Saturday, June 19, 2010

paste up #009 - joseph schmidt

(Corner Elm/High Streets, Northcote)

Imagine being on the planet without ever having heard Joseph Schmidt sing. I can’t.

In his day, he had one of the most beautiful, lyric, tenor voices in the German-speaking world and his popular song recordings were the bestsellers of the time. 

One of my favourite Joseph Schmidt songs recorded in 1933 is his version of "E lucevan le stelle", an aria from Act 3 of the opera Tosca by Giacomo Puccini. In the opera, it is sung by Tosca's lover, the painter Mario Cavaradossi, while he awaits his coming execution:

Joseph Schmidt’s discographer, Hansfried Sieben, tells us that at the outbreak of the Second World War, Schmidt decided to emigrate and went to France in an attempt to get a visa for the USA. However, the French authorities refused permission for him to travel and when Germany declared war on the USA, all shipping services were suspended putting paid to his hopes of finding safety on foreign soil.

He tried to seek refuge in Switzerland. Sadly, (unlike the poster beside my paste up), Swiss law did not recognise Jews as political refugees and he was turned back. He then attempted to enter Switzerland illegally, was caught and put into the Girenbad internment camp near Zurich. There he fell ill and a short time after died at the Waldegg inn, the place where he found his last warm refuge.

I discovered Joseph Schmidt after seeing him in the film Ein Lied geht um die Welt (My Song Goes Round the World) years ago on David Stratton’s (much missed) weekly programme Cinema Classics on SBS. It is a wonderful filmfunny, sentimental and sad but it is Joseph’s golden voice that matters. His role in the film was almost the story of his own life: the story of a small-statured singer whose voice girls fell in love with but whom they took pity on because of his height. It’s heartbreaking. Watch a scene from the film where he sings "Mal d’amore":

[My paste up of Joseph Schmidt was in part prompted by re-reading "Der Bajazzo" by Thomas Mann.  Like the mother in the story, who plays Chopin slowly so as to enjoy the melancholy cadence of the music, I listen to Joseph Schmidt’s renditions of "E lucevan le stelle" and "Mal d’amore" to savour to the utmost the sadness of every note:

. . . where my mother sat playing the piano. The room was dull, for thick dark-red curtains half-shrouded the windows. The white figures of gods and goddesses on the wall hangings stood out plastically from their blue background and seemed as though listening to the deep, heavy first notes of a Chopin nocturne which was her favourite piece. She always played it very slowly, as though to enjoy to the full each melancholy cadence. 
(Translated by Helen T Lowe-Porter)

. . . where my mother sat playing the piano. She sat in a dim light, for heavy dark red curtains hung across the windows; and the white gods and goddesses on the wallpaper seemed to stand out like real rounded figures from their blue background, and to be listening to the deep heavy opening notes of that Chopin nocturne, the piece she especially loved and always played very slowly as if to savour to the utmost the sadness of every chord. 
(Same passage translated by David Luke)

I don’t speak German so I can’t attest to the fidelity of each translation but I know which version I prefer. More on the subject of my current obsession with translation to follow . . .]


AllSorts Bookshop said...

Accidentally came acrioss this one this morning while I was walking in the (fleeting!) sun.

Seeing that many of the passers-by thini that your Harold Robbins outside my bookshop is either harold pinter or myself when younger, I can't imagine who they will thik this is.
Keep them guessing!

Anonymous said...

Hi Danado it was great to see Joseph Schmidt as it reminded me of Heutist der schonste Tag in meinem Leben which we use to try to sing when cross country skiing many years ago on glorious days of bright sunshine and fast snow. It's so uplifting, I recommend it. So try it yourself ..'You don't have to know the language with a boy in your arms, a moon in the sky and that look in his eye'. The posters are great and the photos of them are the icing on the cake. Keep it up. Mal

meagre Turkish | broken English said...

I like what you're doing.