Thursday, March 6, 2008


“Interviews,” said the conductor Pilát, shrugging his shoulders. “I wonder if you would believe it, sir. I too have my experiences with interviews, and I tell you simply that when I have to grant one to someone that I would rather not read it later. I would just get angry for nothing. A man should be able to have a chuckle over the things he reads in such an interview, but then he sees how carelessly the journalist has distorted it. You notice slapdash work when you see it, don’t you? Sometimes I marvel how this journalist or that muddled and twisted everything I told him so cruelly, as if he deliberately wrote things the wrong way around—why, I cannot imagine. If I were a politician or a similarly important figure, fine: that’s how it is is politics, and these people have a special interest in putting words into people’s mouths they never said, or to invent whole conversations, that also happens. But me—how to put it—I am a musician, I am nobody, no one has anything against me, especially not here at home, and still not even half of what I really say in the interview ends up in print.
So I’ll tell you so you know how it is. I have to direct a large concert in Liverpool or Paris. When Maestro Pilát is directing, the agency makes a big deal out of it. I haven’t even washed my hands in the hotel room when the desk calls me and says that a man wishes to speak to me. Important business, supposedly. Good God, I say, the newspapers! You know, the newspapers only care about you the first day; the next you are no longer news, and if you want them to mention you again, you have to get run over by an automobile at the least. So, I let the man wait a little while—it seems to suit the whole business; and then ‘yes, please, what can I do for you?’ The man introduces himself, addresses me as ‘Dear Maestro,’ and says such and such a newspaper would like to print a few words about me…

“What, an interview?” I say. “I do not give interviews on principle.”

“No, no,” the young man defends himself. “Just a few words, a completely unforced conversation…”

I give in, resigned. “Well then, sit, let’s get to it!”

The young man takes out a pad and licks his pencil. Right away I can tell that he knows nothing about me, that he does not like music, and that he has no conception of what to talk to me about. He looks at me uncertainly for a moment and then starts: “If would would tell me something about yourself, Maestro.”

That normally rubs me the wrong way. “I know nothing of myself,” I tell him. “But we can talk about music, if it is all the same to you.”

The young man gratefully nods his head, and scribbles furiously. “When did you start to play?” he then asks.

“As a young boy,” I say. “On the piano.”

The young man writes furiously. “Where were you born?”

“In Maršov.”

“Where is that?”

“In Czechoslovakia.”

“Where, please?”

“In Czechoslovakia. In the Krokonoše.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Krkonoše. Riesengebirge,” I explain to him. “Monts Géants. Giant Mountains.

“Aha,” the young man says, writing intently. “Can you tell me something about your childhood? For example…what was your father like?”

“He was a teacher. He played the organ in church. Those were my first musical impressions,” I say, to get the subject back to music. “You know, an old Czech cantor like that, a musician, one with nature—in our country it is a family tradition.” And so on. The young man writes and nods his head, satisfied. That is exactly what his paper needs. Bravo, Maestro!

Finally I show him out and sigh: there, that is over with. I like wandering around foreign cities; no one knows you there… I tell you, sometimes when I am conducting I feel like throwing up my baton when I am struck by horror and revulsion of people watching me. No one who has no sense for comedy should ever get up in public. But that is another story.

So the next morning I get the newspaper. The headline is bold: “A Conversation with Maestro Pilát.” Fine. “Maestro Pilát admitted our correspondent in a luxury suite in the Hotel X.” Hold on, I met the young man in the hotel lobby! “We were accepted with an unusual, ebullient warmth.” Wow, I think. “The exquisite, refined surroundings contrasted sharply with the gigantic, severe figure with the enormous mane of hair, unfettered in appearance.”I barely measure a meter-seventy, as as for the mane—well, let’s leave it at that. “He ran his fingers through his graying mane and his swarthy face became gloomy. ‘My origins,’ he said, ‘are concealed in secrecy; I cannot say much about myself. I was born in Hungary not far from Warsaw, my womb was the wild and enormous mountains. Wind roared over the forests at the place of my birth and the waterfalls thundered like an organ in a cathedral. That was the first musical impression of my life. I can betray to you that my father was an old gypsy. He lived with nature like hundreds and hundreds of our ancestors. Our family traditions are poaching, freedom, and furious cymbal and violin music. To this day I enjoy disappearing into the camps of my countrymen and playing the songs of my childhood on a violin around the fire…”

What can I tell you: I ran down to that newspaper and looked for the chief editor. I think I pounded on his desk a bit or something, but that man just took off his glasses and said in surprise: “But sir, we write for the news, after all! We must print the truth interestingly, don’t you understand? I don’t understand why you’re getting so angry…”

Now I’m not mad about it any more, a man gets used to it… And not only that, but I think there might not be any other way about it: you live your life, but the picture other people have of you is always different; what then when this picture is presented to the public! I can’t even tell you any more if this interview was in Liverpool or Rotterdam or somewhere else, but I am convinced of the following: when I stood in that concert hall at my podium, that the entire audience truly saw me as an enormous, unfettered, wild man with flowing hair, leaping over gypsy fires, violin in hand. The concert was an enormous and fantastic success. So I don’t even know if the young journalist was so wrong, in a way… you see, at least in that there is a private truth and a public one.”

LN 13 November 1938

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