From The Director's Desk
Editorial Views and Opinions
Postcards from Europe
ASW on the Road
The first half of this account of our journey to Europe in December of 1991 appeared in the February, 1992 issue of Chrestologia. Reader response to this unusual editorial has been most enthusiastic, and I have indeed been encouraged to write similar travelogues in the future. Although I already have enough subject matter for editorial discussion to last well into the next century, I will attempt to provide future travel sagas for the entertainment and information of our readers as time and space permit. Meanwhile, there follows herewith the second installment of "Postcards from Europe."
Another overnight train journey took us from Copenhagen to Berlin through what was previously East German territory, the first time I had taken this particular route. The train ferry, a former East German boat, was shabby, dirty, and depressingly ugly, a total contrast to the bright, new, modern Danish ferry which had taken us from Copenhagen to Odense and back earlier that day and a harbinger of sadder things to come in eastern Europe. The DDR boat and its surly, bored personnel turned out to be a microcosm of everything that is still wrong with what was East Berlin and East Germany. Even with the West Germany government and private industry pouring money and technology into the former DDR, it will be several decades before the east half of the country will even begin to approach the prosperity and productivity of the west. The dirty, decaying industrial towns along the train route were thoroughly dismal; the track beds themselves are so poor that the trains run at a much slower pace than in the western part of this newly-reunited country. Arriving at the shoddy Lichtenberg station in East Berlin early the next morning, we couldn't wait to hop a local commuter train to the western part of the city.
I had not been in Berlin for almost ten years. In the late 1970's, I visited the late Günter Körber on several occasions when his workshop was located in the Steglitz district of West Berlin and also conducted some research on the wind instruments in the Berlin Musical Instrument Museum. For sad news on the imminent closing of the Körber workshop, please see p.18 in this issue of Chrestologia. Since, however, Körber had moved to West Germany some ten years ago, I had had no further occasion to return to this once magnificent city which had been crudely torn in two for almost a half century. It was a bit eerie to walk through the Brandenburger Tor, right where the Berlin Wall had been; it was impossible not to think of the dozens of people who had died trying to escape along the same route that we were able to walk with impunity. When I was last in East Berlin in 1978, there were still piles of rubble from the bombings of the Second World War. That has all disappeared and the remains of the infamous wall have been cleared away as well, but there is still a series of empty lots where the no-man's-land behind the wall had been. The subway lines and commuter trains have been restored and one can readily travel from East to West and reverse, but the task of rebuilding and modernizing East Berlin and East Germany, not to mention revitalizing the spirit and initiative of its citizens, will extend for years into the future.
The major purpose of our visit to Berlin was to see the new building housing this city's famous musical instrument museum. A few years ago, a brand-new structure to house this large and important collection of historical instruments was built next door to the Philharmonie, the large modern concert hall that is home to the Berlin Philharmonic. This collection is now displayed to full advantage in a large, two-tiered open interior space built around a central atrium. This radical architectural experiment seems to have been highly successful and infinitely more attractive than the series of endless small rooms in a drab ancient building which had previously housed this collection. The two big set pieces are a nineteenth century English church organ of moderate size at the far end and an enormous Wurlitzer theater organ, which one can walk around and view through numerous windows, at one side of the center of the room. The famous large set of renaissance windcap instruments, shawms, and dulcians from the Wenzelkirche in Naumberg seem to be happy in their new surroundings; seeing them again was like meeting old friends in a new home. The krummhorns, rauschpfeifes, shawms, and dulcians produced by the Körber workshop are in fact based on these original instruments in the Berlin collection.> As with the Metropolitan Museum in New York, one can obtain headphones and listen to the sound of the instruments and a running narrative as one walks around the museum. Plan to spend at least an entire day there – it is impossible to do justice to this magnificent collection in only a few hours. Oh yes – like most museums in both West and East Berlin, admission is absolutely free of charge!
After a full day in Berlin, we took a late afternoon train to Hannover where overnight accommodations and a relaxing meal awaited us. Hotels in West Berlin are outrageously expensive and in East Berlin virtually nonexistent, so the prudent traveler will opt for traveling a few hours and staying on the western side of the former border. Hannover is close to Celle, where I frequently used to visit the Moeck factory some fifteen years ago, so I opted for familiar and cost-effective overnight accomodations in that pleasant, off-the-tourist-track city. The next morning we departed for Nuremberg, where two outstanding museums are located. The Nürnberg Germanisches Museum has a large and well-displayed musical instrument collection accompanied by an outstanding curatorial department behind the scenes. On several previous visits, I had accomplished a great deal of very useful research at this institution. The famous set of seven renaissance recorders by Hieronymous Kynsecker, on which the Mollenhauer Kynsecker models are based, are located here along with many other fine instruments too numerous to mention. The large and comprehensive collection of keyboard instruments is the generous gift of the Neupert family, whose harpsichord building firm is located both in Nuremberg (business offices) and in Bamberg (workshop).
Although I had been to Nuremberg on at least a dozen previous occasions, I had never before visited the railway museum run by the Deutsche Bundesbahn. For a railroad buff like myself, such a pilgrimage was long overdue. The museum is, without a doubt, the most elaborate and informative one in my experience. A series of chronologically ordered rooms have exhibits detailing the historical evolution of railways in Germany. One entire room was devoted to the use of the railroad system by the Nazi regime. The truthfulness of the written information, all too rare in a country where many still prefer to sweep this appalling period in its history under the carpet, was highly commendable. The impact of the photographs of prisoner trains at the death camps was immediate and visceral. There are also other suites of rooms describing the present-day technology of railway design and equipment, an enormous hall filled with 10:1 scale reproductions of virtually every piece of rolling stock used in the last 150 years, and a computer-controlled HO gauge model railroad layout of incredible size and complexity. A large number of actual pieces of historical rolling stock, all cleaned, painted, and in a pristine state of preservation are located in the central building, a newer annex across the street, and a large outdoor area as well. The most intriguing item was the lavish private railway carriage of mad King Ludwig II of Bavaria, who is remembered by music fans as the patron of Richard Wagner and who bankrupted the Bavarian treasury with his fantasy castles and his financing of Wagner's grandiose music dramas.
That evening, we visited two of Julie's relatives in the charming rural village of Heilsbronn, enjoying a wonderful meal and their gracious hospitality. Their home is a lovely building that is over nine centuries old, a former medieval convent. The next morning, we journeyed to Augsburg (birthplace of Leopold Mozart) to visit Julie's cousin, who is the nephew and namesake of the late composer Karl Amadeus Hartmann. He is an avid music lover, very active in the promulgation of his uncle's music, and well-connected in German musical circles. Needless to say, we spent a good deal of time trading stories and gossip from the American and European symphonic worlds. On a previous visit, I had had the pleasure of dining with the composer's widow Elizabeth, a charming and articulate lady well into her eighties. On this trip, we journeyed to the small city of Donauwürth to meet Karl's other cousin, a young architect in her thirties. She had been born and raised in East Germany and only six months ago had moved with her husband and family to the western half of Germany to make a new life for themselves. It was fascinating to hear about life in the DDR first-hand. She spoke virtually no English, incidentally, having been forced to study Russian as a second language while in school.
The next day, we departed for Vienna by a long and indirect route, stopping in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Mittenwald, Innsbruck, and Salzburg before arriving in Vienna at midnight. Garmisch was the home of Richard Strauss, although its major claim to fame is as a ski resort. We took the cog railway train up to the Zugspitze, the highest peak in the Bavarian Alps, and back. The village of Mittenwald, on the Austrian border, has been famous since the seventeenth century as a center of violin-making; the Bavarian state school of violin-making is still located in this beautiful little town at the foot of the huge alpine peak known as the Karwendel. A statue of Matthias Klotz, the founder of the Mittenwald violin school, decorates the town square. A small but fascinating museum depicts the history of violin making in Germany and displays a goodly number of instruments by three generations of the Klotz family and other Mittenwald makers to the present day.
The one-hour train ride through the Alps from Mittenwald to Innsbruch offered some breath-taking mountain scenery. On my previous visit to Innsbruck in the summer of 1989, I spent a day inspecting and playing the famous renaissance organ in the Hofkirche, a remarkable and well-preserved instrument with tonal properties quite different than the baroque instruments that are much more common. On this trip, however, we had only a brief stopover in this city, followed by a further stopover for dinner in Salzburg at a favorite restaurant run by the Stiegl brewery which features the entire panoply of excellent beers made by this firm. A glance at the concert listings around the city confirmed my suspicion that Salzburg had been milking the two hundredth anniversary of Mozart's death for commercial purposes all year long. Indeed, everywhere we went in Europe, the Mozart Requiem was being performed. Enough, already – let the poor man rest in peace!
Our arrival at midnight in Vienna, fashionably late, caused little difficulty, since the small hotel at which I have always stayed is just across the street from the Westbahnhof. In spite of the fact that I had not been a guest there for some eight years, I was cordially welcomed and granted a sizeable discount as a steady customer of the house. The walls of one of the dining rooms in this hotel, incidentally, are hung with antique woodwind and brass instruments! It was nice to be reminded once again what a pleasant city Vienna is and how gracious and charming its citizens are.
Although the large and famous musical instrument collection, which is housed in the Neue Hofburg, is presently closed for renovation, there was a special Mozart-year exhibition of musical instruments of Mozart's time, beautifully displayed and annotated. Just as at the Met in New York and the new Berlin museum, one can rent headphones and wander around, listening to recordings of the exhibit instruments being played and an informative narrative soundtrack as well. My only quibble with the exhibit was that a number of the instruments on display, such as a cornetto and some earlier baroque instruments, dated from well before the late eighteenth century and clearly would not have had any connection with Mozart or the classical era. In an otherwise well-researched and handsome exhibit, it seemed an odd anachronistic error.
A second special exhibit at the museum was a display of cartoon-like drawings, including a series of annual Christmas cards, done by the late contemporary German composer Paul Hindemith. While I had been very familiar with Hindemith's musical output, much of which is rather sober and academic, I was very much surprised and entertained by his large output of drawings and sketches, most of which were light-hearted and humorous in the style of the late British cartoonist and amateur musician Gerald Hoffnung. It did reinforce a theory I have always espoused that many if not most musicians have very different public and private personae.
Another reason for my trip to Vienna was to look at the newly installed organ in St. Stephan's Cathedral, the famous church in the center of the city where Haydn was once a choirboy. Vienna, sad to tell, has in this century been a wasteland for pipe organ enthusiasts; virtually all of the original instruments in the city's churches had long since been trashed and replaced with large, modern electric action instruments of no musical or architectural interest during the earlier years of this century. Indeed, the main organ in the rear gallery of the Stephansdom, which was installed as recently as the early 1960's, had proven to be of deficient acoustical and tonal design and useless for almost any purpose, including the accompaniment of choir and congregational singing.
Over ten years ago, the plans for acquiring a new, more suitable instrument were begun; the project proceeded with great caution and thoroughness, lest another disastrous and expensive mistake be made. A contract with the distinguished Austrian firm of Rieger, whose workshop in the far western province of Vorarlberg on the Swiss border I had visited only two years ago, was concluded in 1989; the splendid new free-standing mechanical action organ, built along historical principals and consisting of four manuals and pedal with fifty-five stops, was installed last summer on the south side of the choir and dedicated on September 13th. The church has published a booklet which contains not only the usual programs for the series of dedicatory recitals and biographies of the performers, but also a long, detailed, and highly informative account of the entire decision-making and design process which led to the building of this superb instrument. Also included are a number of very well-informed essays on a variety of related topics, the inevitable list of contributors, and a wonderfully thoughtful list of every Rieger employee who worked on this instrument (there were 41 names!) and their job description. This booklet should be required reading for any church congregation of any size planning to purchase a new organ. It is available from the cathedral bookstore and is, of course, completely in German.
The next day we took a side trip to Budapest, which city I had never visited before. It was, all in all, a very disappointing and depressing experience. The city seems to be in a terrible state of disrepair: the buildings are encrusted with soot and everything seemed to be falling apart. Nothing electrical or mechanical seemed to be operative, including the plumbing. The day we were there, the city was enveloped in a dense fog, completely polluted with industrial and auto emissions; we never thought to pack gas masks for this trip but they would have been most welcome. Evidently, the painful process of rapid democratization and conversion to a free-market economy has thrown a large number of people out of work. Virtually everywhere in the city, private individuals were hawking consumer goods and foodstuffs from makeshift stands.
The Hungarian National Museum was sizeable but seemed to have little of artistic interest; after a twenty minute wait for a television crew to pack up their gear and vacate the premises, we finally got to see the Hungarian crown jewels, a pathetic little three piece set which, in spite of their antiquity and great sentimental interest to the Hungarian people, were of little artistic interest. History buffs may recall that the Hungarian crown jewels were stored for several decades in Fort Knox in the U.S. for safekeeping and were returned to Hungary only quite recently. After having visited the British collection in the Tower of London, the Hungarian exhibit was a distinct comedown. A visit to the National Art Gallery proved equally disappointing: it offered a large but dull collection of art from the middle ages to the present day. We idly wondered if the real treasures had been looted and carried off to Moscow by the Russians, or if Hungary has simply not produced any art of world class stature in the past eight centuries.
The only bright spot in this otherwise dismal day was our chance encounter with an open rehearsal by an Hungarian chamber orchestra in the rotunda of the National Gallery, ostensibly for a concert and recording session later that day. The program, which consisted of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto and the Haydn "Oxford" Symphony, was beautifully and musically played by this outstanding group. The level of technical accomplishment and musicality, both individually and collectively, was breathtaking and far higher than the general run of English and Western European groups whose frequent tours and numerous recordings have produced rather mechanical if accomplished results. The woody, mellow tone quality of the Eastern European woodwind instruments is very different than that of Western European or American orchestras. There is, perhaps, something to be said for a socialist society where the performing arts and their practitioners are completely supported by the state and not dependent on private funding or ticket sales. I wondered what the future of this fine ensemble would be like if it is required to be partially or wholly self-supporting. I would guess that rehearsal time would be much more limited and the results nowhere near as accomplished as those we had heard.
Another overnight train journey, some thirteen hours in length, took us from Budapest to Zürich; the contrast between the decadence of the former and the prosperity of the latter was truly astounding. I always enjoy staying in Zürich, which has retained its picturesque charm in spite of its commercial activity. This city is also centrally located for visiting our three Swiss recorder makers. Since I had already spoken with Andreas Küng and Gerhard Huber while in Herne, it was only necessary to visit the workshop of H. C. Fehr, which is always a high point of my visits to Switzerland. The people at Fehr are quintessentially Swiss, being reserved but friendly, pleasant, and totally efficient. Evidently the standard of playing among many of the customers who visit their workshop is not all that great; on each of my many visits, they seem to be astounded that a mere instrument dealer could try out dozens of instruments and select the best of them in a very short time. My playing invariably draws a small knot of customers and staff who seem to genuinely enjoy hearing their very fine instruments played with professional competence. Like the Pied Piper of Hamlin, I was able to charm them out of two of their model IV baroque alto recorders, which are almost impossible to obtain; we haven't had any in stock for over two years. Unfortunately, I was not able to obtain any of their rare Stanesby copy low-pitch altos; there were simply none to be had.
In the afternoon, we ran into Michala Petri, who was in town to rehearse for a program of music for recorder and string orchestra to be given that evening in the Frauenmünster. Since her playing is, for better and for worse, a well-known quantity, we elected instead to attend a program of rare, virtually unknown baroque and classical Christmas music given by a local choir with instruments and organ in the Grossmünster. This huge barren church, which was the city's cathedral in pre-Reformation times and was later Zwingli's pulpit, has a fine modern instrument by Metzler, a well-known Swiss firm which has its workshop in the suburbs of Zürich. The music was disappointingly pedestrian; I was once again reminded that there are usually good reasons why obscure composers remain obscure. A musicological colleague of mine once remarked that there were no mediocre composers in the classical period; there were Mozart and Haydn at the top of the heap and everybody else was at the bottom. This program of simplistic music, admittedly aided and abetted by leaden, uninspired performances, would certainly seem to justify his point of view.
On the next day, the last full day of our European odyssey, we visited the lovely city of Berne, the capital of the Swiss Confederation, with its municipal bearpits housing the famous creatures which gave the city its name. After lunch, we took a train to Luzern, passing through the picturebook scenery of the Emmental, from which district comes Emmentaler "Swiss" cheese. Luzern was home to Richard Wagner during the years of his exile in Switzerland, has a ancient long wooden covered footbridge across the river, and a fine, relatively new (1982) organ by Metzler in the Jesuitenkirche which I had heard on a recent recording by Marie-Claire Alain but wanted to see in person. This recording on Erato ECD 88236 has five major works by Johann Sebastian Bach played on this splendid instrument of classical tonal design and specification; the instrument is perfectly suited to the rich baroque interior and outstanding acoustics of this lovely church.
A brief train ride (every ride in Switzerland is a short trip, since the country is so tiny) took us back to Zürich for a final celebratory meal and one last museum. No trip to Zürich is complete without a visit to the Kunsthaus, one of the great contemporary art museums in the world. No musical instruments here, but an outstanding collection of important works by the leading figures in painting and sculpture of this century. The admission fee is extremely modest, and the museum is open most evenings until 9:00 p.m.; what more could one ask?
Our long trip home began at 7:00 a.m. in Zürich, where we caught a train which took us through Basel, Freiburg, and Mannheim to Frankfurt. A local commuter train took us full circle back to the airport for our flight back to Boston. In fifteen days, we had visited twenty-six cities or towns, which must be some sort of world record. We had taken some fifty train trips, some short but most of considerable duration, and came home with many photographs, literature, and souvenirs. Once we got through Christmas and New Years, we both admitted that, if we hadn't blown all our travel budget on the first trip, we would be ready to go right back to Europe and do the whole trip all over again.
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