Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Winter Journey: Schubert's Winterreise in English Translation

After holiday celebrations are over, it's time to embrace winter's inward, contemplative nature. Franz Schubert's famous song cycle, Winterreise is a meditation on love and loss in wintertime. Its twenty-four songs form a story arc that has captivated audiences since 1828. Darren Chase sings his own English translation of the work, creating a direct connection to the music for an English-speaking audience. Michael Scales accompanies this two-man opera.



Read Sharon Kilarski's article about our project in the Epoch Times.

For translations and more information please visit:





Thursday, March 31, 2016

No. 24 The Hurdy-Gurdy Man


I have searched for novel ways to play this song, but there is only one: This is a picture of the artist's place in the world.
The symbology is undeniable. The lyre, instrument of troubadours and angels (and icon of music publishers) is reduced to the hurdy-gurdy, a droning mechanical copy of the heavenly instrument, itself a centuries-old harbinger of industrialization. Just like the forgotten coal burner's cabin in No. 10 and the Teutonic postal horn in No. 13, this proto-industrial symbol augurs a shift toward mass production of goods and art. Even the mystical linden tree of No. 5 is trapped just within the emerging property lines of a totally new modernity. Müller, amplified by Schubert, is commenting on the first stirrings of momentous societal changes.
The hurdy-gurdy's droning sound is produced when a rotating circular bow, powered by a hand crank, revolves underneath its strings. In this last song of the cycle, the wanderer's journey is immortalized via the monotonous 'cycle' of the Hurdy-gurdy Man's instrument. Does the wanderer drift into oblivion like the beggar on the ice? No, we will sing his songs next Saturday and it won't be long until we begin again next winter. By the time Michael Scales and I are done with this tour next April and have recorded the music, many other singers will have started their own winter journeys.
The cumbersome words, "hurdy-gurdy player" mean nothing to me, so I have substituted the ironic "lyre player" whenever possible; however, my first instinct when translating the instrument's awkward name was 'auto-lyre,' which evokes for me the childhood image of Judy Collins playing an 'auto-harp' on Sesame Street. With one hand she strummed its strings, with the other she pressed rectangular white buttons labeled with the names of chords. My young brain wondered if it was a real instrument. Ian Bostridge notes that there is a folksy Bob Dylan quality to this song and so far, I have always ended up crooning this one. Does Schubert's last song presage the music of the masses? What a beautiful and horrible sound.
Love to you all and see you next winter,
Darren

No. 24 The Lyre Player
There behind the village stands the lyre man
And with frozen fingers he plays best he can
Barefoot on the ice he teeters here are there
And his little plate remains forever bare
No one wants to hear him, no one wants to see
And the dogs are snarling at the old man's feet
And he lets it go on always as it will
Playing on his hurdy-gurdy ever still
Strange old lyre player shall I go with you?
Will you play lyre along with my songs too?

24. Der Leiermann
Drüben hinterm Dorfe Steht ein Leiermann
Und mit starren Fingern Dreht er was er kann.
Barfuß auf dem Eise Wankt er hin und her
Und sein kleiner Teller Bleibt ihm immer leer.
Keiner mag ihn hören, Keiner sieht ihn an,
Und die Hunde knurren Um den alten Mann.
Und er läßt es gehen, Alles wie es will,
Dreht, und seine Leier Steht ihm nimmer still.
Wunderlicher Alter ! Soll ich mit dir geh'n ?
Willst zu meinen Liedern Deine Leier dreh'n ?


Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Our last concert is this Saturday

The Winter Journey

Darren sings Schubert’s Winterreise
in English Translation
Michael Scales plays Satie’s Pièces froides


Saturday, April 2 at 8:00 PM

New York Theatre Ballet Studio

131 East 10th Street, 2nd Floor


(Entrance on 11th Street)

New York, NY 10003

$10 Admission


No. 23 The False Suns

No 23 The False Suns
I saw three suns standing in the heights
I stayed and long beheld the sight
They also stood so fixedly 
As if they wouldn't leave me
Alas these are no suns of mine
Now go upon another shine
Yes once I had three of my own
The two that set most brightly shone
If only now the third would set
In darkness I would find my rest

23. Die Nebensonnen
Drei Sonnen sah ich am Himmel steh'n,
Hab' lang und fest sie angeseh'n;
Und sie auch standen da so stier,
Als wollten sie nicht weg von mir.
Ach, meine Sonnen seid ihr nicht !
Schaut ander'n doch ins Angesicht !
Ja, neulich hatt' ich auch wohl drei;
Nun sind hinab die besten zwei.
Ging nur die dritt' erst hinterdrein !
Im Dunkel wird mir wohler sein.

No. 22 Courage

This poem's short declamatory phrases leave no room for repeated subjects so I changed some of the lines to the imperative voice. This lends an encouraging feeling to the words, as if the poet is trying to buck himself up.
Despite this solution I am stuck on the famous line "Klagen ist für Toren." The translation must be as jarringly flippant as the original, but English phrases fail me. "Grieving is for dimwits" is just too funny. After our last performance on Saturday, the audience obsessed over this one but couldn't come up with a solution. In a text message to the host of our little Liederabend I wrote, "Figured it out: 'Kvetching's good as fish tits!'"
Most importantly, the proto-Nietzschean "Will kein Gott auf Erden sein, Sind wir selber Götter!" cannot be reduced to "If there is no god on earth, We are gods together"; it must somehow convey, "If there is no god on earth, Then we are gods ourselves." I have resigned myself to the possibility that conundrums like these might not sort themselves out until after our concert tour is over on April 2. Then we'll get some distance before beginning again next January. I hope to have final solutions before we record my English version next April.

No. 22 Courage
When the snow flies in your face
Shake it off and crash on
When you hear your heart's complaint 
Sing a rousing glad song
Never hear what it would say
I've no ears to hear it
Leave it to feeling what it may 
Grieving is for dimwits
Greeting all the world with mirth
Facing wind and weather 
If there is no God on earth
We are gods together

22. Mut
Fliegt der Schnee mir ins Gesicht, 
Schüttl' ich ihn herunter.
Wenn mein Herz im Busen spricht, 
Sing' ich hell und munter.
Höre nicht, was es mir sagt, 
Habe keine Ohren;
Fühle nicht, was es mir klagt, 
Klagen ist für Toren.

Lustig in die Welt hinein 
Gegen Wind und Wetter ! 
Will kein Gott auf Erden sein, 
Sind wir selber Götter !

No. 21 The Inn



No. 21 The Inn
To this deserted graveyard 
My winding trail has led
A refuge on my journey 
This thought ran through my head
The green funereal garlands 
Must be the welcome signs 
Inviting weary travelers
To cooler halls inside
Yet even in this hospice 
Have all the rooms been let?
I'm weak and near exhaustion 
My mortal wounds are wet
O merciless old tavern 
Will you too turn me back?
So onward ever onward
My faithful walking staff

21. Das Wirtshaus
Auf einen Totenacker
Hat mich mein Weg gebracht; 
Allhier will ich einkehren, 
Hab ich bei mir gedacht.
Ihr grünen Totenkränze 
Könnt wohl die Zeichen sein, 
Die müde Wand'rer laden
Ins kühle Wirtshaus ein.
Sind denn in diesem Hause 
Die Kammern all' besetzt ? 
Bin matt zum Niedersinken, 
Bin tödlich schwer verletzt.

O unbarmherz'ge Schenke, 
Doch weisest du mich ab ? 
Nun weiter denn, nur weiter, 
Mein treuer Wanderstab !

Thursday, March 24, 2016

No. 20 The Signpost

Talking to people after our last performance I realized something about this character, the wanderer, the poet: The man was nothing. He was a nobody, whatever that means. Being expelled from the house of his beloved gives him meaning for the first time, wakes him up to the signs all around him, connects him with his world. It's not pleasant but it is uplifting because underneath every despairing image there is the joy of true perception. I think that's why people love to hear this music.
The key lines come here in No. 20, "The Signpost." When the poet reaches a "Wegweiser," a sign on the road, he asks himself, "Why do I avoid the paths of other people? What sort of foolish desire drives me into the wastelands?" He says, "After all, I've done nothing that forces me to avoid other people."
This 'doing nothing' says a lot. There is a political implication in the line, as there is in many of the poems. The post-Napoleonic government in what is now Austria had ruthlessly suppressed any opposition to its power. I'm sure that this reference to 'not doing anything wrong' characterizes many people who didn't, wouldn't or couldn't speak up against the regime.
But there is also something existential here. In No. 20 the poet has decided to take the path from which he knows he will not return. Until now he has truly "done nothing"--not only was he a political bystander, but up to this point everything has happened 'to' him. From this moment on there is agency in his becoming.

No. 20 The Signpost
Why avoid the trodden pathways
Where the other wanderers walk?
I prefer a hidden passage 
Over highlands' snowy rocks
I've committed no grave error
That would keep me far from man
What vain and foolish longing
Drives me far into the wastelands?
Every sign along the roadway
Shows the way to what is next.
Yet I wander ever onward
Without rest and seeking rest
And I see a signpost standing
So unmoving in my stare
It's a path that I must travel 
And none return from there

20. Der Wegweiser
Was vermeid' ich denn die Wege, 
Wo die ander'n Wand'rer geh'n, 
Suche mir versteckte Stege, 
Durch verschneite Felsenhöh'n ?
Habe ja doch nichts begangen, 
Daß ich Menschen sollte scheu'n, - 
Welch ein törichtes Verlangen 
Treibt mich in die Wüstenei'n ?
Weiser stehen auf den Straßen, 
Weisen auf die Städte zu.
Und ich wandre sonder 
Maßen Ohne Ruh' und suche Ruh'.

Einen Weiser seh' ich stehen 
Unverrückt vor meinem Blick; 
Eine Straße muß ich gehen, 
Die noch keiner ging zurück.