Monday, February 29, 2016

Nannas Lied

An analysis of Nannas Lied  (Words by Bertolt Brecht; music by Kurt Weill, 1939)

Historical context
At Christmas 1939, Weill set a Brecht text, "Nannas Lied," as a Christmas present for his wife, Lotte Lenya. Apparently, she never performed the song in public. The lyric was part of Brecht's play, Die Rundköpfe und die Spitzköpfe, [the round heads and the pointy heads] and had previously been set by Hans Eisler.  The play is a satirical anti-Nazi parable about a fictitious country called Yahoo in which the rulers maintain their control by setting the people with round heads against those with pointed heads, thereby substituting racial relations for their antagonistic class relations.

Lotte Lenya always regarded Weill’s songs as Art Songs in the manner of Schubert, and not cabaret songs, according to her friend Lys Simonette, in her introduction to Teresa Statas’ collection of Weill songs.

The song is about a prostitute who is pretending to have no regrets. The refrain,

Wo sind die Tränen von gestern abend? Where are the tears of last night,
Wo ist der Schnee vom vergangenen Jahr? Where is the snow of yesteryear?

comes from a line of the medieval French poet François Villon in his Ballade des dames du temps jadis ("Ballad of the Ladies of Times Past") with his question, Mais où sont les neiges d'antan? ("Where are the snows of yesteryear?"). This in its turn draws on a whole tradition of nostalgia in medieval poetry.

In the context of Weill’s repertoire
The song is similar to other Brecht / Weill songs, having a bittersweet and melancholic quality, and showing the influence of klezmer (Ashkenazi Jewish music) in both style and the way it is performed. It has an ironic quality, as the woman pretends not to care about her lost innocence, but in the last verse, admits that it is not easy, changing lust into small change. This motif of presenting a facade to the hearer also occurs in Je ne t’aime pas, which was a collaboration between Weill and Maurice Magre.

In the context of vocal repertoire
This could be classified as a Song of Characterisation, or a Song of Reminiscence. It is strophic, although Lotte Lenya claimed that Weill’s songs were art songs. It is melancholy and poignant.

Meine Herren, mit siebzehn Jahren
Kam ich auf den Liebesmarkt
Und ich habe viel erfahren.
Böses gab es viel
Doch das war das Spiel
Aber manches hab’ ich doch verargt.
(Schließlich bin ich ja auch ein Mensch.)

Gott sei Dank geht alles schnell vorüber
Auch die Liebe und der Kummer sogar.
Wo sind die Tränen von gestern abend?
Wo ist die Schnee vom vergangenen Jahr?

Freilich geht man mit den Jahren
Leichter auf den Liebesmarkt
Und umarmt sie dort in Scharen.
Aber das Gefühl
Wird erstaunlich kühl
Wenn man damit allzuwenig kargt.
(Schließlich geht ja jeder Vorrat zu Ende.)

Gott sei dank geht alles schnell vorüber, usw.

Und auch wenn man gut das Handeln
Lernte auf der Liebesmess’:
Lust in Kleingeld zu verwandeln
Ist doch niemals leicht.
Nun, es wird erreicht.
Doch man wird auch älter unterdes.
(Schließlich bleibt man ja nicht immer siebzehn.)

Gott sei dank geht alles schnell vorüber, usw.
Gentlemen, when I was seventeen
I came onto the market of love
And I’ve got a lot of experience.
There was a lot of bad stuff
however, that was the game
but some of it I deserved.
(In the end, I am human too.)

Thank God everything goes by so fast
Even love and trouble, just the same
Where are the tears of last night,
Where is the snow of yesteryear?

Admittedly, with the years, you go
more easily onto the market of love
and embrace them there in droves.
But your feelings
Become remarkably cool
When you don’t ration them.
(in the end, every bargain comes to an end.)

Thank God everything goes by so fast, etc

And even when you’ve learnt to trade
in the fairground of love:
to change love into small coin
it’s still never easy
but it’ll be managed.
But you get older in the meantime.
(at least you don’t stay seventeen forever)

Thank God everything goes by so fast, etc


The music for this song was written in 1939. The words had been written earlier by Bertolt Brecht for a play satirizing the Nazis. The song tells the story of a prostitute who pretends not to feel regret for her career. The line “Where are the snows of yesteryear?” comes from a medieval French poem and is in a long tradition of melancholy nostalgia.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

München 2015

München diary

Tuesday 7 April

Arrived in München airport about 5 and got the S-Bahn to Marienplatz. Saw the Altes Rathaus and the square, then walked to the Hotel Lux. Nice man carried our bags upstairs. Charming classical whimsy decor on the stairwell, and a lovely curving staircase.

We went to a proper Bavarian pub, Augustiner am Platzl. I had a Dunkles beer with my meal, my favourite type that you cannot get in the UK. We sat at a table with a nice family from Franconia. They are on their way back from the Tyrol and stopped in München for one night.

Then walked round the block and looked at the shops and buildings in the dark. I like seeing a city by night. Noticed a regretful plaque about the dance hall used by the Nazis to plot the Holocaust. Good that the history is not being swept under the carpet.

Wednesday 8 April

 I slept like a log apart from some loud clubbers going past in the wee small hours.

After breakfast, we went to a couple of souvenir shops, past the Hofbrauhaus, then went to the Viktualienmarkt, where we saw an enormous maypole, and lots of lovely local produce.

Then we headed back up to Marienplatz, saw the Frauenkirche - very peaceful Gothic interior - and came back to Marienplatz in time to hear the glockenspiel clock doing its chimes and to see the little figures on it dance around. 

Then we walked to the Theatinerkirche, which had a mad baroque interior, very over the top. We had lunch in a lovely café on Schäfflerstraße. My mum had tomato and mango soup, with fresh apple and kiwi juice. I had a Toscana salad, with green leaves and mozzarella balls.  

Then past the Residenz, along Maximilienstraße, past the government building, and down to the river Isar. 

Walked along on the islands in the middle of the river, then sat down on the river bank opposite the weir.

 We saw the Volksbad, a lovely Art Nouveau swimming baths.

Then we walked back to the hotel via the Isartor (the river gate of the city), a barbican style gate. 

Found a lovely supermarket (Rewe) and bought mint tea there. 

Thursday 9 April

Breakfast was yoghurt and fruit.

Went to the Hofgarten and saw the Temple of Diana.

Went to the Englischer Garten. We saw a black squirrel and a red squirrel, and heard lots of woodpeckers, and a nuthatch, and a chiffchaff. Also saw some corydalis scouleri, a toothwort orchid, and some wild tulips (Tulipa sylvestris).

Had coffee at the Chinesische Turm.

There was a lake with geese - white one with black stripes on their heads that said "Meep!", and some pink-footed ones. 

There was a lovely view over München from the Monopteros.

I went to the Jewish cultural centre, but it was 10 € to go in the museum, so I didn't. Bought a postcard and a bookmark in the shop. They had loads of klezmer, and mezuzahs, and dreidel, and haggadahs, and menorahs. The synagogue was very modern.
The original München synagogue was destroyed by the Nazis. The new one was built 68 years later.

Walked via the Sendlinger Tor and a small park in Nußbaumstrasse to the Theresienwiese, as there was meant to be a flea market there, but there wasn't. There was a circus, and the "meadow" was very bare. 

 Then I was so hot and bothered that I had a dunkles beer in an Italian restaurant on Mozartstrasse. Then walked to the Asamkirche, which was totally amazing - a baroque extravaganza. Ye Olde Church of Bling. 

Found some nice gifts for two friends in a shop called Schmuckrausch on Sendlingstrasse, and some earrings for me.

Went to Opatija im Tal for dinner and had cici-salad, which was like a Serbian version of shish kebab with salad. My mum had turkey in cream sauce with spätzle.

Friday 10 April

Breakfast was yoghurt and fruit, then we walked to the Asamkirche along Sendlingerstrasse. It was closed until one pm for cleaning, but I asked the nun who was cleaning it if we could go in, as my mum had not seen it, and 1pm would be too late. She let us go in, which was very kind. Bought some salad from shops on the main street to the Isartor. Had a bit of a sit down near some bits of the old town wall by the Isartor.

Picked up the bags from the hotel, then watched the glockenspiel clock in Marienplatz again before catching the train to the airport. Ate our salad and sandwich under some espalier'd trees. Looked at the shops in Terminal One before going through the customs gate.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Canada 2014

Special thanks to all the people we stayed with in Canada who helped to make the trip so memorable, and offered such magnificent hospitality.

27 May
Canada is BIG. I mean, you might think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to Canada.

In the morning I saw a grackle, an American robin, a male and female cardinal, and a red-winged blackbird, and a giant  hawk thing which Bob said could be a turkey vulture, or it may have been a red-tailed hawk. You don't so much birdwatch as sit there while they fly  past!

Over the very different sound of the dawn chorus of birds, I heard the long mournful hooter of a freight train, like something out of a blues song.

Later went to Tim Hortons and ate doughnuts and drank coffee (this is compulsory in Canada).

Saw a Mennonite wagon and horse parked in a special area with a hitching rail in the car park of a No Frills supermarket. The supermarket was a revelation - there was a fantastic variety of food, including dark chocolate spread like I used to eat as a child.

29 May
We drove to London, Ontario, to see where the Tolpuddle Martyrs ended up. A few years ago, I visited Tolpuddle in Dorset, England, where six men formed a trade union and were arrested, tried, and transported to Australia. I have been to the steps in Plymouth, Devon, where there is a plaque commemorating their transportation. There was a huge demonstration for their pardon and release, but after they returned to England, they could not settle as the local gentry were still being hard on them, so they moved to Essex. That did not work out either, so they moved to London, Ontario.

In the afternoon we went to see the house where Robertson Davies was born, in Thamesville (the real name of "Deptford" in his books). 

Also visited "Uncle Tom's Cabin" - home of Josiah Henson, former slave, abolitionist and Underground Railroad conductor. It was so moving to think of the escaped slaves finally arriving somewhere they could be free and work for themselves. He set up a settlement where free men and women could get an education and work. 

30 May
Bob's brother-in-law very kindly drove us to Niagara Falls - a must-see on any trip to Ontario. The Falls themselves are very impressive, but the surroundings are very built-up. However, we had lunch in a restaurant overlooking the Falls, and then viewed them from the 38th floor of the hotel (Bob has friends in high places!) We then walked down to the park that runs along the edge of the falls, and viewed them from close-up. That's an awful lot of water.

In the evening we went to the Morris practice of the local side, with whom Bob used to dance, and met a chap who had known Robertson Davies while he was at the University of Toronto. Apparently they held a feast for him and there was morris dancing, which he enjoyed.

31 May - 1 June
Had a walk round Hamilton, looking at places where Bob grew up. Then we went to stay with a friend of Bob's, who lives in a beautiful 1830 house in Mono Centre, north-west of Toronto. There is a provincial park there and it is more hilly than Hamilton. She is a botanist and herbalist and we went for a walk in the woods, so I was able to ask all the names of the plants. Not many the same, though some are similar. We saw some trilliums and some cohosh, and lots of other plants. She gathered some wild leeks (which were very like ramsons) and cooked them as part of dinner. They have a problem with garlic mustard, as it is not native to Ontario, but has spread. Also saw milkweed. They have a lot of edible plants. Bob found a jack-in-the-pulpit, which was a like a miniature arum lily with a stripy interior. As soon as we were off the trail, we got bitten by loads of insects and I was one big itch. I was surprised to be bitten at that time of day. Apparently that was nothing to what you get further north.
Jack in the pulpit

Jack in the pulpit


Trillium (flower of Ontario)


Oh and we also went to the "British pub" in Ancaster. Not a bad simulacrum of an English pub, actually.

Also took some train pictures for my dad, of the GO train in Hamilton.

2 June
Staying in Bob's family cottage down by the lake. Went for a swim in Lake Erie - it was bracing. It is very different swimming in a large body of fresh water. We went to the  Six Nations reserve on the way to the cottage, and visited Iroqrafts, where I bought a picture by a  local artist, Doris Cyrette. The reserve has its own website too, with a section on the history of the reserve. There are  Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, Mohawk, Oneida, and Tuscarora people there.

Iroqrafts shop, Six Nations reserve

I was very taken with Ontario barns - red with white roofs, white with green roofs, etc.

We also spotted a mailbox with a cardinal painted on it.

Went to Tim Hortons again (a Canadian institution) and had frozen lemonade and Timbits (they are the holes in the middle of doughnuts). Healthy, eh?

3 June
Walked along the lake near the cottage. 

Visited the lighthouse in Port Maitland, where the Grand River flows into Lake Erie. We were going to go kayaking, but it was too windy.  Saw a Baltimore Oriole flying across the road as we were driving back from Port Maitland.

4 June
Kayaking on the Grand River, we saw a turtle, red winged blackbirds, herons, perch, possibly an eagle, honeysuckle, alder, willows, and swallows flying low over the water and nesting under a bridge. We also saw some large golden fish thrashing around in the shallows among the reeds, and a deer coming down to the river to drink.

Bob jokingly remarked that the log in the middle of the river looked like a crocodile, and at first we mistook the turtle for part of the log. Then I realised it was a turtle and called him back. We canoed round it about three times before it got fed up and dived into the water.

 On our way back, the turtle was basking on the log again.

Had a lovely family meal for Bob's birthday in the evening, at Mandarin, a Chinese restaurant in Hamilton. Several members of the family (who live in the area) were there.

5 June
Moving stuff from Bob's storage locker to new, smaller locker. Hot.  Dined in the "Scottish" pub in Fergus - delicious food.

Also visited the Masonic lodge in Ancaster. A very welcoming group of chaps.

6 and 7 June
Visited Bob's Mum, who will be 90 this year, in the morning, and then set off for Toronto. 

In town in Hamilton, at first we mistook this mounted police officer for an equestrian statue, till we realised he wasn't. He was very friendly.

Had a day in Toronto - very very hot. And noisy. We saw some re-enactors doing a show about the War of 1812.

Took more pictures of Canadian trains and the flatiron building in downtown Toronto. Explored St Lawrence Market and Dundas Square, where we picked up a free copy of a book by Stuart McLean, Home from the Vinyl Cafe. Dined out with friends in Chinatown, on hotpot and dim sum. Delicious.

Also saw a carpark that used to be a Unitarian church (presumably the one where William Adam was minister).

All in all we drove about 1600 miles, and even then, only covered a small area of Ontario. Did I mention that Canada is big?