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5.0 out of 5 stars Kurt Weill was the musical mirror of German frustrations, 22 July 2013
This review is from: Weill - Berliner Requiem (Audio CD)
Kurt Weill in the first piece, "Vom Tod im Wald" composed in 1927 is in line with what we know about him, though his style has been associated with Bertold Brecht too much. In this piece we have a style that is more symphonic, more in phase with what European and German musicians were doing at the time. We can hear now and then his way to break the melody represented by the voice with some isolated notes that create a perspective, a death that is very dramatic but modern in his time. This deepening force comes from the wind instruments whereas the strings create some soft background. These two levels of this music try to create a vision of Death that is also double. The big disturber who is going to take you away more or less violently and at the same time the great charmer who is going to mesmerize you into coming with her or him beyond this life, like a liberation.

The "Konzert für Violine und Blasorchestra" has five movements and was composed in 1924. The first movement works on a simple tune that is repetitively accumulated by the violins and echoed then by the orchestra. The repetitiveness is particularly both fascinating and irritating and we feel nearly relieved when some wind instruments or percussions break the hammering repetitive tune and the winds being stronger than the strings dominate and impose another musical sentence, if not discourse, though marked too by some repetitions, though less. The winds are more creative, freer to produce longer discourse. But the strings take over again and the same game is taking place though with modified musical sentences and the competition becomes a race, one after the other, one behind the other. That chase whirls around and around the violins that try to take over. But can they? Then they become very humble, begging for tender understanding, but behind a menace is coming up slowly with notes repeated over and over again, like a very fast rhythm that slices the tune of the violins up that develops behind. There is something menacing in that musical world

The second movement is quite different. The violins have more energy, more will and the main competition comes from the percussions and is then amplified by the winds. The competition is dynamic, dancing lightly and the violins are obliged to come over in their softer and slower tempo. If we believe the title "Nocturno" of this movement we feel there is something disquieting in these percussions and winds, though the strings are quite at ease with this night. The third movement, Cadenza, starts with the winds and the strings only come then and the two are creating a dialogue more than a competition. The strings can become very sweet and charming, powerfully attractive, appealing. But the winds try to both break and redirect the strings but they find it difficult and the strings are so self-assertive, they even seem to be meditating and then calling for the world to join them, and the winds will join and amplify the call. That gives the movement a sudden impulse into something more vivacious

The fourth movement sounds ironical, satirical, dubitative with the winds and the strings like pleading, begging for some comprehension and support. But the two registers seem to be speaking within their own logics and not hearing each other. It becomes a face-to-face one-on-one and it is not obvious to know which is listening and which is being listened to. That double monologue could go on forever.

The fifth and last movement is definitely more dynamic and even agitated as the title says. But this time it is not two parallel monologues. We definitely have one answering the other. We are back with competition, and the attempt to dominate for the winds and the strings, but the percussions play their own game and seem to be summoning the other instruments to please come to some agreement, some playing together. The strings seem to get the upper hand, and yet it is not easy to keep at the top. The percussions giving a slow tempo in the back, the strings try to plead for harmony but the winds are like doubting such an attempt in the back unnoticed by the strings that go on till the winds try in their turn to dictate their mood, but the strings then become more powerful, faster as if they were trying to dominate and no longer appeal, but then percussion and winds are definitely stronger and the confrontation becomes very intense till the end that is purely abrupt.

The Berliner Requiem has six movements. It was composed in 1928. It was a radio cantata showing how the new medium was conquering new power in the public. In fact the radio was going to become, was already becoming the major medium, beside the cinema, of the period that will make the election of Roosevelt, Hitler, the Popular Front in France possible. A national discourse was spread all over the country and the music had to follow that change and compose works that were to be listened to exclusively, without any concert show. At the same time the recording technology developed and these recordings were able to be distributed from one radio station to another, and from one home or community to the next thanks to the gramophone. These two techniques will enable music to be present in many places where they were not before. The microphone was also transforming concert production and amplification will make mass distribution and indirect broadcasting possible.

Jean Cocteau thanked in a text from this period the new technologies, the radio and the cinema, for the great help they provided to poetry and drama. Music was probably the most impacted artistic genre. New styles were created and some styles that were more or less limited to some communities found a new life. We all think of Jazz of course but all composers in that period worked for the radio and that distance from the audience, that invisibility of the audience encouraged innovation and expressive music that was able to create a depth, a density and many moods that were easy to broadcast and to receive.

This Requiem is typical of this new period. It is really self-contained and in the solitude of radio listening, in the darkness of the room in which we could let ourselves go, relax, enjoy. The music in the night became a reality for so many people.

The text is by Berthold Brecht and the music by Kurt Weill. The six movements are as follows:
Großer Dankchoral: Lobet die Nacht;
Ballade vom ertrunkenen Mädchen: Als sie ertrunken war und hinunterschwamm;
Marterl (Grabschritt): hier ruht die Jungfrau Johanna Beck;
Erster Bericht über den unbekannten Soldaten: Wir kamen von den Bergen;
Zweiter Bericht über den unbekannten Soldaten: Alles, was ich euch sagte;
Großer Dankchoral (da capo)

The singers are two solo male voices, a tenor, a baritone and a chorus with three male sections, tenors, baritones and basses?

The structure of the whole is essential, with a song of thanks at the beginning and the end, then two pieces (second and third) dedicated to a young woman who got drunk and drowned in the second part and then a death march to a certain Johanna Beck we assume is the drunk young woman. And finally two pieces (fourth and fifth) dedicated to the unknown soldier(s), hence to the victims of the first world war. The two strong ideas that emerge are the role of women in that period and some very strong women characters emerged after 1918 in Germany, and then that extremely heavy reference to the dead and unknown soldiers of the war, that first world war that was nothing but a slaughter of a whole generation of young men. Happy and sad were those who had survived.

The music of this Requiem is beautiful. The first song, and the coda at the end, are practically a serene song about the night that comes with death. Serenity means empathy because you have to love the night but love it from the heart. And that love has to extend to the tomb. And thus words come back over and over again, love, night, heart, tomb and die amplified at the end `the only two syllable word in the cluster), "sterben". The second evocation of the drunk young woman is like a confidence, a song sung in your ear just for you. It is sad, as if regretting the event and trying to get in communion with it in the mind, in the heart maybe too. And yet this sadness contains some wonder too. How is that possible? And the death march that follows is really a death march, slow very regular, extremely dark and bleak. The name of the woman is not clear, whether it is a real woman or not.

The first chant to the unknown soldier is dramatic in style and tone. More than a death march there is also some contained or restrained anger, some force that may come to the forefront and take over history. The percussions are particularly effective since instead of just being a march it makes the piece a slightly more complex tempo based on three blows, long-short-long, that is some kind of rebellion, rejection, refusal of these unidentified dead. And there is a small spoken sentence in the middle ending with "Amen" giving the lie to those who pretend it is a secular requiem. By definition a requiem is a death ritual performed in the name of some religious belief in life after death. It definitely is a requiem without a particular religious affiliation but the tone and intention is religious anyway: to provide the dead with a second life after death.

The second chant to the unknown soldier is a dirge and the tempo and tone are given not by the percussions but by the long notes of the wind instruments, slow, dark, bleak and at the same time a contemplation of the deepest injustice to die and remain anonymous. The singer in this piece expresses the strongest frustration and is a call for some strong action to honor this unknown soldier and to compensate the lack of recognition; We feel some need and desire to repair the harm history has done. It is in this sentiment that the future will grow and will be hijacked into vengeance and conquest. I will only insist on one word here; forgive, "vergessen" and the promise not to do it and this word that comes out, "nicht" right at the end.

We are then ready for the coda of the first piece and the love, night, heart, tomb logic, that love and that empathy we have to merge in this strong evocation of the death of heroes ending on the word "sterben", die.

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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 18 Aug 2013 09:09:13 BDT
A truly excellent, well-researched review. As I am going to download it i shall print this for reference. I heard the Berliner Requiem many decades ago and was impressed. We shall see if my 65 year-old ears agree with my 25 year-old. Thanks for the review.

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Aug 2013 08:50:21 BDT

My 68 year old ears did hear it, I hope properly. When I was 25 I was battling with the Ku Klux Klan in North Carolina and music was not my primary interest.

Have a good day


In reply to an earlier post on 19 Aug 2013 09:59:59 BDT
[Deleted by Amazon on 19 Aug 2013 10:45:44 BDT]

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Aug 2013 14:55:48 BDT
Sorry but a mail of yours was deleted by Amazon. I guess be cause it contained the N. word. The story is simple but too long for this response. One day, one day, promises, promises! I will tell.

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