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  • Writer's pictureGeoffrey Dean

Faux-Farewells: Schroeder Travel Log, Part 1

Two years ago to the day, I went on a weekend road-trip with my good friend from our IU-Bloomington days, Berlin-based composer Petros Ovsepyan, to several Alwin-Schroeder-associated spots in the Harz and Thuringia regions of Germany. Our first stop was originally the astonishingly well-preserved Medieval town of Quedlinburg, the birthplace of Schroeder’s mother and older brothers, but the road signs to Haldensleben persuaded us to exit earlier, toward Alwin’s own birth-town.

A major landmark in Haldensleben is the statue of Roland atop a horse, in front of the town hall in the central market square. During their time there (1854-1863), the Schroeder family never lived more than three blocks away from this square, and the ready-to-ride Roland—a depiction unique to Haldensleben, among the many German towns where stone Rolands stand guard—correlates well with the traditionally itinerate town musician. Schroeder’s father Carl, a capable performer on both string and wind instruments with a preference for viola and clarinet, seems to have been adept at walking the fine line between serving his local patrons and asserting his freedom to either stay in Haldensleben or to pack everything up and move on.

Local newspaper items by or about Alwin's father from this period (kindly provided by the Haldensleben Municipal Archive) tell the story of rival bands, each with its own following, vying for engagements and not above spreading rumors that another band would be breaking up or making its final exit from Haldensleben. Early in the Schroeders’ stay there, the elder Schroeder was accused of just this type of rumor-mongering by another music director, and later on Schroeder had occasion to dispel rumors of his own immanent departure. In the summer of 1858 a band led by one Cellarius was late to a craftmens’ festival gig, and Schroeder’s band 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. Schröder,” and Schroeder’s followers describing praise for Cellarius as an “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, and filed an official complaint against Cellarius.

A few years later, 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 (see image above) featuring solos by his two oldest sons, Hermann and Carl. This time, having received indications that his musical services were still desired in Haldensleben, he retracted his own statements about his plans to relocate 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 several northern Thuringian towns, while continuing his musical activities. In the fall of 1863 he wrote again, this time to refute the claim that he was planning to dissolve his orchestra.

A move to Thuringia seems to have been in the works from at least as far back as the 1862 “faux-farewell” concert. As Alwin’s ninth birthday approached in 1864, his father and the 18-member Schroeder band prepared for what was described as a summer engagement at the Hubertus spa in the Harz town of Thale. The elder Schroeder addressed the 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, according to the town archives, Schroeder led his followers and apprentices to Nordhausen (the birthplace of Alwin’s paternal grandparents) on June 10th. In August the inn furnishings were sold, and in early September the Schroeders reunited in Nordhausen. There “Emil Alwin Schroeder aus Neuhaldensleben” attended the real Schule, while his cellist brother Carl began forging fruitful connections with the court orchestra in nearby Sondershausen.

The Schroeder “ready-to-ride” mobility would take both Alwin and Carl to new residencies in Ballenstedt, Berlin and Leipzig before Alwin’s longest ride led him to a 37-year run in the United States. There Alwin would also inadvertently stage a “faux-farewell,” leaving the US in 1907 for a new post in Germany, only to return permanently to Boston the following year. A decade earlier, the loyalty of his own following had been measured by the reaction to announcements that Alwin was considering whether to accept a prestigious appointment as solo cellist of the Royal Opera in Berlin. As the Boston papers liked to phrase it, Alwin “must have been gratified” by the relief expressed when he ultimately turned that offer down. Had he taken a page from papa’s playbook?

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