Hotel Waldhaus - in Sils Maria

Dear Mario Luis Malfatti,


It feels like yesterday but in fact already four years have gone by since Mariko, you and I were in Havana with our friends Luis, Günter, Adrian and Andrés. From time to time I listen to our musical travelogue and relive the unforgettable moments of that trip. Do you remember I had told you back then that I was planning an AudioFilm about the Hotel Waldhaus in Sils-Maria? In September 2001 Mariko and I stayed at the Waldhaus for the very first time in order to record the atmosphere of that historical establishment harbouring a famous Welte-Mignon-Piano, an extraordinary mechanical instrument which has tickled the ears of Hermann Hesse, Arnold von Siemens, Richard Strauss, Baron Louis Rothschild, Albert Einstein and so many, many other hotel guests. I had in mind capturing memories of the past before it sank into oblivion. But contrary to all expectation the Hotel Waldhaus is very much alive and this AudioFilm took a new path as a result of this pleasant surprise. The Welte-Mignon-Piano still plays or rather it is playing once again, now that the house engineer Guido Schmidt has restored this technical wonder from 1910. Guido is not only a technical genius, he is also an extremely talented photographer who has captured like no other the life and the various moods of the Waldhaus, as you will see by these photographs. Guido's voice is on track fifteen, as he talks about the Welte-Mignon. Unfortunately you won't understand him because he speaks something which might be called German but it’s not. However, you will certainly feel his love for this unique instrument. You can also listen to Jürg Kienberger telling stories about his hotel. I write his hotel because it was his great-grandfather who built and opened the Hotel Waldhaus in 1908. Today it is run by Jürg's brother Urs, his sister Maria, and his brother-in-law Felix Dietrich. Their mother Rita Kienberger is still around and even when you don't see her you feel as a guest her warmth and hospitality. Jürg is an actor working with Christoph Marthaler at the Schauspielhaus in Zürich. He is currently playing with Josef Bierbichler, who has recorded songs by Gustav Mahler with Uri Caine, but that’s another story. Five years ago Jürg made a one-man-theater-performance with the title „I'm just a lonely boy“ about his father’s house in Sils-Maria. Jürg's brother Urs told me about it after the first recording days at Waldhaus in 2001. I had the chance to see Jürg perform the show just a few months later in Munich. I was amazed at how genuine and self-ironic he was. Jürg plays the story teller and bar musician in the hotel. Listen to Jännerloch, in which Jürg recounts the building of the indoor swimming pool, in 1970, to make the Waldhaus more attractive for the guests in the quiet month of January. He was twelve years old at the time and he taped with his first recorder the blasting of the rocks to make space for the indoor pool. In Sommergäste he tells us about his family. The family plays an important role in the hotel. There are many excellent establishments around, but you will have a hard time finding one managed in such a charming and personal manner as the Waldhaus is. It is a refuge which the ordinary world cannot penetrate. The beautiful spirit of the owners fills the entire house. The Trio Farkas has been playing live at the hotel for the past 25 years. Pianist Jurai Farkas, cellist Eugen Bitto and violinist Robert Cibula are always at their post in the afternoon for tea-time; they often accompany the guests‚ dinner and play dancing music at the bar at night (except Mondays). The Trio Farkas is the house’s musical heart as the Quadri Ensemble at St. Mark’s Square in Venice. Jürg's father did not allow any elevator music or canned music. The only pre-recorded music which was ever permitted came from the Welte-Mignon-Piano for instance Grünfeld's Diner Walzer recorded on January 20, 1905, the year Alexander Schiffgen’s trip to Constantinople. It is so exciting to hear this WelteMignon-Piano exactly the same way and in the same room as nearly 100 years ago. As I mentioned above, the AudioFilm Waldhaus was intended to focus on the past, but as I fully enjoyed the hotel today with the Trio Farkas, the Kienbergers and their excellent team, and of course the very special guests coming from the lowlands, I made this Audio Film also for you. May it inspire you to take up travelling again!

Warmest Regards,

Stefan Winter

February 15th, 2003

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