Hindemith's toilet humour


Here is an extract from the recent The Strad magazine (July 2009) of an article by Louise Lansdown regarding weird musical plays written by the composer and violinist Paul Hindemith in his youth. I think I also want some of the stuff that he was smoking...

The young Paul Hindemith wrote outrageously comic musical plays that display his bizarre imagination. Louise Lansdown describes the strange plot of Viola Mania, whose protagonists turns the viola into a murder weapon and flushes himself down the lavatory.

Act one begins with Abdul standing before a picture of his hated boss whining petulantly about his lot in life: 'Thanks to the bank I am totally ill. I could leave. But then this play would not come to be written. Such a misfortune I must prevent. Abdul Linder - that's me - remains alive. And desires to give Paul his chance to have his fling. My forbearance gives way to anger. My angelic patience and almost fairy-tale graciousness finally gives way. Long live vengeance!'

The act continues with Abdul seeking his perfect method of murder. When he finally stumbles upon an advertisement for 10,000 violas, divine inspiration takes over. Act Two begins with Abdul standing in front of the old lunatic asylum pontificating on his chosen method for killing: 'A terrible way to die - by "anti-viola playing": I must practise till my fingers fall off; I must practise as long as it takes to unlearn the viola, until my skill has reached the point of absolute zero, and from this low point I must study anti-viola playing long enough to gain a superhuman perfection - only then can I attack my manager effectively. I must buy countless violas, for no one instrument can survive this manner of practising. A new one must replace it every half an hour.' The remainder of the act reveals the extent of Abdul's fixation with the task at hand as he cajoles, bullies and bribes various people to give him violas -a midwife, an old man, a lady in the street and even Julius Caesar.

Paul HindemithAt the start of Act Three, Abdul is talking to himself at home: 'I want to be the anti-viola playing Paganini, even if my neighbours perish in droves in the process!' He then talks joyfully about the wonderful violas he has acquired: 'This one too is special; an Amati, costing 250 marks. Here is a Klotz. A credit to its maker and it costs almost as much as a pound of ham. That is only a selection. The pearl is undoubtedly the midwife's viola.'

Abdul begins bumping off visitors, friends and even his cat with his appalling anti-viola playing, while exclaiming maliciously to all and sundry: 'Here is something beautiful for you to hear: the latest sonata by my friend Paul Hindemith, who also wrote this thriller. With the help of this difficult piece I will become the greatest anti-viola player.'

In Act Four, Abdul stands laden with violas, music and a music stand in front of a toilet at the Cooperative Bank and recites a soliloquy: 'What is life?A W.C. Fate, making use of it, presses man to its bright light and with clear eyes he sees the wide basin of life spread out before him. He plunges in with a bold leap, traversing the world impulsively. Nevertheless life has but a short span. Fate pulls the chain in question, death comes in the form of flushing water, and down goes the person into the void, never to be seen again.'

The bank manager remains stubbornly alive, even after all his loyal employees die horrific deaths. The detective Hannes MacBumfiddle is called in to assist with the emergency and appears in the toilet pan, furnished with oxygen apparatus, gas mask and an ear plug that only lets through the spoken word, leaving him completely immune to all other sounds. Much to Abdul's disgust, MacBumfiddle relays the news of the bank manager's continued existence. In a fury Abdul flushes MacBumfiddle down the toilet. The bank manager struggles on, shouting Abdul's name. Out of desperation Abdul jumps into the toilet and flushes it - almost at the same time as the bank manager finally dies in agony.


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