Classical music, Königsberg, our ancestor, Gayl Jones, and Sonny Boy Williamson

This evening I did nothing; I could have worked or worked out or washed dishes, or done other useful things, but I was riveted to my chair listening to the radio.

First, The Squash Hut. Selected songs by Samuel Scheidt, Heinrich Schütz, Johann Hildebrand, Heinrich Albert, Johann Bach, Andreas Hammerschmidt, Johann Nauwach, Johann Hermann Schein and Michael Jacobi (Dorothee Mields, soprano; Hathor Consort, Romina Lischka, conductor). This music was composed in Königsberg during the 30 Years’ War, completely ethereal.

Next, the Chicago Symphony with Jaap von Zweden directing, on Wagner, Rachmaninoff, Grieg and Tchaikovsky, and the compositions were so original, I could hardly believe it. Denis Kozhukhin was on piano.

Kant and E.T.A. Hoffman were from Königsberg, and my great-great grandfather Вениамин Βαρи graduated from Talmudic school there. It is said that he destroyed his letters from Marx when he moved back to the Russian Empire, but I have heard his letters to Marx are archived in the Kremlin.

Βαρи, in the period after Königsberg and before St. Petersburg, studied with Alexander von Humboldt. The family claims this was at Leipzig but I don’t know that Humboldt taught there, and I have seen B.’s baptismal certificate (Humboldt thought conversion unnecessary and unwise) from Berlin, made in 1833. The family does say B. went to study in Paris with Humboldt when he was posted there by Frederik Wilhelm, and came back to Berlin with him when he was called back. 

Königsberg was almost entirely destroyed in 1944-45 and the USSR executed all remaining inhabitants, so Kaliningrad has almost nothing to do with the city that was literally wiped off the map. I have decided to be nostalgic for it. Mitau, my ancestor’s childhood town, was also destroyed, and also rebuilt as a Soviet industrial town.

To finalize this evening’s cultural excursion we are jumping to someone completely different: Gayl Jones, since after all, my homelands were destroyed and I live in the United States, which like many, is a more interesting place than may meet the eye. And by now I am listening to Sonny Boy Williamson, and so should you, because he, like the composers and musicians mentioned above, has duende.


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