The performance of music

. . .  just as I find it unbearable when I hear one of our big-bellied or thin-bellied singers kill the Winterreise with his singing, you understand, because that lieder-singing singer wearing tails and resting his hand on the piano while singing The Crow is always unbearable to me and ridiculous, he is a caricature from the outset, there is nothing more ridiculous, Reger said, than a lieder- or aria-singing singer leaning against the grand piano in tails. How magnificent is Schubert’s music when we do not see it being performed, when we do not see those abysmally dull-witted conceited curly-haired interpreters, but we do, of course, see them when we are in the concert hall and everything as a result becomes embarrassing and ridiculous and an acoustic and visual disaster. I do not know, Reger said, if the pianists are more ridiculous and more embarrassing than the singers by the piano, it is a question of the state of mind we happen to be in at the moment. Of course anything we see while music is being performed is ridiculous, a caricature, and therefore embarrassing, he said. The singer is ridiculous and embarrassing, he may sing as he will, no matter whether tenor or bass, and all women singers are invariably even more ridiculous and embarrassing, no matter how they are gowned or what they sing, he said. A person bowing or plucking on the podium — it is too ridiculous, he said. Even the obese smelly Bach at the organ of Saint Thomas’s Church was only a ridiculous and deeply embarrassing figure, there can be no argument about that. No, no, all artists, even if they are the most important ones and, as it were, the greatest, are nothing except kitschy and embarrassing and ridiculous. Toscanini, Furtwängler, the one too small and the other too tall, ridiculous and kitschy. And if you go to the theatre the ridiculousness and the embarrassment and the kitsch make you feel positively sick. No matter what or how the people speak, they make you feel sick. If they speak classical parts they make you feel sick, if they speak popular parts they make you feel sick. And what else are all those classical and modern so-called high or popular dramas but theatrical ridiculousness and kitschy embarrassment, he said. The whole world today is ridiculous and at the same time profoundly embarrassing and kitschy, that is the truth. Irrsigler was stepping up to Reger and once more whispering something in his ear. Reger stood up, looked about himself and left the Bordone Room with Irrsigler.

Thomas Bernhard, Old Masters:A Comedy

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