The Beggar’s Opera

John Gay, Brecht & Weil

Scott Alexander Gabriel Reiss & Catherine Uccellatore

Catherine Uccellatore - detail from The Pianist
        (2007)

Die Morität von Mackie Messer

Und der Haifisch, der hat Zähne,
Und die trägt er im Gesicht,
Und Macheath, der hat ein Messer,
Doch das Messer sieht man nicht.

Catherine Uccellatore - sketch for The Pianist
                  (2007)

The Ballad of Mack the Knife

And the shark fish many teeth has
And he wears them on his snout
And Macheath a sharpened knife has,
But that knife ain’t seen about.

An ‘nem schönen blauen Sonntag
Liegt ein toter Mann am Stränd
Und ein Mensch geht um die Ecke,
Den man Mackie Messer nännt.

Und Schmul Meier bleibt verschwunden
Und so mancher reiche Mann
Und sein Geld hat Mackie Messer,
Dem man nichts beweisen kann.

Jenny Fowler war gefunden
Mit ‘nem Messer in der Brust
Und am Kai geht Mackie Messer,
Der von allem nichts gewußt.

Und das große Feuer in Soho
Sieben Kinder und ein Greis
In der Menge Mackie Messer, den
Man nicht fragt und der nichts weiß.

Und die minderjährige Witwe,
Deren Namen jeder weiß,
Wachte auf und war geschändet.
Mackie welches war dein Preis?

Catherine Uccellatore - detail from The Orchestra
                  (2007)

Catherine
                  Uccellatore - detail from The Orchestra (2007)

On a beautiful blue Sunday
Lies a body on the beach
And a man around the corner,
Mack the Knife, is within reach.

And Sam Meyer still is missing,
Such a great & wealthy man.
Mack the Knife he has his money.
Pin it on him if you can.

Jenny Fowler was discovered
With a knife stuck in her breast
Mack the Knife walks by the water
Knowing nothing ‘bout the rest.

And the giant fire in Soho,
Seven children, one old man.
Mack the Knife’s a nearby neighbor.
Ask him questions if you can.

And the under-aged widow,
Everyone knows her by name,
Woken up she was dishonored.
Mack the Knife what is your game?

Catherine
                Uccellatore - detail from The Orchestra (2007)

Catherine Uccellatore - The
                Orchestra (2007)

Catherine
                Uccellatore - detail from The Orchestra (2007)

Reprise

Und so kommt zum guten Ende
Alles unter einen Hut.
Ist das nötige Geld vorhanden
Ist das Ende meistens gut.

Daß nur er im Trüben fische
Hat der Hinz den Kunz bedroht.
Doch am End’ vereint am Tische
Essen sie das armen Brot.

Catherine
                  Uccellatore - detail from The Orchestra (2007)

Catherine
                  Uccellatore - detail from The Orchestra (2007)

Reprise

Here it comes the happy ending.
All is well that endeth well.
When there’s money in your pocket,
Then the ending’s often swell.

That he’s fishing troubled waters
Quoth the raven to the boar.
In the end they both sit down to
Eat the biscuits of the poor.

Catherine Uccellatore - sketch for The
                  Accordionist (2007)

Und die einen sind im Dunkeln
Und die andern sind im Licht
Und man siehet die im Lichte
Die im Dunkeln sieht man nicht.*

Catherine
                  Uccellatore - sketch for The Orchestra (2007)

There are those that dwell in darkness,
While the others live in the light.
Everyone sees those in the brightness.
Those in darkness ain’t in sight.*

Catherine
                  Uccellatore - sketch for The Orchestra (2007)

* Three verses are sung at a slower tempo & with less tremolo by a tenor other than the warbling Ernst Busch at the end of the German version filmed in 1931 by G. W. Pabst.

From: SAGReiss

Date: 24 February 2010

Subject: The Merriless Widow

Catherine Uccellatore - The Accordionist
                  (2007-9)

[previous] Now on to our unhappy widow. Each verse begs comment. Brecht seems to have been in a bad mood when he wrote them. He is known to have suffered lifelong bouts of writer's block & plagiarism. Like EdelRose this song was written under the gun right before curtain, when an actor threatened to go on strike. Why does he have to specify that the widow was minderjaehrige (young & presumably hot)? Is he congratulating Macheath for his good taste in tail? V2 shows cruel irony in two ways. First of all, he has just gone out of his way to name two corpses, Sam Meyer & Jenny Fowler, but he doesn't name the widow, because everyone already knows her, thus making the listener participate in her shame, since he is presumed to share the guilty knowledge. Second, the nature of the crime makes the victim's identity all the more sensitive. I cannot for the life of me explain why Brecht feels the need to tell us that Mack woke the widow up to fuck her. Why do I need to know this? Is that somehow an aggravating circumstance? It sure feels sad. Last, I don't quite understand the bit about the price, and didn't really bother translating it, since it may be just a cheap rhyme. After all, who was going to pay Macheath to rape a widow? Aren't widows more traditionally married for their money? I think this whole song reflects Brecht's channeling his inner Pope, who (not content to lampoon one unduly harsh critic) invited him to the pub for an empoisoned pint that literally made him shit his pants.

From: SAGReiss

Date: 14 February 2010

Subject: Re: The Fucking Clarinette

Much the same could be said of contemporary sung interpretations, notably one reputed to be by Bert Brecht himself, and another by Lotte L-someone, the current flame of Kurt Weil. Lots of updates in the coming days, Opera, then Vivaldi in a few uploads as I sort through the pics of the various festivities, then Piano after 18 or 19 February (some confustion abrew). It occurs to me that Rose is the first child in the world  to have an artist writing her biography online in real time in multimedia, text, music, and images (stll & soon to move). Yeats' son gently blamed his father for the mediocre poem he wrote to commemorate the boy's birth. He said his sister had it worse, as the old man wrote a masterpiece on her birthday. I had occasion to tell Rose about Murder's answer "Thornless" to news of her birth. As occasionally happens between us (see "tonic & dominant"), it took me years to understand John's perfectly intelligible words.

From: Nichelle

Date: 12 February 2010

Subject: Re: The Fucking Clarinette

What would you like to know about the fucking clarinette in this? It's playing with a shit-ton of vibrato, that's what stands out most to me.

From: SAGReiss

Date: 12 February 2010

Subject: Mothers & Daughters-in-Law

Two deaf woman talk on the phone. Their language skills are similar, primitive at best, even though C the G somehow learned how to speak Spanish (with an awful accent), some English, a little Flemmish & Italian. My mother loves to fight with C the G, so when the telephone rang, knowing that there's no one else on Earth who hates me enough to call me, she answered the bell. Now picture this moment. Both ladies are bored & lonely. The phone rings. They have known one another for four years, having spoken many times since July 2006 when my mother showed up one morning unannounced at the house, until the drunk & pregnant C the G threw her out a couple of days later at one o'clock in the morning. Both of them claim not to have recognized the voice of the other. My mother, whose explanations are ever more unbelievable, thought she was a shopkeeper, whatever that means. C the G thinks it was my new gf, but for the fact that I haven't got one. I will probably never have one. I will not share Rose's time with some bimbo who puts out, although I would gladly share my time with a bimbo that puts out. This is a backward, depressed land. The intellectuals are in Paris. I have no idea what these verses mean: "Dass nur er im Trueben fische/Hat der Hinz den Kunz bedroht," so I've just translated the first one (some kind of proverb) literally, and subbed an appropriate Aesop quote for the second (which is quite obscure, neither "Hinz" nor "Kunz" being common nouns in standard German, although Google gives a couple of other examples of them) in order to rhyme "boar" with "poor".

From: SAGReiss

Date: 11 February 2010

Subject: The Fucking Clarinette

I guess the music is just some vaudeville accordion shit, but Kurt Weil was a great musician, I think. Moreover I've got three new verses of Bert Brecht (and there are others flying around on the internet) to deal with. Please someone give me some of your musical wisdom. I don't need pics of Rose to publish this page. I need someone's learning about the heartbreaking clarinette (or fucking flute or whatever) at the end. It is fairly fucking unbearable, quite in keeping the (can't find an adjective evil enough) company of Swift & Pope:

http://www.sagreiss.org/opera/brecht_weil_mackie_messer_2.mp3

From: SAGReiss

Date: 11 February 2010

Subject: Marriage IS Incest(e)

Well, yes, sex between members of the same family, who share a bed & bathroom, meals & something else beginning with the letter m-. There's no mystery about a spouse, not that scary sense of discovery the first time Murder thought he really might get into Molly's shorts. Let us not speculate. So, what have we got in our poem? The alliteration (not in English) of the title, and the protagonist's name Macheath. The syncopation of the rhymes to make them masculine. The very insistent position of the conjunction "and" on the strongest possible beat [except the rhyme] of trochaic verse. Lots of subject-verb inversions [oops, verb postponement] due to the persistent use of relative clauses, often emphatic. Brilliant use of the effet de reel in each verse, blue Sunday, Sam Meyer the Jew, the waterfront (a leitmotif in the opera), Soho, and that awful last verse [before the end of the film]. Even the hero is sullied. This ain't Robin Hood. I haven't read Gay's play yet, nor listened to the music by... OK, now I understand why the last verse is so pitiless: "The original idea of the opera came from Jonathan Swift, who wrote to Alexander Pope on 30 August 1716 asking '...what think you, of a Newgate pastoral among the thieves and whores there?'" John (...) Swift & Alex Pope were two of the meanest men in London, which was a mean town. Anyway someone called Johann Christoph Pepusch wrote the songs. Gay was apparently such a heartless fuck (as his name seems to indicate) that he wanted to leave the spectator bereft of even music. I hope you all appreciate the geometric problems I solved in delicately counterbalancing text, sketches, details, & The Orchestra so that everything fits exactly in its place. I have no original photos, so the size was a given constraint, but I like the way it's worked out. This is not easy when writing for the moving target of the web. I've tested the site down to a resolution of 1280 pixels (I unjustified the lyrics for that.), and fuck anyone who has lower. Buy a new 'puter, bro. Give someone a job in China.

From: SAGReiss

Date: 10 February 2010

Subject: The Beggar's Opera

I've got our next two projects (after the work in progress Vivaldi) outlined: Piano Rose (video, if & when the new camera arrives in some working order that I can understand) & The Beggar's Opera of John (another one) Gay, Bert Brecht & Kurt Weil. The former won't require your help, as Sara, who apparently can't even spell her own name, will do all the work. The latter is illustrated by the beautiful pics of The Orchestra that C the G painted in the spring of 2007 before she decided that she preferred going to the Saturn to play chess or clusterfuck on the billiards table in the backroom. I haven't got the Accordionist, but I don't like that one as well anyway, although the sketch is very good. I know I'm trying your patience, but any musical insight you could provide would as always be highly appreciated. (Peter is probably going to dedicate next week's shows to The Threepenny Opera, interpreted this season by the Comédie Française, comme par hasard.) Weil, as you know, broke with Brecht (or vice versa) over the perceived elitist tendencies of chromatic (as opposed to diatonic) music, which hurt the latter's communist feelings. I understand both points of view, but I'm still holding out for democratic atonality & ergonomic Linux. I don't think the modernism of Murder's Blackbird bothers Rose, but I don't really know the reason why she still refuses to listen to it. Brecht's verse is lovely, and the singer trills his Rs wonderfully (as my mother does, for some reason, in the word "three") like German, French (Edith Piaf), & some anglophone (Frank Stanley) vaudeville singers do. The translation is obviously mine, but that's easy, since I speak the language (as opposed to Hebrew, Spanish, & Italian). The meter, which I have recreated without difficulty or perceived awkwardness, is a very standard (& regular) trochaic tetrameter with the final slack syllable syncopated in the rhymes:

A: - u / - u / - u / - u
B: - u / - u / - u / -
C: - u / - u / - u / - u
B: - u / - u / - u / -

John (Murder), you are somewhat guilty for this huge mess of incest(e) & Gesamtkunstwerk. The Beggar's Opera page seems to be some kind of revenge or reconciliation sex between me & C the G. You see, what you call: "order", & what I call: "Motivating the Signifier" is what irked me about the slideshows. I knew I could vary the intervals between one- & twelve-thousand milliseconds (which I later found to be untrue, since I could in fact do whatever the fuck I wanted). It upset me that this decision should be arbitrary, based on some misconception of what the reader might like. Who gives a fuck about the reader? I needed the interval to become necessary, and that proved to be the key. [It was the timing of the slideshows that showed me that words, music, & images could not only illustrate one another, they could interact.]

SAGReiss