Friedrich Schweiger: choral conductor and teacher; born in 1856 in Poland, where he lived for much of his life. Little is known about his family or education, although it is known that his wife’s maiden name was Wedel and that he had a brother-in-law in Molotschna Mennonite Settlement. As a skilled musician, Schweiger came into contact with Mennonites through his interest in choral singing when he was a guest conductor at the Rückenau Sängerfest on 29 May 1894, the second festival of its kind to be held among the Russian Mennonites. Through that event and subsequent contacts with Mennonites, he had a profound influence on their church life in the settlements of southern Russia and in North America.
A well-known musician in his own circles, Friedrich Schweiger was director of a German Baptist musical organization based in Zyrardow, near Warsaw, Poland, associated with the Christliche Gesangverein, a choral society started in Germany in 1875. In addition to conducting the Zyrardow choir, he led the Russiche Sängervereinigung and the Russian Choral section of the Christlicher Sängerbund and several other choral associations, thus coming into contact with several Mennonite musicians, such as Aron Gerhard Sawatzky, who had attended a seminar in Zyrardow and likely knew of Friedrich’s musical activities. As a result, he was invited to become involved in a Mennonite choral festival in Rückenau, Molotschna Mennonite Settlement.
The Mennonite community held a musical festival, a Sängerfest, in 1893, and planned one for the following year as well, this time with input from Friedrich Schweiger. He accepted the invitation to participate and set out by train from Warsaw on 3 May 1894, together with his wife and two youngest children, for Rückenau, South Russia.
After spending a week recuperating from the trip and visiting relatives in the area, Friedrich Schweiger began to visit many of the choirs in the region in preparation for the festival on 29 May. At the previous festival, seven choirs had sung for an audience of about 2,000 people, but the Sängerfest in 1894 was even larger. Friedrich held practices to help prepare 11 choirs, with a total of about 300 people, to sing at the festival. He also attended several services and later wrote about the sermons he had heard there.
On the day of the festival, about 2,500 people gathered in a sanctuary designed for 2,000 to hear the choirs sing. Friedrich Schweiger, assessing the quality of the choirs, was especially impressed by the choirs of Gnadenfeld and Friedensfeld, which he thought had excellent directors. The singers, he said, could also read notes very well. Overall, he wrote very positively about his experience at the festival, expressing his gratitude for the invitation he had received for the event.
For several months after the festival ended, Friedrich Schweiger continued to work with Aron Sawatzky on improving various conducting techniques and other musical skills, helping his student progress to the point of helping to organize a workshop for Russian Mennonite conductors later that year. Also around that time, another musician, Isaak Born, began to compile and publish choral songs for the Mennonite congregations. In the next decades, choirs continued to be important in the life of the church.
Although he was of a different background and had only relatively brief interactions with the Mennonites of southern Russia, Friedrich Schweiger had a profound influence on the musical and church life of the people living in the settlements. Through his talents as a choral conductor and teacher, he helped develop a musical tradition that would affect the planning of worship services and special musical events in Russia and North America for decades to come.
Berg, Wesley. From Russia With Music. Winnipeg, MB: Hyperion Press, 1985: 22, 23, 48.
Challier, A., Letter, Die Erste Reise eines Dirigenten aus Südrussland nach Polen, Sängergruss, May 1894 : 37, 38.
Huebert, Helmut T. Events and People: Events in Russian Mennonite History and the People that Made Them Happen. Winnipeg, MB: Springfield Publishers, 1999: 71-72.
Letkemann, Peter. “The Christlicher Sängerbund and Mennonite Choral Singing in Russia.” Mennonite Life (December 1986): 5-10.
Letkemann, Peter. “Russian Mennonite Choral Conductors: Medley of Opportunities in the New World.” California Mennonite Historical Society Bulletin. http://calmenno.org/bulletin/fall06.pdf
Toews, John B. “The Mennonite Brethren in Russia During the 1890s.” http://www.directionjournal.org/article/?1171 (accessed October 2009).
Sawatzky, Aron. “Von Meiner Reise nach Polen.” Zionsbote (24 April 1895): 2, 3.
Schweiger, Friedrich. “Ein Besuch unter den Sängern in Russland.” Zionsbote (26 September 1894): 3, 4.
|Author(s)||Helmut T. Huebert|
|Date Published||October 2009|
 Cite This Article
Huebert, Helmut T. and Susan Huebert. "Schweiger, Friedrich (1856-1925)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. October 2009. Web. 30 Jun 2016. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Schweiger,_Friedrich_(1856-1925)&oldid=130431.
Huebert, Helmut T. and Susan Huebert. (October 2009). Schweiger, Friedrich (1856-1925). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 30 June 2016, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Schweiger,_Friedrich_(1856-1925)&oldid=130431.
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