From The Director's Desk
Editorial Views and Opinions
Postcards from Europe I
ASW on the Road
As many of our readers are aware, I occasionally go off on junkets to Europe, visiting instrument makers, museum instrument collections, and early music festivals and exhibitions, and leavening the business appointments with visits to favorite restaurants, art museums, and the like. During the 1970's, when our firm was young and growing at a rapid pace, I found it necessary to make two or three trips a year to the United Kingdom and the European continent, searching out new makers of historical instruments and doing research on surviving original instruments in museums or private collections. During the past decade, however, I have found it sufficient to travel to Europe only every year or two.
When I do travel to Europe these days, I have to pack as much activity as possible into a short period of time. I have found that the longest period l can afford to be away is two weeks. Even then, the amount of correspondence and large number of telephone calls and orders that accumulate in my absence are absolutely staggering; my return home is invariably followed by several weeks of frantic activity trying to get caught up with the backlog of business.
In December I made a two-week whirlwind tour of Europe, arriving home just before Christmas. For the first time in many years, Julie was able to take two weeks off from her busy job as a graphic designer and travel along with me, getting to see some of the people and places that she had only heard about from me second-hand.
Since so many of our customers have called to ask about the trip, I thought it might be of interest to all of our readers to recount our adventures, discoveries, and impressions. The first half of our trip is detailed in this issue of Chrestologia, and the second half will be related in the June, 1992 issue. You are hereby forewarned, however; that whereas my personal style of travelling might be exhilarating for some people, it could well be totally debilitating to others and is not universally recommended as a restful way to travel for the average vacationer.
Our travel schedule was planned to the minute months in advance. The cheapest and most efficient way to get around the European continent, as I found years ago, is to acquire a EurailPass, a copy of Cook’s European Railway Timetable, and carefully plan every segment of the rail journey. I estimated that our rail passes paid for themselves in the first four days; railway travel in Europe can be very expensive indeed if bought à la carte and paid for in local currencies.
Since I had visited almost every one of our stops many times in the past, I didn’t have to waste time searching out hotel accommodations and restaurants but instead relied mostly on old proven favorites. I also made all hotel and even some restaurant reservations well in advance by fax in order to avoid disappointments. [Editor's note: this was written over 20 years ago; E-mail is much faster and more efficient today]. We managed to spend time in twenty-six cities or towns within fifteen days, which must be some sort of a world record fora European Grand Tour!
A few words in advance about air travel to Europe: I usually fly from Boston to Zürich via SwissAir, one of the world's few great airlines. They offer a genuinely high level of service and food; and the flight personnel, each of whom is competent in at least four languages, works tirelessly and non-stop to make a seven or eight hour flight as comfortable and pleasant as possible. On this trip, however; I flew Lufthansa from Boston to Frankfurt, as they were offering irresistibly low fares back in September when I planned the trip. I must confess that I had not flown Lufthansa in over ten years; I have always found their personnel to be highly efficient but quite rude and unpleasant. I thought at first that they just didn’t like American travellers, but my German friends and colleagues have since informed me that they are just as unpleasant to their own countrymen and women.
I have always used Lufthansa for freight shipments, finding them punctual and efficient; the problem is that, in the past, they seemed to treat their passengers like so much air cargo. All that has apparently changed, however. Lufthansa now finds that it has a great deal more competition on its transatlantic flights and has evidently been forced to offer a higher standard of service and more competitive fares.
In the past year, the routes to Frankfurt previously flown by TWA and Pan American have been taken over by Delta, American, and United, all of which have been offering very aggressive fare discounts. American military personnel and their families, of which there are still a large number in Germany, fly American carriers whenever possible as a matter of Federal policy. Lufthansa evidently was finding itself with fewer and fewer passengers and finally realized that it had better start offering more attractive fares and more pleasant service in order to be profitable on its trans-Atlantic routes.
I might add that the concept of being pleasant to customers does not come naturally to Lufthansa flight personnel, the older generation of which seems to have had former careers as prison matrons. The airline does seem to have made a serious recent effort to recruit young talent with a more positive attitude; I did, however, overhear a middle-aged stewardess, obviously a holdover from the old days, complaining to her colleagues about how hard she was having to work on our return flight. She probably had me pegged as an American by my dress, but didn't realize I could understand every word she was saying.
At any rate, our flight to Frankurt was far more pleasant than I had anticipated from previous experience; even the food was several cuts above normal airline fare. Upon arrival at Frankfurt’s Rhein-Main Flughafen before the crack of dawn, we descended several levels to the train station and embarked on a half hour train ride to Wiesbaden, a quiet and charming nineteenth century spa city which has become quite familiar to American television audiences in recent years. The American military hospital on its outskirts has been a first stop on the trip home for our political hostages and, in fact, a newly-released hostage arrived in Wiesbaden the very day that we were there.
I used to spend a good deal of time in Wiesbaden in years past. From 1976 to 1981 Antique Sound Workshop was the American agent for recorders and string instruments by Willy Hopf & Co., which firm was originally located outside of Wiesbaden in Taunusstein but which relocated during the period of our association to Wiesbaden proper. The Hopf firm, sad to tell, declared bankruptcy and was liquidated in 1984, a victim of mismanagement and stupidity on the part of its owners. While we no longer have any business connections to Wiesbaden, I still enjoy this small city, which is the present-day capital of the state of Hessen and lies just across the Rhein from Mainz, the capital of Rheinland-Pfalz.
After a brisk walking tour of the downtown area during the morning, we made a side trip for lunch to Darmstadt, the former capital of this state, where the Hessen State Library houses a sizeable manuscript collection of chamber, orchestral, and church music employing one or more chalumeaux by Graupner and other Darmstadt court composers of the eighteenth century. A second side trip, also on the same day was to the village of Biebrich am Rhein, just a few kilometers south of Wiesbaden, for a pilgrimage to the Heckel bassoon workshop and dinner at a fine restaurant run by transplanted Bavarians and featuring a wide assortment of beers from the Bavarian State Brewery Weihenstephan.
On the following day, we travelled first to Cologne, where the brass instrument workshop of Josef Monke is located, and then to the small city of Herne, where a prestigious early music festival and exhibition takes place each year in early December. This festival, which is co-sponsored by the city of Herne and the WDR (Westdeutscher Rundfunk) in Cologne, consists of (1) a series of early music concerts, morning, afternoon, and evening, which takes place over a period of four days; (2) an exhibition of instrument makers, dealers, and vendors located in the foyer of the concert hall, and (3) a display of original instruments from various museums and private collections exhibited in the Herne city museum, which is located in a charming old castle. The theme of this year's concert series was Zwischen Elbe und Donau — Musik aus Böhmen, Mähren, und der Slowakei von Mittelalter bis zur Klassik.
As a welcome sign of democratization in Eastern Europe, the series was under the patronage of the cultural minister of Czechoslovakia and several Czech early music ensembles were featured along with groups from Western Europe. All of the concerts were recorded by the WDR for rebroadcast in January and February of 1992. The handsome program booklet, which was available free of charge and contained no advertising whatsoever, offered a twelve page tabular chronicle of the general and musical history of Bohemia, Moravia, and Slovakia from the sixth through the early nineteenth centuries, as well as detailed programs, photos of the performers, biographies of performers and composers, and essays on specific tangential topics. This was not the standard throw-away program booklet but a useful reference work to save and treasure for years to come. If this tiny city, supported by a regional radio station, could manage to produce a booklet this attractive and informative, I fail to understand why our big American early music festivals can't produce program booklets of comparable quality and depth.
The theme of the concurrent musical instrument exhibition was Flauto e Clarino, although it was in fact not limited just to recorders and natural trumpets; a good number of makers of transverse flutes and other historical woodwinds were present as well. Since many of the exhibitors are long-standing friends and colleagues as well as suppliers to Antique Sound Workshop, the Herne festival enabled me to meet many of our suppliers under one roof and saved my having to visit them at their workshops. We had pleasant and productive if necessarily brief visits with a number of makers, including Andreas Küng, Heinz Rössler, Bernd Mollenhauer, Gerhard Huber, John Hanchet, Eric Moulder, Ture Bergstrøm, Volker Kernbach, Herbert Paetzold, and Stephan Blezinger. As at the previous recorder-specific festival in 1986, I was astounded at the large number of new young makers of reproduction baroque recorders, most of which were of at least respectable quality and some of which were very fine indeed. At the very high prices these virtually unknown makers were charging, I can't imagine how they could make a living in such a crowded market. I suspect that most of them have other jobs in the real world and make instruments as an enjoyable but not very remunerative hobby.
The separate exhibit of original museum instruments was entitled Vom Gänsgeschrei zum Espressivo — Holzblasinatrumente des 16.—18. Jahrhundert, although our tight travel schedule and the limited hours of the museum did not allow us to visit this exhibit.
We took a brief train trip back to Duisburg to claim our luggage and another two hour train ride to Utrecht in the Netherlands, a small, pleasant, and centrally-located city which I always use as a base of operations while in Holland. While Utrecht in the past few years has sponsored a week-long early music festival in September, it is still a relatively unspoiled university town well off the tourist track. The next day, we made a pilgrimage to the small recorder shop of Hans Coolsma, only to find that the store had recently been closed and turned into an apartment. I had known that Mr. Coolsma had retired about a year ago, but was saddened to see that his tiny retail shop on the picturesque Oude Gracht (Old Canal), which offered a wide assortment of recorder music as well as his own student and handmade instruments, had been c1osed as well. As Julie remarked, it was indeed the end of an era. We traveled next to The Hague, site of both an excellent Indonesian restaurant and a city museum which features contemporary art (including four rooms of Mondrian paintings alone!) but also has a sizeable and impressive musical instrument collection as well. When I last visited this museum in 1989, the instrument collection had been closed for renovation; it was reopened only last June to the general public. The collection features but is not limited exclusively to instruments by Dutch makers and has some very ?ne keyboard, string, and woodwind instruments on display, including the famous Dordrecht medieval recorder fragment. A considered decision was made to re-display the instruments as spaciously as possible; there are therefore only a small number of instruments in each room and a great deal of white space. Whereas previously there were about five hundred instruments on display at any one time, there are now only about one hundred and fifty. The remaining several thousand instruments are housed in storage rooms in the basement and access to these is possible by appointment only. While the new arrangement is certainly less overwhelming to the casual visitor, it is very disappointing to the early music enthusiast seeking to examine and photograph a representative cross-section of this very large and important collection.
After our visit to The Hague, we travelled to Amsterdam, which I must confess is not one of my favorite cities. This once lovely city has become grubby and dirty in the past several decades, full of perverts, derelicts, and druggies. It does, however, boast three great museums: the famous Rijksmuseum, with its celebrated Rembrandt collection, the small Van Gogh Museum, specializing in the life and works of that famous artist, and the equally small and less-well known city museum, which is devoted entirely to contemporary art and features exhibitions of very recent works on the cutting edge of the avant guide. The Rijksmuseum was currently featuring a world-class special Rembrandt show, but the lines of visitors discouraged us from even attempting to get in. We settled for the city museum and had yet another wonderful Indonesian meal before returning to Utrecht to collect our luggage and board an overnight train to Copenhagen.
I always try to spend a few days in Denmark, which, as I have previously remarked in these pages, is my favorite place in all of Europe. The Danes are wonderfully friendly, open, helpful, and refreshingly free of the various national neuroses that seem to beset most other European peoples. My only Danish supplier is Ture Bergstrøm, but it was not necessary to visit him, since we had already talked with him in Herne. We did visit the little town of Humlebæk, just a few kilometers south of Helsingør (the Elsinore of Hamlet fame), where one of the world's great contemporary art museums, Louisiana, is located. The buildings are perched on a cliff and have large plate glass windows which offer spectacular views of the town harbor and the Øresund, the body of water between Denmark and Sweden. A handsome concert hall of modest size within the museum provides an excellent venue for chamber music programs.
Another side trip was to Roskilde, a small city twenty minutes southwest of Copenhagen. The cathedral in this city is the national mausoleum, and most of Denmark's monarchs and their families are buried in the side chapels of this immense building. The Domkirk has a wonderful seventeenth century early baroque organ which has been little altered over the centuries. It has undergone extensive restoration in the past several years, and was rededicated just last summer with a series of organ recitals featuring music of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries performed by a number of noted European organists. There are a fair number of interesting historical organs in Denmark, although most have been modified drastically over the centuries and still others have long since been replaced by excellent but completely modern instruments by Marcussen and other contemporary Danish makers.
Still another side trip to Odense, the second largest city in Denmark on the island of Fyn (Funen). This city is famous as the birthplace of Hans Christian Anderson, the well-known writer of fairy tales; his tiny home is now a museum and a tourist mecca. Equally significant to musicians, the village of Nørre Lyndelse, a short distance from Odense, is the birthplace of the great Danish composer Carl Nielsen, of whose music I am extremely fond. I had not been in Odense for some five years and was delighted and surprised to find that the city had built both a handsome new concert hall, home for the excellent Odense Symfoniorkester, and a Carl Nielsen museum displaying manuscript scores, photographs. personal possessions, and other memorabilia, located directly adjacent to the concerthall. Sadly, we arrived just as the museum was closing at 4:00 p.m., and we were able only to take a quick look around the lobby and bookshop. Clearly this museum will be a priority stop on my next trip to Denmark.
A third Funen native of international reputation, still very much alive and well, is the famous mobile maker Christian Flensted. We visited his charming little shop, located close to both the Hans Christian Anderson house and the Nielsen museum, and were delighted to find him still in excellent health and spirits. After selecting an assortment of mobiles and other items, we spent a pleasant hour chatting with Mr. Flensted and his wife. When he found that I was a musician (the topic had for some reason not come up on my previous visits), he allowed as how he was also a musician of sorts and had performed on several occasions with the Odense Symphony. Knowing that he has a typically wry Danish sense of humor; I suspected, correctly as it turned out, that my leg was being pulled. It turned out that he is the commander of an honorary artillery battalion which fires volleys for royalty and other visiting dignitaries. His performances with the local symphony involved firing the cannon in the 1812 Overture of Tschaikowsky! He proudly brought out his copy of the cannon part and I persuaded him to autograph it for me. I neglected, however, to ask him whether he in fact practiced his instrument at home.
To be continued in the June issue of Chrestologia.
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