This book began with an invitation to dinner in 1963. Professor Alfred Rosé of the music faculty of the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada, was planning a trip to Vienna, where he grew up, with his wife, Maria Caroline Rosé, also from Vienna. Alfred was making a will. On the recommendation of Renaissance scholar Dr. Wallace Ferguson, he asked me to serve as coexecutor, with his widow, in the event of his death. As a music critic with an interest in history and a personal friend of long standing, I gladly accepted the charge.
My wife, Jean, and I had known the Rosés since Alfred arrived at the university in 1946, although never so well as we came to know them over the next three decades. In Austria, where Alfred was a promising young conductor and composer before the Nazi takeover of 1938, he had been the protégé of Richard Strauss at the Vienna Opera. His uncle Gustav Mahler was known internationally, and his father, Arnold Rosé, was for many years the esteemed concertmaster of the Vienna Opera and Philharmonic Orchestras and leader of his own string quartet. Alfred had a sister, Alma, whom he rarely mentioned - one did not ask why. Yet among the Old World treasures that gave the Rosés' home on Cheapside Street the nickname "Little Vienna" were a photograph of Alma with her husband VáŠa Příhoda, the Czech violin virtuoso, and a beguiling picture of her playing the violin. These hung in Alfred's study, daily reminders of a shattering tragedy in his life.
A chance event in the 1970s, near the end of Alfred's life, stirred memories of Alma. One Saturday as he and Maria shopped in an outdoor market, a woman who overheard his name leaned across a vegetable cart and asked, "Are you related to the Alma Rosé who played the violin at Auschwitz?" Alfred stared in disbelief. "Yes," he said. "Alma Rosé was my sister. She led the women's orchestra."