Getting Tired of Sir Simon

As a complement to my previous post, more anti-Rattle backlash here. The (rather opaque) summary: "But he also induces mild despair in the experts by essentially failing to expand, blithely diversifying instead of specializing. For him, Berlin is always a bit like Birmingham. In working with this venerable orchestra, he neglects the great German symphonic tradition, in particular the works of Anton Bruckner. Nor does he set out for distant lands."

Radu Lupu Opens the Schumannfest

Robert Schumann and his wife, Clara, lived in Duesseldorf from 1849 until Robert was sent to an insane asylum near Bonn in 1854. To celebrate its most famous resident (with the arguable exception of Josef Beuys (G)), Duesseldorf has named a music school, a concert hall, and streets after one or both of the Schumann’s. They’ve also recently begun staging a Schumannfest (G), a two-week long celebration of Robert Schumann’s life and work.  Yesterday I saw one of the earliest events of this year’s fest, a piano recital by the Romanian pianist Radu Lupu, whose Edison-Award-winning 1996 Schumann recital disc is a treasured part of my music collection. 

The 61-year-old Lupu has gotten rounder and more hirsute as the years have progressed, and now looks a bit like Johannes Brahms, which is perhaps not unintentional.  He played an all-Schumann program — the Forest Scenes, Humoreske, and the Sonata No. 1.  And he was glorious — fierce and almost-unhinged, then suddenly reflective and profound.  That’s Schumann for you, especially in the Sonata.  Lupu’s glorious performance earned him several curtain calls and two encores from the demanding German audience.

Duesseldorf’s lucky to have a link to the Schumanns, since they are among the most thrilling personalities to have emerged from German Romanticism, which wasn’t stingy in the production of human brilliance and refinement. Schumann pledged his love to his lovely inamorata, the young piano virtuoso Clara Wieck, by sending her compositions inspired by his love.

They were his way of winning her from the influence of her tyrannical father, who strove to keep her away from the eccentric, penniless composer at all costs.  Schumann wrote one of his former teachers in 1840, shortly before his hard-fought wedding to Clara: "Certainly there’s something in my music that reflects the enormous struggles she cost me.  The concerto, the sonata, the Davidsbundlertaenze and the Novelettes — she was the occasion for nearly all of them."  With the marriage, two of the greatest musical minds of the 19th century were united.  Clara herself, in addition to being a virtuoso of the first rank, was a gifted composer.

There was no happy ending. Robert’s emotional instability was accentuated by their move to Duesseldorf in 1849. Although they were received with warmth and enthusiasm by the local artistic community, Robert’s mental condition steadily deteriorated. The young family moved from apartment to apartment, desperately trying to escape the street noise that destroyed Robert’s calm and fueled his auditory hallucinations. He could not stop the chords and melodies constantly ringing in his head, and could not even slow them down enough to write down the strokes of genius amid the psychotic noise.  Once, during a lucid moment, he begged Clara to leave him, because he feared he might injure her.

On February 27, 1854 — the day of the Rose Monday parade which crowns carnival celebrations in the Rheinland, Robert wandered out of their apartment in the Bilker Strasse (just a few blocks from where I live) dressed only in his morning coat. The costumed crowds thought he was just another one of them. He walked to the nearest bridge and threw himself into the icy Rhine. He was rescued by a passing ship, recognized by some of the carnival-goers, and brought back to his apartment. He would never regain his sanity. He was sent to a mental hospital near Bonn, where he finally wasted away in 1856. 

Clara outlived him by 40 years, and honored her former husband by playing his piano music in recitals all over the world.

Worse and Better Ways to Die

I don’t want to interrupt the philological discussion going on about the last post, but I came across a few nice specimens of German humor I thought I’d share.  The first comes from the April 2006 Titanic, p. 39, submitted by Tibor Rácskai:

Suggestion for Improvement

In the subway station: ultra-modern screen displays keep us in the loop: "200 Dead in Beluchistan, the new Brigitte is in newsstands now, Careful! Train arriving!"  For the last few days, one of these devices has been stoically delivering an additional piece of news: "The end of the lamp’s life-expectancy has been reached."  I’d like to have something similar, when it’s come that far; let’s say, three days before.  Then there’d be enough time to clean up a bit, bring the old bottles in for recycling — simply to check out properly.

And now Greser und Lenz (G) the comic team specializing in mordant satirical cartoons.  The FAZ newspaper is hosting a collection of Greser and Lenz drawings, and interviewed the two in their favorite bar, the "Schlappeseppel" in Aschaffenburg.  They liked it so much they drew the bar owner a little cartoon for his beer coasters:

It shows two drunks dressed in angel’s robes, sitting on a cloud.  "Cirrhosis of the liver! And you?" asks one, with a grimace.  The other’s hand and feet are bandaged.  In his left hand he still holds a fragment of the broken steering wheel, with the beer bottle in his right hand he merrily salutes his colleague: "Thank God I didn’t have to go through that!"

P.S. This one shows Condi Rice behind a podium, announcing: "As a transatlantic goodwill gesture, the CIA has ordered 150 Airbus planes for secret prisoner transports."  The caption: "Everything OK again now?"

German Words of the Week: Vokuhila & Tohuwabohu

Viersen, a city near where I live, just hosted Europe’s Biggest Monster Truck Rally.  Soon it’ll be traveling to Lower Saxony, and then to Norway and Sweden.  Here’s an interview (G) with the man who put on the show.

And what a boring interview it is. There’s nothing about silicon-breasted girls in tight bikinis announcing the "rounds," nothing about heavy metal, nothing about the pure, testosterone thrill of wanton, metal-ripping destruction. Not even any suggestion –obvious to me — that there’s something inherently Viking about the entire idea of a Monster truck rally.

Instead, we have painfully banal questions such as "Can you get rich putting on these shows?" and "How long is your season?" A country that’s capable of producing rap stars whose songs get banned for glorifying drug use should be able to do better.

Nevertheless, the article, or better Rally provides an opporunity for a few German Words of the Week. They sound a bit Hawaiian, but they’re quite German. I heard the Vokuhila, for the first time from sometime German Joys contributor Ed Philp.  Then Titanic used it to describe the hairstyle of the American stand-up comedian Bill Hicks. It will surely be on the heads of many people at the Monster Truck Rally.

It’s actually an abbreviation for the phrase "Vorne Kurz, Hinten Lang" or "Short in front, long in back."  Business in the front, party in the back, dude.  Canadians call it Hockey hair, Americans call it the mullet. Mulletsgalore has all you need to know, including a nice typology.

Tohuwabohu means a dust-up or ruckus. I first encountered it in a book about the 1970s terrorist organization the RAF (Rote Armee Fraktion). They grew out of the Berlin scene in the late 1960s, whose members formed communes, experimented with drugs, organized protests, and did everything else you’d expect. Whenever they were put on trial for one reason or another, their code of honor required them to create Tohuwabohu. They wore skin-tight yellow pants and orange feather boas, they addressed the judge with the familiar du, one of them even hopped up on the prosecutor’s desk and crapped on his file.

I hope you enjoyed this weeks exotic new contestants.  Happy First of May!