an essay by bertl mütter
There is a DM drugstore on the main square of the city of Steyr. On the second floor, above the entrance, is a memorial stone with an embedded portrait. On the stone is "Dem Liederfürsten Franz Schubert zur Erinnerung an seinen hiesigen Aufenthalt 1825–1827. Die Steyrer Liedertafel anlässlich ihres 40 jahr Gründungsfestes 1890." (To the song-prince Franz Schubert in remembrance of his sojourn here 1825 to 1827. The Steyr Choral Society, on the 40th anniversary of its founding in 1890). Around 1980 the Steyr municipal authorities affixed the following inscription: "Schubert-Haus. Hier komponierte Franz Schubert 1819 das Forellenquintett als Gast des damaligen Besitzers G. Paumgartner." (Schubert House. Here in 1819, as the guest of then-owner G. Paumgartner, Franz Schubert composed the Trout Quintet).
Up the Pfarrberg on the building Pfarrgasse 12 (Boutique New York) stands: "Geburtshaus von Johann Mayrhofer geb 22,10,1787 gest, 5,2,1836 Freund und Textdichter Franz Schubert's" (Birthplace of Johann Mayrhofer, born 22 October 1787, died 5 February 1836. Franz Schubert's friend and librettist).
On Brucknerplatz stands the very first Bruckner Memorial, sculpted by Viktor Tilgner (his other principal works are the Werndl Memorial and the Mozart Memorial in the Vienna Burggarten) and Franz Zerritsch (from him came pedestals, infant figures, masks, lyres, laurel wreaths), unveiled on Pentecost 1898. Anton Bruckner once played the organ in the city's Parish Church. In its courtyard is a memorial plaque: Anton Bruckner composed his last great works here in the vacation months of 1886 to 1894. 1908 A.D. His honorary members: The ,Kränzchen’ Men's Choir.
In 1880 in nearby Bad Hall Gustav Mahler acted as conductor for the little summer theater, at a monthly wage of thirty gulden plus fifty kreuzer per performance. He had to direct both operettas and the musical accompaniment to burlesque, and during intermissions push around the baby carriage holding the concert master Zwerenz's little daughter (who later became the popular operetta singer Mizzi Zwerenz).
In the 19th century Steyr was typical of a class of small-city culture with an open-minded citizenry, receptive to new ideas. Apart from Linz and St.Florian, its devotion to music was the most renowned in the province (Upper Austria). The large Chrismann organ built in 1772 was a center of interest not for Bruckner alone. Karoline Eberstaller, rumored to be daughter of a French general, played as a child of 7, 11, 13 years, with Schubert four-handed in 1819, 1823 (things weren't going well with him that year) and 1825. For Bruckner, who had a constant appetite for approbation, she represented a valuable contact with musical tradition. She (Eberstaller) died in 1902. The barber and vernacular poet Sepp Stöger saved Bruckner's hair, hoping for a posthumous accretion in value. Several portrayals of Bruckner show him with his head close-shaved. Unfortunately, doubt must be cast on the assertion that Schubert composed the Trout Quintet in Steyr.
I scarcely took notice of all the foregoing while I was growing up—through the former presence of Schubert and Bruckner one automatically became of high value himself. Also, I had long believed that only the (Vienna) Philharmonic was better than the Civic Band. And to go strolling in Bad Hall was a bore, too many old people. Robert Stolz eternally, really just like in a club for seniors.
At the end of the 60s and in the early 70s there were two businesses in Steyr bearing the name Mütter (mothers): an electrical-supply store and a fish market. Mütter-Weckerl was the name once given to a poppy-seed bun stuffed with a Russen (a small herring-like fish) and some greens. Poppy-seed buns (Mohnweckerl) are today called Mohnflesserl even in Steyr, although back then the latter name was more commonly heard only in the northern part of Upper Austria. The statue of a raftsman stands on the bridge next to Hotel Minichmayr—in earlier times the River Enns was used for log-raft transport. All that aside, Mütter-Weckerl was a quickly-associative derisive nickname applied to me and my brother by the less articulate members of the generation we grew up with. That was really unfair: Grandpa owned the electrical-supply store in Damberggasse. Each year on All-Saint's Day he was responsible for the sound system at the soldiers' memorial observance held in the cemetery by, I believe, the Black Cross. Every year the mayor gave a speech. Grandpa was also in the Party.
My brother and I were the only Mütters of our generation.
The music school stands on Brucknerplatz. There, already ten years old, I took my first music lessons. Grandpa had supposedly arranged for me to have them through the Party. First, as was customary, a short recorder. Then the euphonium. "Your lips are so large, don't you want to change to the tenor horn?" I wanted to. I was completely unfamiliar with the instrument, but I liked the teacher. And finally, at the age of seventeen, the trombone. You can only play brassy or beer-tent music with the tenor horn, but no jazz, whatever that is. Once I had a miniature golf ball in the tenor horn, and could hardly get a sound out of it.
The panorama from the center window of the second floor of the music school: On the far left one can look down on the Pfarrberg. Semi-left is the Parish church. A granite Peace Cube now stands in front of it, mentioned (with a picture) in a book by Max Goldt. Then overlooking a small grassy spot with parking places—once in early December a loading crane brought a stuffed and mounted whale and put it on display there—to the Schwechater, the hangout of the Sängerlust, the Mens' Choral Society. A specialty of the Schwechater is the Reiter-Weckerl, a black-bread roll filled with roast pork and horseradish. Steyr seems to be a city of buns and rolls. To the right of the Schwechater is the Schubertlinde, a linden tree ideal for dogs of every breed. For the small lectern-shaped stone (Translated: "At the 20th Choral Society Festival in Steyr in 1978, the Upper Austrian & Salzburg Men's Choirs planted this linden tree to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the death of Franz Schubert") is encircled with dog droppings. Dogs seem to love the linden and the memorial stone; people (except for dog-owners) scarcely take notice if it. Then the view of the Forum departmernt store, and on the right, below the school at the garden entrance, the Bruckner Memorial.
Usually I exited the bus at Johannesgasse and walked through the city on my way to the Gymnasium (secondary school). Haratzmüllerstrasse Nr. 32: (Translation: "Birthplace of the first Schubert-vocalist Johann Michael Vogl, Vienna Court opera singer. Born 10 August 1768, died 19 November 1840. Dedicated by the Steyr Kränzchen Men's Choral Society 1914"), Minichmayr, across the Enns River bridge, in the Enge, past Stigler's where the obituary notices are on display (it occurs to me that Schubert also died on a 19th of November), out of the Enge, past the Mütter fish-market into the City Plaza, Schubert House, Spar-Cassa (Savings Bank), Seven-star House, Bummerlhaus, then the Pfarrberg with the (old) Hartlauer, Süss meat-market (a wurst-stuffed roll with pickle, five schillings), Electro Waldhauser, on the left the Mesnerstiege, also called the Brucknerstiege (Bruckner climbed these steps to reach the hous of his friend Franz Xaver Bayer; now closed), the Parish Church, Music School on the right, Schwechater on the left, and then an underpass and into the school. New teachers always asked me whether I belonged to the fish-market family, but they never called me Mütter-Weckerl. The Mütter electrical-supply store no longer existed in my secondary-school days.
Steyr is: an industrial (automobile) city, a shopping city, a school city. Steyr calls itself the Eisenstadt (iron city), with partner city Eisenerz; in recent times also Christkindlstadt, with partner city Bethlehem. A decision must still be made as to how the open-all-year theme center Christkindlwelt will be managed in future. Other partner cities: Kettering, Ohio, USA; Plauen, Saxony, German Democratic Republic (no longer existing as such). During the Cold War, Steyr remained neutral. If one crosses the Museum Footbridge, one sees splendid Forellen (trout) in the water. An outstanding sports club is named Forelle Steyr, the source of many canoe- and kayak aces, a world champion among them. There is also a (non-composing) world champion hairdresser. If it now seems that Steyr is a fish city (trout, herring) or a roll city (intersection point of all coordinates: the Mütter-Weckerl), I must refer to the famous wurst specialties of Zellinger, a star item being their Käsetaler.
Together with the Civic Band I turned the first spadesful of earth for the BMW factory. Bruno Kreisky gave a speech—I saw him from close by, as I did once before on the First of May. Before, we used to catch junebugs at that spot.
Josef Werndl is Steyr's pioneer. In the 19th century he was already producing breech-loading rifles, and he introduced early electrification. He also built housing for his workers and the Schwimmschule, a public swimming pool, for their children. Bruckner was a frequent guest at the Werndl family's home in Unterhimmel; bouillon with noodles was served regularly. On the Werndl Monument are the words Arbeit Ehrt (Labor honors).
Steyr has always been innovative.
Steyr can thank its well-organized transport people for the sorry fact that the Westbahn railway line goes through St. Valentin, only 20 kilometers distant. The main highway does too, unfortunately.
Steyr is neither a Schubert city nor a Bruckner city.
Steyr is the most, to say the least.
My father was a plant electrician at the Steyr Works. At home he liked to sing, but only at home. He told me about Fritz Wunderlich—perhaps I remember him in that connection because they resembled each other a little (also, they were both born in 1935). But my memories go back only as far as the moon landing; I was just four years old, and Luis Armstrong was more amusing than the Austronaut. And later, when we had a television set, I became acquainted with Anneliese Rothenberger and Rudolf Schock. In the program Erkennen Sie die Melodie (Identify the Melody), each candidate appeared exactly like his/her field (opera—operetta—musical). So I learned that serious (Papa said heavy) music really must be serious, and of course heavy. Also, in heiteren Beruferaten (German-language version of "What's My Line") with Robert Lembke, the men at least, Hans (Chief District Attorney) and Guido (interlocutor) had to be very serious. In the year 2000 I would be thirty-five years old and very serious, preferably wearing thick horn-rimmed spectacles.
I have always been singing. However, my parents didn't want me to join the St. Florian Boys' Chorus. That was all right with me. In Catholic Austria Schubert's most celebrated work was the Deutsche Messe D.872, GL802. That aside, I learned Am Brunnen vor dem Tore and Guten Morgen, schöne Müllerin with Hans Conrad on Sunday mornings. That was also where I learned the word Kammersänger (Title awarded to outstanding singers).
I have acted as an altar boy since my First Communion. In season, I was also engaged as an Epiphany carol-singer. At Mass I soon became the lead singer, prayer leader and lector. I cribbed from our chaplain how one holds the attention of an audience. Take your time. Make eye contact. Speak calmly, not too loudly. It fascinated me to know that certain texts and rituals were reserved to the Celebrant. Thelordbewithyou. And stand in the spot where the room axes intersect (as a boy I naturally hadn't analyzed it that way, but I somehow knew it intuitively). As a boy I of course wanted to become a priest. As a boy.
Then we founded the Gardenschlauch (garden hose) Jazz Band. Old-time jazz, right on the borderline of technical playing possibilities. With girls it didn't rate as highly as a rock band, in spite of the long hair. The artist experiences his first great solitarinesses.Then to Graz for a year of Theology, at the same time taking a brief sniff into the Jazz Department. Graz has it. Then Linz, military music. And finally, studying jazz, the trombone and a little vocalizing. Progressive deviation from the Canon, concluding in 1990 as a dissident. Today I have still not become serious-minded. And I can even read the small print on 500- and 1000-schilling notes without a magnifying glass.
We don't know whether Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Charles Mingus or Charlie Parker (to name a few) had a special connection with southern Upper Austria. It is reported that Schubert and Bruckner had it at least, also Gustav Mahler.
Perhaps I learned from our chaplain in the church how to play solo. It just turned out that doing so is the core of my artistic endeavors. Naturally I relate to traditions, I can't pull something else over my head, it would constrict me. My forefathers were never—in accord with the current style and exchange value—cotton pickers in the southern States, nor were they Siberian shamans. Nor do I play a didgeridoo. In other words: In La Valse, Ravel is looking toward Vienna from the Eiffel Tower. He doesn't pretend to be sitting in the Riesenrad (Vienna's enormous Ferris wheel)—that would have been presumptuous. Whether or not I wish it, the only tradition I'm able to understand in a close-to-authentic way—somewhat unobserved, see above—is the one I was born into. I build on that fundament, differentiating, gently critical, definitely not with flag-waving patriotism, I hope. However, I like to let myself be touched by external influences. Otherwise, why should I have studied Jazz (or what one takes Jazz to be), and involved myself with non-European and intra-Alpine music?
My principal instrument, the trombone, possesses no classical-romantic repertoire which one can take seriously; much of it sounds like crude marching music. I consider this fact to be an advantage, for I need not shudder when confronted with study-related master works dedicated to an instrument. Of course there are beautiful, very beautiful orchestra parts for it. But, returning to Ravel: others play the Bolero, too.
If the works won't come to me, I must go to the works. In jazz it is taken for granted that standards will be given individual interpretation. But my pieces are not called Stella by Starlight or Autumn Leaves. Then why not the Zweite Mahler, Triadic Memories or Das Musikalische Opfer?
"Here again it disturbs me greatly that I have never penetrated deeply into Musicology and cannot rate myself even semi-educated in the field, a status especially despised by musical science. I must constantly keep this in mind. Faced by someone erudite (I have proof of this, unfortunately) I would fare badly even in the easiest examination (…). I admit all this openly to myself, even with a certain delight. Because the underlying reason for my scientific incapacity seems to me to be an instinct, really not a bad instinct." (Franz Kafka, Researches of a Dog, 1922).
I will allow myself to improvise further on those works which affect me, recompose and compress them, lead them further, feel them further.
We're dealing here with Schubert's Winterreise.
Canetti would call it a thorn. Now in the stillness you first feel your serpent. Dream deeper into it, twist that thorn. Go on, go further. It is narrow enough on the way to school, and learning never ends.
Tradition, it is said (in that spot of the Austrian Film Archive they run before each Laurel & Hardy retrospective—meanwhile I know that the saying was bequeathed by Gustav Mahler), tradition is "handing down the fire, not worshipping the ashes." I am not a classically trained and classically performing vocalist. The trombone and the euphonium have become (my) body parts. I respond to the call of Schubert's music and Müller's exhausted hero in my current, very personal, and perhaps also distressed languages. In the ideal case without shyness, inhibition or hasty self-censorship. It is for me the only possible and necessary homage to the Winterreise and Schubert, and to the likes of Müller, Patzak, Louis Armstrong, Hotter, Prégardien, Hampton, Quasthoff, Fischer-Dieskau, Chet Baker, Wunderlich…
Many things can be thoroughly prepared and fixed in place. Then again it is possible that a sequence, a parameter, fascinates me and I pick it out for myself, seemingly (or in actuality) willfully. I tend to surprise myself. Associations can seemingly (or actually) lead one far astray.
I am an amateur. And a dilettante.
"Cracking a nut is really not an art, therefore no one will gather an audience together and crack nuts for their amusement. If he does it anyway, and succeeds in his intention, then it cannot be mere nutcracking. Or, if it really is nutcracking, and it turns out that we have ignored this art because we have smoothly mastered it, and that then this new nutcracker first displays its true nature, why it could be useful for the effect that he was a little less competent a nutcracker than most of us.." (Franz Kafka, Josefine die Sängerin, or Das Volk der Mäuse; Kafka's final work, March, 1924).
Several times I have asked myself how it came about that the Schubert Festival Schubertiade was founded in Vorarlberg province. It apparently never occurred to anyone in Steyr. But that's the way it is.
Vienna is different.
By growing up in Steyr and being educated in Graz I was well prepared. Everything just needs to be multiplied by, we could say, 20 (Steyr) or 7 (Graz). And instead of the Civic Band, there is the Philharmonic.
Whoever sings in the bathtub all alone hears the entire orchestra in his head; he doesn't miss a single instrument. My bathtub stands on stage, a very intimate event.
In the winter an estimated 300,000 rooks live in Vienna.
© Bertl Mütter, 2001
Translation: David Koblick