Saturday, August 4, 2007

Family Secret! Finally Revealed!

My dad was a musician, a Viennese musician. He played in the Kolisch Quartet, originally called "The Vienna Quartet." From 1926 to 1938 they concertized all over the world. Their most often played piece: Death and the Maiden by Schubert.

Even before I knew of their Schubertian bent, I had fallen in love with that Schubert quartet.

I have several recordings of Death and the Maiden - none by my father's quartet, as they recorded mainly Schoenberg and Mozart.
In our "studio" as we called the dance/music studio in our Berkeley home, my father's second quartet, which he founded in the 1950s, performed the Schubert C Major quintet, which Mr. Nielson, my brother's 5th grade teacher, recorded, giving us the reel-to-reel tape. Years later, when I was a teenager, I found the tape, and listened to it over and over and over.
Then I bought the LP - recorded by another quartet - and listened to that over and over.

To sum it up, in my teenage years, along with crushes on dozens of girls, I had a total love-affair with Schubert chamber music.

And, I even cohabited with Schubert music: string quartets in some form, either played by the family, played by students of my father, played by quartets my father was coaching, and even at our famous Khuner Musical New Years Party, which was full to overflowing year after year during the 1970s, even with no invitations ever being sent out.

I reflect on all the musical education that I couldn't help but learn as a youngster in the Khuner house: I knew from before I could talk that Mozart was a child prodidgy, Beethoven rebelled against the musical forms of his day, Wagner used Leitmotifs, and so on. In fact, I had always thought that the Shakespeare play was pronounced "Oh Tell Oh," [the Italian, operatic pronunciation] and that my friends who talked of "Othello" were dolts who didn't even know how to pronounce the play's title!

Our everyday vocabulary included scherzo, fortissimo, overture, aria, glissando, cadenza, recapitulation, nocturne, bagatelle, woodwinds, octet, sforzando, da capo, octave, bagpipe, and washboard.

It went without saying that Bach never composed a string quartet, that Debussy and Ravel wrote one each.

My family didn't say "Beethoven String Quartet." They said, "Opus 131." When my brothers heard a snippet of music on the radio, they competed to be the first to correctly guess year, composer, title.

But there was one fact that they - not my dad, not my mom, not brothers (and I am including my foster brother Gil, hence the plural) - never, ever told me.
For decades, as much as my family knew of my love of Schubert (and Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Mendelssohn...) they kept a huge secret from me.
And when did I finally learn this secret, this family secret, this piece of information that was so awful, so gross, so icky, so humiliating that they never told me? I just learned it yesterday , and NOT even from my family, but from Robert Greenberg, the professor whose musical lectures are playing whenever I am in my car.
What secret did I finally learn last night, on my way to the church

(Corpus Christi in Piedmont, California) to photograph Heather and Bill's wedding?

dramatic pause

Schubert (1797 - 1828) died of syphilis!!!

My god! When I heard Bob say it, the horror, the fact that I never even suspected it, hit me like a sizable load of building material, say, a ton of bricks, or maybe several sheets of drywall and a bucket of joint compound.
Schubert! Syphilis! Quartettsatz! The pain, the humiliation - my parents never told me! Now, at this age, to be told by a non-family member! I am humiliated!
I had to use my cell to call the couple that I would be taking the afternoon off - they could find another photographer - so that I could recuperate from the shock! (Schock?)
To think, in my family, the most horrible fate, the one we had to work hardest to avoid, was growing up without knowing how to play an instrument. Dying of VD at the age of 31? Either it was not as bad as being musically illiterate, or it was so much worse that it couldn't even be mentioned.
I have, as of yesterday, lost my innocence, and I am deeply and permanently scarred - at least for the next few days.
As for Heather and Bill? Actually, I had to swallow my emotions, and continue photographing the weddings as if the world had not just shifted a few degrees, as if nothing had changed, as if life were perfect, as if I were the innocent that I had been when the day started.

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