Searching for pianos is a hard job. To find a guitar, a reco reco or a tambourine is much easier. As lovely as the piano is, percussion instruments are light and you can carry them around with you. Brazilian popular music is like that. You can carry it like you would a child. Pianos however are heavy and big. They are stationary, play hard to get and wait for you. They are the boss and you must go to them.
Austria is the opposite of Brazil. It`s the country of the piano. Mozart, Schubert, Haydn, Schoenberg, Mahler, Webern, Strauss, the list is huge. The tradition, culture and its execution make it a staple talent within this nation. Even though we have brilliant pianists, in Brazil we are known for another kind of list: Baden Powell, Dilermano Reis, Dino 7 Cordas, Garoto, João Gilberto, Egberto Gismonti, Hélio Delmiro, Raphael Rabello, Yamandú Costa, the list goes on and on. All of them bewitched by the wonders of mobile music such as the acoustic guitar. I don`t want to create rivalry between these two instruments, but let’s make it quite clear that you reap what you sow. The seed of the “violão” (acoustic guitar) seams to grow faster over this side of the Atlantic. For this international apendix of my blog to work I need to be abroad obviously, therefore I can’t offer any cronogramn.
Vienna is as gourgeous and silky as any city ruled by a wealthy empire. Culture and tradition represent everything this place stood for. The monuments, buildings and theatres all have a velveted white shade that contrasts with the wonderful greeny colour of the spreading grass carpet of the parks. I was there during summer and is very interesting to notice how the viennese people love and enjoy every inch of this city. The public areas are designed with the people in mind. They can enjoy a bicycle ride by the river and top up on the much needed sun that us Brazilians take for granted. The Ringstrasse is a great starting point for sightseeing. It`s a circular avenue built around Vienna`s downtown area. It replaces an old wall that stood there to protect the city against invasions. With the expansion of the capital there was great difficulty to move between areas and Emperor Franz Joseph I removed the wall and the Ringstrasse was born. Many important establishments were built around the avenue, the Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Art History, the Opera, the Parliament and the Hofburg Palace are amongst these buildings. Sigmund Freud used to have his morning walk along the Ringstrasse ending it at the Café Landtmann, where our piano is.
This isn’t your regular cafe, the place is a viennese institution. The famous clientele extends from Freud, as I`ve already mentioned to Gustav Mahler, Marlene Dietrich, and more recently Hillary Clinton and Sir Paul McCartney.
The cafe was founded in 1873 by Franz Landtmann, a businessman from a very simple industrial background. It was to be the most elegant cafe house in Vienna accounding to its owner. However, it was sold in 1881 to Wilhelm Kerl due to the noisy construction of the theatre across the street disturbing Mr. Landtmann’s well being.
Kerl ran the establishment for the following 45 years. He was a very influential figure in town, sociable and famous for his charisma. At the end of his day`s work, he used to play tarot cards with his customers.
But things were about to change and the card that austrian history pulled out of the deck was indeed a dark one. First World War broke and the country was in deep crisis. Food was scarce, no milk meant that some famous drinks and dishes such as Einspänner, the Sachertorte and the Melange had to be pulled out of the menu. To prepare and serve dishes such as the Kipferl, a type of croissant, customers had to bring their own flour rations distribuited by the government. Saccharin sweetened the nation due to the lack of sugar and after Kerl’s wife passed away the Landtmann Cafe was sold once again.
In 1916 Karl Kraus was the new rich owner that had trouble keeping up with the high standards clients were used to. Looting was everywhere and the cafe had fallen victim of a crumbling society . Mr. Kraus was captured and imprisoned in Siberia for six and a half years after being ordered to fight in the war. His wife being unaware of his situation, sold the cafe as she could no longer run it. Uppon returning to Vienna Mr. Kraus discovered he no longer owned his beloved Landtmann.
Europe was devastated when the war ended. The people of Austria were in desperate need and the lack of hope amongst other things contribuited to what was still to come, the Second World War.
Even though inflation was at an all time high, the new owner, Konrad Zauner, managed to keep the doors of the cafe opened due to a savy advertisement plan. He hosted famous politicians, artists, musicians, actors and scholars who would sign a book later named the Golden Book. During political rivalry, the cafe managed to remain neutral gathering a wide range of customers. This only lasted until the Nazi occupation. Aware of the reputation of the cafe they imposed onto society as frequent customers by signing the famous golden book of the Landtmann with black ink.
Vienna was bombed 52 times during the second world war and many majestic buildings were totally destroyed including The Schwarzenberg Palace. During the bombings the kitchen of the cafe had to work underground to keep the business stocked up.
In 1955, the Cafe Landtmann hosted the celebration of an historical event. The State Treaty was signed by the chancellor of the time Julius Raab making Austria a free republican state at last.
In 1975, Hebert Querfeld, a business man from the electronical sector bought the cafe and his family still own the establishment . They expanded the porch area, created a conference room and modernized the look of the Landtmann brand. The family developed a unique catering management system and now own 6 other cafes in the city: Cafe Mozart, Cafe Residenz, Cafe Museum, Hofburg Park Cafe and Landtmann`s Patisserie.
Querfeld restored the elegant mood of the cafe by housing a piano inside the main salon. In the country of the piano against all the odds a Korean brand “Young Chang” has managed to squeeze its way though the cafe’s walls. It’s an upright model and as black as a beautiful asian head of hair. They are made in the city of Incheon in South Korea. The company is known for increasing it`s own range of musical instruments by purchasing other brands like Samick, Squier (electric guitars), and Kurzweil (keyboards). They also produce the Essex line of pianos for Steinway & Sons. In 2006, Young Chang was bought by the giant Hyundai and is the biggest piano manufacturer in Korea.
The piano sounds great, it`s from the platinum series from Young Chang. It`s tuned and for an upright model, which sometimes can sound a little bit dry has very good sustain.
I insisted in playing a Brazilian song, something as light as a tropical summer breeze. Our sophistication and seduction translated into music is Bossa Nova and Tom Jobim’s “Dindi” was the chosen treat amongst so many.
There were various symbolic references on this journey that I find it hard to end it. The amount of historical information within this cafe is not only great but unique to the viennese people. It shows us Vienna though very different eyes. 140 years of a kind of wisdom that only Europe can provide. If it`s baking bread, serving coffee, receiving tourists or producing one of the most amazing musical talents of history, it’s the simple way of life that really matters in the end. It`s tenderly sculpting a nation’s culture and the people who are caressed by the tradition that envelops them. Querfeld once said that you can`t run a cafe like a museum, it needs to be alive for the present moment.
It`s been in constant renovation, literally rebuilt from scratch. Vienna tells me that even though there were difficulties, the burden that once had been so heavy must be made lighter in order to be travelled with, just like the precious instruments of the bewitching mobile music. But let’s not forget that staying put is sometimes nice too, just like the piano, waiting to be played.
Kisses, see you at the next piano.
Video: Adriana Camarinha
Ps1: I would like to send my most kind regards to Adriana Camarinha, Amanda Camarinha, Roman Fussthaler, Barbara Fussthaler and Christian Karli, without you this could not be possible! A toast to you guys!
Ps2: While my stay in Vienna I manage to visit Böesendorfer Pianos store, I saw and played in some amazing instruments, including an exclusive model made specially for Gustav Klimt`s, autrian painter, 150th anniversary.