Jul 13 2015 Published by under eastern europe, Uncategorized

From my journals, not edited:

I've started to write this several times, without much success. Partly, I am very tired, tired of traveling, tired of packing and unpacking. I hesitate to say that they had it right 100 years ago. Traveling more slowly, with enormous trunks of clothes, was it easier? But 100 years ago, I would not be traveling - it was limited to a stratum of society to which I would not have belonged. Sometimes  I wonder whether I would have ever fit into society. It is romantic to think not, but I suspect most women were sufficiently socialized to accept the roles that were available to them.

Vienna  was larger in many ways than either Krakow or even Budapest. The buildings felt larger, the characters felt larger, the life being lived was louder and larger. Krakow was very touristy, but in Vienna there was a glimpse of life being lived. Yet, of course, Americans, when they think at all, think of Austria being dead. And in ways it was - the glory was in the past. It was not clear that a young and vibrant community was building anything.

[Which brings up a side-thought - are there young and vibrant communities building things anywhere? Or am I an old fart who does not see the accomplishments of youth?  Is anyone building a city the way Vienna was built? Or do you have to be a Hapsburg? Do most youth of any point in time indulge themselves, and see themselves as the tortured and misunderstood geniuses of their city?]

The concert, as was true of the concert in Warsaw, was saccharine. I did not share this view with anyone but Ann. But the Mozart and Strauss they played could have been supermarket music. The group was accomplished, the dancing and singing diverting. But the choice was to appeal to a base denominator of taste.

I enjoyed the House of Music more. This is a museum of sound, and was quite different from anything else I saw or did so far on this trip. The third floor was the science of sound, some about hearing, some about production, they even explained Fourier transforms. The fourth floor was a museum of the greats, starting with Haydn, but Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and then Strauss, Mahler and lesser lights.

I learned some about the history of these men (they were mostly schmucks, each in their own schmucky way, and nothing was said about women, except as wives and mistresses, and nothing about anyone who was not a white protestant male). This in turn raises the ongoing discussion about the life of the artist vs. the art that they create.

I have always preferred to not know the life. I'd also rather not know the name. Should the art be appreciated for itself? Yes, I believe in the purest form. But within even the context of that purity, there is room for more, defensibly arguing for the setting, the history, the story behind. In one simple, outside the art argument - one can find what one loves better with such guideposts. While not being prejudiced in advance, one has the potential to discover new and different and grow beyond the old. But there is so much, that having the guideposts helps. Could guideposts be on content? (say piano rather than electric guitar) Could one remove the cult of the person ?

The more powerful defense is that context enriches the art. That understanding the influences, the teachers, even the patrons clarifies what the artist was trying to accomplish. The change in Haydn's music from the time in the employ of the Esterhazy's to the London symphonies is a reflection of who was footing the bill and their tastes. Knowing what was going on when Haydn started composing, what each of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert heard, makes the novelty, the genius of their work stand more starkly forth.  Finally, knowing that all of the guys started out relatively poor (except maybe Mozart) and worked their way to fame and greatness is not just inspiring to musicians but to all of us.

Yet, at what point does knowing context tip over into the cult of the person? This happens all the time in science. Why should it matter what beer Einstein drank? Or  where Francis Crick summered? Does where Marie Curie lived matter? One could argue yes, to understand what she gave up to devote herself to science. But Einstein's beer? This cult is more obvious in artists, especially today's pop artists. It was true of Mozart and Haydn, and others. Does it matter if the artist is dead or alive? Alive they have a chance to earn a living as an artist, always a precarious proposition.

But me, my experience, what did learning about Haydn's parrot (who could allegedly say "Papa Haydn") and seeing his handwriting, and the houses where he lived matter to my perception? I learned more of the "why" behind his invention of the string quartet (those were the players available to him when he started writing). And of course, I appreciated the long work, hard work to get where he was. I cannot answer for now. No answer popped out.

As we drive through the countryside, there are huge windfarms. 100s and 100s of modern windmills with red and white striped (for Austria?) tips. I understand how the folks on Martha's Vinyard, etc object to the offshore farms, but I think they are wrong. We live with wires and buildings and all sorts of structural detritus of human existence, and windfarms are just one more. But one that might make a difference in the long run.

More on the Jews of Austria later.

One response so far

  • sel says:

    "nothing about anyone who was not a white protestant male."

    Vienna is awesome; I lived there for several years. If you want to meet up with the "Young and the Vibrant", they hung out in the evenings at the many cafes at the Museumsquartier the last time I was there.

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