The Wall, RIP

November 8th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink


Und der Haifisch, der hat Zähne,
Und die trägt er im Gesicht…
Brecht, Threepenny Opera

to C.S.

As Europe’s demon slipped into the grave,
The tempest in these regions reached its height.
Now, in the angles of the floodlit night,
The future lingers like a frozen wave.
Our side is neon, pink-haired youth who crave
More welfare, swearing they will never fight.
Some cherish it, this Babylon the Bright,
While others can see nothing left to save.
The other side is silence. What’s the power
We feel in it, my friend? Is it the loss
A weary singer might feel in the dawn
When “Mack the Knife” has captured half the town?
We linger at the window, and across
The shark’s teeth shines the giant broadcast tower.

(first published in March 1990 Partisan Review)

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (1925-2012)

May 18th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

I heard him in Paris c. 1972, in his prime, singing the Dichterliebe. I first knew of him about a decade before that, when a record store owner convinced me to buy the Klemperer recording of the St. Matthew Passion, in which he sang the role of Jesus.

That was the only time his singing ever disappointed me. I had grown up on Mengelberg’s historic 1939 version, with the unearthly Willem Ravelli singing Jesus. It took some adjustment to accept Fischer-Dieskau’s more human, less mysterious approach, in that voice that Barthes would later stigmatize as too perfect. But I am not big on dichotomies. He soon became my favorite singer, and still in many ways is.

There was hardly any corner of German art song that he left unexplored. Here he is singing Eisler from the Hollywood Songbook, in a song made familiar by the usual Brechtian suspects in German and by Sting, among others, in English.

He treats it like any other German Lied, trying to give the poetry its due. Brecht might have hated it. Eisler, not so much.


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