J. Sydney Jones Interview
February 3, 2010
the author of Requiem in Vienna
It was a pleasure to have author J. Sydney Jones visit the blog on February 3, 2010, to talk about his historical mystery novel Requiem in Vienna, which features composer Gustav Mahler.
The portrait of 1899 Vienna in your novel is full of depth and detail. Which aspect of your research had the strongest effect on your writing?
In this novel two different resources came together:
a volume of Henry-Louis de la Grange's massive and massively important biography of Mahler, Gustav Mahler: Vienna: The Years of Challenge (1897-1904), and Alma Schindler's (later Mahler) diaries for the same period, Alma Mahler-Werfel: Diaries 1898-1902. Both supplied a wealth of detail not only about the protagonists, but also about Vienna of the time. Of course there are also intangibles that came together for this novel: my years of living in Vienna, my own deep love of music, and nagging questions about musical heritage and influences.
Gustav Mahler had to convert to Christianity to become Court Opera Director. Even for a nonreligious Jew like Mahler, this must have affected his sense of identity. Do you think it affected the music he wrote?
Mahler famously wrote, "I am thrice homeless, as a native of Bohemia in Austria, as an Austrian among Germans, and as a Jew throughout the world. Everywhere an intruder, never welcomed." He most definitely felt an outsider, but whether or not that affected his music is up for discussion. What did seem to affect his music was revealed during a "walking cure" he had with Freud in the summer of 1910. It came out during their in-depth discussion that Mahler, as a young boy, had witnessed his parents making love. Frightened and somewhat shocked, the youngster ran out onto the street, bumping into a hurdy-gurdy man grinding out a light and frolicsome melody. Freud felt that the literal collision of these two events deeply affected the composer's later work. Indeed, in Mahler's compositions one can make out the continual battle between deeply dramatic music interrupted at times with facile melodies.
I wish I could borrow Berthe and Karl's cook for a week! Can you share her recipe for zwiebelrostbraten?
Frau Blatschky, the cook of my protagonist in the Viennese Mystery series, provides a meat-and-potatoes variety of old Viennese and Austrian cooking. I think I should start putting her recipes in the books, as so many fans have asked for them. Basically, zwiebelrostbraten is thinly sliced sirloin sauteed and combined with onions that have been fried golden brown. A sauce is created with butter, brandy (optional) and mustard. And you must serve them with fried potatoes. Here are a couple of websites to help out: Austrian Recipes and The Passionate Cook (scroll all the way down for the latter recipe).
Review of Requiem in Vienna by J. Sydney Jones
See listing for Requiem in Vienna at Powell's Books
See listing for Requiem in Vienna at Amazon.com.
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