Alfred SchnittkeAlfred Schnittke was born November 24, 1934 in the city of Engels on the Volga River in an area that had been settled by Germans in the 18th Century. He was born to a Volga German mother and a German-Jewish father of Russian origin. Mr. Schnittke, who was considered a genius and whose music was often compared to that of Dmitri Shostakovich, became one of the most widely performed and recorded composers in Europe. Schnittke writes: "I was born on November 24, 1934, in Engels on the Volga, in the Saratov province. I have my German name from my parents: my father, a Jew born in Frankfurt-am-Main, came to the Soviet Union in 1926 with his parents-who were, however, of Russian origin-and there married a German woman born in Russia. From childhood on I have spoken German-the 'Volga-German' of my mother."
The family of the composer's mother, Maria Vogel, came from the small Roman Catholic Bergseite village of Kamenka. In Engels in the early 1930s, Maria Vogel was an enthusiastic worker for the "Young Pioneers", the Communist youth organization. Twenty-five years later she became the only German employee of the German-language newspaper Neues Leben when it started publication in Moscow in 1957.
Perhaps this 1987 Schnittke quote from the Ivashkin book referenced below will help readers understand something of Schnittke's psyche: "Although I don't have any Russian blood, I am tied to Russia, having spent all my life here. On the other hand, much of what I've written is somehow related to German music and to the logic which comes out of being German, although I did not specially want this. Like my German forefathers, I live in Russia, I can speak and write Russian far better than German. But I am not Russian. My Jewish half gives me no peace: I know none of the three Jewish languages but look like a typical Jew."