Elias Tanenbaum: Last Letters from Stalingrad

Elias Tanenbaum


DAVID Tanenbaum

Elias Tanenbaum

Born in 1924 in Brooklyn, New York, Elias Tanenbaum studied trumpet at an early age and played with many jazz bands. After serving with the U.S. Army in World War II, he received a B.S. from the Juilliard School of Music and an M.A. from Columbia University. His composition teachers included Dante Fiorillo, Bohuslav Martinu, Otto Luening, and Wallingford Riegger.

Elias Tanenbaum has composed over 100 works in all idioms and include music for concert, jazz, theater, television, and ballet as well as electronic and computer music. His music has been performed extensively throughout the United States, Europe, and Japan by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Brooklyn Philharmonic, Japan Philharmonic, and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra as well as many other performing groups.

Mr. Tanenbaum is the recipient of numerous awards including a WCBS commission, MacDowell Fellowship, two Composers' Grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, Ford Foundation Recording Grant, two American Composers Alliance Recording Awards, Composers' Grant from the New York State Foundation for the Arts, as well as numerous "Meet the Composer" grants.

Mr. Tanenbaum is Visiting Composer at the California Institute for the Arts, on the composition faculty at the Manhattan School of Music, and Director of the Electronic Computer Music Studio. His music appears on the CRI, Desto, Musical Heritage Society, and Leonarda record labels.

Shadows (1987) for Guitar and String Quartet

The title Shadows refers to the idea of musical phrases that follow or "shadow" each other.

The piece evolves from non pitched to pitched sounds. The first pitched sounds are percussive and are matched by the non pitched sounds. After a brief guitar solo, the ensemble returns playing, freely, a combination of pitched and non pitched sounds. The pitches gradually take over. The low E on the cello, which matches the lowest E on the guitar, anchors the sound. After some jazz-like duets between guitar and pizzicato cello and some cross rhythmic frenzy, the work becomes quiet and reflective until the end.

Last Letters From Stalingrad (1981) for Baritone, Guitar, Viola & Percussion

The text for Last Letters From Stalingrad consists of excerpts from letters written by soldiers of the German Sixth Army who were surrounded atStalingrad in 1942-1943. Of the 300,000 men in that army, only about 5,000 survived. What happened to those German soldiers in 1943 can and does happen to people everywhere. They were sold out and abandoned by their leaders. What would any of us write if we knew that we were surrounded and doomed?

The German High Command, in order to ascertain the morale of the troops, allowed the soldiers to send the letters. The letters were impounded, opened, and the addresses and senders' names were removed. They were then classified by content and general tenor, tied into neat bundles, and eventually stored in archives.

Although in 1943 the Germans were our enemies, these letters are a human document that bare the soul of man in his worst hour.

Last Letters From Stalingrad is structured around the Gregorian chant, Libera Me, which is sung at burial services and is an example of responsorium chants. The following form is used: chant four letters chant four letters chant four letters.

The work opens with a drum solo played triumphantly: the German Sixth Army is marching to the outskirts of Stalingrad. The work ends with the same solo muffled, as the violist plays a German Folk song, How Glorious is Youth.

Reflected Images (1988) for Flute and Guitar

Reflected Images was composed for my son, David. While composing the piece I had images of objects reflecting in the water. They are somewhat distorted. In this work the flute and guitar often play the same material but not exactly together. They are off center from each other. The piece is basically slowfastslow.

The Letters


My life has changed in nothing; it is now as it was ten years ago, blessed by the stars, avoided by men. On this beautiful night, Andromeda and Pegasus are right over my head. My peace and contentment I owe to the stars. Around me everything is collapsing; a whole army is dying; day and night are on fire.

I should have liked to count stars for another few decades, but nothing will ever come of it now, I suppose.


I can play no longer. My hands are ruined. I am quite helpless; only when one has lost his fingers does one notice how much they are needed for the simplest tasks. The thing I can still do best with my little finger is shoot. I can't spend the rest of my life shooting simply because I am no good for anything else.

I am quite helpless.

Kurt Hanke played the Appassionata a week ago. The piano was standing right in the middle of the street. Pity that I am not a writer, so that I could describe how a hundred soldiers squatted around in their greatcoats with blankets over their heads. Everywhere there was the sound of explosions, but no one let himself be disturbed. They were listening to Beethoven in Stalingrad.


You are my witness that I never wanted to go along with it. I was afraid of the East and war in general. I have never been a soldier, only a man in uniform. What are we getting out of this? We, who are playing the walk-on part in this madness! I have

played death on the stage dozens of times, but I was only playing, and you sat out front in plush seats. It is terrible to realize how little acting has to do with real death.

You were supposed to die heroically, inspiringly, from inner conviction and for a great cause. What is death in reality here? Here they freeze to death, starve to death it's nothing but a biological fact like eating and drinking. They drop like flies, without arms or legs, without eyes, with bellies torn apart, they lie around everywhere. Nobody cares and nobody buries them.

I'll have no part of it.


During the last few nights I have wept so much; it is unbearable. On Tuesday I knocked out two Russian tanks. Afterwards I drove past the smoking remains. From the hatch there hung a body, his head down, his feet caught, his legs burning up to his knees. The body was alive, the mouth moaning. He must have suffered terrible pain. There was no possibility of freeing him. I shot him; as I did it tears ran down my cheeks. Now I have been crying for three nights about a dead Russian tank driver whose murderer I am.


In Stalingrad, to put the question of God's existence means to deny it. I have searched for God everywhere. God did not show Himself, even though my heart cried out for Him. If there is a God, He is only with you in the hymnals and the prayers, in the pious sayings of the priests and pastors, in the ringing of the bells, and the fragrance of the incense, but not in Stalingrad.

No, Father, there is no God.


Just don't bother me with your well meant advice. Things should have been done in such and such a way. What is that supposed to mean? "Put down your weapons," you say. Do you think they will spare us? Why don't you also demand that your friends refuse to produce ammunition and war materials? It is easy to give advice; but it just won't work that way. Liberation of nations, nonsense. Nations remain the same. Only their rulers change.


Stalingrad is a great education for the German people; too bad that those who are getting this object lesson will hardly be able to make use of it. The moment the first Russian comes in here, I can pick up my bag and start walking. I won't shoot; why should I? Just to kill one or two people I don't know? Would it be doing a service to anyone, perhaps Herr Hitler?


The master sergeant said that this would be the last mail. No more planes are leaving. I can't bring myself to lie. Nothing will come of my leave. If only I could see you one more time. When you light the candles, think of your Father.


You are the wife of a German officer; so you will take what I have to tell you upright and unflinching. You shall know the truth. This is the grimmest of struggles in a hopeless situation. Misery, hunger, cold, renunciation, doubt, despair and horrible death.

I cannot deny my share of personal guilt in all of this. I tell myself that, by giving my life, I have paid my debt.

Augusta, I am not cowardly, only sad that I can't give greater proof of my courage than to die for this useless cause.


It's enough to drive me mad. I have a chance to write and I don't know to whom. A year ago we were cramming "military science," and now I sit in the middle of this shit and don't know what to do with all that crap. We sit in the mud with two hundred thousand men, with nothing but Russians all around us, and we are not permitted to say that we are encircled, completely without hope.

But let them come. We still have twenty-six rounds left! You don't have to be clairvoyant to foresee the end. What it will be like, you'll never know.


I asked you to get me out of here. This strategic nonsense isn't worth dying for.

Very well, Father, this letter will not only be short, but also the last one I write to you. The time is coming when every German with any sense will curse the madness of this war. And you will see how empty are those words about the flag with which I was supposed to be victorious.

There is no victory, Herr General; there are only flags and men that fall, and in the end there will be neither flags nor men.


Dearest Father, what I have to say in this letter can only be said among men. This is the end. You can be sure that everything will end decently. It is a little early at thirty, I know. No sentiments. Handshake for Lydia and Helene. Kiss for Mother, kiss for Gerda. Regards to all. Hand to helmet, Father. First Lieutenant respectfully gives notice of departure.

-Elias Tanenbaum

David Tanenbaum

David Tanenbaum has performed throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, the former Soviet Union and Asia, and in 1988 he became the first American guitarist to be invited to perform in China by the Chinese government. He has been guest soloist with the London Sinfonietta, the Oakland Symphony, Vienna's ORF orchestra and, as guest guitar soloist with the Joffrey Ballet, with the Chicago, San Francisco, Denver, Oregon and Seattle Symphony orchestras.

David Tanenbaum has been a featured soloist at many international festivals, including those of Bath, Luzern, Frankfurt, Barcelona and Vienna as well as numerous guitar festivals. In 1989, as President of the Second American Classical Guitar Congress, he commissioned five new works, including Rosewood by Henry Brant for 100 guitars. He subsequently conducted Rosewood on Finnish television and arranged a performance that included guitarists of all ages from the Northern California community.

While his repertoire encompasses diverse styles, David Tanenbaum is recognized as one of today's most eloquent proponents of new guitar repertoire. Among the many works written for him is Hans Werner Henze's guitar concerto An Eine Äolsharfe, which he premiered throughout Europe and recorded with the composer conducting. Terry Riley's first guitar piece, Ascención, three works by Aaron Jay Kernis and pieces by Roberto Sierra and his father, Elias Tanenbaum. He has toured extensively with Steve Reich and Musicians, was invited to Japan in 1991 by Toru Takemitsu, and has had a long association with the Ensemble Modern.

David Tanenbaum's recordings, which reflect his broad repertoire interests, can be found on New Albion, EMI, Ars Musici, Rhino, GSP, Audiofon, Green Linnett and Innova Digital Archive.

The Chester String Quartet

Aaron Berofsky, violin · Kathryn Votapek, violin

David Harding, viola · Thomas Rosenberg, cello

One of America's most distinguished and sought after chamber ensembles, the Chester's interpretations have also led to top prizes at international competitions in Munich, Germany, Portsmouth, England, and Chicago's Discovery Competition. The Chester is currently Quartet-in-Residence at Indiana University South Bend where all of its members are full-time faculty.

The Chester String Quartet has recorded for the Stolat, CRI, Pantheon, Chesky, New Albion and Koch labels. They have appeared in all the major halls of New York City and at summer festivals including Newport, Aspen, the International Festival of San Jose (Costa Rica), Rotterdam (Holland) and Music Mountain, among others.

Robert Osborne

Bass-baritone Robert Osborne has sung extensively throughout the United States, Europe, Russia, and Asia under such distinguished conductors as Leonard Bernstein, Michael Tilson Thomas, John Williams, Seiji Ozawa, and Dennis Russell Davies. His television appearances have been on the BBC Omnibus Series: Live from the Proms, Soviet Arts Television, and on the PBS Great Performances broadcast of the Bernstein at 70! Gala from Tanglewood as well as in Musical Outsiders: An American Legacy which premiered at the Louvre and has subsequently been aired on PBS, German and Austrian television. His operatic recordings include Meredith Monk's Atlas on ECM, Victor Ullmann's The Emperor of Atlantis on Arabesque, Stewart Wallace's Kaballah on Koch International, and Hindemith's Hin und zurück on Albany. Albany Records has also issued his solo recordings Songs of Henry Cowell and My Love Unspoken: Songs of Leo Sowerby.

Tina Pelikan

Tina Pelikan is the principal violist of the Long Island Philharmonic and the New England Bach Festival Orchestra and is a member of Concordia Chamber Symphony. Ms. Pelikan is on the faculty of the Bennington Composer's Forum and Chamber Conference of the East and can be heard on Mode and Opus One recordings.

William Trigg

William Trigg is well known as a specialist in 20th Century music. He has premiered solo works by Babbitt, Bouchard, Dlugoszewski, Kupferman, and Shapey, and was solo marimbist in the New York City Ballet's premiere production of Michael Torke's Echo. Mr. Trigg is a member of the Manhattan Marimba Quartet, the Brooklyn Philharmonic, the New Music Consort, the PULSE Percussion Ensemble, Musicians' Accord, and the Eric Hawkins Dance Company. He has performed and recorded with Steve Reich and Musicians, the Philip Glass Ensemble, the Group for Contemporary Music, Parnassus, Newband, New York Virtuosi, and numerous others.

Amy Hersh

After receiving both Bachelors and Masters degrees from the Manhattan School of Music, Ms. Hersh spent three years in Mexico as a member of the Mexico City Philharmonic and the Filarmonica del Bajio. She is an active freelancer, playing on Broadway and with various New York orchestras.

Cover Art & Photography: © Jeff Schlanger 1997 · Design: studio Spirale

Five Faces, glazed ceramic stoneware from the ensemble of 400 Faces fired in New York.

Elias Tanenbaum

Shadows for String Quartet & Guitar (14:42)

David Tanenbaum, guitar · Chester String Quartet

Last Letters from Stalingrad (36:03)

Song 1 (3:50)

Song 2 (3:01)

Song 3 (2:56)

Song 4 (3:07)

Song 5 (2:58)

Song 6 (2:38)

Song 7 (2:13)

Song 8 (2:52)

Song 9 (3:09)

Song 10 (2:58)

Song 11 (5:02)

Song 12 (1:19)

David Tanenbaum, guitar & piano

Robert Osborne, baritone

Tina Pelikan, viola · Bill Trigg, percussion

Reflected Images for Flute & Guitar (10:46)

David Tanenbaum, guitar · Amy Hersh, flute

Liz Ostrow, producer

Total Time = 61:46