The Voice

May. 16th, 2017 12:04 am
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Thomas Quasthoff - Die Stimme - Autobiographies (The Voice - Autobiography)

(This is is repost from LJ. It is based of the Finnish translation)

Thomas Quasthoff is a German tenor, lied singer and thalidomide victim. There is an official site. Even if he is profiled as a classic music singer, his last record was a jazz album Watch What Happens. Unfortunately, I have never heard him sing myself.

Quasthoff is 1.32 meters (4.3 feet) tall and has short limbs with no knees and no arms to speak of, with the full total of seven fingers. His head and torso are apparently normal. In Germany he is a Contergan victim, Contergan being the local brand name of the medicine that had thalidomide as its main ingredient. He has no good things to say about the medical industry that bribes politicians to get away with serious mistakes.

In the beginning of to book Quasthoff hints that he decided to write the book before somebody would write an unauthorized biography (which, based on the ridiculous media comments, could have become rather nonsensical). Because he can write only very slowly, his Brother Mikhael wrote everything down. Not to mention that some music critics cannot resist launching irrelevant comments about his appearance or him being handicapped. He concentrates on his career; he does mention his romantic relationships, but does not go into details. He seems to have developed quite a sense of humor – probably by necessity.

Quasthoff spent the first 18 months of his life in hospital under observation, getting all the possible infections in the supposedly sterile environment. Doctors pronounced that he would never walk but fortunately his parents refused to give up; his mother used chocolate to force her toddler to toddle. As a adult he studied law and worked in a bank and as a radio announcer.

He could not get into a conservatory, officially because he couldn't play the piano. So he took private singing lessons. The side effect was that, because he was not an official music student, he couldn't win the first prizes in singing contests - even when it was not awarded at all and he received the second prize instead (why I am not surprised). So, in effect, he won anyway. His parents refused to sponsor his singing lessons if he wouldn't abandon jazz. Which he did until the last year.

The book is not chronological. It begins with his first concert with the New York Philharmonic (and even if he barely slept the previous night, it was mainly because of the night time street demolition outside his hotel room). The concert was apparently smashing success. He mentions both the classical music concerts in the Eugene, Oregon and the Mauthausen concentration camp and his jazz and cabaret gigs.

He also briefly mentions some of the political events of his lifetime from the post-Conrad Adenauer Germany to Baader-Meinhoff to the German reunification.

According to Quasthoff, American audiences are less elitist than the European ones but also less polite - if they do not like what they hear, they may just take a walk in a middle of concert. Still he says he appreciates the lack of distinction between classical and popular music that is still part of the European classical music life. Even if the fans of the classical music do not tend to smash the furniture as a sign of their appreciation. He seems to be satisfied with the Deutsch Grammophon.

And then there are the anecdotes; The enthusiastic and somewhat obnoxious fan and sponsor Tony Shalit, How his traditional grandmother wanted his mother to use more butter, fat and lard in food; How he took part of his brother's avant-garde performance playing Einstein in a canoe; How, when one conductor doubted that he could sing loud enough, Quasthoff gave him more fortissimo than he expected; How The Scorpions massacred Elvis' songs in the German exhibition in Spain; how an unpleasant motel matron treated him before she realized that the "dwarf" was a conservatory professor; How the poet Hilde Romin manages to read poetry without reading poetry for all the barely related comments.

He also describes the unvarnished non-glamour of the music world, including academic jockeying for positions, petty disputes and infighting, disruptive and arrogant TV people.

Being a singer, he looks music from the technique point of view. By necessity he became a professional in singing techniques and looks at the music from the technical point of view. But he faces also envy and claims of favouritism because of his appearance. Well, I don't share his views about Andrea Bocelli but I kind of understand his point; he has spent years training his voice - and then some Vanessa May (or Linda Lampenius) become famous mainly because they are sexy...

Quasthoff also states that he knows that he is very lucky, as far as thalidomide children go (in addition to being alive). He has parents who supported his goals and he has his voice (which may be the reason for the name of this book). Like many similar people she'd rather concentrate on singing than talking about his apparent disability and is rather annoyed by the fact that media tends to mainly concentrate on his unusual appearance. Now he is famous enough that he has clout not to be summarily ignored like many other thalidomide cases.

"You can get pity for free but you must work for the envy"
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