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Homage to Czerny: Studies in Virtuoso Technique [Paperback]

Gert Jonke

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Book Description

Oct. 17 2008 German and Austrian Literature

With a delightful combination of the ridiculous and the sublime, Jonke explores surreal dimensions of space and sound, always anchoring his flights of fancy in accessible imagery. More than any other author, Jonke, a pianist turned writer, avails himself of compositional techniques from classical music. Different characters sound their own themes in cleverly orchestrated conversations. Opening observations are restated at the end by another character instead of in another key. Not surprisingly, the first-person narrator is a composer, a young man who is all the more likable for his difficulties: his missing girlfriend and his withdrawal symptoms. The title is taken from a collection of studies by Carl Czerny; the content is a literary tour de force.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Dalkey Archive Press (Oct. 17 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1564785017
  • ISBN-13: 978-1564785015
  • Product Dimensions: 1.3 x 14.2 x 20.4 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 159 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,032,716 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

An important voice in the contemporary German-language literary scene . . . Jonke has achieved what his American counterparts merely dream of: highly experimental fiction that is both entertaining and accessible.

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Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jonke the virtuoso Jan. 28 2009
By Eric Lundgren - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The Austrian novelist and composer Gert Jonke died earlier this month, while I was reading this book, weirdly enough. Hearing the news, I felt like I was mourning a brilliant new friend I'd just met -- mourning an anticipated future rather than a shared past. The Jonke who comes out of these pages is someone I would have liked to know. Companionable, witty, urbane, taking a tactile delight in the oddities of life, Jonke's prose is a continual pleasure to read.

The Czerny of the title is Carl, a 19th-century Austrian composer of piano etudes, and in one sense "Homage" is an attempt to apply musical ideas to fiction. The novel's first section, "The Presence of Memory," is a sort of etude itself: two wealthy siblings, Anton and Johanna Diabelli, are attempting to recreate (in exact detail) their summer garden party from the previous year. This would involve, as Diabelli explains it, "a congruity of chronologically sequential thoughts, relationships, inferences, and insights"--in other words, social music. The reader slides into the ensuing party, at which several bizarre events occur, including a full-blown verbal fugue, a hilariously inept piano recital, and an incident involving a verbose poet and a hollow tree trunk. Brilliantly, as Jonke suspends your disbelief, he also leaves you wondering if this is exactly what happened at last year's party(!)

Part II, "Gradus ad Parnassum" ("Steps to Parnassus," home of the muses and the title of a Czerny piano exercise book) follows two brothers, both musical prodigies, to visit their former teacher at a conservatory, where they get trapped in the attic along with hundreds of damaged pianos. In the section's opening line, Jonke compares the attic of a building to the brain in a body. A few pages later, he elaborates the metaphor, beautifully: "In the brain of the building, I thought, in every brain there's an accumulation of junk, because everything that you yourself have destroyed or that someone else has destroyed for you is stored in the brain where it takes up an amazing amount of space and distorts the space until your head is so full of it that it bursts like a balloon you bought at the fair."

The sentence showcases a lot of what makes Jonke so great, and so approachable. He shares the themes and dark awareness of his compatriots Jelinek and Bernhard -- indeed the first part sounds like a Bernhard sentence -- yet Jonke has that whimsical touch as well, an almost childish delight in sheer possibility. This is a great place to start reading him, in a very attractive edition, superbly translated by Jean Snook. Thanks once again, Dalkey Archive.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars of music and memory April 16 2013
By monica - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Rounded up from 3 1/2 stars. The novel is in two sections and is in patches rather reminiscent of Thomas Bernhard, though Jonke's style is much less extreme. And there seem to be references to music in the repetitions, rhythms, and structure; in fact, I've little doubt there are many musical references I missed altogether.

In the first and longer section two siblings are giving a party. Just as the paintings they've hung about their estate precisely duplicate the views that they obscure, the party will, they hope, down to each word and gesture be indistinguishable from the party they gave exactly one year before. The premise is all the more intriguing because the painter of the oils and the narrator, an unnamed composer, are the only guests who know of their hosts' intention.

The rest of the book describes the visit a composer (who may or may not be the same narrator) and his brother pay to the music conservatory where they both studied. In the attic from which they cannot escape they find dozens upon dozens of pianos allowed to fall into a state of desuetude.

I was a bit more taken with the first section, perhaps because the second was slightly more conventional: The characters were better-drawn, the events less unlikely, and the conversations less surreal than in the first.

I don't know whether I'll have remembered the novel as a whole six months from now, but I don't think I'll have forgotten details in it--the eeriness of the North city, the smokestacks of impossible heights, the unearthly weather patterns and the wonderfully absurd explanations for them--nor the questions it inspires.
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended and riveting reading from one of Austria's best Dec 9 2008
By Midwest Book Review - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Reliving the good times is something many of us dream to do, but two eccentric and wealthy siblings may just be taking it a bit too far. "Homage to Czerny: Studies in Virtuoso Technique" is the story of a garden party. One that its hosts would like to happen twice...once last year, and this year, again...only in the exact same way, movement for movement, word for word, and more. Hilarious in its approach and masterfully translated by Jean M. Snook, "Homage to Czerny" is highly recommended and riveting reading from one of Austria's best.

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