Bertolt Brecht and his musicians

Bertolt Brecht

This post is my translation of Bernard Banoun’s “Bertolt Brecht: Inspirateur de talents.”
Cité musiques nº64 sept-déc 2010: Les utopies.

Bertolt Brecht: the Spark of Talents

A politically active playwright who revolutionized theatre while fighting for the Marxist cause, Bertolt Brecht was surrounded by musicians such as Kurt Weill, Paul Dessau and Hanns Eisler.

Author of The Spirit of Utopia and of The Principle of Hope, philosopher Ernst Bloch believed he heard one of the key moments in the history of opera in The Pirate Song, from The Three Penny Opera by Brecht and Weill. For him, Polly’s song carried a vision that was capable of suspending the fatal turn of dramatic and historical events. In his Bequest of This Time (1935), Bloch had underlined the fact that under the song’s pop hit allure was an “oblique gaze.” The philosopher praised the self-contradictory voice of Lotte Lenya, “suave, shrill, feathery, dangerous, cold,” as ideal for a pirate’s fiancée who sang about revolution while washing bar glasses.

The song and this particular interpretation attained such world renown that when Bloch fled Europe and emigrated to the United States, Adorno wrote to Walter Benjamin on August 28, 1938, “Bloch has disembarked. Possibly from a ship with eight sails,” an allusion to the refrain of the song, “the ship with eight sails and fifty canons” that enters the harbor, fires on the city, before stealing the young woman away from her seedy hotel.

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