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Olaf Bienert: Parc Monceau

To celebrate NYFOS’s 30th Anniversary Season, Song of the Day is featuring some selections from our commercial recordings. 

A mainstay of NYFOS’s early years, baritone William Sharp sings “Parc Monceau” (Olaf Bienert, text by Kurt Tucholsky) on Unquiet Piece, an album focused on German song written between the world wars.

From the liner notes by Steven Blier:
The poet Kurt Tucholsky may be unfamiliar to many Americans, but he enjoyed great popularity in his day; in Germany his works have assumed the status of classics. He was a German-Jewish writer, one of the great political and social satirists of the early part of the twentieth century. An ardent pacifist and anti-fascist, he was described as “a chubby little Berliner who tried to stem the catastrophe with a typewriter.” A number of his poems were set by Eisler; more colloquially, his words were put to bewitching cabaret-style music by the Berlin band-leader Olaf Bienert. “Parc Monceau” was probably written around 1924 while Tucholsky was on holiday in Paris, but its message of an unspoken menace in his homeland, beautifully and economically captured by Bienert, was all too prophetic. Tucholsky lost his German citizenship in 1933, and committed suicide in Sweden two years later. He had already seen too much.

It’s lovely here, here I can dream peacefully; here I’m a person, not a “civilian.” I can go left if I want, and there are no signs that read “Verboten.”
A soccer ball lies on the grass: a bird tugs on a shiny leaf; a little boy digs around in his nose and is delighted with what he has found. Four Americans pass by, to check out whether there really are trees here, as it says in their Cook’s Tour Book. Paris inside out! They see nothing, and must see every sight.
The children play boisterously on the pebbles, the sun shines and glints off a roof. I sit quietly, and let the sun warm me, and take a rest from my homeland.

Kurt Weinzierl/Kurt Tucholsky: An das Publikum

Kurt Tucholsky once wrote “A country is not only what it does, but what it tolerates.”

What important words for us to remember right now.  The song I have chosen for today is ugly and it should be.  The text is vital for our society right now; with all the splash and cry of “fake news”, “alternative facts” and the all-too-comfortable liberal social media bubble I find myself in, I needed a wake-up call.  If you don’t speak German, read the translation below before listening.

To the Public (1931)
– Kurt Tucholsky

Dear, dear public,
tell me: Are you really as dumb,
as we hear every day
from all the businessmen?
Directors on their fat behinds
say: “It’s what the public wants!”
The men in film: “What can I do?
The public wants these saccharine things!”
Publishers shrug their shoulders and say:
“Good books don’t sell!”
Tell me, dear public:
Are you really that dumb?

So dumb, the newspapers, morning and late,
hold less and less to read?
Anxious someone might be offended;
In fear, no one must be incited;
Apprehensive that Müller and Cohn
might threaten with cancellation?
Nervous that finally
some organization will come
and protest and denounce
and demonstrate and litigate…
Tell me, dear public:
Are you really that dumb?

Well then…
On our time weighs
the curse of mediocrity.
Have you such a weak stomach?
Truth disagrees with you?
You’ll only eat mush?
Well, then…
Well, you deserve what you get.

Translation by Indeterminacy

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