TO BEGIN WITH...
The year was
1935. In Mödling,
my hometown, which is just a stones throw from Vienna, my parents
gave me a radio for my twelfth
birthday. This wasnt
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 couldnt
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 hadnt 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, its
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 Papawhose name was Felix Greissleonly
looked at me more severely, and his voice was full of reproach. "What!
Tango and jazz? Thats what youre listening to?" He
pronounced jazz like yachts as if it rhymed with shots.
"Thats 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 centurys
foremost composer and by a few, the greatest of all time, and it behooved
me to behave accordingly.
And thats how it all began. All my
life long, Ive been the grandson of the Master, the inheritor
of his blood and genes. And thats how it all will, no doubt,
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 Hitlers 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
Masters oldest grandchildthat is, the first child of his
first child by his first wife, Mathilde
von Zemlinskyand thus also the great nephew of Mathildes
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
Berg, the timidity of Zemlinsky, and the bravado of Alma, meaning
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 Schönbergs 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
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 Josefs
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!
Greissle, Thereses 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
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 Josefs
door. He went to open it and came face-to-face with an elderly gentleman
with a scruffy gray beard.
"Are you the violinist weve been
hearing?" the bearded one asked. Josef replied that he was, whereupon
the old gentleman said, "As Im sure youre 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! Hadnt 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
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, Felixs 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, Felixs 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 officers
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 camps
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 theyd
be sent homethat is, all but Felix and a few of his comrades,
who simply didnt 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 whod 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
wasnt 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 lifeterrible
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
Felix met Schönberg in 1920, while he
was still at the university. As the story goes, hed 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 didnt
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 wasnt 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 Schönbergs
most active and enthusiastic followers, Felix met and worked with
some of the foremost composers of the timeAnton von Webern,
Alban Berg, and Alexander von Zemlinskyand 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 wasnt long before Felix, then twenty-seven, fell in love
with the Masters 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 Schönbergs
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.
I came along at the Masters 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
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 grandfathers "difficult"
Be that as it may, it wasnt 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
Aprilonly ten days after my birththe 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
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 Schönbergs 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, its 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, its
all for the best. Please understand, I didnt 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 dont 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 ownand dont 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 theyd 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 ones own affairs was indeed a blessing. And if rough
times came, somehow theyd manage, because they had to.
Let me add that my parents and I did return
to Schönbergs house on Berhardgasse for a brief while at
the end of 1923, after my grandmothers death. Deeply bereaved,
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 weekswhen
Schönberg appeared to be beyond the worst of his griefmy
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 Schönbergs 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
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 Hitlers Greater German Reich. In that apartment I grew
up to become what I still am, an Austrian through and through, though
I havent 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 disuseindeed, an Austrian Rip Van
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 Viennas 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 Hermanns 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 wars 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 Dürers.
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 Viennas 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 boysbut, alas,
no Hermann. He was nowhere to be found!
"Oh my God, whats happened to
him?" Trudi cried. "Is he sick? Is he still in Melk? Maybe
hes in the hospital! Why didnt 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 cant find your child, and me, I seem
to be minus my parents."
Suddenly Trudi let out a shriek. "But
thats him! Its he, its our Hermann!"
Yes, there was no doubt about it. The stranger
was wearing my brothers blue-and-yellow-checked shirt, except
that instead of hanging on him as if he were a scarecrow, it was so
tight that hed 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
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 foodfour 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 underweightin fact, quite the contrary:
later in life he constantly had to worry about keeping his weight
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 Mödlings
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 wasnt
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
towns 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, Hermanns 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, hed
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, hed 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, hed switched exclusively to begging.
One day one of our neighbors spotted him
in flagrante at the Bahnhof and went straight to our mother.
Trudi couldnt believe her ears. A child of hers begging? Plead
for money with his hand out in a public place? No, no, that couldnt
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
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 thoroughlyand loudlyinterrogated, 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 Hermanns
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
One day not long after Trudi had caught Hermann
panhandling at the Bahnhof, Webern happened to walk into a
sweetshop on Mödlings 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 itthat was little Hermann Greissle, the Masters
grandson! How is it possible, he almost cried out, and running over
to Hermann, he furiously wrenched the boys 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 wouldnt 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 confectioners
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 Hermanns 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 tobaccoa Turkish blend called
Pursitschanand 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 weeks
supply of cigarettes at a time in this manner, which took about two
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 wasnt 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 Hermanns
voice answering, "No, Papa, its me. Ill 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
couldnt go on! Immediately they put their heads together and
soon came up with a plan for knocking the idea of smoking out of Hermanns
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 Hermanns
necka 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 tablea cloth napkinhe painstakingly
wiped and rewiped his finger, and then threw the napkin in the waste
Meanwhile, Trudi had become all alarmed.
"Whats wrong? Whats the matter with him?" she
cried out. Felix pointed to the back of Hermanns neck, careful
not to get too close. "Do you see that yellow spot? Look, theres
another! And another!"
Felix whispered something in Trudis
ear. Her expression changed to utter dismay. "Yes, Im afraid
its so, they must really be," she murmured. "Yes,
nicotine spots!" he hissed. "But how could he have gotten
them?" she wailed. "He doesnt smoke!"
Hermann swivelled round and gave her a pleading
look. Then he reached back and began to rub his neckand 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. Whats 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 wouldnt have to worry about the condition anymore. With trembling
lips and tear-swollen eyes, Hermann solemnly swore that he wouldnt
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 nineteenon his way overseas with the U.S.
Armydid he light up again.
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 Schönbergs friend and follower,
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
delighther favorite author was Balzacand 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 temperonce
in the course of a furious argument I recall her dashing a cup of
coffee against a wallbut eventually shed always calm down
and become her normal friendly self again. Frequently depressed, now
and then shed 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 couldnt
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 handbread, lard or butter,
and an onioninto 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 wed be back asking for "our bread
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 cats 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 werent a soul in sight.
"I dont think he even saw me," Hansi added. "But
really, Trudi, between you and me, I think its very irresponsible
and selfish of him to gorge himself in such an expensive place while
you dont have enough of even the bare necessities for yourself
and the children."
Hansis 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 theyd 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, theyd
come to the posh restaurant and partake of an exquisite meal as that
elegant fellow had. Needless to say, Felix didnt 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 mothers younger
brother, who was also in bad straits. However, Trudi didnt 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 Felixs 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 waruntil 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 Mahlers works. His daughter, Brigitte,
whom I met on later visits, was to carry on the familys musical
tradition by founding and directing the Erste Österreichische
Frauenorchester (First Austrian Womens Orchestra).
Well, there you have my mother, father, and
brother. Now its time to say something about myself, which isnt
easy, as Im a rather quiet person, or at least Im 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 Schönbergs
oldest grandchild. I was named after him, and this has always prompted
people to make comparisonsvery 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
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 soundseven if what greeted my ears wasnt dripping
So what kind of music do I like? The well-known
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 buffand it should be noted that I became one
long before the recent craze.
Steuermann, by the way, who had been a pupil
of Schönbergs 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
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 Thomass Bookstore in Mödling, waiting for the latest
issue of Rolf Torrings adventure series to be delivered, and
after Id accumulated a goodly number of them, Id swap
them with my friends for stacks of worse trash yet.
But of course that doesnt mean that
I didnt 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, Gullivers 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 beganto musicI
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
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 earin 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 Yorks
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,
Id picked it all up with such ease that I almost felt a sort
of déjà vuas 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
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 themthat
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