Ernst Lothar, The Vienna Melody

Ernst Lothar, The Vienna Melody. Europa Editions, 2015; 19631

We went to Vienna via Zurich and Salzburg last month. When we returned it seemed a good time to turn to this hefty family saga (just under 600 pages). As its title indicates, it’s set in the capital of Austria (previously the Austro-Hungarian empire) 1880-late 1930s. It immediately had me gripped.

More particularly, its setting is largely the imposing three-storey house (later extended to four storeys) on the corner of Annagasse and 10 Seilerstätte (a real address: see a picture on Google maps), home to the Alt family (their name is not too subtly symbolic), whose modest fortune was made from their piano manufacturing business. Mozart played one of their earlier instruments, proudly displayed (but too dilapidated to be playable any more) in one of their rooms.

At the heart of the narrative is the troubled marriage of the present (in 1880) proprietor of the factory, Franz, aged 36, and his new wife Henriette, daughter of a Jewish professor. He’s so besotted that he overlooks her lack of love for him, and her pining for the handsome son of the Emperor, with whom she’d had an affair. She felt hurt and rejected when her royal lover took up with other women, and married one of them.

Early in the novel he summons her to make an extraordinary request. Her refusal precipitates a dramatic turn of events that haunts her for the rest of her life. Meanwhile, she has to learn to try to fit in to the hostile atmosphere in the house she has to adapt to after her marriage to Franz. The rest of the extended Alt family who live there view her with a mix of hostility and anti-Semitic suspicion.

Over time, the focus shifts to Henriette and Franz’s children, and in particular their sensitive son Hans. Mentally and emotionally scarred by his experience in WWI, on his return from the trenches he marries an academically brilliant fellow student, also Jewish, who becomes a prominent actress. The novel’s slowly accreting but always engrossing narrative and rich characterisation become increasingly nerve-shredding as the Nazi party rises to power. The Jewish characters face a deadly and brutally violent faction that horrifyingly takes a grip even on the outwardly respectable bourgeoisie like the Alt family.

The outsider’s image of Vienna as a stately, civilised centre of art, music, culture and socio-political stability is irrevocably shattered. Through our investment in this large cast of characters, portrayed with great subtlety and skill, we feel with increasing trepidation the decline of an empire into savagery, turmoil and intolerance. There’s a ray of hope in the figure of Hans.

Just one aspect of this edition annoyed me: the numerous typos. These appear on almost every page, at times even obscuring meaning.

Ernst Lothar was born in Brünn, Austria-Hungary (now Brno, Czech Republic) in 1890. He was a writer, theatre director and producer. He died in 1974.

Snow, lobster, Lothar

This week Cornwall experienced its first serious snowfall in some years. Siberian winds blew in fiercely from the east, caused by atmospheric shifts over the Arctic (nothing to do with global warming, I’m sure). Later in the week storm Emma moved up from the south, full of dampness, and more snow ensued.

This was the blizzard-like scene on Wednesday:

Truro snow

Normally i can see Truro Cathedral from this back door; now screened by the icy blast

Truro snow

Birds struggled to keep warm and sustained; my feeders in the back garden were thronged right through the storms

I know there are plenty of countries where much harsher winter conditions are common; I once visited my late friend Mike in Finland and the sea was frozen!

But here, where the prevailing winds come mild and damp from the southwest, across the Atlantic, and our Cornish coasts are kept temperate by the warm Gulf Stream, we rarely see this kind of weather.

It looked beautiful, though of course it caused all kinds of problems for people who needed to travel or try to get to work. Our staff and students were sent home to keep safe. So a couple of bonus days of reading…

By Saturday the snow had gone and the temperature returned to normal.  was able to go into town with Mrs TD. At the wonderful Fal Catch unit in the covered market we bought fish and prawns for our Keralan curry that night.

 

Truro snow

This was the scene down the road on Thursday: no cars, just families out sledging

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the tanks were several live lobster – all fairly normal in size. I asked the proprietor about the monster crustacean they’d had in the same tank before Christmas: he was huge. Had they sold him? He told me the lobster must have been 60 years old, and no, they hadn’t sold him by Christmas Eve. So he and his partner took him with them to the pub, had a pint, then drove home and released the lucky chap into the sea off Pendennis Point. I just hope he’s learned his lesson and evades the traps in future.

Lobster

Image via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today in town I did a few chores and browsed a couple of charity bookshops. In one I came across this: an author new to me, but I so liked the cover and the summary of the text that I had to buy it. Anyone reading this know it? He was born in Brünn, now Brno in the Czech Republic in 1890 and died in Vienna in 1974. He was a writer, theatre director and producer. Here’s the cover:

Lothar Vienna Melody cover

A handsome Europa Editions cover