We were pulling out for the gym this morning when a bit of Schubert came on the radio — the Nocturne in E flat. (He liked E flat, I think.) Some music is romantic. Some is sentimental. And some slops ruthlessly over your shoes like the waves from a big lake of Spatlese and chocolate and Persian mint tea.
“Who was it Stanley Tucci played in that Branagh film about the Wannsee conference?” I asked the Engineer. We had watched it a year or so ago, a made-for-cable, underesteemed short piece based almost entirely on a surviving transcript of the event. The conference where they decided to kill all the Jews of Europe, and how to do it, you know, that one? I know more than a decent person should about the curious characters of the Third Reich but there are a few I am always mixing up. It was Eichmann, whom I am always confusing with Kaltenbrunner, that the often warm and fuzzy Tucci played neither warmly nor fuzzily. (Tucci resembles Kaltenbrunner far more than Eichmann, for what it’s worth.) Toward the end, after putting a recording much praised by his senior, the not inconsiderable violinist Reinhard Heydrich, upon the phonograph, Eichmann remarks: “I’ve never understood the passion for Schubert’s sentimental Viennese shit.” (About 5:18, here.*)
It is sentimental. Ruthlessly, full-bore, fifty-caliber, forty-weight and blow-molded sentimental. It works because Schubert felt the world that way, I think (especially after a flagon of Rhenish), and feared not to fling it out to us all in handfuls, like a delirious bridegroom scattering coins to the populace. I don’t know whether it’s more disturbing that a man can have the perspective of an Eichmann (which may have been a scriptwriter’s interpolation, but we all know them), or that a Heydrich can exist astride the disparate pillars of art and genocide. Or how much comfort it is that Schubert, dead at thirty-one, will live when people have forgotten their names, never mind confusing them.
*Downton Abbey fans: Yep. John Bates, aka Heinrich “Gestapo” Mueller. Isn’t thespian breadth wonderful?