Sunday, March 15, 2009

Ballade von Cäsars Tod

To-day is the Ides of March (Idus Martias). Most of us, who, have even a rudimentary knowledge of history, know this is the day Cæsar was warned about. We know he disregarded the warning, and met a dramatic and bloody end, in 44 b.C.

The ides came every moon and, therefore, month, sometimes on the 13th, sometimes on the 15th. The ides* was, ideally, the day of the full moon. Now, March was the month of the god Mars, the god of war and a fine occasion for a military parade. Cæsar was a brilliant soldier, a man of many talents, much ability, accomplishment and ambition.

Now, Georg Kaiser [ironic] wrote a novel, Der Silbersee: Ein Wintermärchen, The silver lake: a winter tale. The title alludes to both Shakespeare and Heine†, and to a fairy tale. Often in a fairy tale, a fanciful event and characters can refer to other realities and people. Kaiser wrote a libretto from this to Kurt Weill’s music. A singspiel (operetta) Der Silbersee premiered in three german cities 18 February 1933.

In 1923 Kaiser was jailed for stealing bread. In der Silbersee, a character is shot for stealing a pineapple. He and his shooter reconcile on the frozen lake. Sometime before this, the castlekeeper’s, soprano niece (Lotte Lenya, Frau Weill) sings a song of the death of Cæsar in seven verses, Ballade von Cäsars Tod.

The song relates the famous tale. It begins:
Rom war eine Stadt, und alle Römer
hatten in den Adern heißes Blut.
Als sie Cäsar einst tyrannisch reizte,
kochte es sofort in Siedeglut.

Nicht die Warnung konnte Cäsar hindern:
"Hüte vor des Märzes Iden dich!"
Er verfolgte seine frechen Ziele
und sah schon als Herrn der Römer sich.

Immer schlimmer schlug ihn die Verblendung,
nur sein Wort galt noch im Capitol.
Und den weisen Rat der Senatoren
schmähte er gemein und höhnisch Kohl...

Rome was a city, and all the Romans
had in their veins hot blood.
As Cæsar became tyrannical,
it boiled immediately in seething ardor.

Not the warning could hinder Cæsar:
“Beware of the Ides of March you!”
He pursued his cheeky intention
and saw himself already the Lord of the Romans.

Evermore worse hit him the delusion,
only his word [was] valid in the capital.
And the wise counsel of the senators
he reviled [as] common and derisive nonsense...
A bit earlier, 30 January 1933, the nazis took power when Hitler became chancellor. The Reichstag fire was set the night of 27 February 1933. This event was a spectacular event of terror that was orchestrated, by Hitler, to take severe measures, and was the justification for the elimination of civil liberties, in the guise of homeland security.

The production ran sixteen times before it was banned, well before the ides. The careers of the principles were ended in Germany. Substitute Cæsar for the over reaching leader‡ of the time, as certainly people did.

Ute Lemper recorded the song, on an album,
Ute Lemper Singt Kurt Weill, in 1987, Ute Lemper Sings Kurt Weill, in 1988. I knew of Weill and Lenya. I was very taken with the second cut on the disc. Later in 2001, and the years thereafter, I remembered the song. I wonder if other people did. The lyrics cut deeply into a tyrant, but we still have tyrants, und der Senatoren im Capitol hat getan nichts, und diese Leute hatten keines heißes Blut, als Cäsar einst tyrannisch bekommt.
*and sometimes the seven days prior
†Heinrich Heine wrote a poem Deutschland: ein Wintermärchen, Shakespeare, Winter’s Tale
‡ der Führer is german for ‘the leader’

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