Monthly Archives: May 2018
Brecht, Weill and The Threepenny Opera are names practically synonymous with each other. However, little is known about the great theater producer behind its staging, Ernst Josef Aufricht, whose memoir, And the Shark, He Has Teeth, has been translated into English for the first time. Aufricht’s story follows The Threepenny Opera from conception to debut, packed with comical anecdotes and compelling insights; however, as Aufricht lived through Nazi Germany and war-torn Europe, his account also reveals tales of flight, exile, and emigration.
Benjamin Bloch’s beautiful translation captures the laconic quality of Aufricht’s prose; subtle humour and wit is laced through a narrative that navigates both an uplifting and harrowing journey. Below is an extract from the memoir detailing the day of the Opera’s premiere at the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm, Berlin, 31 August 1928.
The dress rehearsal lasted till six in the morning, and then the actors, the musicians and the technical personnel left the theater. We who remained sat down together. The play was three quarters of an hour too long. Various songs, among them the Solomon Song, with its outstanding interpretation by Lotte Lenya, had to be cut. The seventh scene, Peachum’s main scene, had to be cut in half. Then we all went home exhausted. I slept one hour and was back in the theater at ten o’clock. Today, I said to myself, I don’t want to see a single member of this high-strung cast before the show begins. Someone was already waiting for me there. A young man, Naphtali Lehrmann, approached me with a request. He played the part of Filch. Brecht had recommended him for the role, although he wasn’t an actor, but an unemployed apprentice interested in getting into the book business. Addressing me with all the arrogance and contempt of a member of the Young Communists facing his employer, he began:
“You’ve hired me for the minimum wage of ten marks a day. I’m not an actor, nor do I wish to become one. You can’t put me on the blacklist, or find any way to threaten me, I don’t own anything. I demand thirty marks an evening or I’ll disappear this instant, and you have no premiere.” I said, “Agreed!” and hoped to replace him the next day.
“I demand a two-month contract immediately, and a larger advance,” Lehrmann announced. I called Brecht and asked him to come to the theater to speak with his protégé. I showed the young man to a chair. Brecht arrived and spoke to him for a long time, and finally appealed to the young man’s conscience. The result was twenty marks a day plus the advance.
Next came Erich Ponto, carrying two suitcases, into my office. He was packed and needed to leave quickly to catch the midday train back to Dresden. He’d heard about the extensive cuts in the seventh scene, which affected mostly his lines, and he refused to play only a part of the role for which he had been hired. Now I was at a loss. I could only plead.
“For your wife and children’s sake,” Ponto answered me—he’d been a frequent guest in our house—”I’ll unpack my bags!”
I went out of my office and onto the stage. A mid-height stage curtain, a little over man-high, was hanging across it, drawn up at the sides and running on a wire that had been painted black to make it invisible. It replaced the bigger curtain that came down only during intermission and at the end. It was a heavy, red, silken material, hemmed with green and embroidered with colorful parrots. Behind this middle-curtain the stage technicians worked silently in felt slippers and very little light. “This curtain will be the shroud of the premiere,” I said to Caspar Neher, the Stage Designer. After a heated discussion, he gave in. There happened to be a supply of plain white sackcloth in the house. Rollers were fastened the length of the material and it was pulled across the wire. Neher took a can of black paint and a thick brush, and painted the final title of the play across this curtain: The Threepenny Opera.
And then came the horse, or rather, the steed. It was a life-size, galloping dapple-gray stallion with fiery nostrils, which was supposed to burst from the upper level of the organ shell on two rails and slide onto stage bearing the messenger of the queen. Unfortunately, the angle of the rails had been miscalculated such that both messenger and steed would have continued along their path and landed in the audience. To start making adjustments in the machinery with only four hours till curtain was not possible. “The horse stays, or there’s no play!” declared Brecht categorically. In the meantime he had given directions that four wheels be attached to the horse, and, beaming, he pulled the animal on stage. “This is how it’ll be done tonight: an extra pulls it out by the reins with Gerron in the saddle.” I objected: “we’re not running a children’s theater here!” “Then,” suggested Brecht, “we’ll have it on stage before the curtain goes up.” Someone remarked accurately: “But then the deus ex machina, the mounted messenger of the Queen who comes in time to prevent the hanging, loses its whole point.” “In that case,” Brecht answered, “we’ll just cover it, and uncover it for the mounted messenger.” He had a tarpaulin brought out, and covered the horse.
“I don’t want this ugly block on stage for the final scene,” I said. In the audience Weigel was wringing her hands and moaning: “The horse, the horse!” Brecht now had everything staked on the horse, and he’d come up with a new idea—but it was never heard. The head technician Sachs came up to me:
“There are a few projection screens I haven’t tested. If you want to start at seven-thirty”—it was already six, the cleaning women with their brooms were coming into the auditorium—”then I’ll need the stage now.”
“Please clear the stage and let down the iron curtain, the rehearsal is over!” I had to announce.
“This is the last time I ever set foot in this theater!” Brecht screamed. “Me too,” said Weill and Neher. Fischer challenged them: “Would you gentlemen like to give us that in writing?” And as they were all proper theater people, they arrived punctually at seven-thirty for the premiere, and the queen’s mounted messenger made his entrance on foot, and stood on a little grass plot spread out for him by an extra.
And the Shark He Has Teeth: A Theater Producer’s Notes, by Ernst Josef Aufricht.
Translated by Benjamin Bloch.
William Cavendish, First Earl of Devonshire (1551-1626) and his Horses
Published in the spring, just in time for the Horses & Courts symposium at the Wallace Collection, Horses and the Aristocratic Lifestyle in Early Modern England describes the significance of horses to the life of an aristocrat, his family and his estate. The horse was essential for transportation, of course, but also central to hunting and other leisure pursuits. Horses could also assert status and power. In the hands of Professor Peter Edwards this study expertly teases out the social, economic and cultural aspects of the horse in aristocratic life. We are delighted to have published it and happier still to post this exclusive article on the book’s background and development.
For a person, who had only ridden donkeys on the beach as a boy on holiday, it still feels strange to be considered an expert on equine history. I did tend animals on Shropshire farms as a teenager, honing my rugby-skills tackling sheep and side-stepping cattle…but no horses. Naturally, my D.Phil. dissertation dealt with agriculture and rural society in North Shropshire in the seventeenth century. If the main finding was cheese (lots of it), the research inadvertently revealed the even more significant subject of horses (though one should not under-estimate the importance of cheese in the diet of your average Stuart peasant). As horses played a crucial role in the social, economic, cultural, political, legal and military (you name it) life of the country, society would not have functioned effectively without them. Moreover, because sixteenth century legislation required sales of horses to be officially recorded, they are the best documented of all domesticated animals. A chance discovery of a set of toll-books for Shrewsbury fair alerted me to the fact and led to a countrywide search for other examples. I published the book on the horse trade in 1988.
If that book viewed horses as commodities, I learned better through exposure to the views of scholars from other disciplines. By the time I published the follow-up book, Horse and Man, in 2007 the account I wrote was a far more nuanced one. Nonetheless, I remained essentially a bottom-up historian until a colleague organised a retirement conference for me in 2009. In the papers one person kept cropping up: William Cavendish, 1st Duke of Newcastle and the owner of riding schools at Bolsover and Welbeck. It therefore seemed appropriate to my co-editor (Professor Elspeth Graham) and me to launch the book at Bolsover in a conference dedicated to the duke. That collection appeared in 2016.
I was now firmly a top-down historian and a Cavendish family one to boot. Initially, I intended to write a book on the relationship between the duke’s family and their horses over 250 years, incorporating the dynastic descent through the Cavendish, Holles, Harley and Bentinck lines. Unfortunately, inconsistencies in the documentation – variable quality, quantity and subject matter- made me turn to the Hardwick/Chatsworth branch and then progressively to reduce the project to the seventeenth century; the period 1597-1642; and finally to an individual: William Cavendish, 1st Earl of Devonshire, firstly over his life (1551-1626) and then to the years 1597-1623.
If the chronology of the book had narrowed substantially, the omnipresence of horses in early modern society expanded its content enormously. The book might be brief in its date-range but it is detailed and wide-ranging in its subject-matter. For a start I had to put Cavendish’s horses into the context of the overall management of his estate and then in another chapter describe how he integrated them into the farming regime on the demesne. Moreover, because of the equine focus, I could not lump together a discussion of Cavendish’s acquisition of horses and their care in a single chapter. So, I wrote three: breeding and rearing; buying and selling; and care and maintenance. Then, as I wanted to view Cavendish’s lifestyle on the hoof, as it were, the single chapter on travel would not suffice: it eventually split into four. Apart from discussing the role horses played in Cavendish’s social, economic and political activities in the provinces and in London, I had to consider the logistical problems of moving the family, staff and vast piles of luggage (and metropolitan purchases) from place to place. Finally, I had to explore the ways in which the elite amused themselves on their visits and although some of the pursuits were equine-based, others that were not had to be included (as was religion).
Clearly, the content mutated over the course of the writing process, as a glance at my original proposal indicates. But, as I admit in the preface, just as I found it impossible to write a book about an aristocrat and his horses without discussing his lifestyle, it would be equally impossible to write a book on the aristocratic lifestyle without highlighting the centrality of horses to it.
Guest post by Ellen Koskoff, Series Editor
Professor Emerita, Ethnomusicology
University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music
About ten years ago, the University of Rochester Press made an awesome decision: to widen the scope of its studies in music to include books exploring the anthropological perspective of living musical cultures, a musical discipline known today as ethnomusicology. Thus, the Eastman/Rochester Studies in Ethnomusicology (E/RSE) series was born. Since our first publication in 2011—Heather MacLachlan’s Burma’s Pop Music Industry: Creators, Distributors, Censors — the series has published a further seven volumes.
What is ethnomusicology and how is it different from historical musicology? Historical musicology generally deals with Western art (and now popular) musics. Related to the discipline of history, historical musicology relies on primary and secondary written sources–scores, letters, diaries, etc. and written histories and analyses–and on Western music’s theoretic structures. Ethnomusicology, on the other hand, is the study of all music in (mostly contemporary) human social and cultural life. Closely related today to the disciplines of anthropology and cultural studies, ethnomusicology is at its heart interdisciplinary. Like anthropology, its basic method is ethnographic fieldwork; its tools are recording, transcription, and analysis; and its discourses can be defined by their flexibility and openness to philosophical and methodological differences.
As our series shows, ethnomusicology is based not so much on a particular music, people, or context, as on relationships between musics, peoples, and contexts. I like to think of ethnomusicology as a way to grapple with musical and social differences, and the titles we have published have clearly illustrated this focus. From those examining new homes for old musics and the effects of new music technologies on contemporary music practices to those that discuss performances of musical gender and changes in music and social identity, these titles attest to the visibility and vitality of different musical practices throughout the world.
Our two most recent titles further illustrate the breadth of ethnomusicological inquiry.
An unusual ethnographic study, Listen with the Ear of the Heart: Music and Monastery Life at Weston Priory, by Maria Guarino, goes a long way in expanding the notion of ethnomusicology as a basic approach to all musics, not simply the study of specific, so-called “non-western” traditions. Examining the everyday ritual and musical practices within a Benedictine monastery located in Weston, Vermont, Guarino describes how musical performance is integrated into life there and acts as a guide to the basic monastic ways of being and knowing. Based on a newly-developed theory of “contemplative ethnography,” Guarino uses the Catholic experience of conversatio–the basic process of communal learning–as a model for the gradually unfolding process of life in the monastic context. This book was funded in part by publication grants from the Howard Hanson Institute for American music and the Society for American Music, indicating the strong role American music plays in the book.
Tuning the Kingdom: Kawuugulu Musical Performance, Politics, and Storytelling in Buganda, by Damascus Kafumbe, draws upon oral and written materials, on archival research, and, most importantly, on many years of ethnographic fieldwork among the Kawuugulu Clan-Royal Musical Ensemble of the Kingdom of Buganda, a large region in south-central Uganda. Written by a native Ugandan, the book examines how Kawuugulu musical performance and storytelling collectively “manage, model, structure, and legitimize power relations” in Buganda, a phenomenon Kafumbe describes as “tuning the kingdom.” This book was funded in part by publication grants from the American Musicological Society, the Society for Ethnomusicology, the Pabst Charitable Foundation for the Arts, and Middlebury College.
If you want to know what composers really think about their art, about the act of creating music, you might ask Bálint Varga.
Bálint spent more than forty years working in the music business and has published interviews with the likes of Lutosławski, Berio, Xenakis and his fellow Hungarian, György Kurtág. In 2011 he put together Three Questions for Sixty-Five Composers which conductor Simon Rattle declared to be “necessary reading for all who care about the music of our time.”
His most recent collection of interviews, The Courage of Composers and the Tyranny of Taste, is perhaps his most intriguing. It looks at the courage needed to create something new in the face of audiences’ expectations, in the light of musical tradition, even under totalitarian regimes.
Anyone involved in any sort of creative endeavour will understand Unsuk Chin’s feeling that ‘the very nature of the process of composing…resembles a tightrope act between success and failure – no risk, no gain.” She describes several weeks of staring at a blank piece of paper followed by “sudden breakthroughs – none of which can really be foreseen” and notes that while composing was always complicated, it “seems even more so today, when no binding ‘grammar’ [for example, of functional tonality] exists anymore.”
Then there is the weight of the past, all those who have gone before and the work they produced. What is the point of creating something unless it says something that hasn’t already been said or at least says it in an individual way? The Israeli composer, Chaya Czernowin, mentions that when you write you “hear your teachers’ comments on this or that…[and] have in your head all the pieces you have heard in the past…You have to make a distinction between what others expect of you and what you want to do.”
Finally, there is the courage needed to write music that you know could put you in real danger – not just of ridicule or negative reviews, but imprisonment, banishment or worse. Here’s a chilling story told to Bálint Varga by Péter Eötvös:
The director of the Budapest Music Academy was Ferenc Szabó. He was not only a composer but had also been an officer in the Red Army and was tasked by the Russians to report any suspicious phenomenon in Hungarian cultural life…He was a dangerous man, with the power to have anyone imprisoned if he deemed that the person represented the artistic principles of Western culture.
In the course of one of my examinations at the Academy, I presented one of my compositions to Ferenc Szabó. On detecting in them rather suspect aesthetic principles, this man summoned my professor and questioned him about how and why he had permitted me to compose music of that kind. I never learned what actually happened at that conference – all I know is that on reaching home, Professor Viski’s heart stopped beating. Nobody could prove a direct link between the conference and Viski’s death, it might have been pure coincidence, but in my mind I have always suspected a connection between the two.
What does it mean to create under those circumstances, to fall out of favour with the authorities because your art shows Western tendencies? To be like Czech composer, Miloslav Kabeláč, who, presenting Varga with a number of his scores, suggested he carry them with the title pages turned inward so that nobody in the street could see his name?