Lewis stretches out a small, curious story here to undue length with minute details, phony suspense, and convoluted multi-subplot fussings that never quite click into place; but the story itself has a certain appeal. During WW II the Germans, while looting the cultural treasures of their conquered enemies, also took precautions with their own rich heritage--especially when Berlin suffered worsening bombing starting in 1943. And 50 crates of original musical manuscripts--including 1/4 of all surviving Mozart originals and Beethoven's Ninth--went to Silesia, first to a castle, then to a monastery at Grussau. But, unlike the other Prussian State Library hoards, they were hot recovered at war's end; and Lewis traces each and every red-herring search that went on during the following decades--by an eccentric US music-lover, by an English zoologist (searching for a rare text that was also stored, it seemed, at Grussau), and others. Were the manuscripts destroyed? Were they appropriated by the invading Russians? Were they spirited away by the monks? Eventually, however, it became apparent--through rumors and, later, through intentional leaks--that the manuscripts were seized by the Poles in 1945, under a policy formulated by the great Polish librarian Karol Estreicher: hold German treasures hostage for reparations. (In one of the book's more diverting subplots, Estreicher is seen in WW II London, keeping fanatical track of endangered cultural treasures back home.) And the revelation of this 20-year ""state secret"" (the secrecy pressure may have caused one suicide) led, slowly, to a partial return of the music to Germany. Notwithstanding Lewis' chaotic, over-tricky narration: an odd, resonant little tale, distinctly small-scale despite the grand-scale pricetag.
Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1982
Page Count: -
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton--dist. by David & Charles