Wednesday (12th February 1919)

All day the Rhine has been chequered from bank to bank with patches of thin, floating ice, scintillating in the sun.

Out riding on a good horse, in charge of a sporty corporal who led us at a gallop, here, there, and everywhere.

Then to the Opernhaus – my Hun was there, and at an exorbitant figure I obtained tickets for both tomorrow and Friday.  Then away to find my concert hall.  It proved to be a stuccoed and gilded salon in one of the hotels, and there I passed an hour and a half of undiluted pleasure.  The programme will reach you with this.  The Beethoven Sonata was, of course, superlative.  The four Schuman pieces all delightful but the last – the Brahms, Variation and Fugue on a theme of Handel!  It growled, it joked, it became hilarious; it danced mazurkas, Maori Haakas; grew curiously inquisitive; insolently provocative; took a serious turn – chanted, sang, marked time, swam, flew, and executed hair-raising aerial experiments; then plunged down, down, into a maelstrom of warring harmonies, from which it leapt to an abrupt and pinnacle conclusion; as though startled to silence by the sudden solution of its own riddle.  A plain black Bachstein piano, a less plain girl in a plain black dress, and there you have it.  (The revellers have decided to “have a spoonful of honey each and go to bed” – so I shall too).

nlnzimage 1-1 002098-G NZ troops looking at Hohenzollern Bridge, Cologne, Jan 1919

[Image: Three New Zealand soldiers, foreground, look towards the Hohenzollern Bridge over the Rhine in Cologne, Germany, following World War I. Tram cars are on the bridge. Ice floats on the river. Also shows Cologne Cathedral in the background. Photograph taken January 1919 by Henry Armytage Sanders.  Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. Ref: 1/1-002098-G]

4 thoughts on “Wednesday (12th February 1919)”

  1. Oh, John – how exhilarating it would be if our music critics used Lincoln’s language! He had two parts to his war: the first, the put-it-out-of-my-head-it-was-too-terrible, and the second, the stay, stay with me always you are beautiful and unforgettable. That is leaving out the other minor parts, which were his travels to war, his relationships with his mates and his donkeys, and with the Germans he met.

    I’ll really miss these when they cease. I’m sure you are sometimes amazed at how much you have learned typing up these letters; as against the tired times when you wonder why you ever started!

    Thank you again very sincerely.


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    1. Angela, thanks as always for your kind comments. You know, the funny thing with the diary is that in my previous readings over the years, I was always somewhat irritated with what I came to think of as the Opera Section! I tended to skip over it, or read it quickly. But now that I’m typing it out, and taking my time with it, the “beautiful and unforgettable”, particularly descriptions of the music, are proving to be enormously satisfying. I had tears in my eyes when I typed his earlier description of hearing Beethoven’s Pastoral for the first time.

      Rest assured, the diary continues until late May 1919, when he finally reaches New Zealand again. (And he kept a similar account of a visit he made to England in the 1930s … perhaps a project for another day.)

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