Troubador Zweck

Released: 28/02/2016

ISBN: 9781785890413

Format: Paperback

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A Novel and Mostly Reliable Musical History


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 haven for aspiring musicians, including afro-headed violinists, cellists in caftans and coloraturas from Colorado. During his time there, Bernard accidentally encounters his long lost great-uncle, Hermann Heinrich Zweck, a nonagenarian – a once eminent, now forgotten composer, who has known most of the great musical figures of the Twentieth Century and hated almost all of them. Zweck is engaged in a war against stupidity, laziness and cowardice with the world, along 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. Comically written by an author skilled in both writing and music, Zweck is an accessible and hilarious novel about fame, identity, music and dumplings.

Camden Review

Camden New Journal

Female First

That's Books and Entertainment

Books Monthly

Zweck, a forgotten Jewish composer, whose work and life romp through the wars and peace of 20th Century Europe is a grumpy, incorrigible, honest, romantic who met most of the world's famous composers. His own story from German soldier in WW1 through to genteel resident of Pinner and the Kensington Music Society to the late flowering relationship with his nephew Bernard and the earnest but hapless musicologist Forsythe is told with wit and and Woody Allen style comic insights. His asides/memories of 20th Century composers may be historically correct but have the added bonus of Zweck's honest judgements on their music (delivered with Yiddish humour and in the case of Schoenburg vitriol). The final scenes in Israel provided a surprising/shocking punch-line but made sense in the character of Zweck - a fervent anti-zionist.

An entertaining and pacey read - life, love, music and history.

by Sarah Mallen

What a refreshing novel to read about music, life and all that's in between! This imaginative and hysterically funny take on the ageing but forever young, the curmudgeon composer Zweck, is something which we should have more of... The imaginary, yet imaginative composer, a Jew who had supposedly composed the Nazi Party marching song, is never short of a sharp view of his fellow musicians, for which he reserves especial contempt, far beyond what he extends to other mortals. His life story is indeed the quintessential cv of the 20C, a time in which all and more could happen, and unfortunately did.

The author, whose novel is his first attempt at fiction, is someone we shall hear more of, clearly. He is delighted with his extensive footnotes, some of which are seemingly superfluous, but all of which are funny. This invention, a novel with footnotes, will warm the heart of bookworms like me, but holds much promise for others, lesser mortals, as well. While this book deals with two Jews from two different centuries and continents, it will delight mainly the non-Jewish reader... Jews with a sense of humour should also give this a chance, though! This comes highly recommended, and I am looking forward for his next novel!

by Haim Bresheeth

The subject of Stephen Deutsch's new novel is the 20th century composer Hermann Zweck and the readers most likely to enjoy it will be musicians and music lovers. The person who would have enjoyed it most would have been the late novelist Thomas Mann. Mann was forced to announce at the start of his novel "Dr Faustus" that "the method of composition described is the property of Arnold Schoenberg". We learn from Zweck about the source from which the triskaidekaphobic Schoenberg stole his 12 tone method.
Far more insulting words than triskaidekaphobic are used by Zweck to describe Schoenberg, drawing from German and Yiddish. Most readers' vocabularies will be increased but these expressions are not recommended for use during job interviews. Schoenberg is not the only sacred cow of 20th century music to be made into a salt beef sandwich by Zweck. Behind the misanthropic mask, Zweck reveals himself to be a versatile and gifted composer. A recording of some of his works is available in the de luxe edition. Like most great composers Zweck has a perceptive understanding of other composers whether he likes their music or not and he is unable to conceal his love for the music of J. S. Bach, Brahms and Gershwin. He answers all the questions which the hapless musicologist Charles Forsythe fails to ask and, like Sigmund Freud, he never misses an opportunity to throw in a Jewish joke.

The backdrop for the novel is an establishment known as the Kensington Music Society. It is hard to believe that such a place existed since it would have been an anachronism even in the 1970s. However one of my passengers lived somewhere similar as a music student and says that he remembers someone just like Zweck's nephew Bernard arriving on a motor bike and devouring a full English breakfast.

Readers may agree or disagree with the author's views on the Middle East (if they leave in a country where these options are available). They may also believe or disbelieve the historical notes on the state of Israel and elsewhere. However the descriptions of Israeli and Palestinian taxi drivers are true to life.

by Mordechai

This is a delightful romp across the span of twentieth-century music. The author delightfully juggles the lives and love stories of two composers and a musicologist whose paths intersect. "Zweck" is not only funny but playful with the novel form: it uses a multi-layered structure of stories within stories, interruptions, and footnotes (both of the academic and shoe varieties), while also providing true anecdotes about the major composers of the century.

by Liz Weis

A wonderful read. Stephen Deutsch offers us a story of exceptional fluency, freshness and originality. His use of imagined and historical detail is both striking and exciting. I particularly enjoyed the asides, monologues and interruptions - an interesting device that works well in this case. Bernard Robins is a well written character - both believable and vulnerable. Great Fun to read.

by Sandra Cain

Zweck is a book that breaks the mould. Beautifully written, with a wonderful sense of character, it is a novel, a 'memoir' and a history, with elements so deftly interwoven that it defies you to put it down. Within it there are parodies of people and institutions - particularly in the field of academia and musicology - which one suspects are drawn from the author's experience. These people and places may or may not recognise themselves. Musicians and music lovers will adore it, but it speaks to a wide audience, particularly to readers who enjoy picking up cultural references; it is very, very funny. (How can you resist a book that has chapter titles like 'That Bastard Arnold Schoenberg and Tristidecaphonic Music'?) It is a 'mostly reliable' musical history of the 20th century but it touches on so much more, seen through the opinionated eyes of its eponymous hero (the book can also help you with what it feels like to be eponymous). . It is a rich, totally unique and masterful achievement. You really should own it.

by Seán Street

I ignored Zweck's advice not to read this book and I am pleased that I did, for it is both informative and entertaining. The humour is sharp. I particularly enjoyed the scene in the Englischer Garten in Munich in which the coy American refuses to undress in public and it takes a fertile mind to recognise the crucial role played in the First World war by tin openers. There is even a Latin joke (and a dig at private education). The characters are vivid and convincing although I do feel some sympathy for the poor musicologist. We can't all be creative geniuses. I would have liked to have had the de-luxe edition with the CD but I am grateful to Stephen for directing me to the Brahms cello sonata.

by Richard Pearson

The eponymous Zweck is extra-ordinary, and he thinks so too. Just the sort of character I hope to find myself sitting next to at a social event where I don't know anybody. Being totally unselfconscious and self-centred, but also with a wicked sense of humour, he will regale you with anecdotes about all the famous people he's met, most of them scurrilous. Interspersed with these are little known facts about everything you didn't need to know, and wonderful one-liners to keep you amused. If only I could remember them. Just don't mention Schoenberg!
There are other people in the book, but really it's all about him.

by liana guy

A most delightful book with fascinatng personalities and endless humourous anecdotes. Instantly engages with the Reader. Highly recommended.

by Tricia Lewin

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