05 Dec 2005

Franz of Discophile Dies at 86

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Franz Jolowicz

The Sunday Times remembers Franz Jolowicz, owner 1976-1984 of Discophile, New York City’s most illustrious classical record store, who passed away November 8th.

It may seem peculiar to some who did not live there then that the Times published a major obituary of the one-time owner of a small basement shop on St. Mark’s Place, officially 26 West 8th Street, which closed its doors more than twenty years ago. But in its day Franz’ subteraenean sanctum was one of New York City musical culture’s best-known and most important landmarks.

Franz, assisted by his partner Dominic (looked like Lorre, sounded like Capote), operated as passionate recording importer, pirate, retailer, and connoisseur. His piercing dark eyes glaring forth indignantly from beneath formidable Mittel-Europan brows, Franz would sit chain-smoking behind his counter, purveying carefully-selected benchmark recordings of astonishingly diverse international origin, while –assisted by a loyal clientele– carrying on a scathing critique of the ignorance and bad taste of the classical recording industry, and of the critics writing in England’s Gramaphone Magazine, at whose absurd fondness for the likes of Klemperer, Solti, and Sutherland, he particularly loved to jeer.

Strange docecahedronal speakers, which Franz himself admitted weren’t any good, but which did look hi-tech and could be suspended from the ceiling leaving more room for LPs, usually played softly in the background, but Franz would crank the volume up and rattle the windows of his little shop to demonstrate particular favorites. I can remember Franz playing a 1944 Berlin Gieseking performance of the Emperor Concerto, gleefully pointing out the sound of anti-aircraft fire in the background, and then joking at an audible cough from the audience: “That was Goebbels!”

He knew his records. Franz sold us a marvellous set of Callas arias, many recorded at rehearsals, on the BJR label. Could BJR have been his own? He introduced us also to the extraordinary early performances of the Franco-Belgian Flonzaley Quartet, and it was Franz who prevailed on us to buy the Vienna Concerthaus Quartet’s unrivalled Schuberts, and the superb contemporary Tatrai Quartet Haydns. I could go on for pages. He will be missed.

I did not know that Franz was once a soldier, and served in La Legion Etrangere. I’ll have to find an appropriate version of Ich hatt’ einen Kameraden, and play it for Franz later. No Gerhard Husch unfortunately, I fear, no Schlussnuss. I might have Leo Slezak. Bleib du im ew’gen Leben, Franz.

One Feedback on "Franz of Discophile Dies at 86"

Matthew H. Davidson

Knew Franz ’67> when I first rolled into town and was roosting across the street at the Marlton Hotel. Rather than dismiss me as just another Teenage skell [which is what I was] like the Classical Shops elsewhere he nurtured my taste for Early-Renaissance-Liturgical music with cogent choices for me. I met him again, later—he was a regular at Ascension Church: yeah man, Franz was a high church Anglican. You are missed mein kamerade. Auf weidershein, Gott mitt uns!


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