The Young Hitler I Knew – August Kubizek
Chapter 18 –
Adolf Writes an Opera.

Soon our life together in Vienna showed its drawbacks because of the different subjects that Adolf and I were studying. In the morning, when I was at the Conservatory, my friend was still asleep; and in the afternoon when Adolf wanted to work, my practising disturbed him. This led to frequent friction.

Conservatory, fiddlesticks! What did he have his books for? He wanted to prove to me that, even without the Conservatory he could equal my achievements in the musical field. For it was not the Professor's wisdom that counted, he said, but genius.

This ambition led him to a most extraordinary experiment and I am still at a loss to say whether this experiment was of any value or not. Adolf harked back to the elementary possibilities of musical expression. Words seemed to him too complicated for this purpose, and he tried to discover how isolated sounds could be linked to notes of music; and with this musical language he combined certain colours. Sound and colour were to become one and form the foundation of that which would finally appear on the stage as an opera. I, myself, convinced of the truth of what I had learnt at the Conservatory, rejected these experiments somewhat disdainfully, which annoyed him very much. He busied himself for some time with these abstract experiments, perhaps because he hoped to strike at the roots of my superior academic knowledge, I was reminded of my friend's essays in composition when a few years later a Russian composer caused some sensation in Vienna by similar experiments.

In those weeks Adolf wrote a lot, mainly plays, but also a few stories. He sat at his table and worked until dawn, without telling me very much about what he was doing. Only now and then would he throw onto my bed some closely written sheets of paper or would read out to me a few pages of his work, written in a strangely exalted style.

I knew that almost everything he was writing was set in the world of Richard Wagner; that is to say, in Germanic antiquity. One day I remarked, casually, that I had learned, during lectures on the History of Music, that the outline of a music drama about Wieland, the Smith, had been found among Wagner's posthumous writings. It was, in fact, only a short, hastily sketched text, and no drafts for a stage version existed, nor was anything known about the musical treatment of the material.

Adolf immediately turned up the Wieland legend in his book on gods and heroes. Strangely enough, my friend did not object at all to the plot of the Wieland legend, although King Nidur's action was entirely motivated by avarice and greed. The hunger for gold, so important an element in Germanic mythology, produced in him neither a negative nor a positive response. Nor was he at all impressed by the fact that Wieland kills his sons out of vengeance, rapes his daughter, and drinks from beakers fashioned out of the skulls of his sons. He started to write that same night. I was sure that in the morning he would surprise me with the draft of his new drama, Wieland, the Smith.

Yet things turned out differently. In the morning – nothing happened. But when I returned for lunch I found Adolf, to my great surprise, sitting at the piano. The scene that followed has remained in my memory.

Without any further explanation, he greeted me with the words, "Listen, Gustl, I am going to make the Wieland into an opera."

I was so surprised that I was struck dumb.

Adolf enjoyed my reaction to his announcement and went on playing the piano, or what for him passed for "playing." Old Prewratzky had taught him something in his day, undoubtedly, but not enough to "play the piano" as I understood it.

When I had recovered, I asked Adolf how he imagined he would set about it.

"Quite simple – I shall compose the music, and you will write it down."

Adolf's plans and ideas always moved more or less on a plane above normal comprehension – I had long since grown used to that. But now, when my own special domain, music, was in question, I really could not keep up with him. With all due respect to his musical gifts, he was no musician; he was not even capable of playing an instrument. He had not the slightest idea of musical theory. How could he dream of composing an opera?

I only remember that my pride as a musician was hurt, and I walked out without uttering a word, and went to a small cafe nearby to do my homework.

However, my friend was not in the least offended by my behaviour, and when I returned home in the evening he was somewhat calmer. "Now, the prelude is ready – listen!"

And he played, from memory, what he had thought up as the prelude to his opera.

I cannot recall, of course, a single note of this music. But one thing remains in my memory: it was a sort of illustration of the spoken word, by means of natural, musical elements, and he intended to have it performed on old instruments. As this would not have sounded harmonious, my friend decided in favour of a modern symphony orchestra, reinforced by Wagnerian tubas. At any rate, that was music which one could follow. Each separate musical theme in itself made sense, and if the whole impressed one as so primitive, it was only because Adolf could not play better; that is to say, he was incapable of expressing his ideas more clearly.

The composition was, of course, entirely influenced by Richard Wagner. The whole prelude consisted of a sequence of single themes. But the development of these themes, however well chosen they were, had been beyond Adolf's ability. After all, where should he have acquired the necessary knowledge? He entirely lacked any training for such a task.

Having finished his playing, Adolf wanted to hear my judgment. I knew how highly he valued it and what my praise in musical matters meant to him. But this was no simple problem.

The basic themes were good, I said, but he had to realise that with these themes alone it was impossible to write an opera, and I declared my readiness to teach him the necessary theoretical knowledge.

This roused his wrath,

"Do you think I'm mad?" he shouted at me. "What have I got you for? First of all you will put down exactly what I play on the piano."

I knew only too well my friend's mood when he spoke fn this manner, and realised that it was no good arguing. So I wrote down as faithfully as possible what Adolf had played. But it was late, Frau Zakreys was knocking on the door, and Adolf had to stop.

Next morning I left early, and when I returned for lunch, Adolf reproached me for having run away "in the middle of working on his opera." He had already prepared the music paper for me and immediately began to play. As Adolf stuck neither to the same time nor to a uniform key, it was hard to take down what I heard. I tried to make it clear to him that he had to keep to one key.

He ranted, "Who is the composer, you or I?"

All I had to do was to write down his musical thoughts and ideas.

I asked him to start again. He did, and I wrote. Thus we made some progress; yet for Adolf it was too slow. I told him that, to begin with, I wanted to play through what I had taken down. He agreed, and I sat down at the piano, and it was his turn to listen.

Curiously enough, I liked what I was playing better than he did, perhaps because he had a very precise idea of his composition in his head and neither his own poor playing nor my notation and playing corresponded to it.

Nevertheless, we concentrated for several days, or rather nights, on this prelude. I had to put the whole thing into a suitable metric form. But whatever I did, Adolf was not satisfied. There were periods in the course of his composition in which the time changed from one bar to the next. I succeeded in convincing Adolf that this was impossible; but as soon as I tried to render the whole section in one time, he protested again.

Today I can understand what brought him to the edge of despair during those strenuous nights and tested our friendship to the uttermost. He carried this prelude in his head as a finished composition, just as he had had ready the plan for a bridge or a concert hall even before he put pencil to paper. But, while he was complete master of the pencil and could give form to his idea till the drawing was completed, such means were denied him in the musical field. His attempt to make use of me made the whole thing even more complicated, for my theoretical knowledge only hindered his intuition. It reduced him to utter despair that he had an idea in his head, a musical idea which he considered bold and important, without being able to pin it down. There were moments in which he doubted his vocation, in spite of his pronounced self-conceit.

But soon he found a way out of the dilemma between passionate will and insufficient ability. It was as ingenious as it was original: he would compose his opera, he declared determinedly, in the mode of musical expression corresponding to that period in which the action was set, that is to say in Germanic antiquity. I intended to object that the audience, in order to "enjoy" the opera properly, should be composed of old Teutons, rather than people of the twentieth century. But even before I had raised this objection, he was already working fervently on his new solution. I had no opportunity to dissuade him from this experiment which I considered quite impossible. Besides he would probably have succeeded in convincing me that his solution was feasible, by insisting that the people of our century would just have to learn to listen property.

He wanted to know if there was anything preserved of the German music.

"Nothing," I replied briefly, "except the instruments,"

"And what were they?"

I told him that drums and rattles had been found, and in some places in Sweden and Denmark also a kind of flute, made of bones. Experts had succeeded in restoring these strange flutes and in producing with them some not very harmonious sounds. But most important were the Luren, wind instruments made of brass, almost two metres long and curved like a horn. They probably served only as bugles between homesteads, and the crude sounds they produced could hardly be called music.

I thought that my explanation, which he had followed with careful attention, would suffice to make him give up his idea, for you could not orchestrate an opera with rattles, drums, bone flutes and Luren. But I was wrong. He started talking about the Skalds, who had sung to the accompaniment of harplike instruments, something I had really forgotten.

It should be possible, he went on, to deduce, from the kind of instruments the Germanic tribes had, what their music was like.

Now my book learning came into its own. "That has been done," I reported, "and it has been shown that the music of the Teutons had a vertical structure, and possessed some sort of harmony; they even had, perhaps, some inkling of major and minor keys. To be sure, these are only scientific assumptions, so-called hypotheses . . ."

This was sufficient to induce my friend to start composing for nights on end. He surprised me with ever new conceptions and ideas. It was hardly possible to write down this music, which did not fit into any scheme. As the Wieland legend, which Adolf arbitrarily interpreted and extended, was rich in dramatic moments, a wide scale of sentiments had to be translated into the musical idiom. To make the thing at all "tolerable" for the human ear, I finally persuaded Adolf to give up the idea of using the original instruments from the Germanic tombs, and to replace them by modem instruments of a similar type. I was content, when after nights of work, at long last the various Leitmotifs of the opera were established.

We then agreed on the characters, of whom only Wieland, the hero of the opera, had so far any substance. Thereupon Adolf divided the whole action into acts and scenes. In the meantime, he designed the scenery and costumes and made a charcoal sketch of the winged hero.

As my friend did not make any progress with the libretto, which was supposed to be in verse, I suggested that he should finish the prelude first, to which he agreed after several rather heated arguments. I gave him a lot of help with it, and consequently the prelude turned out quite presentable. But my suggestion that the composition should be orchestrated, and played by an orchestra as soon as an opportunity arose, was rejected by him out of hand. He refused to have the prelude classed as program music, and would not hear of an "audience" – which was in any case problematical. And yet he worked feverishly on it, as though an impatient opera producer had allowed him too little time and was waiting to snatch the manuscript from his hands.

He wrote and wrote and I worked on the music. When I fell asleep, overwhelmed by fatigue, Adolf roused me roughly. I had hardly opened my eyes and there he was in front of me, reading from his manuscript, the words tumbling over each other in his excitement. It was past midnight and he had to speak softly. This, in its contrast to the scenes of volcanic violence described in his verse, lent to his impassioned voice a sound of strange unreality. I had long since known this behaviour of his, when a self-imposed task engrossed him completely and forced him to unceasing activity; it was as though a demon had taken possession of him. Oblivious of his surroundings, he never tired, he never slept. He ate nothing, he hardly drank. At the most he would occasionally grab the milk bottle and take a hasty gulp, certainly without being aware of it, for he was too completely wrapped up in his work. But never before had I been so directly impressed by this ecstatic creativeness. Where was it leading him? He squandered his strength and talents on something that had no practical value. How long would this weakened, delicate body stand this overstrain?

I forced myself to stay awake and to listen, nor did I ask him any of the questions that filled me with anxiety. It would have been easy for me to take as an excuse one of our frequent quarrels to move out. The people at the Conservatory would have been only too pleased to help me find another room. Why did I not do it? After all, I had often admitted to myself that this strange friendship was no good for my studies. How much time and energy did I lose in these nocturnal activities of my friend? Why, then, did I not go? Because I was homesick, certainly, and because Adolf represented for me a bit of home. But, after all, homesickness is something a young man of twenty can overcome. What was it then? What held me?

Frankly, it was just hours like those through which I was now living which bound me even more closely to my friend. I knew the normal interests of young people of my age: flirtations, shallow pleasures, idle play and a lot of unimportant meaningless thoughts. Adolf was the exact opposite. There was an incredible earnestness in him, a thoroughness, a true passionate interest in everything that happened and, most important, an unfailing devotion to the beauty, majesty and grandeur of art. It was this that attracted me especially to him and restored my equilibrium after hours of exhaustion. All this was well worth a few sleepless nights and those more or less heated quarrels to which, in my quiet, sensible way, I had become accustomed.

I still remembered that some of the opera's more dramatic scenes haunted me for weeks in my dreams. Only some of the pictures which Adolf designed still stand out in my memory. Pen and pencil were too slow for him and he used to draw with charcoal. He would outline the scenery with a few bold, quick strokes. Then we would discuss the action: first, Wieland enters from the right, then his brother Egil from the left, and then, from the back, the second brother Slaghid.

I have still before my eyes the Wolf Lake, where the first scene of the opera was laid. From the Edda, a book that was sacred for him, he knew Iceland, the rugged island of the North, where the elements which formed the world meet now, as they did in the days of Creation: the violent storm, the bare, dark rock, the pale ice of the glaciers, the flaming fire of the volcanoes. There he laid the scene of his opera, for there Nature herself was still in those passionate convulsions which inspired the actions of gods and human beings. There, then, was the Wolf Lake on whose banks Wieland and his brothers were fishing, when one morning three light clouds, borne along by the winds, floated towards the men. There were three Valkyries in glittering coats of mail and shining helmets. They wore white, fluttering robes, magic garments which enabled them to float through the air. I remember what headaches these flying Valkyries caused us, as Adolf categorically refused to do without them. Altogether there was a lot of "flying" in our opera. In the last act, Wieland, too, had to forge himself a pair of wings, with which he would have to fly, a flight on wings of metal, which moreover had to be accomplished with the utmost ease in order to remove any doubts about the quality of his workmanship. This was for us, the creators of this opera, one more technical problem, which attracted Adolf in particular, perhaps because just in those days the first "heavier than air" machines were being flown by Lilienthal, the Wright brothers, Farman and Blériot. The "Flying Valkyries" married Wieland, Egil and Slaghid. Mighty horns summoned the neighbours to the wedding feast at the Wolf Lake.

It would take too long were I to recount the various episodes of the old saga; besides, I can no longer tell whether we followed it word for word in our work. But the impression of dramatic events driven on by wild, unbridled passion, expression in verses that inexorably engraved themselves on the heart, carried by just such inexorably severe and elemental music is still vivid in my memory.

I do not know what became of our opera. One day new, pressing problems confronted my friend, which required immediate solution; as even Adolf, in spite of his immense capacity for work, had only one pair of hands, he had to put aside the half-finished opera. He spoke less and less of it, and in the end did not mention it at all. Perhaps the insufficiency of his endeavours had meanwhile dawned on him. To me, it had been obvious from the beginning that we would never succeed in our attempt to write an opera, and I took good care not to raise the subject. "Wieland, the Smith," Adolf's opera, remained a fragment.