My very first job after graduating was on a one-year contract teaching in a language college situated in the shadow of King Ludwig’s castles in Bavaria. I didn’t yet speak German and this was to be my initiation. In addition to “Guten Tag”, “Danke” and “Bitte” I also learnt to pronounce Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau. Not particularly easy names to get my tongue around in the first week of German!
Of course, I walked up the hill to the castles on a golden autumn day, and took the guided tour (in English) which gave me my first introduction to the work of the Austrian painter Moritz von Schwind. He wasn’t my cup of tea – I preferred more modern, less realistic art – but I had to admire his skill and artistry in the depiction of Tristan and Isolde and the Nibelungen on the walls of these royal palaces.
I came across his work again in the nineteen-seventies, when visiting relatives in what was then the German Democratic Republic. The GDR authorities had a Philistine regard for much of its history, but they did at least have the sense to maintain the Wartburg, where Martin Luther threw his inkpot at the devil, and made sure the murals by von Schwind didn’t deteriorate.
Over the years my artistic tastes have mellowed. I am more tolerant and less dismissive, and I now enjoy looking at these romantic fairy tale illustrations that made Moritz von Schwind so popular – and wealthy – in his lifetime.
And after a comment by one of my faithful followers about the wallpaper on this blog I even went so far as to look him up in Wikipedia, which impressed me even more. He was handsome enough to have modelled for one of his heroes.
At the time I chose this wallpaper – die Katzensymphonie – my main criteria were to find something amusing and an association with cats. I suppose I must have seen that this was by Moritz von Schwind but the name didn’t impinge on my awareness. When I read the blog comment, it struck me that this was indeed something that, had I discovered it at the same time as I first saw the Bavarian royal castle paintings, would probably have engendered in me a little more sympathy, even respect, for this artist.
Moritz von Schwind was also a musician (he played the violin and composed) and a friend of Schubert’s, so this piece is musically interesting, quite apart from the cute felines that initially attracted me.
Is the Katzensymphonie playable? I don’t see why not. The cats and kittens run up and down the scales, form chords and arpeggios, and presumably their size indicates whether they are quavers, crochets, minims or semibreves. Back to Google, and the sad truth: “Moritz Von Schwind. Die Katzensymphonie (Symphony for Cats). Ink and pencil drawing, 1868. The artist dedicated this piece to Joseph Joachim. One of the greatest violinists of all time, Joachim was unable to play the score.”
Well, maybe in the meantime – post-Alban Berg and Shostakovich – someone has managed it?