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26 December 2007

Weißt du, wieviel Sternlein stehen an dem blauen Himmelszelt? / Do you know how many little stars there are in the wide blue sky?

Hilfe! I have fallen into YouTube again and can't get out!

Vleeptron has two deutschesprache consultants whom we turn to when something deutsches strays into dimensions beyond Wurst and Eisenbahn, and this is one of those Deeper Things.

I was wallowing around for every Kurt Weill song that ever ended up on YouTube, and so many of these performances are absolutely remarkable, from Pabst's 1931 movie of Weill and Brecht's "Dreigroschenoper" ("Kanonen-Song") to a Billie Holiday performance of "Lonely House," with its haunting melody and moving Langston Hughes lyrics.

An Israeli singer, Esther Ofarim ( אסתר עופרים ), sings a gorgeous torchy cabaret cover of "Speak Low" from "One Touch of Venus," one of Weill's last projects, a Broadway musical comedy about a statue of Venus who comes to life and falls in love with the nerdy museum curator.

The American comic poet Ogden Nash doesn't usually rise to the heights of Weill's other lyricists -- Brecht, Georg Kaiser, Ira Gershwin, Langston Hughes -- but "Speak Low" became an instant classic; every chanteusse and jazz great, piano or saxophone, has covered it for half a century, and as long as educated people keep falling in love and need a haunting love song in the background, "Speak Low" will keep being performed and recorded. Billie Holiday grabbed it immediately, as did her pal Sinatra.

Speak low when you speak love
Our summer day
withers away
too soon, too soon

Speak low when you speak love
Our moment is swift
like ships adrift,
we're swept apart, too soon

Speak low, darling, speak low
Love is a spark, lost in the dark
too soon, too soon
I feel wherever I go
that tomorrow is near,
tomorrow is here and always too soon

Time is so old and love so brief
Love is pure gold and time a thief

We're late, darling, we're late
The curtain descends
ev'rything ends
too soon, too soon
I wait, darling, I wait
Will you speak low to me
speak love to me and soon

Then YouTube pointed me toward another Esther Ofarim performance, filmed outdoors in the middle of Jerusalem on a sunny day, the camera panning around and capturing the domes and minarets of the ancient city. The setting seems so far, in time, space, history and culture, from Europe, but under the hot Jerusalem sun, she sings a song I'd never heard -- a Kinderlied, a song of childhood.

Weißt du, wieviel Sternlein stehen an dem blauen Himmelszelt?
Weißt du, wieviel Wolken gehen weit hinüber alle Welt?
Gott, der Herr, hat sie gezählet, daß ihm auch nicht eines fehlet
an der ganzen großen Zahl, an der ganzen großen Zahl.

Weißt du, wieviel Mücklein spielen in der heißen Sonnenglut,
wieviel Fischlein auch sich kühlen in der hellen Wasserflut?
Gott, der Herr, rief sie beim Namen, daß sie all ins Leben kamen,
daß sie nun so fröhlich sind, daß sie nun so fröhlich sind.

Weißt du, wieviel Kindlein frühe stehn aus ihren Betten auf,
daß sie ohne Sorg und Mühe fröhlich sind im Tageslauf?
Gott im Himmel hat an allen seine Lust, sein Wohlgefallen,
kennt auch dich und hat dich lieb, kennt auch dich und hat dich lieb.


Esther and her husband were living in Geneva, Switzerland in the 1960s. In 1963 ...

Esther represented Switzerland at the Eurovision Song Festival in London with the song “T’en vas pas” (Please don’t go).

She did win -- but only for a few minutes -- and was deposed when
a judging error was discovered and [she] took the second place. Her recorded version of her contest song attained international popularity and was translated into Italian (“Non andar”) and German (“Melodie einer Nacht”).

If I spoke German, if I knew how to say (or sing) anything more complicated than "Please give me that sausage" or "Where is the train to Hamburg?", I'd obviously know this song intimately, a Lied of innocence, childhood and wonder. It must be hugely famous, known to every German speaker on Earth.

I just never heard it before. Who wrote the words? Who wrote the beautiful tune? I think it's one of the most beautiful songs I ever heard; her performance smote me instantly.

Today in German-speaking Europe, is this song considered a hokey piece of forgotten Kinderschmaltz, or do people still love to hear it and sing it to their children at bedtime? What other associations does the song conjure up to the German ear and heart? Just a wild guess, but I'd peg it to the late 18th or the 19th century.

Germany was the first nation in Europe to grant Jews full and equal citizenship, around 1830. The somewhat startled Jews wandered out of their centuries-enforced ghetto segregation and dove into German cultural life with a passion, drinking deeply from it, and adding generously and vigorously to it. For a century, German Jews were voraciously, passionately Germans, and drowned blissfully in German literature, theater and music.

When the European Hell of the middle of the 20th Century finally ended, many of the Jews who had survived made their way to Palestine, and in '48 managed, with considerable armed struggle and violence, to make a sovereign state with special legal status for Jews -- Israel, "the Jewish State." Though Jews had lived in the region for centuries, under Ottoman and then under British rule, at the time Israel was founded, and for the first generation after the founding, the cultural and social face of Jewish Israel was very heavily Mitteleuropean and heavily German flavored. Astonishing as it seems, the Jews fleeing Germany in fear, horror, bitterness and anger took the music, theater, and childrens' lullabies they loved most to the kibbutzim in Israel.

Even Wagner was still beloved by German Jews, and an understood ban on its performance by Israel's big symphony orchestras has often been broken, usually by visiting guest conductors like Mehta. Some of the audience boo and hiss and stalk out of the hall.

Most stay. Many give this music they love so much, the noisy hours of gods, goddesses, heroes, heroines and underground demons battling to save and destroy the world, a standing ovation. It's their music. In their hearts and memories no other music can take its place.

I apologize that the world is not a simple place. Even Israel is not a simple place. So here, on a sunny day in Jerusalem, is a beautiful old Kinderlied from deutschesprache Europe, warbled by an Israeli canary. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Ah, someone on the Web has been kind enough to provide an English translation for Sausage and Train Station Bob.


This song is by Wilhelm Hey (1789-1854)

Many thanks to Ulrike Bernhard for contributing this song ... Thanks also to Monique Palomares for the English translation.


Here's what the young girl sings in the middle of Jerusalem on such a sunny day:

Do you know how many little stars there are
In the wide blue sky?
Do you know how many clouds go about
Over the world?
The Lord God counted them so well,
That none are missing
From the whole lot of them,
From the whole lot of them.

Do you know how many little flies play
In the clear heat of Summer?
How many little fishes cool themselves
In the clear high tide?
The Lord God called them by name,
So they all came to life,
And they're all so happy now.

Do you know how many children,
Get up early from their bed,
That they're without worry and sorrow,
Happy all day long?
God in Heaven has, for everyone,
His pleasure, his welfare,
Knows you too and loves you.


patfromch said...

oh yes i know this one. me mum used to sing it with or for me before going to bed. those songs make me depressive now because she almost passed away last year.

here is another one

......and you laughed at me for falling into youtube, eh ?

Vleeptron Dude said...

Almost? But she's here on this Erde with you still and now? Yes? Stop being depressed. Or be depressed about something else.

My Mom passed away maybe 11 years ago. Very Big Emotional Speed Bump.

Read the post again, I just found SWISS EUROVISION SCANDAL TERMITE GOSSIP about Esther Ofarim!

Vleeptron Dude said...

Hey! Man-on-the-Ground in CH! Send me an e-mail! The transfer from Old to New computer -- I have lost everybody's e-mail addie!

patinannusmiserabilis said...

no she is fine. here is the summary for 2007: cat died, mom almost died, pop had a nervous breakdown, decided to retire and sell the house where i grew up, sweetiepie gave me the boot, my desktop crashed in late december, reanimation attempts were unsucessful, i need a new one, i would like to have the llamborghini but since i will have no job in january i can only afford a 2nd hand ford fiesta, my notebook sigmund is slowly dying, robert jordan passed away and a whole lot of other things, including vista. annus miserabiis i say. i think i have the bleeding right to be depressed at times

good things this year: ubuntu, LED ZEPPELIN got together again (and I already got the boot), sweetiepie before she gave me the boot, discovery of Evolution, glenn gould complete original jacket box set, twilight zone complete series box set and a few other things

but it still feels like annus miserabilis

JohnBrady said...

Thanks for these cool Nash insights. I've made note of your post on Blogden Nash where I report on the reach and influence of Ogden Nash on contemporary life.