Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Franz Schubert...The Lost Week

Since the time I first became aware of music, long ago in early childhood, I have had an abiding interest in music history, particularly the lives of the great composers who lived and worked in Vienna. I find it fascinating to look further than the dry biographical texts of my college days and examine more closely the daily experiences that inspired Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and so many others to the sublime heights of creativity attained in that city during the golden era of the Hapsburg empire. These were, after all, living, breathing musicians with all the passions, weaknesses and quirkiness prevalent in their heirs of today's music world.

My music history professor at school was an avid disciple of Mozart and we debated many hours over Wofgang's alleged superiority over my hero, Franz Schubert. I had read every word I could find about my favorite composer, and had an intimate knowledge of his letters, notes to friends, personal diaries and even knew the details of his laundry and shopping lists. I felt that I knew, as well as could be known from a distance of 150 years, enough about Schubert to have a keen appreciation for that which made him the composer he was.

When my grandfather passed away in 1974, I received a package from Salzburg containing various personal effects which my grandmother sent according to his last wishes. At the bottom of the box there was my grandfather's handwritten journal describing his adventures as a submariner during the first World War. I carefully pulled back the cover to reveal a note in his handwriting that could not have been older than a month. Translated, it said, "My dear grandson Peter, knowing your passion for stories about your favorite composer, Franz Schubert, I am leaving you something very special which has been in our family since his death in 1828. You may know that he passed from this life in the house at nr. 6 Kettenbrückengasse where my own grandfather was employed as a house servant. On these few scraps of paper are written in the maestro's own hand the facts concerning his absence from Vienna for seven days during the late summer of 1822. You may remember from your studies that Schubert was not a famous man during his short life, and his disappearance was noteworthy only within the small circle of his friends. This cherished momento from the hand of the master I leave to you upon my passing from this life."

Eureka!! Imagine how my heart jumped as I held in my humble hand that which Franz Schubert had held in his own a short 150 years before. Here, translated for the very first time is the document describing seven lost days in the brief life of the great composer:

Ach, Saturday! Today I will not write music. I feel lazy and I think that the best thing is to go for a long walk in the woods. But better that I take paper in my pocket, the symphony must be finished and maybe I will get some ideas from the songbirds...

(Later that night) What a very strange day it has been. I thought that I had walked every path in these woods, but an hour after I passed the Heuriger (Viennese wine garden) I felt that this was a different forest altogether. I did not see the usual landmarks. Where was Hofstetter's hunting shack? The giant Castanian tree that fell in last year's storm was gone. But the sun was still high in the sky and the birds were singing so there was no reason to be worried. I kept wandering in my beloved woods, thinking, always thinking...mein Gott, but the symphony just won't let itself be finished! But now it is dusk and I am very tired. Tired and hungry. I think I will rest for a moment and then try to find my way home. The moon will be almost full and I will surely find the way.

(Sunday Night) I had the strangest dream...and as I awaken it is again dark! Have I slept under this tree all day? It cannot be. But I am no longer tired and my hunger is gone. Ah, the dream...I heard the most interesting music, primitive but yet very soothing to the spirit. It came from the very depths of the forest, from a place I do not know. I dreamed that I followed the sound as a spaniel follows his nose to the back door of Hirschpichler's butcher shop. The strange music drew me deeper and deeper into the forest until I saw a house...well, it looked like a house, but it was built very low to the ground. It was made of a strange material, long tube-like pieces tied together. And the roof was made of long yellow grass-like branches. There were no doors or windows, only the holes where such things should be. And as I looked down I noticed that the forest floor was no longer covered with the dark green moss but that I was now walking on clean white sand! But what was this music? There was a guitar playing only simple chords on the second and fourth beat of each measure. And a low drum on the downbeat with some sort of percussion on every off beat. Nothing sophisticated at all, but the repetition was hypnotic and if I wasn't dreaming, I think that I would have gone to sleep. And go to sleep I surely did because now it is almost morning and the nearly full moon is sinking to the west. Ach, I should have stayed in my room to work on the symphony!

(Sometime Tuesday) The mystery is still a mystery and I am still hopelessly lost but at least I am with friends. Yesterday I was awakened by the same haunting rhythm of this strange new music. I approached the grass covered house and looking in the door, I pulled myself back in terror. Inside there was what appeared to be at least 5 or 6 people, men women and children...but like nothing I had ever seen in Vienna. They were barefoot and dressed in very bright colored clothing. The women had multicolored head coverings and the men...mein Gott, the men had hair and beards nearly to the waist that looked like sheep's wool. And all of them had skin the color of a Sacher torte! I had never seen beings like this but as I recoiled from the door I felt a hand on my shoulder and a voice, "Ja Mann! Come in and Jam a while mann!" The hand was attached to a giant of a man who's shining black eyes looked out of a deeply lined brown face. His deep voice asked, "What is your name, Mann?" I answered, almost shaking out of my clothes, "My name is not Mann, It is Franz." "France!" he thundered. "This is not France, Mann. I don't know where this is, but this is definitely not France! If it is France you are looking for, then you are even more lost than we are." At this the entire population of the house broke into laughter repeating that this was not France at all.

When I saw that they meant me no harm, I found my voice enough to explain that yes, I was indeed very lost, tired and hungry, that my name was Franz, not France, and that I had been wandering in what I thought was a familiar forest in search of the final chords for my Symphony. "Ah, you are a music man, Mann!" "Yes, but why do you still call me Mann, my name is Franz." "We call every man Mann, but we spell it M-O-N, Mon. You...we will call you France, mon. Because you are lost like us and also like us you are a music mon." They went on to explain that they were the last of a lost tribe of Israel and had been wandering the earth looking for their rightful homeland. I was made to feel completely at home among these lost wanderers. They gave me food and drink and when I confessed that I played the guitar, I was not left in peace until I played one of my Lieder for them.

Later that night I sat on a log in the clearing wondering if this was still a dream and if, when I finally woke up, I would find my way home. Bruddah John, as the leader of this band of fellow wanderers was called, came to sit with me. As I looked up at the now full moon, he asked, "Do you want to go there mon?" "Where?" I asked. "Up there mon...to the moon." And with that he passed a long sweet-smelling cigar into my hands. "Take a taste of that mon, and you will be there, on that moon. And then you can look back at us down here. Maybe then mon, you will find your way." I had smoked the last of my pipe tobacco and was craving a smoke so I accepted the cigar and took a long draw... Now it is Tuesday and If I am still dreaming, I am tired and must sleep.

(At this point in the manuscript the writing becomes unintelligible but for a few musical scribblings, symbols outlining what appear to be rhythmic motifs, drawings of the moon in its various phases, and a recipe for mojitos. On the next page Schubert continues...)

Ach Gott im Himmel! If I am not still in a dream and if I have counted the days correctly, it is Saturday and somehow I must either find my way home or wake up! It won't do to miss church again. My new friends and benefactors have taken me in and shared everything with me. Their food is delicious although spicier than even the sharpest goulash. Their tobacco is most interesting however. I find that I cannot smoke an entire cigar or "Spliff" as they call them. After one or two draws, I must lie down while the most curious thoughts fill my head. I feel as if I can create any music in my head but in the end find myself wanting only to eat and play repetitive patterns on the guitar. Bruddah John and I played music for hours while the children clapped on two and four of every measure and the women tapped their cooking pans with wooden spoons. This music has such a charm, I must write something in this style one day. One thing is very certain...I have no more heart to finish the verdammpt symphony. I think that I will just give the first two movements to that idiot Hüttenbrenner in Graz. I'm through with it. They can call it the "Unfinished Symphony" for all I care.

I found that Brudda John's family is even more lost than I am. They are searching for an Island they called Jahmekka. I told them that there were, to my knowledge, no islands anywhere near Vienna, as the city is situated far from any sea where such an island might be found. I made the promise that upon my return home, I would look at any maps that could be found in Father's school house and would return with any information that may prove helpful to these kind people in finding this Jahmekka. But now, Bruddah has held a hot coal to a spliff and...

Here the narrative abruptly ends. Was it a dream? or did Franz Schubert really happen upon a band of future Rastafarians in the depths of the Vienna woods? And do these scraps of writing finally explain why the "Unfinished" is...well, unfinished? I read and reread the handwritten notes repeatedly searching between the lines for more insight into the mind of this great composer. But the true treasure was to be found in what I had dismissed as illegible scribbling. As I stared at the markings a composition began to take shape. Here it was, the original manuscript sketch for one of Schubert's finest songs, "To The Moon." It was all here, the melody and the chords were outlined in a rudimentary way. But there was more. There was a bass line written out and rhythmic patterns were outlined that are unmistakably similar to the music of Jamaica. You can hear the original version of this song, arranged according to notes written in Schubert's own hand by looking at the Sellaband profile of a great band from Austria called ConFused5.

Who could have guessed that a Viennese composer, the immense output of whose short career would not be recognized until after his death, would become the father of Reggae?

Sadly, three years ago, the "Lost Week" manuscript was lost during an unfortunate accident while mixing a pitcher of mojitos. But I can swear that all of the details set forth above are true...well, most of them.

...Some of them...O.K, well... my grandfather DID send me a box of stuff!


Regins van Moelckhoff said...

I always thought that one, two or more glasses of a "G'spritzter" (50%white wine&50% mineralwater)had the similar effect as smoking a spliff...except of getting hungry.
But I've also heard an interesting story about this "lost week" in the "Wiener Wald" (Viennese Woods). A descendant of Schober (a friend of Schubert) or maybe a great-grand-son of Kammersänger Vogl, who performed most of Franz's Lieder in the famous "Schubertiaden" with the master himself on the piano - told me that "To the Moon" also has been a kind of a late little revenge from Schubert to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
As you surely know, when the F.Schubert was a 17year young man, he set several poems by Goethe into music - great music (like "Erlkönig", "Gretchen am Spinnrade" a.s.o.). He sent and above all dedicated the songs to the poet Goethe with enthusiasm. Goethe himself - in a kind of vanity - refused the songs, more: he ignored Schubert. Goethe meant: "My poems are already 'Lieder'! No reason to underlay them with music." Franz Schubert's young sensitiv soul was injured deeply.
In those dubious days, wandering through the woods, under the "rastamoon" suddenly the old pains came up again. Franz remembered the Goethe-Moon he had composed, when he was only 18 years old. Suddenly in front of the fascinating rhythms, wandering around, the english words of the poem appeared out of his mind. They mixed up with the drums and the guitar riffs. spliffs. sniffs....

Greetings from not only Mozart's Salzburg,
Regina van Moelckhoff

Dreb of Sheet Metal said...

Fantastic! Utterly briliant! Bravo!

Tell me another please, that was bloody awesome Mon. Do a Sheet Metal one!!!!

Dreb of Sheet Metal

MiaJ said...

omgg that was all a joke??
HAHAH i believed everythingg i swearr!
I was gunna use this blog in my project until I read it all!
Schubert, Father of Reggae hahaha I should've known it was liee