Thursday, June 19, 2003

[6/19/2011] Sunday Classics: "Wretches like us" -- class warfare and the tragic depths of Berg's "Wozzeck" (continued)


As if this poor little fellow's prospects weren't bleak enough when he still had a father and mother (Alan Held as Wozzeck and Waltraud Meier as Marie at the Met, 2011) . . .

It's funny to be thinking about this poor doomed child so soon after writing about how Congressman and Mrs. Paul Ryan have socked away $150K for their three little ones' college education (a good part of their wealth coming, it seems from her family's mining interests) -- excellent parenting unless you consider it in the light of the congressman's uncomprehending Ayn Randian economic "philosophy," based on his assumption that everything he has, he earned for himself, whereas in reality most everything he has, without his realizing it, was handed to him on an at least pewter platter.

We've already met this poor child's mother, Marie, in Friday night's preview, and his father, Wozzeck, in last night's preview. What's remarkable in Berg's setting of the material is the depth of his empathy, his understanding from the inside of what it feels like to see the world through their eyes, as a place of almost no opportunity, and with even less opportunity for their helpless little boy. (In the Act II Bible-reading we're going to hear shortly, Marie will either coincidentally or comprehendingly read about a child left with no one to care for him.)


BERG: Wozzeck, Op. 7: Act I, Scene 4,
Wozzeck and the Doctor

English singing translation by Richard Stokes

Scene 4. The Doctor's study. Sunny afternoon.
[Passacaglia: Theme]
DOCTOR [rushes to meet WOZZECK as he comes in the door]: This is monstrous, Wozzeck! You gave your word.
Dear, dear, dear!
WOZZECK: What is it, Herr Doktor?
DOCTOR: I saw it all, Wozzeck, again I saw you pissing.
Pissing there on the pavement, just like a dog!
Is it for th is that I pay you three groschen?
This is bad! The world is bad, so bad!
[Groaning] Oh!
WOZZECK: Surely, Herr Doktor, when forced to it by
Nature . . .
[Variation I]
DOCTOR [flaring up]: By nature! By nature! Superstition -- deplorable superstition! Have I not demonstrated that the bladder is subject to the human will? [Flares up again] Call of nature, Wozzeck?! Humans are free! In man, individuality is sublimated into freedom!
[Shaking his head to himself] Urinating!
[Variation II]
[To WOZZECK again] Now then, I hope you've eaten your beans up, Wozzeck? [WOZZECK nods.] Only beans, now, nothing else but beans, don't forget! And during next week, we'll introduce a . . .
[Variation III]
. . . little mutton. There'll soon be a new revolution in medicine: [counting off on his fingers] protein, lipids, carbohydrates. [Broad gesture] And next: Oxyaldehydanhydride . . . [gesture]
[With sudden anger] And yet, you insisted on pissing . . .
[Goes up to WOZZECK, then checks himself]
[Variation IV]
No! . . . I must not get so angry, anger is ad for you and unscientific! I am quite calm, my pulse is beating its regular sixty Good God! Why lose sleep over a mere human being? If a salamander died, that would be far more serious.
{Again agitated.] This is monstrous. Wozzeck, you really shouldn't have urinated!
[Variation V]
WOZZECK {tries to pacify the DOCTOR, who is making furious gestures]: You see, Herr Doktor, sometimes people have a structure, it's how we're made, and yet, and yet with Nature it's different. [Snaps his fingers] You see, with Nature it's . . . it is like . . . how shall I describe it . . . I mean . . .
DOCTOR: Wozzeck, you're philosophizing!
[Variation VI]
WOZZECK: When Nature has . . .
DOCTOR [imitating WOZZECK]: What? When nature has . . . ?
WOZZECK]: When Nature has died, and the world has darkened so, so you have to fumble around for it with your hands, and you feel that it crumbles like spiders' webs . . . Ah! When it's there but is not . . .
[Variation VII]
. . . there!
Ah! Ah!
[Variation VIII]
Marie! When everything is dark, [takes a few steps across the room with outstretched arms] and the western sky just glows like fire, flaming from a furnace . . . Oh what, what is there to . . .
DOCTOR: Christ, you're lurlching, as though your body was standing on . . .
[Variation IX]
WOZZECK: . . . cling to?
DOCTOR: . . . spider legs.
WOZZECK [stays near the DOCTOR; confidentially]: Herr Doktor, when at midday the sun is high, and it seems the world is bursting into flames . . .
[Variation X]
. . . then I hear them, terrifying voices start talking to me.
DOCTOR: Wozzeck, you have got an . . .
[Variation XI]
. . . aberatio!
WOZZECK [interrupting]: The toadstools! Have you observed the circles of the toadstools out there on the ground?
[Variation XII]
Figurations and circles . . . oh, to understand them!
[Variation XIII]
[track 2]
DOCTOR: Wozzeck -- just like a lunatic! you're presenting with an idée fixe, a most wonderful . . .
[Variation XIV]
. . . aberatio mentalis partialis, second species.
Nicely cultivated!
[Variation XV]
Wozzeck, you shall get another rise!
[Variation XVI]
You're doing all your duties? Shaving your Captain? Catching my lizards?
[Variation VII]
Eating our beans up?
WOZZECK: I do everything, Herr Doktor; the money I earn is for Marie. It's for . . .
[Variation XVIII]
. . . her I work!
DOCTOR: You are a fascinating case. Just behave yourself, Wozzeck, and there'll be yet another groschen [penny] payment. But what d'you have to do?
WOZZECK [paying no attention to the DOCTOR]: Ah, Marie!
DOCTOR: What must you do?
[Variation XIX]
DOCTOR: Eat those beans up, then move on to mutton; no pissing, keep on shaving your Captain, and cultivate your idée fixe, my boy!
[Variation XX]
Oh! [Increasingly ecstatic] My hypothesis! Oh my fame! I shall be immortal! Immortal! Immortal!
[Variation XXI]
[At the height of ecstasy] Immortal! [Suddenly quite calm, walking up to WOZZECK] Wozzeck, let me look at your tongue now. [WOZZECK obeys.]

CURTAIN [at first very fast, then suddenly
slow, and closing very gradually
[in English] Clive Bayley (bs), the Doctor; Andrew Shore (b), Wozzeck; Philharmonia Orchestra, Paul Daniel, cond. Chandos, recorded July 1-18, 2002
[in German] Karl Christian Kohn (bs), the Doctor; Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (b), Wozzeck; Orchestra of the Deutsche Oper Berlin, Karl Böhm, cond. DG, recorded March-Apr. 1965


And with it we're going to have the excellent commentary provided for RCA's booklet notes by the late Neville Cardus (1889-1975), onetime music critic of The Guardian. To make matters more confusing, we are going to hear the extraordinary recording of the suite Cardus's notes were written to accompany -- but only at the end, all together. It's a different performance we'll be hearing movement by movement.

NEVILLE CARDUS: The recorded excerpts being toward the end of the second scene of Act I. Wozzeck and another soldier are in a field in the late afternoon. Already Wozzeck has premonitions of the tragedy to come. "The place is accursed," he says. "Still, all is still, and the world is dead." Our first excerpt begins orchestrally and in twenty bars takes us to Marie's room. We hear a military band passing beneath the window. Marie, with her child, is watching. She burst into song at sight of the Drum Major:
Soldiers, soldiers
are handsome fellows!
She closes the window and begins to rock the child to sleep. Her music is a German nursery cradlesong done into semi-atonalism:
Come, my boy,
what do people expect?
You are only a harlot's child,
yet you give your mother joy
with your unhallowed face.

Girl, what now can be done?
You have got a child and no husband.
What's the good of asking?
If I should sing the livelong night:
"Hush, my baby sweet,"
not a soul would come to my aid.
Hansel, harness your six white chargers,
give them your fodder, give them to drink.
No fodder they'll eat,
no water they'll drink!
Only cool wine must it be!
Hanne-Lore Kuhse (s), Marie; Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra, Herbert Kegel, cond. Deutsche Schallplatten/Vanguard, recorded c1966
NEVILLE CARDUS: The recording moves from this scene to the opening of Act III. Marie is again in her room, alone with her child. By candlelight she reads from the Bible the story of the woman taken in adultery:
"And there is no guile found in His mouth . . ."
Lord, Lord, look not upon me!

Variation [Marie continues reading]
But the Pharisees brought unto Him
a woman that lived in adultery.
Jesus said:

Variation II:
""I condemn thee not; go now
and sin no more!"

Variation III [Looking at her child]
Lord God, the boy stabs me to the heart!
Go! You're nothing to brag about!

Variation IV [Marie cries suddenly]
No, no! Come here!
Come to me!

Variation V [She begins to tell the child a story]:
"Once there was a poor child that had neither father no mother --
Both were dead, and there was no one else in the world --
And it was hungry and wept day and night.

Variation VI [Continuing the narration]:
"And since he had no one left in the world . . ."
Franz has not come, not yesterday, not today . . .

Variation VII [Turning quickly to the Bible]:
What is written here about the Magdalen?

Fugue [Solo viola take s over the subject at the second bar, a solo violin at the third, and a solo double bass at the fourth. Marie reads, then beats her breast]:
"And she knelt and kissed His feet and wept, mostening them with her tears, and anointed them with ointment . . . "
Holy one, I would anoint Thy feet also. Lord, Thou hadst pity on her; have pity on me too!
Hanne-Lore Kuhse (s), Marie; Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra, Herbert Kegel, cond. Deutsche Schallplatten/Vanguard, recorded c1966
NEVILLE CARDUS: Now we go to the opera's shattering climax. Wozzeck has murdered Marie, and himself has drowned, searching for the knife. The music marvelously evokes the haunted night,, the sinister forest and pool, and the blood-red moon. In the orchestra there are ghostly croakings and gurglings. Somehow these instrumental tones make silence audible. The Captain and Doctor pass by. They hear Wozzeck's death gasp. Then they hurry away in dread. Berg moves to the opera's end by means of an orchestral interlude. It is an adagio and a lamentation, sadly reviewing the main motifs associated with Wozzeck. This interlude is essentially Mahlerian in tone-flavors and the melodic shapings. It reveals Berg as a born romantic, and a man of as much heart as brain. A flash of celesta tone reveals the last scene and the bright sunshine. Wozzeck's little boy is rocking on the hobbyhorse. The other children sing Ring-a-roses. Now comes the messenger of doom, in the guise of another innocent child, who points to Marie's boy, telling the dread news. Marie's baby rides on, as the rest of the children run away; he is left alone on the stage, singing "Hop, hop!" -- left alone in the world, no father, no mother, alone in the mercilessly ironic world of Büchner and Berg. But Berg's music, at the end, somehow purges terror with pity.
Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra, Herbert Kegel, cond. Deutsche Schallplatten/Vanguard, recorded c1966


Phyllis Curtin (s), Marie; Sacred Heart Boychoir of Roslndale, Massachusetts, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Erich Leinsdorf, cond. RCA, recorded c1963


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