Work Description

Herzliche Grüße Bruno – Briefe aus Stalingrad(Best regards Bruno – Letters from Stalingrad) is an electro-acoustic work conceived from the last letters written by my young uncle before being listed as missing in action in Stalingrad in late December 1942. Although there will forever be tragically unanswered questions as to Bruno’s exact fate, there is much we do know from the time he was sent to Stalingrad in August 1942. First there are biographical details of his service information provided by the Deutsche Dienststelle[1]and the Deutsches Rotes Kreuz (German Red Cross).

Following family inquiries concernig Bruno's fate, the Deutsche Dienststellereplied: "Our records indicate that your uncle Bruno Gawlick, born on 08.01.1923 in Argeloten, Schlossberg district, as member of the 8th Company Panzer Grenadier Regiment, went missing since 12.30.1942 near Stalingrad. He was carrier of the identification tag: 136-2./S. E. B. (mot) 413 (= 2. Company Rifle-Replacement Battalion (motorized) 413).[2]Investigations by the German Red Cross revealed the following: "The result of all inquiries led to the conclusion that Bruno G a w l i c k was almost certainly killed in the cauldron of Stalingrad or soon after being captured."[3]

Bruno and his family lived near Tilsit in East Prussia before and well into WWII. He was enlisted into the Wehrmachtin 1942 at the age of 18 and sent to Stalingrad to join the 6th Army under field marshal Friedrich Paulus; Feldpostnummer32266 (postcode used for items sent by either mail or airmail). The 6th Army advanced on Stalingrad in early August 1942, the attack proper began on August 23; Paulus’ forces were encircled by the Red Army on Nov. 19 and capitulated on February 2, 1943. At the time of capitulation, 90,000 men remained of the original 300,000 combat strength of the 6th Army as recorded in late November. Of those 90,000, nearly half died in spring 1943 during death marches to Soviet labor camps; of the remaining 45,000 men, only 6,000 returned after 1955 back to Germany (all numbers are approximate). My uncle is among the dead or missing at Stalingrad (his body was never recovered). He remains among those people who have disappeared, whose fate is unexplained. Bruno’s name, one of over 120,000 German dead or missing listed on large granite cubes and a wall of plaques, is engraved in granite cube 21, plate 2, at the RossoschkaWar Graves Cemetery, west of Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad).  

Through extensive research into his division’s involvement in the battle of Stalingrad, it has indeed become possible to follow Bruno’s steps (in almost daily intervals).[4]  Immersing myself into the hell and depravity of  Stalingrad through archival sources and specialist literature has been heart-wrenching, profoundly painful and moving. Retracing his steps within the horror of the battle and larger socio-political cultural context has consumed me and informs the work’s musico-dramatic architecture and design. All the while,  the source of the work remains Bruno’s letters – two survived. One, handwritten, was presumed lost, then discovered by family kin in early January, 2017. It is dated December 28, 1942 - two days later he is officially listed as missing. My aunt Hilde Kehn (b. Gawlick) remembers the contents of another - this one, a typed-written letter of Bruno's in which he apologizes for the typed format. But because he was writing from a dark cellar he could only type his words; in his apprenticeship in a paperware store he had learned to touch type. By virtue of their content, it is possible to regard his handwritten letter as the penultimate letter, and the typed letter as his last; however this cannot be confirmed with any certainty.

My compositional methodology varies from work to work. Since the letters form the fons et origoof the work, my architectural planning proceeds from the texts themselves. Their poetic and structural constitutions translate direcly into the decisions and considerations that govern the work’s musical language and design. Bruno signed his letters Herzliche Grüße Bruno– in German, these words can also be used as an address, a greeting.

The work, entilted:

Herzliche Grüße, Bruno

Briefe aus Stalingrad

-Eine musikalische Gedenkstätte-[5]

features 5 architectural and dramaturgical sonic planes:

 (1) Recorded piano (piano I), (2) Live stage piano (piano II), (3) Spoken texts, 

 (4) Sung texts, (5) Soundscape Stalingrad

Its duration is approximately 55 minutes.

The use of piano in (1) and (2) reflects Bruno's ability to play the instrument as a teenager - the Gawlick family acquired an upright in 1936. The recorded piano represents the innocence of my  young uncle before he descends into Stalingrad - hence the music, recorded, is akin to a snapshot, a picture of him repeating in our memory and remembrance, a musical profile (the last picture our family has of Bruno is dated August 19, 1942). The 'live' piano, metaphorically represents a collective conscience, a sound picture of mourning, recollections set in motion (over and over) by living and (frozen) memories. Piano II interacts not only with Bruno's 'frozen' profile of piano I but with the other dramaturgical planes of the work. The spoken texts (3) include both of Bruno's letters. From the onset I decided not to set these texts to music - they would have to be spoken: Three recordings would be used: (a) the recording of me reading the letters (my voice characterizes both him and as he writes the letters); (b) a recording of my aunt Hilde reading the letters of her fallen brother and (c) by the eminent singer Max van Egmond (the great Dutch baritone of the 20th century - he was drawn to this project because he himself was interred in a Japanese concentration during WWII as a child after being captured in Dutch Indonesia) whose voice represents Bruno 'growing old' with his sister and siblings... These recorded readings dramatically engage with each other through superimposition, interpolation and sonic rendering. The sung texts (4) include words from the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke, Ezekiel and Revelation, and reflect the collective conscience through soldiers’ prayers in the face of death, of collective suffering... (passages are from oft repeated words spoken by Stalingrad soldiers as well as the opening lines from Brahms’ German Requiem...hence the thematic connection). (5) 'Soundscape' Stalingrad, pervasively present throughout the work, interacts with all above sonic/dramaturgical planes and is both a chronicle and agent of the musical drama:

6 recorded excerpts (interwoven with the music of pianos I & II) constitute this Stalingrad soundscape (in the order of the musical unfolding):

(1) Hitler speech from the Löwenbräukeller, November 8, 1942; Commemoration of 1942 for the march on the Munich Feldherrnhalle1923 (Excerpts).

(2) Richard Tauber’s 1927 recording of "Allein, wieder allein ... Es steht ein Soldat am Wolgastrand" from Franz Lehar's operetta Der Zarewitsch. This aria was known to every soldier on the Eastern Front - it held a particularly poignant meaning to those fighting in Stalingrad since the aria is about a soldier standing guard far from home on the banks of the Wolga.

(3)Simulcast Christmas message to all fronts of the Third Reich, December 24, 1942 (Excerpts). 

(4)  Göring speech (also known as the Nibelungen-speech) from the Ministry of Aviation, January 30, 1943; Address before Wehrmachtmembers on the 10th anniversary of the seizure of power (Excerpts)

(5) Wilhelm Furtwängler conducts the Adagiofrom Bruckner's 7th Symphony with the Berlin Philharmonic, April 1, 1942 (broadcast immediately before Göring's speech) (Excerpt).

(6) Throughout the work: original recorded battle sounds (artillery fire, howling sirens, air strikes, machine gun fire, bomb detonations, etc.) from various theaters of war during World War II, including Stalingrad. 

This work is both highly personal and contributory to a larger commemoration. In essence, each one of us exists/persists in two fundamental ways: how we live and how we are remembered. Bruno's life, tragically - like thousands before and after - was cut short with no possibility to live (much less, how/what type) a life. And how is he remembered? Only through the memory and persistence of memory of those who recall him - and those are ever fewer. In fact, Bruno was held as a silent memory, in many of our households, rarely or never spoken of because of grief and pain. I felt called to write this work for my young uncle - to give homage to his memory for the entire family and in artistic terms, give voice to a story which tragically repeats each and every day! The work is  also associated with  a larger commemoration: the 75th anniversary of Stalingrad (August, 1942/February, 1943 - August, 2017/February, 2018).

I completed the musical manuscript on February 2, 2018 – on the 75th anniversary to the day of the end of the battle of Stalingrad. The recording of the work in the Immanuelskirche, Wuppertal, took place on August 1, 2018, Bruno's birthday; he would have been 95 years old. These different dates of completion do not strike me as coincidences ...

This composition preserves Bruno's memory. His death, one of millions and millions, embodies, in the words of the poet Wilfred Owen, the tragedy of "war and the pity of war.” 

The last words spoken in the piece - „Herzliche Grüße Bruno” – represent the first conscious words spoken by my father, Dieter Gawlick, to his older brother.

The words in my dedication, addressed directly to my uncle Bruno, are:

Nie gekannt, doch nie vergessen. (Never known, but never forgotten)

 R. Y. Gawlick


[1]A German government agency based in Berlin which maintains records of members of the former German Armed Forces who were killed in action, as well as official military records of all military personnel during the Second World War (ca. 18 million), naval military records since 1871 and other war-related records. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deutsche_Dienststelle_(WASt)

[2]Deutsche Dienststellefor the notification of the relatives of those killed of the former German Wehrmacht, Deutsche Dienststelle(WASt), 13400 Berlin

[3]German Red Cross (General Secretariat) in the Federal Republic of Germany ~ Search Service Munich

[4]See ‘Stalingrad’ booklet

[5]A Musical Memorial