(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Returning from the funeral of his friend Wertheimer in Switzerland to his Vienna apartment, which he is trying to sell, the narrator decides on the spur of the moment to visit Wertheimer’s hunting lodge in Upper Austria. Although he also owns a house in the area, he plans to stay overnight at a desolate inn in the nearby village. As he enters the inn, he begins to reflect on the lives and careers of his two closest friends, Wertheimer and Glenn Gould, whose deaths threaten to overwhelm him. The three met twenty-eight years earlier, in 1953, at a master class given by Vladimir Horowitz at the Mozarteum in Salzburg. Accomplished pianists at the time, both Wertheimer and the narrator were so overcome by Gould’s virtuosity that they gave up their own careers as concert pianists, got rid of their valuable pianos, and turned to fruitless intellectual pursuits. Nevertheless, the three remained “life-friends” and visited one another in Salzburg in 1955 and in New York in 1969. It was Gould who named Wertheimer “Der Untergeher” (the founderer). The narrator finds the name appropriate, for unlike himself, who escaped the stifling cultural and political climate of Austria and had pretensions as a writer in Madrid, Wertheimer remained in Austria, a mere dabbler in philosophy.

Gould, whom the narrator calls “the most important piano virtuoso of the century,” is the subject of the book on which the narrator has been working for nine years. The two first met on the Monch mountain, also known as “suicide mountain,” in Salzburg, quickly became friends, and, together with Wertheimer, rented a house in the suburban town of Leopoldskron, in order to escape Salzburg’s obtuseness and animosity to art and the intellect. The house, which formerly belonged to a Nazi sculptor, was ideal for Gould’s eccentricities and clowning. Gould, “the most clairvoyant of all fools,” established the “total order” that he needed for his obsessive piano playing by, among other things, squirting the house’s monumentally ugly...

(The entire section is 831 words.)


(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. LXXXVIII, September 1, 1991, p. 27.

Chicago Tribune. September 15, 1991, XIV, p. 6.

Fetz, Gerhard. “The Works of Thomas Bernhard: Austrian Literature?” in Modern Austrian Literature. XVII, nos. 3/4 (1984), pp. 171-192.

Kirkus Reviews. LIX, July 1, 1991, p. 803.

Library Journal. CXVI, August, 1991, p. 140.

Meyerhofer, Nicholas J. “On Biography as Autobiography: Thomas Bernhard’s Der Untergeher (The Succumber),” in St. Andrews Review. No. 30 (1986), pp. 15-19.. Thomas Bernhard, 1985.

The New York Times Book Review. XCVI, September 8, 1991, p. 15.

Publishers Weekly CCXXXVIII, July 5, 1991, p. 58.

Quill and Quire. LVII, July, 1991, p. 50.

Sharp, Francis Michael. “Literature as Self-Reflection: Thomas Bernhard and Peter Handke,” in World Literature Today. LV (Autumn, 1981), pp. 603-607.

The Village Voice. October 8, 1991, p. S7.

The Wall Street Journal. October 8, 1991, p. A20.

The Washington Post Book World. XXI, September 15, 1991, p. 4.

Wolfschutz, Hans. “Thomas Bernhard: The Mask of Death,” in Modern Austrian Writing, 1980. Edited by A. Best and H. Wolfschutz.