Monday, June 14, 2010

die heil'ge deutsche Kunst

As I sat tonight waiting for the Artemis Quartet to play, I heard three different people near me gossiping about where I work. Now, I haven't met everybody at the Staatsoper yet, but I don't think these were colleagues. They seemed like good, concert-going citizens of Wien, and  the opera a normal part of evening conversation. It was sobering! It doesn't take long for the whole city to be talking.  Der Rosenkavalier's world still lives, it seems, and Vienna remains a strange combination of sophisticated city and schw√§tziges Dorf. Cosima Wagner famously remarked that it would never be a true city of the world, a Weltstadt. She wasn't exactly charming herself, but she had a decent claim to an appreciation of elegance...ironically...

Today featured small-minded moments (one lecture and one lie courtesy of the unpleasant hotel manager, and one bald insult and one unbelievable serving of hubris at work) along with momentous events, some personal (we got our sweet apartment in the Glasergasse, and I survived four meetings in German) and some much larger (I nearly passed out from the beauty of the Phillies' playing of the prelude to Tannh√§user, and I got to look at Gustav Mahler's wierd, miniature travel piano). At one point, I was summoned, and had a conversation I will always remember. 

Then, tonight, in the Mozart-Saal of the Konzerthaus, I saw from afar a cellist I performed with 20 years ago. We played a memorable night in Bonn which ended with beer and political conversation, this shortly after the fall of the Berlin wall. We didn't keep in touch. He and his colleagues played Beethoven op. 127, and in the slow movement time did that tricky thing where it stops and goes in all directions at the same time. The quartet played, in all senses of that word, like they were breathing, like ancient children. The people around me were just like people at other concerts, some sleepy and some rapt and some quietly conducting, some coughing and some sighing. At the end, we wouldn't stop applauding.

Speaking of Cosima Wagner, the Konzerthaus is emblazoned with a quote of her husband's, from Meistersinger:

Ehrt euren deutschen Meistern
Dann bannt ihr gute Geistern 

Let most of it crumble to dust. The art remains, it remains, it remains.


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