Homage to Czerny: Studies in Virtuoso Technique Paperback – Oct 17 2008
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"Jonke derives a concatenation of the measured and the menacing." -- M. Swales
"The career of Austrian novelist and dramatist Gert jonke presents a story of unclouded acclaim." -- Vincent Kling
"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."
Starred Review: Jonke addresses a host of existential questions through a cast of vaudevillian compatriots in this slim, beautifully written volume . . . As intricately structured as a musical composition, with recurring motifs, the narrative powered by Snook s magnificent translation moves smoothly and evocatively through fraught emotional terrain.
The career of Austrian novelist and dramatist Gert Jonke presents a story of unclouded acclaim. --Vincent Kling
Jonke derives a concatenation of the measured and the menacing. --M. Swales
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.
About the Author
Gert Jonke is counted among Austria's most important authors and dramatists. Among other prizes, he received the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize, the Erich Fried Prize, and the Grand Austrian State Prize for Literature. He died in 2009 at the age of 62.
Jean M. Snook lives with her husband on the easternmost tip of North America, the Avalon Peninsula on the island of Newfoundland, where she has taught German language and literature at Memorial University since 1984. She received the 2011 Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator s Prize for her translation of Gert Jonke s The Distant Sound.
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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.
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.