Tuesday, October 3, 2017

the last book I ever read (The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth, excerpt two)

from The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth:

Nowhere in the entire jurisdiction of the division was there a finer military band than that of Infantry Regiment No. Ten in the small district town of W in Moravia. The bandmaster was one of those Austrian military musicians who, thanks to an exact memory and an ever-alert need for new variations on old melodies, were able to compose a new march every month. All the marches resembled one another like soldiers. Most of them began with a roll of drums, contained a tattoo accelerated by the march rhythm and a shattering smile of the lovely cymbals, and ended with the rumbling thunder of the kettledrum, the brief and jolly storm of military music. What distinguished Kapellmeister Nechwal from his colleagues was not so much his extraordinarily prolific tenacity in composing as his rousing and cheerful severity in drilling the music.

Every one of these outdoor concerts—they took place under the Herr District Captain’s balcony—began with “The Radetzky March.” Though all the band members were so thoroughly familiar with it that they could have played it without a conductor, in the dead of night, and in their sleep, the kapellmesiter nevertheless required them to read every single note from the sheets. And every Sunday, as if rehearsing “The Radetzky March” for the first time with his musicians, he would raise his head, his baton, and his eyes in military and musical zeal and concentrate all four on any segments that seemed needful of his orders in the round at whose midpoint he was standing. The rugged drums rolled, the sweet flutes piped, and the lovely cymbals shattered. The faces of all the spectators lit up with pleasant and pensive smiles, and the blood tingled in their legs. Though standing, they thought they were already marching. The younger girls held their breath and opened their lips. The more mature men hung their heads and recalled their maneuvers. The elderly ladies sat in the neighboring park, their small gray heads trembling. And it was summer.

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