Arnold Schönberg's European Family


Chapter One


The year was 1935. In Mödling, my hometown, which is just a stone’s throw from Vienna, my parents gave me a radio for my twelfth birthday. This wasn’t just your ordinary radio. It came in a big, black metal housing with an illuminated dial that displayed the names of many faraway places: Munich, Moscow, Berlin, Amsterdam, Bratislava, Laibach, Cairo, Paris, New York, Casablanca, on and on. With this gift, a whole new world suddenly opened up to me. Now I could listen to people speaking foreign languages and singing their songs. I could learn what they were thinking and why they were thinking it.

I spent many long hours alone with my new treasure. In the process I heard some new kinds of music that were extremely appealing to me. I found the Arabic songs particularly fascinating, but best of all was the tango with its exotic rhythms and captivating melodies. American jazz also caught my fancy. I just couldn’t get enough of it, and would often turn the dial of my radio hither and thither for hours on end in search of this music.

One evening, as I was sitting in the darkness of my room listening to the wonderful sounds coming from afar, the door suddenly opened, and there in the doorway loomed the tall, lean figure of my father in his pajamas. He hadn’t even knocked. For a long moment he stood there, apparently dumbfounded. Then all at once his voice boomed out: "Arnold! What kind of music is that?"

I felt as if I had been caught committing some terrible crime, and my face must have shown it. "Papa, it’s a tango," I tried to explain. "See how lovely it is." I turned up the volume so he could hear it clearly. "I like jazz too," I added, hopefully.

But Papa–whose name was Felix Greissle—only looked at me more severely, and his voice was full of reproach. "What! Tango and jazz? That’s what you’re listening to?" He pronounced jazz like yachts as if it rhymed with shots. "That’s not music!" Papa went on. "Not real music! Remember who you are, Arnold!" What he meant was that I was the grandchild of Arnold Schönberg, the famous though controversial Austrian composer, who was even then deemed by many to be the twentieth century’s foremost composer and by a few, the greatest of all time, and it behooved me to behave accordingly.

And that’s how it all began. All my life long, I’ve been the grandson of the Master, the inheritor of his blood and genes. And that’s how it all will, no doubt, end.

Now as I, who am well into my seventies, begin to describe my life, I do so with the thought that I am creating a rather unusual time capsule. I grew up in small-town Austria in the politically turbulent years between the First and Second World Wars, and as a half-Jew or Mischling I witnessed the rise of National Socialism and Hitler’s Anschluß (invasion of Austria). At fifteen, I had to leave with my family, and while America, which took us in, has been good to us, coming here was still a form of exile to me. I felt as if I had become an outcast, someone who had forever been robbed of his country.

Doubtless, the most important aspect of the time capsule is my Schönberg connection, the fact that I am the Master’s oldest grandchild—that is, the first child of his first child by his first wife, Mathilde von Zemlinsky—and thus also the great nephew of Mathilde’s brother, the composer Alexander von Zemlinsky, whose music is only now, sixty years after his death, being recognized. A child in the twenties and a teenager in the thirties, I lived amidst a circle of artists and intellectuals of enormous importance, people like Anton von Webern, Hanns Eisler, Bertolt Brecht, Eduard Steuermann, and Franz Werfel, to say nothing of Schönberg himself. Some I remember quite well, while of others I have only a hazy recollection of a look, an intonation of voice, a mannerism such as a child would take note of. Added to this, my late brother Hermann and I were, considering our ages, keen observers of human nature and understood intuitively the tenderness and sadness of Alban Berg, the timidity of Zemlinsky, and the bravado of Alma, meaning Alma Mahler, of course.

My eyes first saw the light of the world on April 9, 1923. To be more precise, my birth took place in a second-floor room of Arnold Schönberg’s residence at Berhardgasse 6 in Mödling, which my parents, Trudi and Felix Greissle, had been occupying. Present, in addition to my father, were my grandparents and Georg Schönberg, their younger child. A Czech midwife did the honors, as was then the custom in Austria. Hospitals being strictly for sick people, a healthy woman gave birth at home.

My father, who was twenty-eight-years old at the time, came from middle-class Wieden, the Vierte Bezirk (Fourth District) of Vienna. His mother, Therese, was a simple woman and a wonderful grandmother. Descended from an Oberösterreich (Upper Austrian) peasant family named Berger, she too had been born in Vienna, spoke only Wienerisch, the Viennese dialect, and was a typical Viennese in every respect. Some time before World War I, Therese decided to buy a house for her family and began to put by money for that purpose from my grandfather Josef’s earnings. Having saved up enough, she was about to finalize the purchase when the war began. So she decided to wait until it was over, when she anticipated there would be even more money saved, and they could buy a really lovely house in one of the suburbs, where it would be quiet and countrified.

With the end of the war four years later, once-glorious Austria emerged as a small, third-rate republic, and a terrible economic crisis ensued, with an inflation that devoured everything people owned like wildfire. One day in 1923 Therese went to the bank, withdrew the money for the house, and bought two loaves of bread with it. Had she waited another day, there would have been enough for only one loaf!

Of Josef Greissle, Therese’s husband and my grandfather, I know only that he too came from a middle-class Viennese family and that while he was an actuary by profession, music was his real love. Not only did he frequently attend concerts and the opera but he was also a talented musician, having played the violin from earliest youth.

A story has come down from the late nineteenth century when he was a young bachelor living in an old-fashioned Viennese residential building, the kind where you drew your water from a bassena (public sink) in the hallway. Typical of such buildings was a large courtyard in the middle so that in the summer when all the windows were open, one could hear what was going on in the other apartments all around. Once a week on Sunday afternoon, as Josef was practicing his violin, he could hear some string players and a pianist making music across the way.

One Sunday there was a knock at Josef’s door. He went to open it and came face-to-face with an elderly gentleman with a scruffy gray beard.

"Are you the violinist we’ve been hearing?" the bearded one asked. Josef replied that he was, whereupon the old gentleman said, "As I’m sure you’re aware, there are four of us playing over there on the other side every Sunday." He went on to tell him that their second violinist was going away on vacation, and he invited Josef to sit in for him.

Josef said he would be happy to, and they made an appointment for the following Sunday. As the old fellow was leaving the flat, a thought struck Josef, and he called after him, "Excuse me, sir! Hadn’t you best tell me your name?"

The gentleman with the beard turned around. "Oh, but of course. I completely forgot to introduce myself. My name is Johannes Brahms."

Josef Greissle passed on his appreciation of music to his son Felix, who was to be my father, and encouraged him to play the piano. In time, after some private instruction at the Gymnasium, Felix’s interest shifted to music theory, harmony, and composition, and he decided to attend the University of Vienna and embark on a musical career.

From 1914 to 1919, Felix’s studies were interrupted by service in the Imperial Austrian Army; he became an artillery observer, which entitled him to the rank of lieutenant and a horse. Felix was a very good-looking young fellow, with blue eyes and black hair, and it is not difficult to imagine him in his officer’s uniform gladdening the heart of many a young lady.

At first he was sent to fight in Serbia, then later along the banks of the Isonzo River in Italy. One day in the summer of 1917, he was slightly wounded and taken prisoner by some Italian soldiers, who carried him to a field hospital. After his recovery, he was interned in a camp on the island of Sardinia with many other captured Austrian soldiers.

It should be noted that at this point in his life Felix was politically on the left; that is, he was a socialist who would become a communist with the onset of the Russian Revolution. In other words, he had no great fondness for the Austrian monarchy and was secretly opposed to the war. On the other hand, he was still an Austrian who loved his country, and so he was not about to take his imprisonment lying down.

The Austrian prisoners of war on Sardinia had little cause for complaint. They were housed in relatively comfortable barracks, the guards treated them with civility, and the rations were adequate. True, they did have to take their turn in the kitchen and on clean-up details, and if they were officers, in the camp’s administrative offices as clerks. However, they could spend their free time as they wished, reading books or sunning themselves and swimming at a picturesque beach. In short, the war was over for them, and they were all looking forward to the end of hostilities when they’d be sent home—that is, all but Felix and a few of his comrades, who simply didn’t want to wait.

Accordingly, they hatched a plan for making a getaway and began squirreling away materials for constructing a sailboat—wood, nails, glue, and other stuff intended for the maintenance of prisoners’ barracks. In two months the boat was finished, with just enough room for the six men who’d worked on it, plus provisions for a week. Now it was simply a matter of waiting for the right moonless night, when a favorable wind would be up that was neither too gusty nor too light. Finally that night came, and off into the darkness the small craft sailed, in what its little party judged to be the right direction.

At first all went well, but then in the early morning hours, the wind shifted, the sea began to swell, and water started pouring into the boat as fast they could bail it out. Growing alarmed at this unlooked-for turn of events, they took a vote on whether to abandon the enterprise and return to the camp before their absence should be noted. The nays had it, and on they went, bobbing over the waves, even though the wind was now pushing them in the wrong direction.

Happily, with the dawning of a new day, the sun was shining again and the wind was once more favorable. So they hoisted the sail again, and the small, makeshift craft began moving quickly and smoothly along. But now, suddenly, a ship appeared on the horizon, and after sighting them, began heading their way. Was it an Italian vessel, or did it perchance belong to some other country, the six Austrian fugitives wondered. If it were the latter, chances are they would be taken on board and repatriated via that country; in fact, all six of them agreed that under international law it would be obligatory for a neutral country to deal with them in that manner and send them home to Austria.

As the ship came closer, they perceived that it was a military vessel armed to the teeth with guns, and alas, it wasn’t long before they recognized an Italian flag flying from its mast. The Austrian escapees were recovered and taken toanother detention camp on Sardinia, where they fully expected to be hauled before a military tribunal and shot at sunrise. But no, as it was to turn out, their punishment was mild by comparison: fourteen days on bread and water.

Felix spent another year and a half as a prisoner of war, and then in early 1919, after Austria was defeated, the Italians sent him home. Later on in the early thirties, he was forever telling my little brother Hermann and me about the years 1914 to 1919, that they were the most memorable of his life—terrible yet wonderful.

In the fall of 1919, Felix was back at the university once more. His transcripts, which are among my fondest possessions, indicate that the illustrious Guido Adler, Wilhelm Fischer, and Egon Wellesz were among his instructors. His courses with Adler were Interpreting and Defining Works of Art, Mozart, and The Influence of the Viennese Classical School; with Fischer, he took J.S. Bach, and with Wellesz, The Works of Gustav Mahler. This training and the time he subsequently spent under the tutelage of Schönberg were to serve Felix in good stead later in New York, when he became head of the classical music division at G. Schirmer and considered for publication, some for the first time, the works of many an unknown composer, like Giancarlo Menotti, Samuel Barber, Henry Cowell, Robert Starer, Herbert Haufrecht, Norman Dello Gioio, Roger Sessions, and Aaron Copland.

Felix met Schönberg in 1920, while he was still at the university. As the story goes, he’d heard a great deal about the Master and yearned to study with him but was afraid to approach him, lest he be rejected because he didn’t have the requisite funds. Then one day he heard from Rudolf Kolisch, a fellow student at the university, that Schönberg was giving free lectures in harmony at the Schwarzwaldschule. He immediately ran there, and it wasn’t long before the Master had singled him out, and after subjecting him to an unbelievably difficult examination in theory, invited him to take lessons with him at his home in Mödling. When Felix delicately brought up the subject of payment, Schönberg waved the idea away, explaining that he required it only from those students who possessed the means. Later, after the two had become very close, Schönberg confided to him his policy on compensation: "Look, Felix, if a poor fellow has no talent, I send him away without any further ado to take up a ‘real profession.’ However, if one is gifted, I accept him, as I did you, without charge. The rich ones, on the other hand, I take on, talented or not, with the idea that their tuition will cover both their own lessons and those of their less fortunate but gifted colleagues." And the Master added with a smile, "Usually, the result is that I end up with one dull student with money and three brilliant ones without."

Eventually becoming one of Schönberg’s most active and enthusiastic followers, Felix met and worked with some of the foremost composers of the time–Anton von Webern, Alban Berg, and Alexander von Zemlinsky–and with such diverse musical talents as Heinrich Jalowetz, Eduard Steuermann, Max Deutsch, Josef Rufer, and Josef Polnauer. He also met and exchanged ideas with artists and writers like Oskar Kokoschka, Bertolt Brecht, Karl Kraus, and Adolf Loos.

Now a member of the Schönberg Circle, it wasn’t long before Felix, then twenty-seven, fell in love with the Master’s nineteen-year-old daughter Gertud ("Trudi"), who became equally enamored of him. They were married at the end of 1921.

At first, the newlyweds lived with the Schönbergs in their house in Mödling, or else with Schönberg’s cousin, Olga Pascotini, who also lived there in Mödling, at Number 22 Schillerstrasse; in both instances, this was rent-free, as Felix was unemployed. Such a state of affairs might sound strange today, but it was far from unusual in the tiny, impoverished remnant of the once-opulent Habsburg Empire.

When I came along at the Master’s house a year or so later, he was going through one of his most critical periods, having just made known to the world his celebrated Twelve-Tone System, whose invention Mathias Hauer, another Austrian composer, was also laying claim to. In later years, people used to joke about my caterwauling possibly being the ultimate source of my famous grandfather’s "difficult" music.

Be that as it may, it wasn’t long before grandpa had had enough of living together with us three under one roof. Among other things, Mathilde, my grandmother, was very ill at the time and in fact died toward the end of the year. And so, in late April—only ten days after my birth—the Master more or less threw us out.

Happily, the Viennese music publisher Universal Edition had agreed to employ my father as a music copyist on a free-lance basis. Work of this kind was, of course, far beneath his capabilities, for in addition to being an extremely knowledgeable musicologist, he had also by this time done a fair amount of conducting. However, as one says in German, In der Not frißt der Teufel Fliegen (in a pinch, the devil will eat flies), meaning a job is a job, and my father was more than happy that he could now support his little family in some fashion.

Apparently, Trudi, my mother, who had never been away from the parental hearth for long, was a little apprehensive about the situation. Nevertheless, she was as prepared as my father to see the change in their circumstances through and promptly found an apartment for us on nearby Jakob Thoma-Strasse.

There is a story about their first evening there. Shortly after arriving with me, the baby, they had just sat down to their first meal, surrounded by their few possessions and some pieces of furniture that Schönberg had given them to take along. The table, which I remember as being round and black, had been set as festively as circumstances would permit; indeed, built by the Master himself some years before, it was one of the many precious things that we had to leave behind on our departure after the Anschluß.

Suddenly, there was a sharp tap on one of the windows. My parents looked up, startled. Another tap came, and then a third. The apartment was one flight up, and obviously someone was throwing pebbles up from the street below. Felix ran to the window and flung up the sash. What should he see down there in front of the building but Schönberg’s round face and shiny bald head. It seems that the Master was suffering from pangs of conscience.

"Felix, can I come up? " he called. "‘Like to talk, ok?"

Once up the twelve or so steps and inside our new home, Schönberg looked around, then remarked with a sigh, "Well, it’s not all that bad here," thereby showing that the move had left him with anxiety and apprehension. Then taking a seat, he lit a cigarette and cleared his throat, feeling somewhat ill at ease. But then suddenly he burst out, "Look, really, it’s all for the best. Please understand, I didn’t mean to throw you out, but I am much older than you, and I know about such things. A family has to be alone, independent, undisturbed. Of course, if it turns out one day that you don’t have a place to stay and are short of cash, you can always come back. But for now, you must try to make it on your own—and don’t worry, everything will be just fine."

What could one say? The Master was always right, or nearly always. At any rate, daughter Trudi and son-in-law Felix lost no time in agreeing with him; all they’d needed was, like young birds, a loving push out of the nest. As it was to turn out, my parents soon came to truly believe this, that being in full control of one’s own affairs was indeed a blessing. And if rough times came, somehow they’d manage, because they had to.

Let me add that my parents and I did return to Schönberg’s house on Berhardgasse for a brief while at the end of 1923, after my grandmother’s death. Deeply bereaved, the Master had taken to spending each day consuming huge quantities of alcohol followed by liters of coffee, smoking over sixty cigarettes, and, worse yet, popping Pantopon pills, which were a concentrated form of opium. My mother was afraid that if left alone, he might attempt to do away with himself. But of course as soon as we arrived, all of the old problems surfaced again, and there were constant quarrels between him and my parents. And so finally, after a few weeks—when Schönberg appeared to be beyond the worst of his grief—my parents and I moved back home to our apartment on Jakob Thoma-Strasse.

That same evening, pebbles once more clattered against the window (as they have many times since in my family by way of announcing an impromptu visit), and there once more was the familiar round face and bald head, coming this time to ask for understanding. It was really quite impossible to get along with him, he admitted, and yes, it would be better if we just visited back and forth from then on. Still, it was clear that Schönberg’s frame of mind had taken a turn for the better, probably because by that time he had become engaged to Gertrud Kolisch, the sister of Rudolf, a student and a member of his Circle.

As for my parents and me, here once more and for good began our independent life on Jakob Thoma-Strasse, where we continued to reside until shortly after our sad little Austria became the Ostmark (Eastern Territory), an insignificant province in Adolf Hitler’s Greater German Reich. In that apartment I grew up to become what I still am, an Austrian through and through, though I haven’t lived there in sixty-odd years. It was there that I learned my mother tongue, and the way I spoke and wrote it in the spring of 1938, when the Nazis came and we had to leave, is the way I speak and write it today, still using words and expressions that have long since fallen into disuse—indeed, an Austrian Rip Van Winkle.

In part, this is owing to the fact that my parents never mixed German with their newly acquired English after our arrival here, as other refugees all too often did. No, never would Trudi or Felix have ventured to utter an atrocity like "Geh, Max, sieh im Refrigerator ob da noch Beefstew ist und bring mir ein paar Napkins." On the other hand, my parents’ German was far from pure. Felix mixed the High German that was expected of the ultra-educated with his native Vienna’s colorful patois, while Trudi, whose roots were Jewish, used such expressions as Mezzieh for "stroke of luck," Schlemiel for "jerk," and Gannef for "thief."

My brother Hermann was born in 1925, and as a little boy he was the spitting image of Schönberg at around the same age. Soon after Hermann’s birth, the doctor discovered that he had a heart murmur, but that did not have any effect on his later life. As a U.S. soldier in World War II, he took part in combat in New Guinea, one of the war’s worst hellholes, and he lived until 1990. Both of us were under medium height, he slightly shorter than I. While I became an airline official, Hermann was an artist and remained an artist all of his life; that is, he was a painter and a master of the wood and linoleum cut. Indeed, he often referred to himself as the Johann Sebastian Bach of the art of wood engraving, and a few of his prints are quite reminiscent of Dürer’s.

Hermann was rather thin and sickly looking as a boy. When Felix and Trudi bought him shirts for a boy his age, they just dangled on him, with enough room left over for another Hermann. Needless to say, our parents were very concerned, and one summer, when Hermann was seven years old, a doctor they consulted recommended that they send him to the Abbey of Melk, where the fresh air and wholesome country food were bound to do him a world of good. While assured that the good sisters of Melk would take special care of him, Felix and Trudi nevertheless saw Hermann off at the station with heavy hearts.

From time to time during the next eight weeks, a picture postcard arrived with a lovely view of the abbey or the neighboring village of Melk and a few words from Hermann followed by a sentence or two from a sister assuring his parents that he was well and behaving himself. At last, when the period of separation was over, Felix, Trudi, and I went to Vienna’s Westbahnhof to pick little brother up. The train rolled in and the children got off with their counselors. We saw small boys and big boys, blond boys and dark-haired boys, happy boys and serious boys—but, alas, no Hermann. He was nowhere to be found!

"Oh my God, what’s happened to him?" Trudi cried. "Is he sick? Is he still in Melk? Maybe he’s in the hospital! Why didn’t they notify us?"

Soon all of the folks had found their kids, and the waiting room was emptying fast. Only remaining were the counselors and a lone fellow sitting on a bench, who timidly surveyed us from a chubby, red-cheeked face with two hazel piglet-eyes. His look seemed to say, "You, you can’t find your child, and me, I seem to be minus my parents."

Suddenly Trudi let out a shriek. "But that’s him! It’s he, it’s our Hermann!"

Yes, there was no doubt about it. The stranger was wearing my brother’s blue-and-yellow-checked shirt, except that instead of hanging on him as if he were a scarecrow, it was so tight that he’d been unable to close the buttons over his middle, and in the opening, his belly was hanging over his trousers’ waistband. Yes, in those two short months scrawny little Hermann had turned into a butterball, and now he sat there blinking hard because his family—"his own family"—had failed to recognize him!

On the streetcar and train back to Mödling, Hermann filled us in on what had happened in those eight weeks away from home. Never in his life had he eaten so much food—four meals a day plus a mid-afternoon Jause (snack) after a two-hour nap, all of them with heaping portions, butter, eggs, and lard aplenty; glass after glass of milk; and a vast array of mouth-watering desserts. Furthermore, because he was one of the frailer children, the sisters had required that he take two tablespoons of cod liver oil twice a day, which was always followed by an extra slice of cake or a compote for having been such a good boy.

And that was the end of Hermann the Frail. Yes, never again in his life did Trudi and Felix or he ever have to worry about his being underweight—in fact, quite the contrary: later in life he constantly had to worry about keeping his weight down.

Soon after his return from Melk, Hermann discovered that he had an insatiable craving for sweets, and one of his major preoccupations became to acquire an ongoing supply of the Punschkrapfen, Pralinés, Schaumrollen, and Apfelstrudel (rum cakes, chocolate pralines, cream puffs, and apple strudel) to be found in Mödling’s Zuckerlgeschäfte and Bäckereien (candy stores and bakeries). We boys had only our weekly allowance of fifty groschen each, which was just enough to get us into the Kino to see a movie. So clearly, Hermann needed more cash, and it wasn’t long before he came up with a scheme to add considerably to that paltry sum. Every day he would go to the Mödling Bahnhof, the town’s train station, and ask newly arrived passengers, especially those who had been shopping and had their arms full of bags and parcels, if he could help them carry their things home. In other words, at the tender age of eight my little brother became a porter.

Sometimes his burdens were light and his clients’ destinations just up the block, but quite often he worked like a coolie, lugging heavy bags and bundles to remote parts of town. Once arrived, Hermann’s reward was normally twenty or thirty groschen, and sometimes he received as much as a whole schilling. But quite often, the sweat on his brow garnered him no more than a glass of milk or an apple, and once in a while, alas, only a "Danke schön, Kleiner" (thanks, kid) accompanied by a friendly pat on the shoulder or a painful pinch on the cheek. Whenever they gave him real money, no matter if it were just a few groschen, off Hermann would fly to the nearest bakery or candy store to buy himself a piece of Punschtorte, Vanillekipferl, or a Kokoskuppel (rum cake, vanilla cookies, chocolate-coconut tart), or whatever else he could obtain with his little hoard of hard-earned cash.

Back home my little brother would boast about these triumphs to Felix, Trudi, and me, proud of his earnings, picayune though they were. But one thing he refrained from mentioning is that one day, after an arriving passenger had simply made him a present of a few coins, he had added begging to his repertoire. That is, he’d take off his shoes and socks, and standing barefoot on the station platform, look pleadingly as passengers stepped off a train, which eventually caused one here and there to take pity and drop some change in his outstretched hand. Not only that, he’d soon learned that with this new mode of obtaining funds, he no longer had to bear burdens or even leave the station; he simply converted the cash into cakes and candy right there at the Bahnhof bake shop and consumed them while waiting for the next train to arrive. So without letting on to us, he’d switched exclusively to begging.

One day one of our neighbors spotted him in flagrante at the Bahnhof and went straight to our mother. Trudi couldn’t believe her ears. A child of hers begging? Plead for money with his hand out in a public place? No, no, that couldn’t be. It was impossible!

The next day our concierge knocked at the door and told the same tale: "Frau Trudi, ya know what? Yer boy, the younger one, is standin’ in front of the station askin’ people to give him a few groschen so he can buy himself somethin’ to eat."

The station was a good ten minutes’ walk from our house; Trudi arrived there in four, gasping for breath. And there was our Hermann, just as he had been pictured to her: in bare feet, with his hand out, tears in his eyes.

Instantly, Trudi pounced on him and gave him a good shaking, then dragged him home by the collar. Once there, he was thoroughly—and loudly—interrogated, and he tearfully confessed to everything, how he had been at this begging business for months; I can still remember the hullabaloo. In the end, Trudi gave him a stern reprimand, and Felix some smacks on the rear, and they made him swear that he would never engage in his new occupation again but stick to carrying loads for arrivals at the train station. Hopefully, it would not be long before he was done with sweets and had found a more practical, less fattening way of spending his earnings, like buying toys or, better yet, books.

But that was not the end of Hermann’s evil doings in behalf of his sweet tooth; in fact, the worst was yet to come, in the person of Anton von Webern. The composer had been residing in Mödling since 1919, after moving there from Vienna for only one reason: to be near his idol, Arnold Schönberg. When the Master had moved to Berlin early in 1926, his apostles, as he was fond of calling them, had begun clinging to one another, and so Webern had become a frequent visitor at our apartment. Indeed, my brother and I could recognize him coming down the street at a distance and had invented a nickname for him, der Herbst (Mr. Autumn) because of his perpetually sour expression.

One day not long after Trudi had caught Hermann panhandling at the Bahnhof, Webern happened to walk into a sweetshop on Mödling’s Hauptstraße, and as he was waiting for the proprietor to finish with another customer and serve him, his gaze lighted on a corner of the store where stood an open box filled with chocolate pralinés. Close by, a boy had just dipped his hand into the box, removed a fistful of the bonbons, and quickly and deftly shoved them into his jacket pocket. Webern watched as the boy, after looking cautiously around to see if anybody had noticed, reached out to help himself again.

Webern was dumbstruck. He pushed his spectacles up his nose so as to make sure that he was not seeing things. Yes, no question about it—that was little Hermann Greissle, the Master’s grandson! How is it possible, he almost cried out, and running over to Hermann, he furiously wrenched the boy’s fist out of his pocket and forced him to drop the stolen sweets back into the box. Then he dragged poor Hermann out of the shop, and grabbing him by the shoulders, gave him a dressing down that he wouldn’t forget in a hurry. Finally he sent him home with a last admonition that he was never to do such a terrible thing again.

Webern must have been faced with a real moral dilemma. Telling my folks would cause them grief ; keeping silent would leave the culprit free perhaps to repeat his crime. Several days later Truth won out: he came over, took Felix aside, and told him everything. After the two men had thrashed through the matter at length, it was concluded that Hermann had a little more of a sweet tooth than most people. The upshot was that from then on, in an effort to satisfy this craving at home rather than out on the street, Trudi began serving up heaps of fruit dumplings, pastries, rum cake, strudels, and puddings, all topped with oodles of heavy cream and confectioner’s sugar.

Is it possible that Hermann was a juvenile diabetic? Given the state of medical diagnosis at the time, it is impossible to say. If he was a diabetic, luck was certainly on his side, for that disease causes many fatalities among children and young adults. One thing is known: he was diagnosed as a diabetic in his forties, and he died of complications arising from it at age sixty-five.

But Hermann’s sugar craving was not his only "failing" as a child; at the tender age of nine, he manifested a strong interest in tobacco as well. In those days, both of our parents smoked, consuming about forty cigarettes a day together. In order to cut costs, they made their own with a contraption consisting of a metal cylinder and a piston. One opened the cylinder along its length, packed it with tobacco—a Turkish blend called Pursitschan—and snapped it shut, then inserted one end of the cylinder into a rather elegant paper tube and pushed the tobacco into it with the piston. Our parents normally stuffed a week’s supply of cigarettes at a time in this manner, which took about two hours.

Sometime during his ninth year, Hermann began to follow this tobacco-stuffing process with lively interest. He also noted how pleasurable the act of smoking seemed to be, how Felix or Trudi would take a cigarette from the wooden box where the hoard was kept, tap it on the table to give it body, place the end with the mouthpiece between their lips, strike a match, and light the other end; then how they would greedily draw in the aromatic smoke and slowly let it out through nose and mouth. Especially fascinating was how they would nonchalantly let it seep out while they were conversing, and how, for fun, they shaped their lips into an "o" before exhaling so as to send a chain of pretty blue smoke rings sailing into the air.

It wasn’t long before Hermann asked Trudi if he could try his hand at stuffing the tubes with the contraption. To her surprise, he quickly learned how to do it, filling the cigarettes with just the right amount of tobacco. With this accomplished, Hermann now asked if he could take over the job of stuffing, to which Trudi readily agreed, as it would give our parents some extra time to devote to more important matters. Hermann had only to tell Felix when he was running low on tobacco or tubes so that the supply could be immediately replenished, for to my parents’ way of thinking, cigarettes were as essential as food itself ; they had to be on hand at all times! At first, the stuffing proceeded without a hitch, Hermann filling the box both regularly and punctually. Trudi and Felix were absolutely tickled. But then matters entered a different phase. One evening after dinner, Felix wanted to go to the bathroom but found the door locked and sat down on a bench a few feet away to wait. Suddenly, he noticed smoke seeping out from under the door. Oh my God, the bathroom is on fire, he thought, and was about to throw himself against the door and break it down when he recognized the familiar smell of cigarette smoke. "Trudi, is that you?" he called. At first there was no reply, but then came a hurried rustling from in there and Hermann’s voice answering, "No, Papa, it’s me. I’ll be out soon."

Of course Felix guessed at once what Hermann was up to, and now he saw why my brother had been so eager to take on the tedious job of stuffing their cigarettes. However, he kept his counsel, intending to talk it over with Trudi first before taking any action. My mother was utterly dumbfounded when she heard. A nine-year-old boy smoking? And appropriating some of the cigarettes he made for them for his personal use? Unheard of! Something had to be done! This couldn’t go on! Immediately they put their heads together and soon came up with a plan for knocking the idea of smoking out of Hermann’s head once and for all.

The next morning, which was a Sunday, we four were enjoying a leisurely breakfast of scrambled eggs, rolls with butter and marmalade, and coffee while still in our pajamas. After a while, Felix found occasion to get up from the table and go to the stove. On returning, he passed behind Hermann and suddenly stood stock still, transfixed by something on the back of Hermann’s neck—a spot, which his eyes became glued to. Carefully he touched the spot with a finger, then instantly pulled his hand back, alarmed. Picking up a napkin from the table—a cloth napkin—he painstakingly wiped and rewiped his finger, and then threw the napkin in the waste basket.

Meanwhile, Trudi had become all alarmed. "What’s wrong? What’s the matter with him?" she cried out. Felix pointed to the back of Hermann’s neck, careful not to get too close. "Do you see that yellow spot? Look, there’s another! And another!"

Felix whispered something in Trudi’s ear. Her expression changed to utter dismay. "Yes, I’m afraid it’s so, they must really be," she murmured. "Yes, nicotine spots!" he hissed. "But how could he have gotten them?" she wailed. "He doesn’t smoke!"

Hermann swivelled round and gave her a pleading look. Then he reached back and began to rub his neck—and whimper.

Trudi looked at him closely. No time for pity; she had to be firm now. "Tell me, Hermann," she began, "did you, perchance, smoke one of our cigarettes?"

"No, Mama, not really, not a whole one," he sniveled. "I only wanted to try it out. What’s going to happen to me now?"

To make a long story short, Trudi impressed it upon him that if a person began smoking before he was fully grown, the condition could become grave: nicotine spots could spread all over his body! Of course, if Hermann promised not to touch another cigarette, the spots he presently had would probably disappear and he wouldn’t have to worry about the condition anymore. With trembling lips and tear-swollen eyes, Hermann solemnly swore that he wouldn’t touch a cigarette ever again.

That evening Felix inspected his neck once more and assured him that the spots were already beginning to fade, and provided that he continued leaving cigarettes alone, they would most likely vanish without a trace in a few days.

For years poor Hermann believed in the story about the nicotine spots and abided by his oath. Only at the age of nineteen—on his way overseas with the U.S. Army—did he light up again.

My mother, Trudi, or more precisely, Gertud Schönberg-Greissle, was a small, dark-haired woman, who was neither particularly beautiful nor ugly; most people found her utterly charming. As a young girl in Vienna, she had been sent to the famous Schwarzwaldschule, which had been founded by Schönberg’s friend and follower, Eugenie Schwarzwald. This school put a unique stamp on its students: my mother once told me that one could always recognize a Scharzwald graduate by the way she sat down to dine and put her handbag in her lap. But unlike Schönberg, Trudi, who had displayed an independent spirit from an early age, often made fun of the elitist behavior of the upper crust.

Generally speaking, Trudi loved to eat and dance and smoke, and tended to put on weight. Books were her special delight—her favorite author was Balzac—and besides reading mounds of books, she went to the theater, opera, and concerts as often as finances would allow. Like the Master, she was also a fairly good tennis player and skied as well.

Her marriage to Felix, my father, was not an entirely happy one. The two of them quarreled often, sometimes bitterly, which made me and my brother Hermann feel very glum. Highly intelligent, she always seemed to be ready with just the "right," wounding, thing to say. Felix also had a quick, sharp tongue, but he was no match for her. Trudi also had a violent temper—once in the course of a furious argument I recall her dashing a cup of coffee against a wall—but eventually she’d always calm down and become her normal friendly self again. Frequently depressed, now and then she’d stay in bed for several days. So all in all one might say that while their marriage creaked from time to time, it never came apart.

I might add that in Vienna, Trudi was sometimes under the care of a psychiatrist and again, after 1938, in New York. In Vienna, her therapist was none other than Sigmund Freud.

All in all Trudi was just your average Austrian homemaker, but when it came to cooking, I have no reservations about calling her absolutely fabulous. The only ingredient needed was money, and when it was on hand, there was no end to the mouth-watering delicacies prepared by her from scratch. But she was also the best of cooks in the worst of times, the thirties. For instance, when she couldn’t obtain beef in those days, she made do with horse-meat, and so tasty was her dish that we never knew the difference or thought to question. And if even that "delicacy" was in short supply, she saw to it that we got plenty of bread, cheese, and fish, and fixed us vegetable dishes fit for a king. If they were especially short on cash, she turned whatever she had on hand—bread, lard or butter, and an onion–into a soup. We children intensely disliked this concoction and often refused to eat it, whereupon Trudi would calmly remove the plates and tell us that we could leave the table. She knew that in an hour or so we’d be back asking for "our bread soup."

One day during the worst of those lean times, when our daily fare had been either that or cabbage soup for days on end, Hansi Zemlinsky, the daughter of my great-uncle, Alexander, came to pay us a visit from Vienna, and Trudi began complaining about how difficult it was to feed the family with so little money coming in.

Hansi looked at her in wide-eyed surprise. "But, Trudi," she said, "two days ago I was passing by the ABC (a fancy Viennese restaurant) and saw your husband sitting in there all dressed up like the cat’s meow, in a dark suit with a white shirt and a matching tie." He was all alone, Hansi went on to tell her, so it was a cinch no one had invited him to eat there. Pretty soon a waiter came, bearing a heaping plate of beef and vegetables and a bottle of red wine, which he uncorked and wrapped in a cloth the way they do. Felix took a sip from a fine crystal glass and motioned for the waiter to fill it up, then spread a napkin across his lap, scooped up knife and fork, and fell to.

"Believe me, Trudi, I saw it all very clearly, *cause he was sitting right next to the window," Hansi assured her. In fact, she, Hansi, was not the only one to observe this; all sorts of passersby stopped to watch. Not only that, Felix never paid the least attention to anyone but just kept on feeding his face as if there weren’t a soul in sight. "I don’t think he even saw me," Hansi added. "But really, Trudi, between you and me, I think it’s very irresponsible and selfish of him to gorge himself in such an expensive place while you don’t have enough of even the bare necessities for yourself and the children."

Hansi’s face had turned red as a lobster from indignation during this recounting. Trudi, however, remained quite calm and when she was finished assured Hansi that she knew the whole story. Felix, who always made a good appearance, especially in his black suit, had been hired by the restaurant for just that purpose, to promote it. Folks would pass by outside and stop to gaze, with mouths watering, while this gentleman in fancy clothes stuffed himself to the gills. The idea was that they’d tell others about it when they got home, and then one day, perhaps when there was a birthday or a fellow wanted to impress a special someone, they’d come to the posh restaurant and partake of an exquisite meal as that elegant fellow had. Needless to say, Felix didn’t pay for the meal, and in fact the owner of the restaurant oftentimes made up a package for him to take home as additional compensation. So we got our share of it all, and the best part of the deal was that since Felix had already eaten, the delicacies were all for us. Sometimes there were even left-overs for the next day.

Once in a while in those dark days of the thirties, there was not so much as a sou on hand, and then things were really rough. Schönberg, who was in America by then, sent money from time to time to his son Georg, my mother’s younger brother, who was also in bad straits. However, Trudi didn’t want to accept any assistance from him, and so she wrote him that we were really doing quite well and had no need.

Sometimes remedy would come from a wonderful friend of Felix’s named Erwin Ratz, who had also studied composition with the Master in the twenties. This Ratz owned a large bakery in Vienna where, so our father told us boys, he sometimes had too much flour, sugar, and butter on hand. From time to time, in order to reduce the surplus somewhat, so the story went, Ratz would ask Felix to come and would load him down with as much as he could carry. What a joy! Felix would arrive home with arms full, dripping with sweat, exhausted. We children were especially impressed by certain large tins of apricot jam such as Austrian bakers use to fill their pastries.

Ratz, by the way, was a dyed-in-the wool Red, but somehow, after the arrival of the Nazis, his left-wing political views and his connection with that decadent Jewish composer Schönberg earned him only a brief stay in a concentration camp. After his release, he worked quietly in his bakery all through the war—until one fine day the Russians rolled into Vienna. A few weeks later he was a Communist no more.

I visited Ratz in the 1960s shortly before he died. By then he had become a successful restauranteur in Mödling as well as Vienna, and editor-in-chief of the definitive edition of Mahler’s works. His daughter, Brigitte, whom I met on later visits, was to carry on the family’s musical tradition by founding and directing the Erste Österreichische Frauenorchester (First Austrian Women’s Orchestra).

Well, there you have my mother, father, and brother. Now it’s time to say something about myself, which isn’t easy, as I’m a rather quiet person, or at least I’m not prone to saying very much when it comes to myself.

As I mentioned to begin with, throughout my life I have been known to one and all as Arnold Schönberg’s oldest grandchild. I was named after him, and this has always prompted people to make comparisons—very unfair ones, I might add.

A conversation in my young manhood often began, "So, Arnold, what musical instruments are you proficient at?" And when I answered, "None," then followed "Well, you must compose then?" And when that, too, elicited a negative, the inevitable would come: "So how do you feel about the Twelve Tone System?"

To this I had a fairly standard response, something like, "Well, that was certainly a turning point in modern music." But the fact is that I was never very fond of the later compositions of my grandfather, finding them tendentious, arbitrary, wantonly opposed to tradition, and generally unpleasant to the ear, and only in recent years have I come to appreciate his unique genius and even some of that "new music" (which is not so new anymore). It was only a matter of listening from a different perspective and of learning to understand unfamiliar relationships between sounds—even if what greeted my ears wasn’t dripping with beauty.

So what kind of music do I like? The well-known pianist Eduard Steuermann posed this question in 1939 when my parents and I visited him in New York one day, and the answer I gave then is essentially the same as what I would give now. I am a well-tempered listener, and besides Johann Sebastian Bach and Mozart, my special loves are Telemann, Buxtehude, Heinrich Schütz, Vivaldi, and the music of the Middle Ages, which has always been able to lift me from everyday life into the wonderful world of thought. Yes, I was and still am an early-music buff—and it should be noted that I became one long before the recent craze.

Steuermann, by the way, who had been a pupil of Schönberg’s and remained one of his most enthusiastic followers, was utterly flabbergasted by my response that day, and later in our visit he drew my father aside and whispered, "Sag, Felix, ist das dein Sohn?" (Tell me, Felix, is that really your son?)

Now that I have reached my 80s, it is time for a little gut-level honesty. I must confess that a good deal of my disapproval of my grandfather stems from the great expectations that everyone had for me as a youngster, beginning with him, for whom I was named. One and all agreed that I simply had to turn into an artist with a capital A; if not a great composer, then an illustrious painter or writer. Time and again my parents and others questioned me closely, hoping to discover some sign of the genius that was to come, seeking but, alas, never finding. Piano lessons at that magical age of seven did not amount to anything; I found them boring and tedious and soon gave them up. As for painting, my mother was quick to sum up my talents in one sentence: "He has two left hands." Where writing and philosophy were concerned, talent for these generally develops through reading, but later, as a teeenager, when I should have been immersed in Schopenhauer, Kant, and Kierkegaard, I was devouring adventure stories and detective novels by the cartload. Yes, every Thursday I would station myself in front of Herr Thomas’s Bookstore in Mödling, waiting for the latest issue of Rolf Torring’s adventure series to be delivered, and after I’d accumulated a goodly number of them, I’d swap them with my friends for stacks of worse trash yet.

But of course that doesn’t mean that I didn’t read true literary works; I simply preferred to acquire them myself in my own good time, or ask for them as birthday or Christmas gifts. Robinson Crusoe, The Count of Monte Christo, Tom Sawyer, Gulliver’s Travels, Baron Münchhausen, and the works of Jules Verne and of Kästner were among my favorites, and later I discovered Goethe, Schiller, Nestroy, and Raimund, as well as Shakespeare, Kafka, and Thomas Mann. I am still an avid reader today, which is a lot more than most people can say; my library card bears witness to consistent checkouts of five or six books a month, though my tastes have shifted to history and politics.

I might as well add here that although I showed no talent for creating art, I did learn to appreciate it. For a good long time I have been a regular visitor to the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and particularly enjoy their collection of European paintings, which I never tire of gazing at; many of them are like old friends. And finally, to return to where I began–to music–I am an enthusiastic follower of a number of early music groups and every year send them a little something as a token of my esteem and appreciation.

The question arises, did I have any artistic talent at all? Did anything of the Master rub off on me? When asked that nowadays, I respond half-jokingly, Yes, his bald head and fine ear—in my case, an ear for languages, particularly the Romance languages. This talent discovered itself, so to speak, after my arrival here in the United States in 1938, when I was thrown together with a bunch of foreign boys in New York’s Haaren High School, who turned out to be Hispanic. Through having to communicate with them, I quickly discovered that I could pronounce Spanish words without an accent. Then deciding to study Spanish formally, I taught myself enough within a few weeks to gain acceptance into third-year Spanish, and the upshot was that after a few months, I not only spoke, read, and wrote standard Spanish fluently but had also become conversant in the dialects of Cuba and Argentina. Indeed, I’d picked it all up with such ease that I almost felt a sort of déjà vu—as if Spanish had been my native tongue in another life.

Later that same year, I took up French on my own with the aid of a second-hand textbook. The pronunciation, which is so very difficult for Americans, I picked up with utter ease from listening to French and French-Canadian radio broadcasts. After just five weeks of such self-study, I was accepted into third-year French.

Italian followed during World War II, when I went to Italy as a member of the United States Army, and from being stationed in Naples, I picked up Neopolitan as well, which is so different from ordinary Italian that it can be classified as another language. After that, Portugese was a snap.

My familiarity with those languages and my ability to communicate in them came in very handy after the war, when I eventually "found myself," that is, became an airline executive. Today I speak, read, and write all of these languages fluently, as well as my native German and English. I have been known to carry on simultaneous conversations in as many as three languages with different people in the same room, and to become the life of the party by my imitations of "foreign" accents in all of them—that is, Italian with a French accent, German with a Spanish accent, etc.

Now let me turn back the clock to another world, a veritable fairy-tale land, the Austria of my childhood and youth.