On the air in Vienna

A few weeks ago I encouraged donations to radio klassik Stephansdom, a cultural German-language radio station in Vienna which is in some financial distress. The station manager, Christoph Wellner, was kind enough to ask me to provide a short message in support of their campaign, and I did so without question — in English, however. It was broadcast this morning as part of their fundraising effort, and you can listen to it here; my little offering begins at about the 9:30 mark. (Click on the “Sendung nachhören” to start the program and hear my clarion cry to Vienna.) I’ve always wanted to be a classical music station program host, and given the few openings for such a position, this will be the closest I come, I suppose.

I’ll just take this opportunity to encourage you once again to support radio klassik Stephansdom, for all the reasons I mentioned in my statement. You can do so here. Tell ’em I sent you.

“The limits of my language means the limits of my world”

Coming across Ludwig Wittgenstein’s assertion above was appropriate, as I am learning German again, even though Wittgenstein wasn’t talking about learning foreign languages specifically — I’m afraid that interpretation is far too facile. Nonetheless it’s an assertion that sticks with you whatever language you speak, and I’m confident of its truth. It’s why I’ve been a bit of a pest with my children, encouraging them to take up a second language in the sense that it will give them a second world, and additional worlds mean additional possibilities. The fewer limits, after all, the broader the world — perhaps a worthwhile corollary to Wittgenstein’s assertion.

I came across it while reading Marjorie Perloff’s recent translation of Wittgenstein’s Private Notebooks: 1914-1916. Read in the context of an exploration of Vienna in the interwar years, it’s an enlightening experience, too. I’m neither an academic nor even a casual student of philosophy, but the notebooks also remind me that I should be picking up Damian Searls’s new translation of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, which also features an introduction by Professor Perloff. The publisher, W.W. Norton, leads me to believe it just may reward attention even from a layperson like myself — “Searls renders Wittgenstein’s philosophy clearer and more accessible than ever before,” Norton says, and that can’t hurt. You can also get a taste of this from Searls’s introduction to the book, a version of which is available here at the online magazine Words Without Borders.


Arnold Schönberg, Satire (Karl Kraus), 1910. Oil on paper. Belmont Music Publishers, Pacific Palisades, CA.

[Karl Kraus’s] life stands as an example of moral uprightness and courage which should be put before anyone who writes, in no matter what language. … I had the privilege of listening to his conversation and watching his face, lit up by the pale fire of his fanatic love for the miracle of the German language and by his holy hatred for those who used it badly.

— Gregor von Rezzori

Looks like I should have extended my recent outing to Vienna. At the Arnold Schönberg Center, an anniversary exhibition marking the 150th birthdays of Arnold Schönberg and Karl Kraus will be open to the public through May 10. Any student of Viennese Modernism like myself will look forward to this program that features music manuscripts, texts, paintings, and drawings, as well as letters and photographs. The Center says:

Advocating progress in music, Schönberg embodied the courage to break with conventions. In keeping with the interdisciplinary orientation of Viennese Modernism, the composer also expressed himself as a writer and painter. As a censor of language, Kraus fought an unrelenting battle against corrupting newspaper phrases, double standards and esthetic uniformity. The two jubilarians were united by an unspoken understanding of artistic and social matters, and by a shared ethical program which aimed at a claim to truth in all areas of art.

I wrote briefly about Kraus’s Last Days of Mankind here, and I hope to write about Schönberg (one day, one day …). Those of us who can’t be there can comfort ourselves with the English-language catalog of the show, available here. And below is a trailer for the exhibition.


It’s taken a while, but it’s worth the wait: the Complete Music for Cello & Piano by Morton Feldman, performed by my lovely wife Marilyn Nonken (piano) and the estimable Stephen Marotto (cello), is now out and available for purchase from Mode Records. The centerpiece of the 2-CD set is Feldman’s hypnotic 1981 “Patterns in a Chromatic Field,” but the works range in time from 1946 through 1981, permitting the listener to chart Feldman’s development over nearly thirty-five years of his musical activity.  Recorded at the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) in Troy, NY, in 2018, it’s beautifully recorded and mastered by producers Jeffrey Means and Brian Brandt and engineers Jeff Svatek and Todd Vos. Nobody who’s interested in 20th-century American music will want to be without it.

The CD is available from Mode Records and a top-quality FLAC download of the album can be found at Bandcamp; it will be released through various streaming services next month.

The end of “Civilisation”?

I might say that I continue to “work through” Kenneth Clark’s 1969 series about the history of Western art, Civilisation — I’ve pointed to Clark here and there in the recent past — but “work” is the wrong word. The series is more an extended pleasure, and alas I have just a few more episodes to go. Fortunately, the version available on Britbox has restored the original 35mm film, so the pleasure is unencumbered by faded color or annoying scratches.

Civilisation maintains its fan base — I’ve heard from someone who expresses similar enthusiasm for it, which I must admit cheered me up quite a bit — but to some the presentation is dated. I have to disagree; maybe the best thing about the program is that, to my mind, it hasn’t dated at all. Apparently the BBC came to the conclusion that it was time for an update, and in 2018 released Civilisations (note the plural), a nine-episode do-over hosted not by a single person (therefore the subtitle to the Clark series, “A Personal View”), but by three — Simon Schama, Mary Beard, and David Olusoga — and when it was released in the United States by PBS, narration by Liev Schreiber was added as well. Although I haven’t seen the 2018 series yet, I fear that it may be even more dated than Clark’s, driven as it were by a need to dismiss Clark’s emphasis on the “great man” and “genius” approach to art and a similar need to dress up the history of art in classist social criticism. At the time, Andrew Ferguson contributed a wry comparison of the two series for The Weekly Standard; you can find it here, and it makes interesting reading. (It may take a while to load;  you’ve been warned.)