Gounod “Funeral March of a Marionette”

I haven’t vanished in an alpine crevasse, I’ve simply been busy singing! The business has been part rehearsals, part teaching, and part working on some things for the future.

The rehearsals have led me to a small musical discovery, in fact. We have been working up Gounod’s Faust, and as I hung about on the side of the stage waiting for an entrance, I heard some very familiar music in the Walpurgisnacht scene. What was that? It sounded like the theme music to Alfred Hitchcock Presents, his successful 1950s television series.

Well, to make a long story short, it was. Or rather, it was a fragment of music which Gounod later expanded into a piano work called Marche funèbre d’une marionette. It’s this version which was then used on the television show.

Oddly, however, I haven’t found a version of the opera online which uses this music. There are other versions of the Walpurgisnacht scene, with a solo for Mephistopheles and/or long ballet music (those French operas all had extended ballets which are cut these days. It saves money in avoiding orchestra overtime and not having to hire dancers.) The version we are doing contains a section of men’s chorus which begins with “Un, deux et trois”, and that’s where the pertinant music is found.


Innsbruck, Dürer and “Ern Malley”


Liebe Leserinnen und Leser, hier findet ihr Information über diese Geschichte.

This is a postcard that was found in an old book, having been used as a bookmark by a previous reader. It’s Albrecht Dürer’s Hof der Burg zu Innsbruck (Innsbruck Castle Courtyard), and in the mild hopes of finding out exactly where this spot is and what it looks like now, I began by googling the words ‘Dürer’ and ‘Innsbruck’, which led me to this image —


Innsbruck mit dem Blick auf den Patscherkofel (View of Innsbruck with Patscherkofel)

— as well as to a strange poem with an amusing story attached. It was part of a “collection” by one late, great unknown poet named Ern Malley – which was actually all a hoax cooked up by two Modernist poets in Australia serving in war duty in the 1940s, meant to trip up the very young editor and founder of a successful modernist poetry magazine. They threw together a parody of late modernist poems, invented a fictional author who died young and a sister who “found” the works, and submitted them to the magazine. The hoax was a success – the young editor received them excitement, sure that he had made a great discovery. Well.

The first poem, by the way, was called “Dürer: Innsbruck, 1495”:

I had often cowled in the slumbrous heavy air,
Closed my inanimate lids to find it real,
As I knew it would be, the colourful spires
And painted roofs, the high snows glimpsed at the back,
All reversed in the quiet reflecting waters –
Not knowing then that Durer perceived it too.
Now I find that once more I have shrunk
To an interloper, robber of dead men’s dream,
I had read in books that art is not easy
But no one warned that the mind repeats
In its ignorance the vision of others. I am still
The black swan of trespass on alien waters.

Das erste Gedicht wurde übrigens “Dürer: Innsbruck, 1495” genannt.
[Paschberg macht einen Versuch, das Gedicht zu übersetzten. Fast zu gut..!]

Oft umfing mich die schläfrig schwere Luft
Meine leblosen Lider schließend, wirklich zu finden
wie um die Erscheinung der farbigen Türme wusste
und dier bemalten Dächer vor dem Hintergrund das hohen Schnees
alles gestürzt in den stillen spiegelnden Wassern
damals nicht wissend, dass auch Dürer das wahrgenommen
Jetzt erkenne ich mich wieder, geschrumpft
zu einem Eindringling, einem Räuber, eines toten Mannes Traum
In Bücher hab ich gelesen, dass Kunst nicht einfach ist,
doch niemand warnte vor dem Wiederholen der Gedanken
in der Unwissenheit der Visionen . Ich bleibe
der schwarze Schwan des Friedensbruchs in fremden Gewässern

The authors claim they pulled words out of reference dictionaries at random and from what came to mind. This first poem, however, had come from an earlier serious attempt which was then edited to make it somehow more “late modernist”, a style the authors did not like at all. I’m guessing “I had read in books that art is not easy” is one of the “improvements”…Die Autoren behaupten, sie hätten die Wörter zufällig aus Wörterbüchern und in freier Assoziation genommen. Das erste Gedicht ist jedenfalls ein früherer ernsthafter Versuch, bearbeitet um es irgendwie Spätmodern klingen zu lassen, ein Stil, der den Autoren überhaupt nicht gefiel. Ich nehme an das „In Bücher hab ich gelesen, dass Kunst nicht einfach ist“ eine der „Verbesserungen“

Over the years, the fictional poet Ern Malley has taken on a kind of minor cult fame in Australia. He’s got his own website, and the story and poems have become the inspiration for other works over the years. Im Lauf der Jahre wurde der fiktive Dichter Ern Malley in Australien zu einer Art Kultobjekt. Er hat nun seine eigene Website und seine Geschichte und seine Gedichte wurden im Laufe der Zeit Inspiration für andere Arbeiten.

1st image from the author; 2nd image found here

Remembering the Pogrom 1938

Deutschsprachige Leser kann mehr hier lesen.

In light of reports like here and here, one might start to think that Europe is going under any day. Reading beyond the headlines, one learns

[t]he trend in Europe does not signal the return of fascist demons from the 1930s, except in Greece, where the neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn has promoted openly racist beliefs, and perhaps in Hungary, where the far-right Jobbik party backs a brand of ethnic nationalism suffused with anti-Semitism.

But the soaring fortunes of groups like the Danish People’s Party, which some popularity polls now rank ahead of the Social Democrats, point to a fundamental political shift toward nativist forces fed by a curious mix of right-wing identity politics and left-wing anxieties about the future of the welfare state.

Yes, the far-right groups are worrisome. No, we are not being taken over or sliding back into the 1930s.

That said, it is still supremely important to remember what happened, and today marks the 75th anniversary of the November pogroms in Germany, known as Kristallnacht. Efforts have been made in the last decades to stop using this latter name and call it what it was, a pogrom, and most formal reference to it uses Novemberpogrome. The old name is still around, though.
Innsbruck has a group of citizens dedicated to keeping the memory of the horrors in the Anschluss years from fading into obscurity. They have toiled for years publishing about many aspects of those years — the schools, the psychiatric system, the ethnic cleansing, the local resistance, and a lot more I can’t even think of right now — if you are looking for literature, this author has been especially prolific (I have read some of his books, and am impressed enough to recommend anything written by him.)
The commemorations this year include a concert featuring the work Concerto funebre by the late Innsbruck composer Bert Breit, dedicated to the Innsbruck victims of Kristallnacht; walking tours of the Altstadt with emphasis on its former Jewish residents; research projects for high school students at the City Archives; commemorative speeches at the entrance to the Jewish cemetery, followed by a silent march to the Pogromnacht memorial menorah near the State Govermnent Building (Landhaus), where a Kaddish will be recited.

I assume that other cities across Austria and Germany will be having similar events tonight.

Yesterday evening I attended a small reading and slide-show presentation of letters to one Erna Krieser, a young woman who left Innsbruck in the late 1930s to take a job with a rich family in Tuscany, from her immediate family. Her mother and twin sister write in ever increasing urgency about their situation — being forced to sell the family business, being told they must leave Innsbruck, eventually settling in the Jewish ghetto in Vienna, all the while hoping to find a way out and being too afraid to make any rash decisions — a reunion in South Tyrol becomes out of the question as the family learns they would not be able to return home. This is difficult for many younger listeners to understand, but without proper travel and residency papers, virtually nothing was possible, especially for a middle-aged couple and their daughter. On the other hand, if they had known what was in store for them (the parents perished in Auschwitz, Erna’s sister Käthe in the Lodz ghetto), would they have risked it? (A good novel on the kafkaesque labyrinth of bureaucracy one faced is “Transit”, by Anna Seghers). Their last letters, right up to the outbreak of the war, and the closing of all the borders, were filled with hoping against hope that someone would come through for them, and with enormous gratitude that their daughter Erna had got out (she was able to emigrate to Palestine.)

The readings were interspersed with selections from an old photo album, many “last photos” of Jewish Innsbruck families in their homes, on holiday, on the way out of Europe. The evening was titled Abschiedsbilder, farewell pictures, and presented by local author and filmmaker Niko Hofinger.

Maybe We Can Translate It As “Kakastrophe”


One sees/hears a lot of English words which have been absorbed into the German language. Sometimes, like HD vs Blue Ray, you’ll hear competing German and English terms for certain things (“Computer” seems to have won out over “Rechner”, for example). But this one in the Tiroler Tageszeitung took me completely by surprise. I really would have expected to see it in quotation marks, since it probably came from the subject’s own Facebook posting (which would not have been in German).

The article, if you’re curious, states that the designated composer of a new anthem in honor of the upcoming Coronation in the Netherlands (the Queen is stepping down and handing the throne over to her eldest son. This is THE STORY up there right now) has withdrawn his composition after massive protest and ridicule from citizens. My Dutch friends assure me that it’s godawful. Hence the Anschiss.

Looking it up in the online German-English dictionaries, I find that the word “shitstorm” was named the 2011 Anglizismus des Jahres (Anglicism Of The Year), and not perfectly translatable, therefor accepted “as is” in the German language. There are links at the links, if you’re that interested.

Bruegel’s “Hunters In The Snow” in the film “Melancholia”

Much has already been written on the artworks featured in Lars von Trier’s new film “Melancholia”. One of them, in fact the first painting you’ll see in the film’s prologue, has a possible local connection and, if so, an interesting feature.
Viel wurde schon geschrieben über die Kunststücke in den Film “Melancholia”. Eines davon, das erste Gemälde das man im Film sieht, hat eine unbewiesene aber sehr interessante Verbindung mit Innsbruck.

“Hunters in the Snow”, Peter Bruegel (or Brueghel) the Elder, 1565.
Image from Wikipedia.de

One Professor Wilhelm Fischer of Innsbruck wrote an academic treatise a while back, maintaining that Bruegel, on his return trip from Italy, must have come through Innsbruck and made sketches of the landscape. In his opinion this is clearly the village of Amras, the Sill River, and the Inn Valley beyond (with some artistic changes taken into account. The valley is a tad too narrow so the other settlements are not exactly in the right place, for example. And our mountains are not that pointy.)

Der Innsbrucker Professor Wilhelm Fischer behauptet, daß Bruegel auf seiner Rückreise aus Italien in Innbruck weilte, und machte Skizzen von der Landschaft. Laut Fischer ist das Dorf im Bild offensichtlich Amras, mit der Sill und dem Inntal im Hintergrund (man muß aber dann manche künstlerische Freiheiten einkalkulieren — das Tal ist zu eng, die andere Siedlungen sind nicht genau, wo sie hingehören sollen. Und die umringenden Berge sind nicht so spitz.

If this is so, then that skating pond may well be the lost and forgotten Amraser See — remember the Amraser See? It vanished some decades ago and now the DEZ shopping mall stands in its place. What an apt subject for the film.
I doubt Lars von Trier had even heard of this, perhaps he used the painting among others to show melancholy (the dejected hunters and even their sorry-looking hounds) being confronted by both gaiety (villagers out and about)  and disaster (according to this blogger the farmhouse on the river has just had an explosion. In any event, it is burning.) Like Justine’s arrival at her wedding reception, you might say. We could continue into the theme of Death As Bridegroom but that’s beyond the scope of my knowledge.

Wenn dieses Gemälde das Dorf Amras zeigt, dann ist der Teich im Bild der verschwundene, vergessene Amraser See, wo jetzt der Einkaufzentrum “DEZ” steht. Herr von Trier weiß davon sicher nichts; vielleicht stellt das Bild für ihn eine richtige Melancholie dar,  (die niedergeschlagene Jäger sogar ihre Hünde),  die mit Fröhlichkeit (die Dorfleute) und Pech (ein brennendes Haus) konfrontiert wird. Man vergleicht ihr Ankommen mit Justine’s Ankommen an das Hochzeitsfest (im Film).

Considering the film’s theme of everything going under, the inclusion of a painting which itself shows something already lost and forgotten is interesting (to probably nobody but me, but hey, it’s my blog and I get to write what I want.) A lost world inside a lost world.

Ein Bild von einem verschwundenen Ort, in einer Geschichte über das kommende Verschwinden unserer Welt. Eine verlorene Welt in einer verlorenen Welt.

More about the artworks featured in the film here (English) and hier (deutsch.)

>Fun With The Language

>New York Times op-ed columnist Frank Rich writes about Sarah Palin this week, and in doing so has coined the perfect word to describe her new reality show, and in turn the perfect word to describe the image she presents to the world:

Palin fires a couple of Annie Oakley-style shots before we’re even out of the opening credits. The whole package is a calculated paean to her down-home, self-reliant frontiersiness — an extravagant high-def remake of Bush’s photo ops clearing brush at his “ranch” in Crawford, which in turn were an homage to Ronald Reagan’s old horseback photo ops in his lush cowpoke digs in Santa Barbara.

She’s not really a frontier woman, she’s “frontier-sy”, and as you can see from her political predecessors, it definitely has its appeal in America. Palin, like Bush II and Reagan, works the masses with her image as one of the “just plain folks” (which she most certainly is not) who don’t care too much for that high-fallutin’ fancy-pants higher education.

There’s been lots written over the years about the “dumbing down of America”; I haven’t read too much on the subject* but suspect it springs from a mistrust of “educated folks” that started perhaps in the beginning of the last century already. It’s something that I don’t see much here in Europe, not in this quantity, not as part of the fabric of the popular culture. There is no fitting translation of the English words “nerd” or “geek”; I hear “Eierkopf” — egghead — once in a while but there doesn’t seem to be any massive stigma in being an intellectual (not that I’d know for sure, not being able to call myself one**.) This might be because European intellectuals suffered their own actual pogroms in the past, as they never did in America. There is also the term “Fachidiot” which is, I’m guessing, someone who knows all about one subject and nothing else.

* Charles Pierce’s “Idiot America” is good, but doesn’t get down to why it’s been like this for so long in America, and not so in other countries (in my unlearned opinion.)

** And anyway I feel that for the most part I am treated well here, but any treatment, either preferential or discriminatory, that one receives would have to be viewed through several lenses — gender, age, foreignness, looks, German proficiency perhaps above all — before intellect was even considered. I think.


>Do you know that the name Prussia goes much further back than the northern German kingdom with which we mostly associate the name? Prussia was a group of tribes in the Baltics, and the Prussian language (now dead) was related to Lithuanian. After sweeps and conversion attempts by sundry dukes and bishops from further south, then the Northern Crusades (the Teutonic Knights, who worked for the Holy Roman Empire), the Germans finally moved in for good and took over, and the Old Prussian language died out by around the 17th or 18th century.

As someone I knew once put it, referring to Germans from the area as “Prussians” (which they themselves sometimes do) is like speaking of “Manhattanites” ; yes, certainly correct, but with a forgotten back-story of the people who used to go by that name, long ago.

I mention this because I was reading up on the Amber Road on Wikipedia, and saw that someone was angry about using the term Prussia to refer to the Baltic end of the route. Because to that writer, Prussia only meant German military might and all that. And yet, the writer could have easily looked up the name and learned something.

>”A Massacre… Would Have Been More Humane”

>ARD, Germany’s “first” national television station, aired an extraordinary documentary last night about the Armenian Genocide. It mixed rare photos and film footage with “clips” of “interviews” — using well-known German actors portraying contemporary witnesses, their lines from those witnesses’ actual reports. The figures included American diplomats and journalists abroad as well as Germans, Swiss, and other Europeans working in Turkey at the time. The actors, all delivering respectfully understated performances, give you the impression that you’re watching actually memories coming to the fore.
The details of the atrocities, culled from collections of reports in the German Archives, are overwhelming in their multitude. The western foreign representatives don’t come off very well either, the implication being that looking away in disapproval was no less than complicity (which is an old story, and probably a very human one, as these things — the crimes and the looking on — are still going on today, aren’t they?)
The documentary makes clear that the Nazis picked up a few things about extermination from the Turk’s actions, like putting deportees into cattle cars (and making them pay for their fares), inventing conspiracy plots in order to brand an entire people “traitors”, executing their own soldiers who did not show enough “mercilessness”, and sending their victims off to some unknown fate with vague words of “resettlement” (death marches into the Syrian steppes), making government seizure of “abandoned property” legal. Hitler’s own word’s, “Who speaks today of the Armenian extermination?”, makes it clear how easy they thought they’d have it, treating their own “undesirables” in the same way (and, later, much worse, when they realized that they could.)
The documentary also discusses how the German government assisted in the flight of the leaders responsible for the genocide, with Grand Vizier Mehmed Talat (Talat Pasha) ending up living comfortably in Berlin until his assassination in 1921. Buried in Berlin, his body was exhumed in 1943 and transferred, with full pomp and ceremony, to Istanbul.
Interestingly, the Turkish courts-martial of 1919-1920 brought death sentences (in absentia) for those responsible, specifically mentioning the Armenian deportations. The new question is why, today, so many Turks experience rage and indignation at the mere mention of the word “genocide”. It’s not universal, of course. After the murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink by a Turkish nationalist, over a hundred thousand people marched on Istanbul, carrying signs that read “We Are All Armenian”. Dink’s murderer was following the nationalist line, that even speaking of what happened then is an insult to Turkishness. It would be interesting to know how they got that far away from being able to look at things objectively.

>Erik Schinegger


UPDATE 16 June 2011: for info about the new film.

When I posted about Gretel Bergmann and Dora Ratjen, I came across another name from closer to home — Erika Schinegger, who was a shining star in the women’s downhill ski races in the mid 60s. Last night ORF aired a 2005 documentary film about Schninegger — Erik(A) — and the events of 1967, when the Austrian Olympic hopefuls submitted to medical testing by the IOC and it came out that Schinegger was, chromosomally speaking, male.
While Ratjen withdrew from society and never spoke to any reporters about his experiences, Schinegger is congenial and loquacious, as well as a very attractive man. Looking at old photos now, one clearly sees (in restrospect, of course) a young man’s face and body. But many of those interviewed said that they were surprised by the test results. They had assumed that Erika Schinegger was simply a healthy, somewhat homely country girl, with muscles from all that farm work.
Schninegger underwent corrective surgery and changed his name from Erika to Erik, and actually competed successfully on the men’s downhill team for a short time — until the Austrian Ski Federation made him resign, due, they told him, to “unrest in the media” and among his teammates. Schinegger returned to live in the village in Carinthia where he grew up, opened a ski school for children, and eventually married (and fathered a daughter.) If he had any bitterness in him, it was not apparent in the film.

The filmmaker interviewed a dozen or so people; family members, childhood friends, teammates, as well as extensive interviews with Schinegger himself, and pulls a neat trick by juxtaposing archival footage with that of modern teenagers at athletic training exercises. The effect is that you as the viewer begin to look at the girls with a clinical eye, noting the things that make them “feminine” — or not. You begin to both notice and question the “obvious” differences between the genders.
Update: I keep coming back to Caster Semenya and what the media circus last year has done to her life. Schinegger had two big things going for him – one was the time and place, and home being a place where he could go about having a normal life, once the locals adjusted (which they did), the other was that by his own accounts, while he grew up identifying as a girl from not knowing anything else, he tended toward boyish things — he tells of annual Christmas meltdowns as a child, when getting another doll instead of the long-desired tractor (the dolls all got their heads broken eventually!) and evidently was able to settle into being a guy relatively easily. The way he described it, it seemed like a natural progression for him. The contortions that Caster’s family/publicity agent/whoever is putting her through to enforce the idea that she’s a “real woman” can’t be good for her.