Ukemi Audiobooks May 2020

Ukemi Audiobooks May 2020

The world premiere audiobook recording of Thomas Mann’s masterpiece, The Magic Mountain.

David Rintoul

Ever since the release of Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks read for Ukemi Audiobooks by David Rintoul and released in October 2016 I have received a steady stream of emails and exhortations for Mann’s unquestionable masterpiece, The Magic Mountain. It is the story of a sanatorium in the Alps for sufferers of tuberculosis ­– the Covid-19 of its day. And therefore there can scarcely be a more apposite time to present this world premiere unabridged recording in a master-reading by the aforesaid David Rintoul. It is now available on Audible.

However, TB and the sanatorium in Davos (!!) is only the backdrop to the book. It is essentially, a bildungsroman, a story about the maturation of a young man over a period of years. Hans Castorp, in his early twenties, goes to visit a friend in the sanatorium for a few weeks, but his residency extends far further than that. He arrives a naïve, would-be shipbuilder, but his encounters with the various long-term and short-term patients, residents and medical staff, and his immersion in the sanatorium’s regular routine, affect and influence him in unexpected ways. His view of life (and death) broadens.

Mann started writing The Magic Mountain shortly before WW1, but didn’t finish it until 1924…and it propelled his career to the inevitable Nobel Prize in 1929.

David and I wanted to go into the recording studio very soon after Buddenbrooks to follow it up with The Magic Mountain but issues with audio rights and copyright required patience. Finally, with the support of the publishers Knopf in the US, the audio rights to the latest and much-admired translation by John E. Woods were agreed and signed at the start of this year.

Of course, David is a busy actor and audiobook reader, and couldn’t go straight into the studio…not least because he wanted time to study and prepare. The Magic Mountain is one of the greatest works of 20th century literature, along with Ulysses and Proust, and was not a book to sight-read. It is complex, multi-layered and subtle. David had scheduled a holiday in Sri Lanka in February after an intensive period of work. He said it would give him the perfect opportunity to prepare, concentrating soley on the book. He would prepare on the beach, by the pool, in the balmy evenings…which is exactly what he did. But first, he wanted to deal with all the pronunciations – names and places and whatnot in various European languages. When he returned, he showed me him prep pages…there were 887 lines, dealing not only with the languages, but technical words, notes on characters and situations and so on…Diligent is not the word for it.

So, one Monday early in March, we went for the first day to the Camden studios of the Royal National Institute for the Blind in London…top-class studios used by many commercial audiobook labels, as well as for the charity itself. We did the first day…and then Covid-19 descended like a thunderbolt. It was quite clear, with me taking daily trains and tubes from Hertfordshire, and David on public transport from Chelsea, that unless we were VERY lucky, we could end up in a medical establishment. But not in the Alps. And, er, sorry to reveal this David, but we both know all about three score years and ten – though David is extremely fit.

So, with great regret, I postponed…and then came up with another solution. ID Audio, a group of audiobook studios where we have both worked in the past, is in a gated office complex in West London. I lived in somewhat isolated circumstances in Herts. I could drive. David could drive. The studios were closed, but they kindly agreed to let us go in on the weekends, when no-one else was around – and the two of us could be separated – for most of the time – by the studio glass.

Thomas Mann

And so the recording of Mann’s masterpiece progressed. We extended the weekend by a day here, and a day there. We became increasingly engrossed in the enclosed community in Davos a century ago. Did the air and atmosphere in ID Audio feel alpine? The tumultuous intellectual battles of Lodovico Settembrini and Leo Naphta as they sought to influence the young Castorp – politically, ethically, artistically and even spiritually – spun their webs around us. The seductive allure of Clavdia Chauchat was evident. What a novel!

Outside, the world seemed in turmoil with coronavirus. We could not record this at home – we had to go to the studio – and the book itself demanded to be finished. March went into April and we lived in a kind of hermetic bubble (hoping anyway!!!!). People died of tuberculosis. Disappointment, tragedy, humour, love and seduction…We watched (or rather David recorded) the changes to Hans Castorp as the years passed.

The studio remained largely empty, so we had the space and time and quiet to try and do justice to the book. And then it was finished. It was a wrap! Onwards to a fine restaurant to celebrate? NO! not possible! We bowed, or did we clink elbows. Can’t remember. Then we went our solitary ways…

The editing and proofing process followed down in Bristol, handled by the immensely experienced Ken Barton and his proofer Tess. In a way Tess was our first audience – and her response was unequivocal.

An amazing, powerful, multi-layered novel – so many huge themes, but also engaging and hilarious, with fantastic characters. I was with David Rintoul for every second of the journey – he brings out every nuance of the text…one of the greatest books of early twentieth century…

As soon as it went live on Audible, I emailed many of the correspondents who had asked for it, from all over the world…and quite a few came back by return of mail, all welcoming it, saying how much they hoped it would come one day.

So that is the Ukemi story of The Magic Mountain. Ukemi is now in its fifth year, and has approaching 130 recordings…with another 26 on Dharma Audiobooks, its sister label dedicated to Buddhist audiobooks. On Ukemi, The Magic Mountain was preceded by Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship  read by the accomplished Leighton Pugh – It is arguably the first bildungsroman, so it was appropriate it should be followed by Mann’s masterpiece.

And I see that another massive Ukemi project, the first part of Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica has just gone on sale on Audible…

But more of that anon.

Nicolas Soames

17 May 2020