After the sushi we play word association; when ‘law’ comes up I say ‘Kafka’. Konrád pulls out a pen and sketches a perfect replica of Three Runners. And thus we discover a common love for Franz.
Everybody knows the story of Kafka and Milena, but nobody that of Franz and Dora Diamant: I tell it. The telling done, what moved them was not the air that cut like razor blades over Franz’s vocal cords nor the alcohol injections into his laryngeal nerves; neither was it the sister of mercy who made it her mission to ease his way to death. No, what moved them was how Kafka’s total absence of solemnity in his relationship with Dora contrasted with his tortured love for Felice and Milena. But what moved you and I was our notion of fragility, how it came about that the writer and insurance officer from Prague met the girl scaling fish in a Baltic kitchen; how that girl, having survived the Nazi fire and the Soviet frying pan, specified in her will that she be buried next to the man whose eyes saw everything.
You and Mara scored a triumph with your Munich recording [of Kurtág’s Kafka-Fragmente], a triumph only outdone by your subsequent recitals. Is there enough variation now for you to make a comparison between your interpretations? Given the brevity of the pieces and the detail of the score, can one even speak of interpretation? The answer comes when I recall that every high-wire walker apprehends their fall in their own way, that every acrobat walks a tightrope differently. I think of my bedsit on Palmerston, the dark wood panelling, the damask wallpaper; I think of my lonely bed and late nights reading Franz: In becoming animal I became an artist.
Listen! The voice takes on an oboe-like drone while a tuning-peg glissando gives the violin a flute-like shimmer: In this music as in Kafka, there’s no place for complacency. I think of my bay window and the foreclosure of my future; I think of Franz’s answer to Felice when she asked him about his prospects: ‘Needless to say I have no plans, no prospects; I cannot step into the future’.
Listen! The violin’s left-hand pizzicati; the voice, resonant and staccato. With Felice, Franz was insufferable in his suffering. How could he ever have imagined he could be happy as her husband? And yet he was always lucid: ‘On the pretext of wanting to free you of me, I force myself upon you’. The better match was Milena: Franz just couldn’t overcome his fear.
Listen! The paring away of the inessential, the sculptural purity of concentrated sound: Fragment after fragment confirms the depth of the music, the depth of the darkness the spotlight lays bare. Kafka at Goethe’s house, flirting for days with the keeper’s daughter: Is there a link between his success with Greta and his failure with Milena? Might not his ease with girls be the other side of the coin of his difficulty with women? Could it be that girls, simply by accepting him as he was, gave him a sense of unconditional love that sexuality precluded women from giving? However great his lucidity about the world, it was not as great as his yearning for intimacy, a lasting intimacy with just one woman who—as he wrote to Milena—would enfold him. I think of you, I think of how you enfold me, and I feel the world falling away beneath my feet at the thought that you’re leaving.
Listen! Now fleeting as from afar, now full and familiar, the singer sings of two violinists making music in a tram speeding through the streets; now slow and sentimental, now fiery and free, the violinist plays, first on one violin, then on another: Capturing the charm of Kafka’s ‘Scene on a Streetcar’, the musicians remind us that all his life, Franz was moved by the most simple things. And I, Marietta, what moves me? I am moved by the child struggling to hold back his tears, not by the child who cries; I am moved by the dog on his last legs, his dignity when he steals away to die; I am moved by the wallflower who dances alone, not by the one who fades away. When you’re gone, I will try to be worthy of the child, the dog and the wallflower.