutions they later founded in Berlin and Sondershausen.
Beyond his children's musical aptitude, Carl I’s status and reputation as a town music director no doubt helped in securing opportunities for study with important court musicians. Carl II’s prodigious progress on the cello was such that he was sent to study in Berlin (1859) and Dessau (1863). His teacher in Dessau was Carl Drechsler, a protege of Dotzauer and an important representative of what became known as the Dresden school of cello playing. Drechsler’s students also included Cossmann, Grutzmacher, and Lindler. Hermann’s early musical studies outside the Schroeder home were in Magdeburg with August Gottfried Ritter, a noted Thuringian-born musician. Of Franz’s musical education no information has come to light, but it can be supposed that it proceeded along similar lines. Alwin himself began his musical studies at the age of seven, in 1862 or early 1863, with lessons in violin and piano from his father and eldest brother Hermann.
Musical intrigues seem to have followed Carl I throughout their Haldensleben years. Local newspaper items by or about Alwin’s father from this period suggest that the leaders of rival ensembles were not above spreading rumors that another group would be disbanding or making its final exit from Haldensleben. Early in the Schroeders’ stay there, Carl I was accused of just this type of rumor-mongering by another music director, and later on he had occasion to dispel rumors of his own immanent departure. In the summer of 1858 an ensemble led by one Cellarius was late to a craftmens’ festival engagement, and Schroeder’s group stepped in to play for the dance, much to the ire of Cellarius loyalists. Barbs were exchanged, the Cellarius supporters declaring they would have “preferred to march to drum music rather than call on Mr. Schroeder,” and Schroeder followers describing praise for Cellarius as “an error” and underscoring that Schroeder’s “honest efforts” had earned “our deepest appreciation, which we offer him most sincerely! …He will always have the deserved respect of all cultured people.” Schroeder himself attested that he was still “comfortable and happy here” and not in fact leaving town, meanwhile filing an official complaint against Cellarius.
Following the birth of Alwin’s younger surviving siblings Charlotte Auguste Anna (Charlotte), born in 1857, and Georg Paul Walther (Walther) born in 1861, and at about the time of Alwin’s first violin and piano lessons, the elder Schroeder organized what he announced as his farewell concert, with a program featuring solos performed by Hermann (Hommage a Paganini by Vieuxtemps) and Carl II (Fantasy on Boiedieu's opera La dame blanche by Dotzauer). This time, having received indications that his musical services were still desired in Haldensleben, he retracted his own statements about his plans to relocate to Nordhausen with his Musikcorps. That summer (1862) he further demonstrated his intentions to stay by leasing a house just down Magdeburger Strasse from the Roland corner of the market square. He set it up as an inn, with a restaurant likely similar to the ones his family ran in Thuringia, while continuing his musical activities. In the fall of 1863 he had another statement published, this one refuting the claim that he was planning to dissolve his ensemble.
Contemplated from at least as early as the 1862 “faux-farewell” concert, the move to Thuringia was possibly further precipitated by the death in 1863 of Alwin’s maternal grandmother, who had lived with the Schroeders throughout their Haldensleben years. As Alwin’s ninth birthday approached in 1864, his father and the 18-member Schroeder ensemble prepared for what was described as a summer engagement at the Hubertus spa in the Harz town of Thale. The elder Schroeder addressed the resurfacing rumor “that I am leaving this town forever. I declare that this rumor, which comes from a spiteful source, is untrue…” His family remained in Haldensleben through the summer, but Carl I had already begun the process of moving his family to Nordhausen. When he definitively departed Haldensleben for Nordhausen on June 10, 1864, his “apprentices and followers” went with him, in what was likely both a testament to his skill and influence as leader and teacher and evidence of a mutiny against untenable local conditions.
In August the inn furnishings were sold, and in early September the Schroeders were reunited in Nordhausen. It is not clear how the family's time in Nordhausen played out during the 1864-5 season. “Emil Alwin Schroeder of Neuhaldensleben” is listed as a newly-enrolled student in the 6A and B classes at the Nordhausen Gymnasium in the school’s examination prospectus for the following year (1865-6). Meanwhile his brother Carl II had appeared as cello soloist with the court orchestra in nearby Sondershausen and was appointed to the position of second cellist in the orchestra in fall 1865. Alwin may have stayed with relatives in Nordhausen while the rest of the family relocated to Sondershausen, where his mother gave birth to her twelfth child, a son, on February 16, 1866, at the age of 43.
Notes for Part 1
The genealogical information on the Schroeder and Vollmer families is based on birth, death, and marriage records accessed at ancestry.com. Matthias Kunne, a direct descendent of Johanna Schroeder-Kunne and a dedicated family historian, has my thanks for so generously sharing his research into the extended Schroeder family tree, and for guiding me on my 2019 visits to Sondershausen and Holzengel.
I gleaned some details relating to the Schroeders' Quedlinburg years from an 1849 town directory. In this source, the profession of about 35 of Quedlinburg's 13,500 residents is listed as "musician," while that of about 100 others, including the elder Carl Schroeder, is "merchant."
The Haldensleben City and Regional Archive graciously researched the Schroeder family's years there and provided source material in the form of over sixty clippings from the local newspaper that help trace Carl I's concerts, professional relationships with others musicians and citizens, and plans to stay or leave. The majority of the quoted passages, including those in Carl I's own words, come from these clippings.
The few details on Alwin himself from this period are based on the 1880s biographies in the Leipzig Muzikalisches Wochenblatt and Wasielewksi's The Violoncello and its History, and one published in several US newspapers in the late 1890s ("an atmosphere intensely musical"). The confusion between Alwin's father (Carl I) and the opera-composing Carl Schroeder, deepened by the fact that Alwin’s brother Carl II did compose several operas, was perpetuated in the US through the 1907 Boston Globe biography of Alwin and the ones published in Boston Symphony Orchestra programs during the first quarter of the twentieth century.
Additional details on the family, particularly those pertaining to his brother Carl II's progress as a cellist, are based on the biography of Carl II that was published in Sondershausen, 1999; special thanks to the University of Jena for helping me obtain a copy.