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It’s not just Mozart—Michael Rosenzweig conducts Fifth Quadrant in his Elegy and Fugue and Barber’s famous Adagio for strings, and soloist Pavel Minev with the Bulgarian National Radio Symphony Orchestra in Mozart’s Violin Concerto No 3.
This work by Michael Rosenzweig is a catharsis and closure on a dysfunctional upbringing in an emotional maelstrom. It addresses the confusion of death and loss in flawed relationships.
As the composer was starting to write the piece in September 1981—to commission and against a deadline, he got a letter from his father, with whom he had had no contact for four years. In fact, he had had no contact with his family over that period and longer. His mother’s father had been the guide and translator for the first missionary from Europe in what is now Namibia, and her mother had run away from Manchester at age 15 to become a Moulin Rouge dancer, then drifted to the gold rush in South Africa rather than California. Michael’s parents met at age 13 at the Waldorff Cafe in Cape Town where his father played the piano—having completed schooling at age 13, and his mother worked as a waitress. His parents were a complete mismatch in Michael’s eyes, but somehow stayed together.
The letter asked Michael to make contact with Andre Barnard, the son of Chris Barnard—of the world’s first heart transplant. Andre and Michael had gone to school together from the age of 5 until 17. Chris, Michael’s uncle, and his brother’s mother-in-law had all grown up in the same village of 200 people, and gone to school and medical school together. They had all become internationally eminent in their medical specialties. Michael’s first girlfriend, who was a medical student, had a brother who was married to Marius Barnard’s daughter. Marius was Chris’s younger brother, also a cardiologist.
Neither Chris nor Michael’s father were model fathers to their own sons; however (and as a consequence of his own home experience) Andre became Michael’s father’s surrogate son after Michael left home when conscripted at the age of 17.
What Michael saw, and was involved in, after being conscripted, affected him very deeply, scarring him for life. His response to his experiences was to become highly active politically. He just avoided being killed by security forces due to the swift action of the girl with him when he was arrested, and a detonator planted on him. The Bureau of State Security (B.O.S.S.) needed a high profile death, but when Michael was arrested the person he was with alerted her parents and an advocate who had defended rioters the year before was brought in. He invoked a little-known law that stated a prisoner could not be moved in the jail—the notorious Caledon Square—without the presence of counsel. And so Michael did not slip and fall, or fall out of a window. And he resisted implicating others against torture. Shortly later B.O.S.S. killed Neil Aggett, a young doctor and trade unionist.
Michael’s father achieved international eminence in his medical specialty, but whenever the papers reported on his work, he refused to allow them to use his name. Instead they had to refer to him as 'a surgeon at Groote Schuur'. Andre was the perfect surrogate—the son that Michael could not be for his father, and Michael’s father stepped in where Andre’s own father had failed—unlike Chris, shunning the limelight offered him. Andre went on to medical school, training further to become a specialist.
Michael had been introduced to medicine from an early age. At the age of 12 he was scrubbed up, gowned and taken into an operating theatre by his father, who also made him watch slides and listen to the lectures on the new operations he developed. In those days, whenever a new surgical technique was used for the first time, there were always witnesses, including press and members of the public. Michael made up his mind quite early on that this was not the life for him. Not because he could not cope with the work, but because he saw his father angry, stressed, and overtired all the time, on call every night, fixing up broken bodies from road accidents.
The letter received from his father in 1981 was read by a friend of Michael’s: he held up the letter to his nose, and said, 'Your father sees his death like this'. However, Michael did not contact Andre as his father had pleaded with him to do. On 16 December 1981 Michael wrote the last note of the piece, which did not yet have a name, and went to sleep. An hour later the phone rang and woke Michael up. He heard the high-pitched voice of his uncle Norman Fig (his father had also been called Norman). He told Michael that his brother had something to tell him. He put his brother on the line, and was told by his brother that his father had died an hour previously. Over the next six weeks, in total six people died: four family members and two close friends of his father’s. And Andre committed suicide.
Violin Concerto No 3 in G major K216
Mozart wrote this violin concerto in Salzburg in 1775 (completed on September 12th). It is composed in a gallant style, in which Mozart delights with inexhaustible melodic invention and depth of expression.In the musician’s correspondence, the work was called 'Concerto de Strasbourg' because of the popular melody Strasbourg in the finale, a kind of French medley.
The third concerto surpasses the violin concertos previously created by Mozart in terms of the significance of the musical content and breadth of forms. This is quite an established example of a solo instrumental concerto style: the orchestral accompaniment part has been carefully developed in this concerto. The score is based on the principle of dialogue between the orchestra and the soloist. Mozart’s Violin Concerto No 3 (along with Concertos Nos 4 and 5) is included in the 'Golden Fund' of world musical literature.
I was living in the Borough of Barnet in the 1990s. They have a yearly festival, and in 1996 it commemorated the 525th anniversary of the Battle of Barnet, a vicious but decisive, and largely undocumented battle in the War of the Roses. I was commissioned to write a short commemorative piece for my string orchestra, London Strings, which played in the festival that year.
A statue was commissioned as well. I got to know the sculptor, and visited him often in his studio. His work reminded me of the ancient sculpture group Laocoön and His Sons, as well as the late unfinished Michelangelo works, works which had comforted me in my preteen years.
This reawakened my memories as a 17-year-old conscript, and political prisoner two years later. I drew on this anguish to compose a call against arms.
Michael Rosenzweig © 2023