Die Pfeiferstube

Die Pfeiferstube (2011, revision 2015)
first performance: September, 26-2011, Bimhuis, Amsterdam
first performance revision: May, 2-2015, Kölner Philharmonie, Cologne
David Kweksilber Big Band

The composition is based on the short novel Die Pfeiferstube by the German author Paul Alverdes. This true story serves as a kind of screenplay for the composition.

During the First World War three German soldiers are severely wounded at the throat. They are in danger of suffocating. To prevent this, silver tubes are inserted in their throats by way of windpipe. That’s why a whistling sound can be heard when breathing and speaking. Hence they are called ‘Pfeifer’ (whistlers) and their hospital ward, Die Pfeiferstube (the whistlers’ room).

They are joined by an English prisoner of war with the same handicap. The initial mutual hostility is great. However, it disappears when they begin to realize they are all in the same boat.

Much to their surprise they find out that both their national hymns (God save the King and Heil dir im Siegerkranz) have different words, but the same melody. Humming together this melody enhances considerably their sense of comradeship.

The 2 solo flute-players represent the ‘whistlers’. During the whole piece their instruments are not played in the ‘normal’ way. The words of the German Empire anthem are spoken or whispered into the flutes. At the same time the flutists have to try to produce the prescribed pitches as exactly as possible. The result is an indefinable combination of hardly understandable words and vague, indistinct pitches. At the end of the composition they play the melody of both anthems while singing along into the flutes.

In the middle of the composition the flute-players are asked to improvise for a few minutes.


Heil dir im Siegerkranz,
Herrscher des Vaterlands!
Heil Kaiser, dir!
Fühl in des Thrones Glanz
Die hohe Wonne ganz,
Liebling des Volks zu sein!
Heil Kaiser, dir!

Nicht Ross und Reisige
Sichern die steile Höh’,
Wo Fürsten steh’n:
Liebe des Vaterlands,
Liebe des freien Manns
Gründen den Hersscher Thron
Wie Fels im Meer.
Heilige Flamme, glüh’!

Sei, Kaiser Wilhelm, hier
Lang’ deines Volkes Zier,
Der Menschheit Stolz!
Fühl’ in des Thrones Glanz ,
Die hohe Wonnen ganz,
Liebling des Volkes zu sein!
Heil Kaiser, dir!

Heinrich Harries (1790)

(part of the national anthem of the German Empire till 1918)