One night in Vienna (continued)

On this occasion, one of the principle violinists from the orchestra asked a gypsy violinist playing at the Heurige if he could borrow his violin to do some demonstrating. First off, I had no idea that gypsy violin bows were different from regular bows and that it’s customary to cut half the horse hairs off so that you can play faster music, not as loud but faster. Makes sense really…half the number of hairs, half the resistance. Newtonian physics making a better music world for us all!

And in that three hours (from 11 at night to two in the morning), I learned more about violin playing and string technique in general than I did the whole three years I spent in school. A clarinetist was also with us and since these guys couldn’t leave their instruments behind and actually had them with them, he pulled out his clarinet and showed us how the opening to Rhapsody in Blue is performed with that long Clarinet gliss. I’d heard it a thousand times but I had no idea how difficult that particular lick was to play. Things we take for granted. But again, he gave me a chance to have a blow on it, and I learned a tremendous amount about wind writing from this guy that night. It’s amazing what you can learn when you have a sense of urgency. I knew the musicians were leaving the next day; it wasn’t like I couldn’t get this information in school (although it would have been difficult as we never had access to live musicians, even as composition students, and if we did, they were student-musicians and gave us a false impression of what could or could not be done with the instrument).

The only detail missing here is that all of us were completely shit-faced! We were having fun learning. It wasn’t serious. It wasn’t reverent. It was simply fun and informational. God, I wish school could be like that. Not the drunk part, but the fun part.

Really, it was soaking up the atmosphere of getting an emotional sense of what it meant to be a performing musician. This was something that we were insulated from as students because it was all theoretical.

Later that night after we dropped the guys off at their hotel, we parked our car and two or three of us did our usual walk around the street (Ringstrasse) that was once a moat around Vienna. This was a semi-nightly routine we would do to work off some energy. It’s not like the Hochschule fur Musik und Darstellende Kunst Wien had a basketball team where we could work off our excess teenage energy. No one rode bikes unless you were on the way to the market to sell bread. Our exercise was to walk the streets at night.

On this same evening, I happened to come across an antique store up near the Freud Institute (the north end of the Ring). There in the window was the original manuscript to Mahler’s Second Symphony – the score was on sale with original parts for around $2000 US. This may seem somewhat bizarre, if not sacrilegious, to think that a museum article like this would be on sale on a public street, much less for $2000. But this was not uncommon in those days. Antique manuscripts were not really considered valuable investments. For instance, I would go to the Doblinger Musikhaus and purchase an original, hand-painted score from their antiquariat section; the store personnel would simply cut the Gregorian chant out of a book for me right there on the spot, thinking nothing of it. Today that book would be in a museum under glass and in properly humidified conditions.

Anyway, although I did make some extra income as a piano and organ tuner for around $10 a shot, I could by no means come up with that kind of money. That night I immediately called my parents and told them about Mahler’s Second being on sale. My parents, never even having heard of Mahler, could not see the value in that investment since my entire trip to Vienna (airfare, education and housing) was about $2000. Of course they were millionaires, but that was beside the point. They couldn’t understand why I would want to make this investment. But then again, my father also owned six original Boughereau oil paintings and sold them, much to my chagrin, for $600,000 all in. Each painting is worth $1.5 million to $2 million today.

A 21-year-old neophyte was no match for a man in his seventies and that man’s infinite wisdom. I have no idea how much that score and parts are worth today, but I’m quite secure in my belief that they are worth more than $2000. I guess someone else saw the value as well because they were gone the next day. Someone made one hell of an investment. Oh well – talk about the fish that got away!

2-14-07