I had the smoothest transfer to train yet what with being at its point of departure, Vienna, and being able to board early without a time panic to find my car was a treat. And gorgeous scenery, particularly passing through Salzburg. I could almost have burst into song….
So I stepped off the train calm and relaxed and was immediately swept into a maelstrom. After all of the art, museums, classical concerts and operas, I now felt as though I were on another planet that might as easily have had talking apes on it. The train station was a zoo. Outside, there were hordes, and I mean hordes, of university-aged men wearing 150-euro brown suede capri-length or short pants (will they ever wear them again?) and many of them had beers in their hands, just walking around. There were many, many women in dirndle skirts, crinolines, and frilly white blouses displaying varying amounts and perkinesses of cleavage. Everyone was very, very happy. There were lots of police, who were oblivious to beers in hands. There was drunkenness, but it was perfectly safe, because I know had I touched any of them with the tip of my index finger, they would have fallen over like a sailboat broaching in a slight change of wind. Some would have fallen over had I merely pointed my pinky in their direction.
Ah yes, I remember thinking I was glad I was arriving in Munich when Oktoberfest was over. Of course I wasn’t thinking that it was actually over only moments before I arrived. I was not on Mars, I was in Bavaria HQ.
Naturally, I got completely lost and went immediately off in the direction opposite to that of my hotel. You would think by now I would look at a map, determine my destination and then turn 180 degrees. Ah well…
Having now missed the daily walking tour, which might have been fun with all the ruckous, I headed over to the Residenz, the palace of the Bavarian kings, queens and electors, thinking correctly that this would not be the main attraction for rowdy young men in short pants. The palace really didn’t look that big from my vantage point at the entrance. However, it contained two complete palaces: the first half was medieval, and then I stepped into yet another incredible Baroque-Rococo palace with the gold dripping off the walls! Much of these were reconstructions after lots of damage during the world wars. Up until the late 1880’s, Bavaria had been quite powerful, but that diminished and it was ultimately dissolved in 1918 at the end of WWI and Ludwig III went into exile. One of the special features of this palace were the number of medieval and early crowns in the treasury, studded with gems and looking just like, only better than, the ones in Shakespeare plays and in movies. It also contains a little jewel box of a theatre, red with golden women acting as pillars holding up the second balcony, marble busts, and carved draped red velvet hanging off of the balconies. There are no concerts in the theatre while I am here, but there is an unusual medieval church within the palace built of red bricks, and I will be going to a concert there on Thursday night. The acoustics will be amazing, the interior being about 3 stories high.
I dashed back to my hotel realizing I had a concert ticket for tonight. The concert was at the Gasteig – a modern concert hall I would describe as little brother to the Berliner Philharmonie. Somewhat swooping sections of seats on one half of the hall; the sections do not surround the orchestra.
The Munich Philharmonic is world-renowned and was directed by James Levine from 1996 to 2004. Now under the direction of Eivind Jensen, this was a celebration of Beethoven. Each half of the program started with the full orchestra performing a modern piece by composers who greatly admired Beethoven, and these were a nice counterpoint to the rich Beethoven piano concertos played by Norwegian soloist Leif Ove Andsnes (a music director in his own right). An amazing pianist, every note was as if etched on rock crystal, clear as the glacial water in northern fjords, clean as a Lawren Harris painting.
There are a lot of Andsnes’ performances on youtube, here is a link to him playing another Beethoven piece:
Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat major was an early work when he had his own hearing, and he used it primarily to showcase his own virtuosic piano playing. The second piece tonight, his Piano Concerto No. 3 in G major was composed in 1805-06 and you would recognize the third movement. As early as 1801, his deafness was advanced. In 1802, he famously wrote to his brothers in a letter now known as the Heilingenstadt Testament, in which he admitted,
“what a humiliation when one stood beside me and heard a flute in the distance and I heard nothing, or someone heard the shepherd singing and again I heard nothing, such incidents brought me to the verge of despair, but little more and I would have put an end to my life – only art it was that withheld me, ah it seemed impossible to leave the world until I had produced all that I felt called upon me to produce, and so I endured this wretched existence – truly wretched, an excitable body which a sudden change can throw from the best into the worst state – Patience – it is said that I must now choose for my guide, I have done so, I hope my determination will remain firm to endure until it please the inexorable parcae to break the thread, perhaps I shall get better, perhaps not, I am prepared.”
It is hard to imagine, reading this letter, what patience was called upon, how he endured to give us so much more music, especially Ode to Joy, which he did not write until 1824.