Zweck, a Novel
and a Mostly Reliable History of Music
By Stephen Deutsch
Have you ever wondered:
How it feels to be eponymous?
Why some German pigeons were painted blue in the First World War?
What Ludwig Wittgenstein and Adolf Hitler had in common?
Whether Hermann Goering actually commissioned a piece for toy piano?
What connects Rachmaninoff to Sitting Bull?
Whether it is it possible to play the bass fiddle with only one hand?
In Zweck the reader will find answers to these and many other unasked questions.
It is 1972. Bernard Robins is in London – American, innocent, uninformed and arrogant – to make his name and fortune as a pianist, composer and conductor. He lives at the Kensington Music Society, a cacophonous, run-down mansion, a haven for aspiring musicians – afro-headed violinists, cellists in caftans, coloraturas from Colorado.
During his time there, Bernard accidentally encounters his long lost great-uncle, the eponymous Hermann Heinrich Zweck, a once eminent, now forgotten composer, who knew most of the leading figures of 20th century music and hated almost all of them. Zweck is engaged in a war against stupidity, laziness and cowardice with the world, and especially with Bernard and with Charles Forsythe – a hapless English musicologist whose only crime (grievous in Zweck’s view) is to be both English and an academic.
The romantic relationships the three principals have with strong women, ranging from promiscuity to endless love, change the lives of all concerned. Throughout the novel, Zweck engages in a battle of words with the author in a series of interruptions and monologues.
Zweck is about fame, identity, music, photographs of the shoes of famous men, dumplings, and capital punishment for musicologists.