Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Salt & Vinegar Crisps at Yorckschloßchen

The phone line is still down. I may have inadvertently terminated my account with Deutsche Telekom.
Went to Yorckschloßchen, the jazz café on the corner, which has free W-LAN.
A man comes over and starts asking me about my Mac. His German is excellent but it sounds to me as though it has the accent of an English speaker. I ask if he speaks English; he says he is American.
He is asking about the new dual-core processor on Macs; he says he used to have a Mac but we live in a Windows world, but he has heard that on the new Macs you could run Windows programs and there is nothing like a Mac. I say mine can’t do that. I says I used a Mac because it was good for multilingual word processing.
He says his name is Alexander Frey (pronounced Fry); that he is a conductor. He has lived in Berlin for 16 years. He used to live in LA. He said of all the major cities in the world this was the one he would choose to live in. If he couldn’t live in Berlin he would pick Vienna -- it’s smaller, but the music is incredible.
He says: If you go to the cemetery in Vienna you see these graves in a row. Side by side. Beethoven. Brahms. Schubert.
I try to take this in. I am thinking of what Beethoven did when he had command of a body. I’m thinking of what Brahms did when he had command of a body. I’m thinking of what Schubert did when he had command of a body. Now there are 3 skeletons in boxes. Frey names some more names. He says: And there is one composer who is not buried in that row, he insisted on having a grave in a separate place, and instead of a grand moss-covered mausoleum he has (but now I forgot how this grave was described, I think it was) a single cube with a line going through it -- that is Arnold Schoenberg. Schoenberg spent the end of his live in LA, but he chose to be buried in Vienna.
I find this terribly moving. My contribution to the conversation at this point (and for most of what follows) is WOW. (WOW was also my response to the graves of Beethoven, Brahms and Schubert.)
Frey says Schoenberg changed his mind about tonality. He goes on to talk about pupils of Schoenberg who wrote film scores. He says he is about to go to Mexico City to conduct Verklärte Nacht, and in the programme he is also including Bernard Hermann’s score for Vertigo and Waxman’s score for Jekyll and Hyde. WOW. I remember nothing about the soundtrack for Vertigo but Frey starts singing examples, WOW.
He starts telling stories about Korngold, a composer of extraordinary precocity. Korngold was brought to Hollywood by Max Reinhardt. When he had finished the work Reinhardt had asked him to do Warner Brothers asked him to stay on as head of music, but he said No, he couldn’t do that, he had too many projects he had to see through in Europe, he had to get back. Jack Warner kept asking him to stay and he kept saying No. He booked a ticket on a ship back to Europe and Warner secretly booked a ticket on the same ship; as the ship crossed the Atlantic Warner kept begging him to change his mind and Korngold kept saying No. Then news came to the ship by radio that the Germans had entered Austria. Korngold and Warner, both Jews, were sitting in a room together when the news was announced. Korngold looked at Warner and said: I’ll sign.


Language said...

Wow. What great stories, the graves side by side and "I'll sign" and the whole thing. Chance encounters are one of the best things in life. And yes, the score to Vertigo (one of my favorite movies) is incredible.

hassan said...

Ah, good old Schoenberg. Speaking of interesting composer stories, in the early days Schoenberg's wife ran off with a young painter and in his desperation, clawing for hope, he wrote a piece that also grasped out for a sense of key but never did find it. His first atonal composition. Eventually his wife came back to him, and the painter killed himself afterwards. Curious, I looked into this, and apparently this painter was a guy called Richard Gerstl. He destroyed much of his work before hanging himself in his studio, but I've seen some of his surviving paintings. They're pretty good imo and I would have minded seeing more. 12-tone serialist atonality in exchange for a couple of pretty paintings. A fair trade? I haven't heard a serialist piece that broke even on the time commitment I've spent on it, but a lot of people seem to think it's a pretty big deal. Especially over here on the West Coast.

And yeah, chance encounters are amazing. I met one of the last of the fading generation of Romantic pianists that way, but I guess this is your story not mine. :-)

ithaca said...

I do need to see Vertigo again, because I don't remember the score at all.

Erm, Hassan, I couldn't bring myself to break the spell, but I love Berg and Webern, can't really see them as dead ends -- but of course that is different from saying tonality is dead. But this story about the last of the generation of Romantic pianists sounds amazing. Don't hide it away in comments, though, you should write a guest post.

hassan said...

Hmm. Maybe I'm approaching the music wrong. The best description for tonality I've heard is that on average if you press pause in the middle of the piece, if you have a fairly good guess of what's going to happen next it's tonal. And since composition is so much about whetting expection only to deny it, when every note that gets tossed out is being pulled on by the radial electromagnets of all 12 keys, I'm clueless about what's going on and I end up getting confused and leaving the room crying. But atonality can be cool. I've got nothing but love for colorists like Messiaen and Takemitsu.

But wow, I'm not sure if my story can compare to yours, but I'm definitely all for sharing it. Just give me a little bit (er, make that more than a little) and it should be ready. Not sure how to guest post though...

ithaca said...


you could send your guest post to me by e-mail (Contact PP) and i will post it. I long to hear this story.

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