Saturday, September 06, 2008

Lotteries of life

At the Telegraph, Noel Malcolm gives a favorable review to Alexander Waugh's book about the Wittgensteins:
Paul, the closest sibling in age to Ludwig, had some of his younger brother's qualities: asceticism, an iron will, an inability to dissemble, and a sometimes comical unawareness of how the world worked.

(Once, in New York, he complained to a friend that his shoes were hurting, and that the replacement pair he had asked the Wittgenstein staff in Vienna to send him had not arrived. 'Why don't you buy a pair here?' asked the friend. He looked at her in astonishment: 'What a wonderful idea. I never thought of that.')

He gave his debut concert in Vienna in December 1913. Eight months later, during his first week on the Eastern Front, he was hit in the right elbow by a Russian bullet; surgeons at a field hospital amputated most of his right arm, and he was taken off to Siberia as a prisoner of war, eventually returning to Vienna after more than a year of atrocious ill-treatment.

But during that year he had made up his mind to continue his career as a pianist; and that is what, with his Wittgensteinian iron will, he proceeded to do.

The Wittgensteinian money also helped. Realising that the repertoire for the left hand was extremely limited, he commissioned concertos and other pieces from a number of leading composers, including Strauss, Hindemith, Prokofiev, Ravel and, later, Benjamin Britten.

The fees he offered were huge, but the composers soon discovered that he believed himself to have thereby bought their music in a truly comprehensive way: he wanted not only exclusive performance rights, but also the right to engage in large-scale tinkering with the score.
Also of interest: Maya Jaggi interviews Tom Stoppard at the Guardian.

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