THE VIENNESE: Splendor, Twilight, and Exile by Paul Hofmann

THE VIENNESE: Splendor, Twilight, and Exile

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Superbly readable evocation of the Viennese, written by a native (ex-) Viennese in plain style without whipped cream or massive decoration. Perhaps a third of this book is devoted to Vienna's political history, from its seige by the Turks in 1529 to its present-day reelection of former Nazi officer Kurt Waldheim as President, a typically Viennese foray into the art of amnesia. The rest is cultural history, satisfyingly crammed into 330 pages. Health surveys show that the Viennese craving for sugar and starches explains their widespread obesity and high incidence of circulatory disorders, and perhaps contributes to their depression, death fixation, and the soaring suicide rate in the capital of Gemutlichkeit and hand-kissing and the waltz. Hofmann compares the arrival (which he witnessed) of Catholic Archbishop Theodor Cardinal Innitzer at the hotel where Hitler was staying just after the annexation of Austria, the Cardinal's arm out in a Nazi salute, to a smaller throng of cheering Viennese (and anti-Semites) recently welcoming Pope John on his visit--all of this double-dealing deliciously Viennese. The Viennese male is a notorious flirt who avoids passion for more lighthearted Liebelei--""a bittersweet dalliance. . .sentimental, with plenty of white lies. . .and no commitment on either side."" He craves ""make-believe, dream life, facade, intrigue, and Schmah ('blarney, Viennese style')."" Fighting for life against such citizens, what hope can be held for a Gluck, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Wagner, Brahms, Mahler, Berg, Schonberg, Klimt, Musil, Wittgenstein, Canetti, Zweïg, Bettleheim, Freud, van Stroheim, Billy Wilder, Max Reinhardt, and so many other gifted, tormented, and often exiled children of the gray-brown Danube whom Hofmann limns in their agonies? A G-minor waltz through heaven and hell. A fine one.

Pub Date: Oct. 21st, 1988
Publisher: Doubleday