Thank you, Alfred Hitchcock. But what are you doing in a music column, when you are actually known for suspense, crime and psycho-vertigo thrillers? Well, it happened accidentally while I searched your films on YouTube. I found the 1934 movie, Waltzes From Vienna. An unknown but really talented cast. An unheard-of music arranger. But yes, what prompted me to watch it was that it had the music of Johann Strauss Senior and Junior. So declared Wiki.
The younger kid, the son, got me into Viennese waltzes back, and simultaneously into western classical music. In February 2003, I was on a 45-day German language fellowship in Munich, Germany. The benefit was I was given a card to attend classical and jazz concerts, besides art galleries. That turned out to be a musical tour. We had a three-day weekend. The first was spent in Berlin, where santoor player Nandkishore Muley hosted me.
In Mozart’s footsteps
The following weekend, our institute took us to Vienna in Austria. I was in a musical frame of mind though I didn’t know much about the classical genre. Strangely I was carrying a Billy Joel cassette on my Walkman. A pretty Romanian girl – whose name I sadly forget but face I gladly recall – sat next to me and flaunted her knowledge of Joel. I was perhaps the only person in the 30-member bunch with a desire to discover something new about classical music. My basic general knowledge told me Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven played there. I had interviewed some musicians. I didn’t understand what they said, they didn’t know what I wrote. They were just happy to see their mugshots in print. But how to convince the others in the group who were having a merry food-drink picnic?
We reached Vienna, ‘Wien’ in Austro-Deutsche parlance. The bus conductor played tour guide. “This is the famous river Danube,” he announced, playing Strauss Jr’s ‘The Blue Danube’. The river looked more like the Black Sea mixed with the Mahim Creek. Strauss Jr played all over the place. I learnt ‘The Blue Danube’ was originally titled ‘An Der Schonen Blaun Donau’. Even today, some Austrians don’t know this. Then our tour guide stopped. “This is the house of Johann Strauss Jr. That is his drawing room.” Except me, everyone in the bus yawned. We never went up.
Next stop: the statue of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. I asked some passersby to click my picture. The others in the bus were hungry and bored to death. “Vienna is so dull,” they chorused in harmony. The roadside busker played ‘The Blue Danube’ till I also got fed up. He woke me up a bit playing ‘Kaiser Waltz’ and ‘Wiener Blut’. I gave him two Euros. Then I took my own trip after we checked into our guest house. Just walked around the place and found Volkstheater where an orchestra was playing Beethoven’s Sixth (Pastoral) Symphony.
The following day I took a train to Salzburg, the birthplace of Mozart. I booked myself into a cheap hotel where their hot food was colder than the wind outside. I paid a chunk for the ‘Sound Of Music’ tour singing ‘I am 16, going on 17’ when I was 39, going on 40. Bought Mozart chocolates, tees and caps. My small bit for the Austrian economy. Pennies in their banks.
It was great fun. The following weekend, I Ianded in Paris. Who really cared about the Eiffel Tower or Champs Elysees? First stop was to visit the grave of Jim Morrison at the Père Lachaise Cemetery. Next I visited the church in Montmartre. Religion and stained glassed architecture were fine. I sat on those very steps where Morrison wrote poetry. My bucket list now is: to visit Liverpool for the Beatles, New Orleans for jazz, Graceland for Elvis and Detroit for a dream dinner date with Diana Ross. She is 74, going on 75. I am just 20 years younger but it doesn’t matter. Once again, thank you Hitchcock on getting me on this nostalgia ride.