World Premiere of "Lamento" by Siegfried Matthus
Two great Laments frame the 55-minute work entitled Lamento for Large Orchestra and Soprano Solo by Siegfried Matthus, the subtitle of which is "Musical Recollections" with middle sections captioned "Childhood," "War," "Cold," and "Catastrophe." The hauntingly autobiographical musical portrayal received its world premiere early in May, 2007 by the Munich Philharmonic under the direction of Christian Thielemann with the South Korean Hyun-Ju Park as soloist in a textless vocalise.
Although Lamento is a concert work, the composer's theatrical bent is evident throughout the high drama of this memorable composition. Matthus's own recollection of this segment of his life is vividly drawn in the essay that appeared in the program, reprinted here (in translation) with his permission.
A Survivor from East Prussia
Biographical Commentary on My Lamento
I had a paradisical childhood on an East Prussian farm until the autumn of 1944. Then the war crashed in around us. First it stopped short some 10 kilometers east of my hometown of Nemmersdorf. We — my three younger siblings, my 84-year-old, ill grandmother, my aunt, and my parents — fled on two overstuffed carts straight through East Prussia and found refuge in a tiny town near Elbing.
In the bitterly cold January days of 1945, the Soviet army advanced through East Prussia in the direction of Danzig. People still tried to extricate themselves from the turmoil in chaotic confusion. At home, my father had to reap the crops with the tractors, my mother, who was in her sixth month of pregnancy, divided up the children into the vehicles of acquaintances. As the oldest, I was supposed to maintain contact with my siblings, but soon lost orientation and touch. Later on, I again found my aunt with my grandmother and followed the wake of thousands of people trying desperately to escape the cauldron by crossing the Vistula in a ferry.
It took us three days and three nights to go some 30 kilometers. Streets were congested with the retreating military so that fledglings had to leave their vehicles in the fields and tried reaching the ferry with light luggage on foot. My aunt and I put my bed-ridden grandmother on a dislodged wagon door and pulled it through the snow. We would not have gotten very far, had we not succeeded in attaching our "door-sled" to a horse-drawn military transport for wounded soldiers, and thus gotten preference in reaching the ferry. Thus did my dying grandmother help me still to escape the human cauldron, the area soon thereafter being sealed off by the Soviet army.
In a camp in the harbor of Danzig, we waited for a ship that was to take us to Swinemünde. As the camp's inmates crowded onto the ship, they didn't let my dying grandmother and us board. I do not know if the ship ever reached its destination. We brought my grandmother to a hospital, where she passed away. Her ashes were buried in an old cemetery that was later flattened and on whose grounds today's Gdansk Opera House stands. After a nine-week trek, my aunt and I reached Brandenburg.
As I later learned, my mother and siblings got through already thinning ice as far as some towns (Frische Haff, Frische Nehrung), winding up in Pomerania [both now part of Poland], where they were captured by the Red Army. There my sister was born and immediately died of malnutrition while my mother barely survived a serious bout of typhus. My eight-year-old sister, in those weeks, had to take care of my little brothers and to nurse my mother until she could recover. Then my mother took the children, wandered to the next railroad station, boarded a freight train, and in this way crossed the rivers Oder and Elbe and arrived in Cologne. In the meanwhile, my father, who had been released by the military to tend the farm, fled on his bicycle — having left the broken down horse-drawn cart in the fields — managed to ride clear through East Prussia and, without knowing if my mother and we children were dead or alive, wound up in Bremen. In the summer of 1946 we were reunited in a tiny Brandenburg town.
When I think back today on these events, I believe that I must have had a guardian angel whom I saw one evening in my childhood imagination in a window of the house in which I was born. I have survived and can tell the tale. Many of my compatriots who couldn't make it out of East Prussia, who starved to death there, or who died in Siberian labor camps, or drowned in sinking ships in the Baltic Sea, can no longer bear witness.
Now I have tried to file my report in my language of music.
Examination material available upon request from Music Associates of America,