Salon Music at Schumann's Bar

The Drawing-Room at the Hofgarten

In October 2003 I tell my mother – Munich-bred with a deep love of theatre and music – that Charles Schumann is giving up his bar in the Maximillianstrasse, so as to open Schumann's at the Hofgarten, which has long been his deepest wish. With eyes beaming, she talks about the old Hofgarten before the war, the elegant cafés and restaurants, the salon orchestra with their captivating walking violinists (Stehgeiger), about Munich's refined high society, the long dinner-tables with tablecloths down to the floor, row after row in different colours, about well-dressed gentlemen and ladies with eye-catching hats. Taking a photo album from those times, she pulls out a picture of herself, where she is wearing a devastatingly beautiful hat with a long, towering feather. Back then, as a very young girl, she goes to the Hofgarten with her father to listen to the salon music: a scenario almost like the Piazza San Marco in Venice, with music coming out of open windows, through the sweeping arcades into the beautiful 'inner courtyard'. And if they strike up with Boulanger's "Krach-Czardas", she sits no longer, but dances into the night. These nostalgia-laden memories awaken a desire in me to bring back the salon music, to hear the lead violinist again, to be able once more to dance into the night.

It's the opening of Schumann's at the Hofgarten that will allow this to happen, since of course Charles Schumann knows the whole glittering history of his new location, and he too wants to gratify this sudden desire. But in the hubbub of rebuilding his new house, which is barely ready in time for the opening, there's no time to plan the music programme. And Charles reckons that ultimately, the thronging public and the excitement of the first few days just won't leave enough room for music. So it's delayed till an unspecified date. But this is convenient for me, because I want to engage a particular ensemble for Charles Schumann, an ensemble that perpetuates the music of the great salon violinist Georges Boulanger, who died almost 50 years ago.

Georges Boulanger, an artist who once had all Europe at his feet, the gifted composer of salon pieces like "Norinka", "Hora Mare" and "Comme-ci, comme ça", to name just a few of his unforgettable melodies, departs this life abandoned by his public, far from the places where he had his first great successes, such as London (Savoy Hotel and Claridges), Berlin (Hotel Adlon) and Hamburg (Alsterpavillon), having taken refuge in Buenos Aires after finding that post-war European society had no interest in him and his music: he is poor, ill, and ultimately unable to play. He says to his daughter Nora, "I have to die, so that you understand me". "He was right", writes Nora. During his life it is sometimes very difficult to grasp what is driving him. At the end he has lost everything, he can't even play any more, and yet this great musician's last words are "I am Georges Boulanger". He has managed to become music. At almost the same time as Boulanger dies, Dr. Klaus Neftel, musician and head doctor at Bern Ziegler Hospital, is discovering and studying salon music, piece by piece. Enormously fascinated by the nature of this world of sound, which is a forgery, yet one without an original, to quote the words of the lead violin (or 'primas', as they say) Milton J. Kazinczy, in 1970 Klaus Neftel forms the group Prima Carezza, for fun, and from deep joy at this music. Now in close contact with Boulanger's daughter, he gets down to looking at Boulanger's music and his collection. He seeks and finds the best salon pieces, not just in Boulanger's musical estate, but in other old collections from all over Europe. He takes this further, adapts and arranges, and selects an ideally attuned ensemble. He and his wife play the primas, the lead violinist, in alternation, Cheryl House the cello, Christoph Ogg the clarinet, Wieslaw Pipczynski the accordion, Fred Greder the double bass, and Tobias Schabenberger the piano. Musik und Theater writes: "Musical bravura. Languishing ensemble sound. Little pauses where everyone can catch their breath. Hairline precision: this is salon music done to perfection."

"Salon Music at Schumann’s Bar" – not to be confused with Robert Schumann, with whom this music has no connection – played by Prima Carezza reunites the new Schumann's am Hofgarten with salon music. Prima Carezza plays twenty pieces, some by Georges Boulanger himself and others from his extensive repertoire, along with 'new discoveries' such as the music of "La Bayadère". This music seeks to entertain, not with seriousness but with wit and ingenuity. Sometimes there are also celebrated melodies from 'serious music', such as Brahms or Massenet, but these pieces too are adapted to their new location via appropriate arrangements and ways of playing. As they say so beautifully: "The art of salon music lies in serving up the foreground clichés with a background of irony". Yet it's also supremely appropriate that in "Comme-ci, comme-ça", Michaela and Klaus toss motives at one another like ping-pong balls. (Actually, one knows from documents and recordings that in earlier times, many world-famous interpreters played this kind of salon music, including Adolf and Fritz Busch, Jacques Thibaud, Rudolf Serkin, Jascha Heifetz, Fritz Kreisler, Emanuel Feuermann, Pablo Casals, Paul Hindemith and many others; the boundaries between the light and serious muse were more blurred than they are now.)

"Salon Music at Schumann's Bar" by Prima Carezza creates the musical illusion of a café violinist who makes the whole night resound, just as once happened at the Munich Hofgarten.

Cordial thanks to Günter Mattei, graphic artist and illustrator, who conveys the musical history of this album so splendidly.


- Stefan Winter (Translation: Richard Toop)



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