Sunday, April 16, 2017

Tales From the Old New Land - Tale 4 1/2 - An Interview with Ivan Ticoczki - More than a 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. But even if your father was not the assassin of Czar Nicholas, you played an pivotal role in the death of Walter Rathenau.

Ticoczki: Yes indeed, we had to make a living in Germany, and for a bit less than a year I was Rathenau's personal shoeshiner. I was not quite eight years old yet, and in the climate of Weimar, he did not even trust his personal chauffeur. He chose me because I told him I was fifteen, not eight. The circumstances of the death of Rathenau were very similar to that of the assassination of Archduke Franz-Ferdinand. I thought I knew a shortcut to the Foreign Office on Wilhelmstrasse. Unfortunately, we were intercepted on the way by right-wing extremists in a car with a machine gun. The machine gun missed me and may have missed Rathenau, but when they lobbed a grenade into my seat, I threw it in the direction of Rathenau, and it exploded half his body. This means that I may not only have been Rathenau's cause of death, but therefore the cause of eighteen-million more deaths due to Hitler - a fact of which I am both ashamed and deeply proud.

Charlap: It's also interesting because one of the first deaths at the hands of Nazis was your father's a year later.

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 became a Nazi party member in 1933 for exactly one day.

Ticoczki: Yes, 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 followed by 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: Indeed.

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: Nein, it was scheissemusik.

Charlap: Did you have any involvement with the great opera companies of 20's Berlin?

Ticoczki: Indeed I did. I sang third boy in The Magic Flute with Bruno Walter and he was so impressed with my performance that he immediately agreed to premiere my fourth symphony in his concert series at the Berlin Philharmonic.

Charlap: That was known as a disastrous premiere.

Ticoczki: Indeed, Bruno Walter had a stomach bug, but it was said that he was so disgusted with the music that after the symphony was over he threw up in the tuba.

Charlap: Nevertheless, shortly thereafter you got a commission from Otto Klemperer to write for the Kroll Opera.

Ticoczki: Ja, it was only a chamber opera for which I wrote the book in which the Emperor of a distant kingdom goes off in search of a woman with the perfect nosejob. It was six hours long, had a cast of a hundred fifty plus chorus and an orchestra of three hundred. It has not been staged in full since 1928.

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: Yes, I went to Vienna to abandon music.

Charlap: Vienna is the city of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Mahler... 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 intelligent 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: This is true.

Charlap: You must have been quite despondent.

Ticoczki: No I actually 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 by 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 contracted diabetes for which I lost a foot in the Jewish hospital.

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 also attracted to particularly ugly and 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 an assassination. The famous suicide note she left for Leonard Woolf 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: You also became a frequent houseguest of John Maynard Keynes in London.

Ticoczki: Yes, and he was a swine.

Charlap: What do you mean?

Ticoczki: I have known many many geniuses in my life, but Maynard Keynes was, without a doubt, the most unpleasant in addition to being one of the most brilliant. He was an anti-semite and a snob who was always trying to throw me out of his house for having sexual relations with people who were not him.

Charlap: Why didn't you leave?

Ticoczki: I had to have somewhere I could bring Virginia, and being at the receiving end of Maynard's abuse was much less boring than staying with Forester or Elliot...

Charlap: You also claim you were in Terezinstadt during this same period.

Ticoczki: I had a rich Capo who was a very great fan of music, and he allowed me week-long visits to Virginia and John in England on chartered planes for which he would pay the full expense.

Charlap: But there were so many great musical figures in this period living in Terezin in circumstances that were truly sub-human: Pavel Haas, Erwin Schulhoff, Viktor Ullmann, Hans Krasa, Karel Ancerl, Gideon Klein, Alma Rose, Ilse Weber....

Ticoczki: Oh... Ja, they were let out too.

Charlap: What??

Ticoczki: They went to see their various lovers in Prague and Vienna for weeks at a time on furlough so long as they promised to return.

Charlap: This will be news to the entire music world. Why did they return?

Ticoczki: They believed the camps were their best chance for survival.

Charlap: How is that possible?

Ticoczki: We all believed that Terezin would eventually change and be the humanitarian city for the Jews which the Fuhrer claimed it was.

Charlap: How could you have possibly believed that?

Ticoczki: In Vienna we were vermin. In Terezin we had a chance to be the most honored Jewish composers in history.

Charlap: That's the most incredible thing I've ever heard!

Ticoczki: Remember, none of us thought that the Deutschen Volk would be as stupid as they were. Eventually, the German people would rise up and atone for their sins and we would be the honored artists of the Deutschen Reich who were rewarded extra performances for our persecution.

Charlap: But you never returned to that area after the war.

Ticoczki: Not to live no....

Charlap: In fact, during that period of the early 40's, both Stravinsky and Schoenberg claimed you took lessons with them in Los Angeles.

Ticoczki: Ja. I was on furlough from Terezin.

Charlap: They flew you there and back from California???

Ticoczki: Why is this so unbelievable.

Charlap: You'll just have to permit me a minute of disbelief.

Ticoczki: I learned very little from either Schoenberg or Stravinsky.

Charlap: They both seem to have agreed with that statement.

Ticoczki: Ja...

Charlap: Schoenberg apparently wrote of you to Kandinsky and said that 'He is by such great a margin the most incompetent pupil I ever had that even John Cage is Mozart in comparison.'

Ticoczki: I can't help it if Schoenberg did not accept the theories of music I tried to teach him.

Charlap: You had theories you tried to teach Schoenberg???

Ticoczki: Ja! He was so rigid and dogmatic. His music required such great order that it sounded like disorder. I told him that the crucial key to writing great music which he missed was incompetence and amateurism. I deliberately wrote terrible part exercises to show him that bad musicianship is more beautiful than good.

Charlap: He claimed that you wouldn't know how to write better counterpoint even if you tried.

Ticoczki: What does that matter?!?

Charlap: In any event, one thing at which you were clearly not an incompetent at was bartending. In fact, when not even a teenager, you were remembered as the youngest bartender in Paris.

Ticoczki: Oui, I was still only eleven and a bit over four feet tall. So I would stand on the bar of the Moulin Rouge and take the orders of many Americans like Hemingway and the Fitzgeralds, at twelve I lost my virginity to Josephine Baker and again to Sergei Diaghilev. I threw Hemingway out of the Moulin Rouge many times and nearly beat him to death with the soprano saxophone of Sidney Bechet. And I was drawn by Jean Cocteau, Picasso, Dali, Chagall, Matisse, Mogdiliani.

Charlap: All of these drawings, by the way, are evidently lost.

Ticoczki: They were confiscated from my Ile Saint-Louis flat by Vichy.

Charlap: I see.

Ticoczki: I also invented the Boulevardier for Zelda Fitzgerald and the Jack Rose for Maurice Chevalier.

Charlap: Did you have much to do with music during this time?

Ticoczki: I wrote a lot of Charleston Dances for Josephine and ghostwrote about a hundred thirty pieces for Darius Milhuad, but no. Not really.

Charlap: Your biography says that immediately after the war you went to New York.

Ticoczki: Yes, this period was the favorite period of my life.


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 

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. I still believe that Bach was a minorly great composer after a fashion and it is not Bach's fault that he was the instrument through which posterity subsumed an entire millennium's worth of Christian music, but the music of Christianity is a music of a transcendence that does not exist nor would it be desirable if the world allowed for it. 

Charlap: Well then there's the infamous passage when you said that there were a half dozen better composers in the generation preceding you than Stravinsky, Bartok, or Schoenberg. Milan Kundera pointed out in 'Testaments Betrayed' that you excoriate Stravinsky for having abandoned feeling and Bartok for having abandoned didacticism in the same paragraph.

Ticoczki: You should not forget that I also attacked Hindemith in this passage for abandoning both. But it is not my doing. I cannot help it if Bartok's two transcendent masterpieces are musical 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: But what about your praise of pieces like the Third Piano Concerto and the Concerto for Orchestra?

Ticoczki: Yes, they still have problems but they are better.

Charlap: And you really believe that Kodaly is a better composer than Bartok?

Ticoczki: Insofar as his artistic priorities are more correct, yes.

Charlap: There are people who dislike Bach, but this is an opinion shared by literally no one.

Ticoczki: History will prove me right.

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 exactly nine great composers, and 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: You then talk of nine levels of lesser greatness - you call it 'lesser receptivity.'

Ticoczki: Yes, the first and highest level of receptivity are those composers whose ears act as the crown from which you can survey the entire kingdom of music, and can absorb and adapt all modes of influence into their music and render them in such a way that any expressive or emotional reaction is possible. They are pure expression through sound. I then refer to the nine lesser levels of receptivity under different names, there are nine different composers in each category, because there are exactly nine great composers, exactly eighteen composers who are good, and exactly twenty-seven who are decent, and exactly thirty-six composers who are competent. It is my belief that there will be another ten composers who are greater than incompetent before music ceases to be altogether.

Charlap: I suppose our audience will want to know which composers are which.

Ticoczki: The good composers are divided between the wise composers: like Berlioz and Brahms and Vaughan Williams who are masculine, and the intuitive composers like Schubert and Dvorak and Gershwin who are feminine.

Charlap: That's truly insightful.

Ticoczki: We then move to realms of the decent composers. The kind composers like Haydn and Copland and Liszt, severe composers like Schoenberg and Bartok and Sibelius, beautiful composers like Chopin and Debussy and Dvorak. Beneath them lies the competent composers: the eternal composers like Bruckner and Messiaen and Josquin, the splendid composers like Richard Strauss and Berlioz and Tallis, and the foundational composers like Bach and Gluck and Machaut. Underneath them, you have the king-composers. A king is an unjust man who takes what should be rightfully the property of others, therefore they are the composers who emulate other composers but are in fact only imitative of greater voices. Neo-classical composers are particularly in this sphere: Stravinsky is one, Hindemith is another, Prokofiev, Milhaud, Martinu, but also pre-classicists: Handel, Vivaldi, Lassus and Palestrina who plagiarized themselves hundreds of times.

Charlap: But isn't this a little too mathematically neat?

Ticoczki: That is not possible. Music requires formal cohesion.

Charlap: But isn't it possible you have to make exceptions for composers you haven't heard yet?

Ticoczki: Do not question me.

Charlap: Alright. I'm sure you know what the obvious question is about your nine great composers...

Ticoczki: No.

Charlap: What made them great?

Ticoczki: I already defined them. These are the nine which had the correct artistic priorities.

Charlap: Which are?

Ticoczki: I explained it as simply as I could, and if it could be properly explained 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.

Charlap: You pretty much rip apart every composer who ever lived for their badness. Henri Dutilleux commented that he wasn't sure his music was any good because he was not at the receiving end of your abuse.

Ticoczki: He was alive when I wrote that book, 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 seem to know my book better than I do. You tell me.

Charlap: Well in the book you even say 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. It will be fourteen-hundred-eighty pages long.

Charlap: Why so long?

Ticoczki: It's not that long, the editor insisted I cut another twelve-hundred pages from this one. In this volume I outline the importance and purpose of the Psalm project.


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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