Saturday, April 15, 2017

Tales From the Old New Land - Tale 4 1/2 - An Interview with Ivan Ticoczki - Beginning

AC Charlap: We have just heard the fourth and worst of the Psalm settings by the Composer of the Old New Land, Ivan Ticoczki, whose settings of the Psalms we broadcast all throughout our podcasts. Ticoczki is a recipient of the Polar Music Prize, known also as the Musical Nobel, and is known particularly for a joint statement of protest against his receiving the award co-signed by famous critics and musicologists Norman Lebrecht, Edward Said, Robert Craft, Richard Taruskin, Jay Nordlinger, Martin Bernheimer, Alan Rich, and John Simon as being the worst possible recipient of the Polar Music Prize. You responded in your acceptance speech that you agreed with them and said, and I quote: "when you survive the Camps they want to give you a lot of awards."

Ivan Ticoczki: That's true.

Charlap: Evidence was then presented that you were not in fact in the Camps and had escaped during World War II and at various points lived in New York, London, and Los Angeles.

Ticoczki: Also true.

Charlap: Whatever the truth, you've clearly lived an extremely fascinating life. You've at least claimed to have been witness to most of the major cultural developments of the last hundred-three years.

Ticoczki: Yes.

Charlap: How did this come to be, can you tell us where you're born?

Ticoczki: I was born in a town called Bransk.

Charlap: It's known for its Science Yeshiva yes?

Ticoczki: Yes.

Charlap: Now Bransk is in a part of Europe that has belonged at various points in your life to Austria-Hungary, Czarist Russia, Poland, the Free City of Danzig, The Soviet Union, Lithuania, Czechoslovakia, then Slovakia, and now I believe it's part of Belarus. Is that correct?

Ticoczki: Who cares.

Charlap: Fair enough.

Ticoczki: I did not live there long enough to go to the Bransk High School of Science, we left by the time I was three.

Charlap: And I believe you were born on June 28, 1914, the day of the assassination of Archduke Franz-Ferdinand is that also correct?

Ticoczki: Yes.

Charlap: It is said that there is a picture of you being held by your father in the October Revolution when he stood next to Lenin.

Ticoczki: Yes, my father was a Chassidicher Rabbi turned Orthodox Marxist who personally shot the family of Czar Nicholas.

Charlap: But the dates for that don't quite line up. Your father fell out of favor with Lenin because of his failure to starve more than half-a-million peasants by the time of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk's signing so that the provisions Germans provided for Russia's withdrawal from the war would last the Red Army through the coming Civil War against the Whites. This was in March 1918, so your family escaped from the Soviet Union a full four months before Czar Nicholas the Second was assassinated.

Ticoczki: Is that my fault?

Charlap: I suppose not.

Ticoczki: My father believed greatly in believing in things. He died in Munich during Hitler's Beer Hall Putsch the day after a Nazi threw a brick at him. He was so thrilled by the experience that he made me promise on his deathbed to try to join the Nazi Party.

Charlap: Records show that you were a Nazi party member for exactly one day.

Ticoczki: Yes, in 1933, I joined the Nazi Party in the hope of getting musical commissions from Albert Speer. We had an appointment to go swimming in a Berlin gymnasium and then a Turkish Bath, my membership was revoked when it was discovered I was circumcised.

Charlap: How did you not see that coming?

Ticoczki: There were lots of Jews in 1933 who wanted to join the party.

Charlap: How can that be?

Ticoczki: We didn't think Hitler was serious!

Charlap: You didn't??

Ticoczki: He could a man that swish be a Nazi???

Charlap: But this was a very interesting period for you. In the Early 30's you lived in Berlin, and apparently had an affair with Hannah Arendt.

Ticoczki: Yes, she was quite a Korva in those days.

Charlap: Apparently you went into hiding when your rival for Arendt, Martin Heidegger, put you on an arrest list, and escaped to Paris with Raymond Aron.

Ticoczki: Ja.

Charlap: And Aron would later claim that his book, The Opium of the Intellectuals in which he criticized the fashionable flirtation of intellectuals with totalitarian systems...

Ticoczki: ...was based on the contempt he felt after talking on the train with me. Arendt also later said that 'the banality of evil' was based on her experience of our relationship.

Charlap: That claim was proven to be a lie.

Ticoczki: If you say so.

Charlap: But let's stay on Berlin for a moment. You were also involved briefly with Lotte Lenya, weren't you?

Ticoczki: Everybody was. Brecht, Einstein, Heinrich Mann, Georg Grosz, Fritz Lang, one night she went home with the entire Frankfurt School.

Charlap: How did Kurt Weill feel about this?

Ticoczki: He didn't know.

Charlap: It's interesting that you mention Fritz Lang. When you were 17 you wrote a score to accompany M.

Ticoczki: Yes, Lang hated it so much that he burned it.

Charlap: Really?

Ticoczki:  He told me that he could just have Peter Lorre whistle Hall of the Mountain King and it would be better than what I wrote.

Charlap: That's pretty harsh.

Ticoczki: No, it was scheisse.

Charlap: You absconded to Paris but you didn't spend much time there until after the war.

Ticoczki: Quite true.

Charlap: By 1934 you were living in Vienna.

Ticoczki: I went to Vienna to abandon music.

Charlap: That seems rather counterintuitive.

Ticoczki: Perhaps, but I wanted to be a writer.

Charlap: Did you write anything?

Ticoczki: No.

Charlap: Then how were you a writer?

Ticoczki: There were lots of writers in Vienna who did not write.

Charlap: Then what did they do?

Ticoczki: They sat in the coffeehouses, where they would loudly proclaim witticisms to professionals who would make a great show of laughing, even though the din was so loud that they could not hear properly most of what we said.

Charlap: So, in a sense, you were a professional former of witticisms?

Ticoczki: Yes.

Charlap: Can you tell us any of them?

Ticoczki: No.

Charlap: You can't remember any of them?

Ticoczki: They lose meaning in translation.

Charlap: But surely...

Ticoczki: The Vienna of those years is impossible to convey to those who were not there. It was a great and unrepeatable gathering of intellect, and being smart was so important that nobody did anything.

Charlap: Fascinating.

Ticoczki: There were writers like Musil and Broch and Canetti who wrote very long books that we all claimed to have read and none of us made it past the second page.

Charlap: But you all read Stefan Zweig.

Ticoczki: Yes, but he paid us to read him.

Charlap: I'm told that when the Nazis came to Vienna you attempted suicide half-a-dozen times.

Ticoczki: That is true.

Charlap: You must have been quite despondent.

Ticoczki: No, actually I felt I that in suicide finally had a metier to become a great artist. Suicide in Vienna was a great art into which many artists and philosophers put great effort into staging. I had a magnificent idea for a suicide in which I would be strung along pulleys into a pile of marzipan, between getting my head caught in the pulleys and the molasses, I was sure I would die. Unfortunately, the pulley's broke, and I was sent to the Jewish hospital for an overdose of sugar.

Charlap: You then arrived in London and claim you were the lover that drove Virginia Woolf to suicide.

Ticoczki: She was a very confused women. She was a lesbian who was also an anti-semite, but she was perversely attracted to particularly ugly, dwarf-like Jews, whom she thought possessed a cheap and low cunning which she found incredibly erotic. She could live very easily with her attraction to women and with infidelities to Leonard, but she hated herself for being attracted to Jews, and planned on blaming her suicide on me as a murder. The famous suicide note she left for Leonard was in fact planted by me, when I realized that she would use her letter to frame me, and I made a copy of a new letter in her handwriting.

Charlap: This resulted in your being accused by George Orwell of having murdered Virginia Woolf.

Ticoczki: I will not answer any more questions about this matter.


Charlap: About four years before you got the Polar Music Prize, you published a rather infamous memoir.

Ticoczki: I don't understand what was so infamous about it.

Charlap: Well, first of all because it was a three volume, twenty-eight hundred page memoir in which you claimed yourself the greatest cultural figure since King David. 

Ticoczki: Is it such a crime to be great? 

Charlap: Don't you find the claim rather extravagant?

Ticoczki: Is it my fault that I hear wrong things in everyone else's music?

Charlap: I think a lot of people thought you should have been more charitable.

Ticoczki: What does charity give people? It has given us the current mediocrity. 

Charlap: Your opinion is your opinion, but it does not seem to be shared by anyone.

Ticoczki: History will vindicate me. 

Charlap: Well, let's take just a few examples of your... we'll just call them uncommon opinions. For example this one: "The music of Bach is the Christian lie set in musical form. It presents an all-knowing, infinitely compassionate God whom in his ever loving mercy sends all but a hundred-forty-four thousand of us to hell. Bach's music is supposedly the music emanating from Heaven's organ-loft, but it is in fact the Devil's Trill."

Ticoczki: What's wrong with that opinion?

Charlap: Well nothing's wrong with it, but you must admit that your opinion is uncommon.

Ticoczki: Common opinions are for common people. 

Charlap: Well then there's the infamous passage Milan Kundera pointed out in 'Testaments Betrayed' in which you excoriate Stravinsky for having abandoned feeling and Bartok for having abandoned didacticism in the same paragraph.

Ticoczki: Can I help it if Bartok's only transcendent masterpieces are instruction manuals? 

Charlap: You mean the 44 Violin Duets...

Ticoczki: ...and the Mikrokosmos. In the growth of this music's sophistication we hear the evolution of intellect and human soul to its full capacities. 

Charlap: But these are instructional pieces to help children play their instruments.

Ticoczki: I knew Bartok, you didn't. He was a human robot, only his children moved him. 

Charlap: And then you talk about Stravinsky, from whom you received an enormous amount of financial help in Los Angeles during the War, and you say that after Les Noces he should have never written another note because all he ever produced was notes. 

Ticoczki: Stravinsky wouldn't have given me a penny if he wasn't interested in my ex-wife. 

Charlap: But nothing Stravinsky did was worth anything? Oedipus? The Rake's Progress? Agon? The Symphony of Psalms? The Fairy's Kiss? The Violin Concerto?

Ticoczki: Well, the last three you mentioned are better. Stravinsky wasn't a composer, he was a brilliant musical thief. 

Charlap: That's a direct quote from your autobiography.

Ticoczki: Yes. When he stole from the Russian sources that meant something to him, his thievery was very moving, but when he tried to steal from other cultures the act of stealing meant nothing to him. 

Charlap: Speaking about what you said about your wife, you also seem to allude to the idea that Stravinsky....

Ticoczki: Yes, he stole my wife too, but she was German, and therefore his act of theft was not sincere at all.

Charlap: You also say that there have only ever been a nine great composers, every other composer is at best a composer who wrote great music by accident.

Ticoczki: Monteverdi, Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, Mussorgsky, Janacek, Mahler, Ives, Shostakovich.

Charlap: I'm sure you understand what the next obvious question is.

Ticoczki: These are the nine composers who had the correct artistic priorities.

Charlap: Which are?

Ticoczki: If I could explain it in words I would do so.

Charlap: But you spend 450 pages doing exactly that.

Ticoczki: And I fail.

Charlap: Nevertheless, I'm going to quote you. "The correct artistic priorities are a willingness to be open to all the diverse possibilities of the universe's expression. All expression of human experience, animal and plant experience, biological, chemical, physical, must manifest themselves in the greatest music, and one must have an omnipresent sense of the unpredictability of experience's totality."

Ticoczki: I would not be nearly so dogmatic today. I was a young man when I wrote that.

Charlap: You were eighty-five.

Ticoczki: I was young.

Charlap: You also write of tragic examples of composers who came close enough to the correct artistic priorities that we can only mourn that their music is not better than it is.

Ticoczki: Rather more numerous. Vivaldi, Handel, Haydn, Rossini, Chopin, Verdi, Dvorak, Puccini, Richard Strauss, Ravel, Poulenc, Copland, Messiaen, Britten, Lutoslawski, and Schnittke.

Charlap: This is a bit like an honor roll of the world's greatest composers, and yet there are no living composers among them!

Ticoczki: I prefer not to talk about the living.

Charlap: You talk for ten pages about how horrible you find Arvo Part!

Ticoczki: He's not alive.

Charlap: Sure he is!

Ticoczki: Listen to his music.

Charlap: Well what about other living composers?

Ticoczki: Their priorities are generally not mine.

Charlap: Meaning that their priorities are incorrect?

Ticoczki: I didn't say that.

Charlap: Surely there are living composers whose music you love.

Ticoczki: Of course there are, but I do not find their priorities appropriate.

Charlap: What does that even mean?

Ticoczki: You tell me.

Charlap: You even say in the book that there are at least a few dozen reasonably famous composers of whose work you're reasonably fond. Can you tell us who they are?

Ticoczki: I cannot.

Charlap: Why not?

Ticoczki: Because that will be three-hundred-fifty pages in the fourth volume of the autobiography.

Charlap: Well, I see then... When will that be released?

Ticoczki: Sometime between 2019 and 2021.

Charlap: I understand you're quite fond of some popular musicians too.

Ticoczki: Certainly. I think their artistic priorities are better.

Charlap: Can we try to get a better definition of what you mean by artistic priorities?

Ticoczki: I'd rather let my work speak for itself.

Charlap: But how many people want to read twenty-eight hundred pages.

Ticoczki: You cannot contain the complexity of the world. It must contain all the nuances and details of the world at hand.

Charlap: That makes no sense.

Ticoczki: Because you do not examine the full complexity of the statement.

Charlap: Can you convey it?

Ticoczki: Not in the time allotted for this interview. 

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