Monday, December 03, 2012

A Translation of Die Berühmten by Thomas Bernhard

The Celebrities

I have achieved everything
I have sung all the great roles
in all the great opera houses
Ochs under Kleiber
with Schwarzkopf as the Marschallin

The Dummies


The Actors

BASS, a baron

Summer residence of the baron

First Prologue
The Perfidy of the Artists

A dining hall with stark white walls
Apart from the soprano, whose place next to the Lotte Lehmann dummy is empty, all the actors sitting, along with their respectively appropriate dummies, around a large round table, eating roasted pheasant and duck, and drinking
Stage left, first servant; stage right, second servant; both waiting on the feasters
A Bösendorfer grand piano
A grandfather clock
Loud laughter as the curtain rises,

Head over heels
head over heels

Head over heels

ALL only vaguely in unison
Head over heels

Head over heels

Into the orchestra pit

Head over heels
Bass has his glass filled by the first servant
The very moment
he raised his baton
head over heels

Head over heels

And during Falstaff
of all operas
Just imagine it
All laugh
head over heels into the orchestra pit
That was the end of his career

FIRST SERVANT to the bass
Shall we serve more food my lord

But of course
The servants serve more pheasant- and duck-roast
That was the end of his career
A talent of the first rank
who could not hold his own

An unprecedented talent

A true artist

A prophet of doom
a veritable prophet of doom

And an honorable man


Thoroughly honorable

A lifelong diabetic

And on top of all this
he was a lifelong diabetic
An unfortunate soul
without question an unfortunate soul
looks at the clock
Dear old Gundi
raises his glass and has the first servant refill it
and I
rehearsed Un ballo in maschera
under him
Un ballo in maschera imagine that
under him
at Antwerp
The last time I sang under him
was at Glyndebourne
a disastrous performance
eats a large piece of pheasant
Old Klemperer
used to say of him
that he was as musical as a milch cow
a milch cow
That was the last time
that I saw Schuricht
Ebert the last time
also an unfortunate soul like our dear friend
the pinnacle

The absolute pinnacle

Ebert Schuricht Busch Kleiber Klemperer
It’s positively unrepeatable
to the pianist
Wasn’t it also in that year that
you hosted a Mozart evening
It was the evening of the catastrophic storm
The bass holds out his glass, and the first servant refills it
Cosi literally fell into the water

And Helletsgruber
caught pneumonia

In front of Hitler
the whole thing in front of Hitler

Nietzsche foresaw all of this
At Sils Maria mankind would have been forced to listen

Nowadays even Glyndebourne
is just a music factory
albeit not quite so gigantic

Nowadays singing is done on an assembly line
everybody sings and acts from the assembly line
picks up a pheasant bone
a single colossal exercise in mass production
looks at the clock
Gundi is standing me up
An instigatress of scandals
One cannot sing Ochs
two hundred times with impunity
two hundred times
Between Salzburg and Bayreuth
the whole thing is slowly but surely
packing up
Of course I’m constantly saying to Gundi
do the sensible thing
bale out of your contract
any day now your voice is just going to pack up for good
But she is impervious to reason
And a charming person

An utterly
pathological soul
And the greater the talent
the more total its annihilation
picks up another pheasant bone and gnaws at it
Mankind has it in
for genius
Take a good look at all these talents
highly gifted talents
talents more highly gifted than any that came before them
all gone to wrack and ruin
and ten years ago they were rising stars
No staying power
no economy
no ethos

Discipline is a foreign word nowadays


A foreign word my lord
The word discipline is nowadays a foreign word

BASS to Elly Ney
My dear Elly Ney
what would have become of you
if you had not practiced
your eight-to-ten hours a day
to Toscanini
My highly honored Maestro Toscanini
to whom do I address these words
Essentially to the comprehension of music in its entirety
Nowadays young people haven’t the faintest idea of
what music is
They embark on a course of study in music
and conclude it
but they essentially have no idea of
what music is
Just try putting one of these young careerists through their paces
They’ll end up basking in your admiration
all of them are perfect

Nowadays everybody is perfect

but about music they haven’t a clue
to Tauber
My dear Tauber
Cross my heart
looks at the guests
I promise not to insult anybody
to sing Schubert
well anyway
Singers charge by the note to sing
and instrumentalists do exactly the same
But it may well be the case that society
will put an end
to this state of affairs
to this perverse fortune-cultivating at the concert podium
and in the theater
that society
over the short or long run
will put an end to this nightmare
An end ladies and gentlemen
drains his glass and once again has it refilled
Art in general is nowadays
nothing but
a gigantic exploitation of society
and it has as little in common with art
as musical notes have with banknotes
The great opera houses like the great theaters
are nowadays merely great banking houses
in which so-called artists amass gigantic fortunes

Never a truer word was spoken my lord

But an enormous crisis of the banks
hence an enormous crisis of the opera houses and the theaters
is in the immediate offing
picks up another pheasant bone
But the so-called leading protagonists sense this
because in reality they are nothing but speculators
and will bring their little lambkins safely into the fold
The public is one big puffed-up idiot
to Toscanini
my dear Maestro Toscanini
today I listened to your recording of Cosi
from back in ’thirty-seven
and compared it with the recording made by our unfortunate
disastrously unfortunate friend
I have to say
But let the dead rest in peace
raises his glass and has it refilled by the first servant
The engagement in Buenos Aires
was his first engagement
after his terrible car accident near Barcelona
Knappersbusch somehow secured him the job
old Knappertsbusch
he had come to rely on having
a chair or at least a stool to sit on
poor fellow
because on account of his spinal injury
he could no longer conduct while standing up
of course he had also been much too slow
much too sluggish
gnaws ostentatiously at the bone

That was noticeable in his tempos

Which is unsuitable for Mozart
But back in ’fifty-two
I heard a good Magic Flute conducted by him
in Mannheim
iced-over roads in the Barcelona area
a rare occurrence
gnaws ostentatiously at the bone

I have even experienced
iced-over streets in Barcelona itself

There’s also quite a nice
drinks a hefty gulp
Philharmonic Society there
I have never been much taken with Spain
I had plenty of opportunities to go to Madrid
and sing Ochs there
That is quite a big deal for Spain

Where you are of course quite a patron
and connoisseur of the arts

I know it’s about time I visited the Alhambra
gnaws ostentatiously at the bone
The car skidded
and flipped over
both batons lay
in fragments in the middle of the road
he had always carried two batons with him

A bad omen

His wife
a Pschorr
like Richard Strauss’s wife
sustained a concussion during the accident
He had a go at using
two batons at once you know
All joking aside
the man had to be in a cast for two-and-a-half years
gnaws ostentatiously at the bone
It naturally ate up his entire fortune
he himself was from a rich family
Wiener Cottage
He was left in the end with just the little timber mill
on the Wallersee
which of course all of you are familiar with
even as children we always called it
the art mill
because in that timber mill
artists had always made art
to Toscanini, after draining his glass
In that art mill my dear Maestro
I made your acquaintance
George Szell was there too
Do you remember
You gave a demonstration to
gnaws ostentatiously at the bone and throws it on to his plate
our prophet of doom
when he was conducting Macbeth
I had planned on bringing back to our friend
a little morsel from Der Rosenkavalier
a cloudy thundery afternoon
Szell’s Rolls Royce was parked in front of the mill in the swamp
eats a large piece of pheasant
The curtains had been pulled back
I couldn’t believe my eyes
the great Toscanini was demonstrating the tempi
for Macbeth to our friend
I saw it through that little lattice mill-window

Those are so cute in the country

As you can well imagine
I was dumbstruck
Toscanini in the mill
You were showing him the tempi for Macbeth
I immediately realized
that they were for Macbeth
Several times you stamped your foot on the floor of the mill
because our friend hadn’t understood you
Of course he went on to conduct Macbeth at the opera
he tried to copy
what you had demonstrated to him
but he kept getting it wrong
one time he would be too fast
another time he’d be too slow
You literally stamped your foot several times on the floor of the mill
gnaws ostentatiously at a bone
The whole mill shook
as the great Toscanini stamped his foot
But he understood nothing
I observed every single detail through the mill-window
Eventually you gave up
You threw down the baton
it was evidently our friend’s baton
on the fireside seat
and sat down on the fireside seat
and furiously pulled at your hair
At first I was wary
of stepping into this scene
but I screwed up my courage and stepped in

Into that enchanting little mill

Meeting Toscanini
a colossal event

A pinnacle

An absolute pinnacle
without a doubt
And there’s something else I remember
how Szell the great George Szell
to Toscanini
while you were demonstrating the tempi for Macbeth to our friend
was standing in the background
by the tiled stove in the corner
completely motionless in the background
licks his fingers
Toscanini and Szell
and our friend
and me
Szell wasn’t moving a muscle
Then I walked in
and something remarkable happened
point-blank to Toscanini
You took no notice of me whatsoever
my highly honored maestro
you took a look out the window
you were completely exhausted
with your hair all unkempt from pulling
looks at the others as a group and laughs and gnaws at the bone again
And then you took your leave
but you didn’t deign to address a single word to me
That was the beginning of our friendship
my dear maestro
to Richard Mayr
That evening I gave Richard Mayr
an account of my experience
He was then singing Ochs for the last time
point-blank to Richard Mayr
Your last summer
point-blank to Toscanini
You certainly took great pains over our friend
but he never became
a conductor of any originality
Undoubtedly Szell
had profited from your instruction in Macbeth
gnaws at the bone

Genius must take care
not to nurture mediocrity

You’re right about that
you’re completely right about that
The publisher laughs
The bass gnaws at his bone
After his spinal injury
he could no longer conduct while standing up
only while sitting down

Poor fellow

But on this occasion there was no chair
nor even a stool

He would have had to see to such things himself

Naturally himself

one must always see to one’s own affairs oneself
And especially in South America
He tried to raise his baton
and sit down
in other words he did raise his baton
and sit down
and fall head over heels into the orchestra pit
head over heels

DIRECTOR loudly laughing  
Head over heels

Head over heels

TENOR laughing
Head over heels

ALL laughing and shouting in exact unison
Head over heels

BASS interrupting the laughter
His first appearance in three years
two-and-a-half of them in a cast
a job secured by Knappertsbusch
The director laughs
The publisher laughs
The pianist laughs
All laugh
The bass, interrupting the laughter at a bellowing volume
So I’ve just sung Ochs for the two-hundredth time
and we’re all commemorating this milestone
and who should be missing
but her

A typical child of our time
highly talented

But completely undisciplined

But what a Fiordiligi
She is my discovery
I heard her when she was still just a girl
in the basilica at Mariazell
Starfish I salute thee
She sang one of the most beautiful Marienlieder I have ever heard
I was virtually electrified
I sent her at my own expense first
to our honored Hilde Güden
You know the rest of the story
an incredible career

But an endangered one
you’ve got to admit that
gnaws at his bone

To be sure
The bass drains his glass and has it refilled

PUBLISHER to Samuel Fischer
My dear colleague Samuel Fischer
is an uncle of hers

Notice how the most important artists
are all related to each other
the most celebrated ones
to all the other most celebrated ones

Moreover our honored no-show
is also a relative of Thomas Mann’s
and the latter as I have just found out
is related to James Joyce

PIANIST exclaiming
To James Joyce
to Joyce
You don’t say

ACTRESS almost hysterically 
Literally to Joyce

Literally to Joyce
Joyce and Mann are relatives
And Joyce I have discovered
is related to Rilke

Then of course Mann is also
related to Rilke
if Joyce is related to Mann
and Rilke to Joyce

That’s a sensation

A sensation



So many people are related to Rilke
that it can’t even be said
to how many people Rilke is related
In any case your lady friend
will appear in our new biography of Rilke
which I am planning for the autumn
and in our new biography of Joyce also
and also in the new biography of Wittgenstein
that I am planning
I myself am writing a book
about the most celebrated artists
of my own time

even when they are scholars
are specialists in exaggeration
raises his glass and looks at the clock and has
his glass filled
There are artists
mainly musicians
or stage performers
who are all basically composers
who plunge from one misfortune into the next
like our dear colleague

Take Patzak
you remember Patzak
an absolute darling of the public
a voice

Like a crowing cock’s

What is the criterion of celebrity

Clearly an abrasively hideous voice

But Patzak’s voice exerted
a fascination
that is unrivalled

Patzak and Ferrier
an absolute pinnacle

Naturally under Walter

People with deformities always
exert a fascination

Absolute beauty does not fascinate

Deformity always
exerts a fascination
In every kind of art
be it painting
be it literature
indeed even in music
deformity fascinates us

Patzak with his deformity
a genuinely hideous abrasive crowing cock’s voice on the one hand
at the same time the most highly trained most perfect most fascinating voice on the other

That hideous crowing cock’s voice
and that deformed hand
they sent shivers down your spine

To perform Fidelio with Patzak
that was a real delight
and with Flagstad
Patzak had the most extraordinary voice
that I had ever heard
but not the most beautiful
not the most beautiful

The most precise

The most precise

Patzak was the most precise singer of them all
The most precise singer with the most precise voice
and with the most precise musical ear

The most precise without a doubt

His deformed comportment
The bass beckons the first servant over and has
his glass filled
summoned forth by his deformed hand
made Patzak capable of the most extraordinary artistry
The bass looks at the clock

It is always deformity
that gives the impetus
to fascination

is a deformity
The bass gnaws at a bone
and specifically Patzak’s deformity
is the subject of a twenty-page chapter
in the book by Adorno
that I am bringing out this autumn
a history of music to end all histories of music
Adorno analyzes Patzak’s deformity
and Patzak’s intellectual obtuseness
and arrives at the most startling conclusions
The deformity
of Patzak’s hand
is indispensable to his artistry
Patzak would have been nothing
without his deformed hand
No great man is without his deformity
be it visible or invisible
All great men are deformed
all greatness is deformed

The art of the deformed is the highest kind of art
the most exceptional kind

CONDUCTOR loudly interjects
The deformed enjoy an intimate relationship with harmony

What an exceptionally intimate relationship
with nature they enjoy

And hence what a colossally intimate relationship with art and
understanding of art

The great the important the celebrated
have always been deformed

Adorno has proved this to be a fact
The bass throws his bone on to his plate
The deformity in question
can as Adorno has proved
be a physical deformity
but also an intellectual deformity
Goethe Schiller Heine Schopenhauer Kant
all of them deformed thoroughly deformed
even genius of the political kind is deformed
Genius is always deformed
The bass has his glass filled  
Just think of Shakespeare
of Dostoyevsky
of Flaubert Proust etcetera


Beethoven obviously
Mozart Bach Handel Wagner

Not to mention all the great performers
think of Paderewski Paganini Chopin
Furtwängler Casals Cortot

Nikisch Walter

The greatest conductors are always deformed
Intellectually deformed or physically deformed

Furtwängler is a classic example
all his interpretations flow from his deformity

This much is clear
only to the deformed does true genius divulge itself

One might as well say that artists
the greatest artists are included in such and such a group
as that the most heavily deformed are included in it
When we peruse the musical score composed by genius
we are simply following the unique score composed by deformity

Bach one thereby concludes
was deformed

Leonardo was

Even if these deformities are not immediately perceived
they’re still there
The extraordinary individual is always deformed
Everything that comes over him
is a deformity

That is no thesis
it’s a fact
The exclusive causes of creativity
a physical deformity or an intellectual deformity

When will we be able to read Adorno’s book anyway

I’ll be adding it to our catalogue this autumn
A magnum opus
it’s the magnum opus of the second half of the present century

BASS summons the first servant by clapping, shouts
when Madame the distinguished vocalist arrives
possibly via the garden
lead her here straight away
straight away
The servant fills the bass’s glass
She is sawing at the branch
on which she sings
she is sawing at the branch
on which she sings

She is admirable

Gundi has surely
thought up something
for this little party
thought up something surely
But it was her idea
to invite you all here today
to a party in honor of my two-hundredth Ochs
Two hundred Ochses
But it’s a wonderful role

It’s Faust à la Hofmannsthal
Hofmannsthal’s Faust

In America Ochs is extremely popular
She’s dreamed up something
something refined
something exceptional surely
something unusual by she I mean Gundi
Hopefully she’s not drunk again
She does tend to get drunk
after her last exit of the evening
after the opera is finished
A person of great refinement

And no less charming than refined

A little cat
You don’t know her completely
not completely ladies and gentlemen
She is a cat I tell you a cat
She has surely
gnaws ostentatiously at a bone
dreamed up something refined
Our prophet of doom sought her favors
but she spurned him
spurned him
spurned him
spurned that highly musical prophet of doom
He who broke his backbone in Barcelona

The really remarkable thing about this career of hers is
that it has occasioned one misfortune after another
with each new misfortune being greater than the last one

One could be forgiven for supposing
that the man in each of these affairs
was engaged for the sole purpose of plunging into a new misfortune
But these misfortunate souls are the very people
who never give up

Never a truer word was spoken

BASS drinks
I once knew this woman a colleague
who kept breaking her fingers
Guess what she was
a pianist naturally
The actress laughs
Just stop playing Bach all the time
She had this thing for the Art of the Fugue
I had always said to her
but she was the most mulish person I had ever known
You’re just going to keep breaking your fingers over and over again
And she kept breaking her fingers over and over again

Many an artist walks with eyes wide open right up
to the abyss
and plunges into it

These people attract misfortune
From all quarters these people are warned
but they always fumble their way into the abyss

For his widow it was a catastrophe
He had wanted
to be buried at Henndorf am Wallersee
which isn’t exactly just around the corner from Buenos Aires
But it in the end he was actually buried
in snuggest proximity to his little timber mill

All of us made it possible

All of us

ALL in only approximate unison
All of us

I gave the eulogy
It isn’t easy
to find the appropriate words


Second Prologue
The Artists Ditch Their Mentors

As before

BASS exclaims
There are no chance events
has his glass filled by the first servant

In a mathematical world that has been completely figured out
and that is also thoroughly coextensive with nature
there cannot be any unique chance events

A world in which we are nonetheless constantly
being taken unawares by chance events
taken unawares and it goes without saying
taken out

The creative individual
who all his life is obliged to live in his own imagination
But the truth is something different
The widow knows
what she did
when she sent her husband across the Atlantic
to Elly Ney
But you understood our colleagues much better
than I do
dear Elly Ney

What is she up to now anyway
the widow that is
Didn’t she use to dabble at the harp

At the harp
at the harp
She even once played
in the great hall of the Musikverein
when her husband was conducting

There is nothing more horrible
more repulsive
than these artistic couples

BASS gnaws at a bone
Never a truer word was spoken

One half of each such couple
annihilates the other
They’re marriages
of feeblemindedness and addlebrainedness

A rash of shipwrecked artistic couples
A rash of great men made into laughingstocks by their wives

Take any two talents in a couple
no matter how great they are
they annihilate each other
first one of them annihilates the other
and then vice-versa
Either the wife acquiesces
or she is annihilated
Or the husband acquiesces
or he is annihilated
in every case both spouses are annihilated
Both of them always achieve
what they had in mind from the beginning
the annihilation of their spouse
the corruption the defamation of art

The self-annihilation of artistic couples
is a total self-annihilation

BASS exclamatorily
Never a truer word was spoken

The artist has to stand alone
against the whole world
to be a solitary figure
standing against everyone and everything

He must unflaggingly expose himself to insults

And yet no one feels the sting of an insult more keenly than an artist

Never a truer word was spoken

Artists are society’s true victims

And artistic couples
the most ridiculous of them

The artistic couple
is a grave of talent

The death of genius

Chaliapin constantly had to cancel concerts on account of his wife’s numerous intestinal stoppages

I had a colleague
that married one of his colleagues
we were together at the academy
These small towns annihilate young people
they drive them first to despair
and then into a marriage
and annihilate them
The man who conducted La Cenerentola
at the age of twenty-two
a sensation
He got married
and from that point on he only went downhill
Usually an illness
a terminal illness
as a consequence of the insane act of matrimony
all of them the most unfortunate relationships
but never acknowledged to be such
In Bad Segeberg
between Hamburg and Kiel
I ran into my colleague for the first time in years
he was looking for an Evangelist for the Passion
in those days there was literally only a single Evangelist in all of Europe
Helmut Krebs
starts to laugh, then checks himself
Just imagine
said my colleague in a perfectly cheerful tone
I’ve been trying to hire Krebs
and the doctor tells me I’ve already got him [i.e., Krebs meaning “cancer.” (DR)]
All laugh
already got him
already got him
All continue laughing

The doctor tells your colleague

Your colleague says

I’ve already got him
looks at the clock
Still no sign
of our golden child

CONDUCTOR to Toscanini
Always run late on the spur of the moment
on the very spur of the moment run late don’t you know
on the very tip of the spur of the moment don’t you know Toscanini

Seriousness must be merry
pain must shimmer with seriousness don’t you know
Has music not got a whiff
of combinatorial analysis about it
and vice-versa
Figured harmonies
Figured acoustics
belong to combinatorial analysis

I have yet to meet a human being
more ambitious than Gundi

She is without a doubt the most headstrong

Gundi is headstrong

And the most gifted
She gets
what she wants
She has a crystal-clear conception of
what she wants

BASS to Lotte Lehmann
She’s always saying
that you the honored Lotte Lehmann
are her mentor
At least once a day
she listens to a record
with your voice on it
Her regard for you
is immeasurable

What Shakespeare certainly
Heinrich von Kleist
are for writers
the greatest most creative performer
is for performers
the greatest living performer

The greatest living performer

For Gundi Lotte Lehmann was
and is
the greatest
point-black to Lotte Lehmann
Even in her sleep
while dreaming
she speaks of you in terms of the utmost reverence

Whereas in the case of the ordinary man
his cognitive faculty
is the lantern
that lights his path quoth Schopenhauer
in the case of the genius it is the sun
that makes the world evident to him

Surely she’s
thought up something refined
for today

in a world full of disharmony

BASS to the servants
More food
more drink
The servants serve everybody more food and drink

She’s the most beautiful
as well as the most skillful

are the mathematical vowels
are numerators
to all
Combinatorial analysis
leads to fantasizing about numbers
and teaches the numerical art of composition
the mathematical thoroughbass
Language is a mathematical instrument of ideas
The poet
rhetorician and philosopher
play and compose grammatically

In ten years
I have acquired everything
that you see here
thanks to my talent
and to my staying power
and to my refusal to compromise
to the servants
Serve the ladies and gentlemen
The servants serve
To my talent
to my energy
to Richard Mayr
on a bass
especially when he is a basso profundo
the most exacting demands are made
I have achieved everything
I have sung all the great roles
in all the great opera houses
Ochs under Kleiber
with Schwarzkopf as the Marschallin
looks at the clock
Gundi is something else
she’s standing me up

A person of great intensity
in the extreme
in her supremely extreme concentration

A couple of glasses of wine
because the opera is finished


You must
cut her some slack my lord
allow her to let herself go for a bit, let off a little steam, let her hair down

especially the most intense ones
need to be alone from time to time

It’s quite possible that right now she is writing her letter
to her mother

Gundi always has some excuse
But today
when I’ve so been looking forward to this little party
It’s not every day
that a man sings his two-hundredth Ochs

The best Ochs
the best Ochs ever

You’re making me blush
looks at the clock

Probably she’s taking her obligatory long cut

The obligatory long cut

She has thought up
something special for today my lord

Thought it up
thought it up

taps his glass with a knife and
stands up and raises his glass to the bass
And so once again my lord
my dear friend
to your two-hundredth Ochs
Two hundred Ochses
All raise their glasses
Long may your Ochs live

All only vaguely in unison
All drain their glasses

You are not only the most celebrated Ochs
You are also the greatest one

The greatest

Without question

You’re making me blush

No more words
It isn’t easy
to find the appropriate words
point-blank to the bass
The world of opera
can consider itself lucky
to have you

You’re making me blush
to Lotte Lehmann and Richard Mayr
but in any case the absolute pinnacle
was undoubtedly you two
Lotte Lehmann and Richard Mayr
A combination that has never been repeated
But I can say
that I have managed quite successfully
to cultivate my own modest talents
to Mayr
To sing under the tutelage of such a mighty mentor as you
the supremely honored Richard Mayr
I too of course hail from a family of brewers
My grandfather used to drive a four-in-hand carriage
to the opera at Munich
a four-in-hand carriage
He was a Wagnerian naturally
and a cousin of Richard Strauss’s wife
also a Pschorr
an opera buff  
a Wagnerian naturally
Not a fortnight passed
in which he didn’t
drive his four-in-hand carriage four-in-hand carriage to the opera
At first we children had no great liking for opera
but I would have been no true grandson of my grandfather
nor a true scion of a family of brewers
if I had not eventually
come down with a passion for opera
come down with it
in the truest sense of the idiom
at the same moment naturally
in which I discovered my voice
during a Sunday outing at Lake Starnberg
at Lake Starnberg
that’s right
My grandfather told Strauss about it
And Strauss told my grandfather
to send me to him
and so I went to Strauss
point-blank to Mayr
And Strauss recommended me to you
and you made me into what I am today
I believe I have
achieved something of note

CONDUCTOR and DIRECTOR in perfect unison
You can say that again

I’ve never heard a better Figaro

And your Iago

And his Rocco

Better than Edelmann

I knew Edelmann well
I met Edelmann through Emmanuel List
at Frieda Leider’s house in Berlin
I believe it was in ’fifty-nine
The only really perfect opera since Mozart
is of course Der Rosenkavalier

A musical magnum opus
a magnum opus of music
to the conductor
Am I not right

You can say that again

But one mustn’t be too old
for Ochs
not too young
but not too old either
to Richard Mayr
You were thirty-five then
at your pinnacle
when you sang Ochs
at your pinnacle

Talent demands of society
its absolutely undivided attention
just as society demands the absolutely undivided attention
of talent

BASS exclaims with much pathos
But talent isn’t everything

Talent is just one of those things

Knappertsbusch once said
everybody’s got talent
everybody is talented

On the contrary talent
must first be annihilated
so that the artist can emerge
The annihilation of talent in the artist
is a prerequisite for his existence

Talent prevents
talent preempts

Never a truer word was spoken

The first time I sang in front of an audience
at the Festspielhaus
in ’fifty-nine can you believe it
everybody was there
Krauss Szell Klemperer Krips et cetera
It was then that I first heard Lisa Della Casa
and was so impressed by her
She was my Olympia by the way
my Olympia
after the first ten measures I fainted dead away
The Magic Flute
Within these hallowed halls believe it or not
just two measures in dead away
I don’t remember anymore
how I came out of it
The next thing I knew I was looking up at the gridiron
and the stagehands were looking down at me
from quite high up as you know
they had all been looking down at me
and then I fainted dead away
It was of course an absolutely insane idea
my singing in front of those celebrated people
insane and completely half-baked
suddenly I could no longer hear my accompanist
who was sitting thirty meters away at the piano
could no longer hear him could longer hear anything
and I looked up
and the stagehands were looking down at me
It was all over over over over
Outside at the entrance later that day Krips said to me
young man become a butcher
butcher butcher
I can still hear him saying butcher butcher
He totally annihilated me with those words
to tell a young man
to become a butcher
at a moment like that
the sensitive Mozart conductor
And that’s how talent is annihilated ladies and gentlemen

But Krips couldn’t annihilate your talent
not yours my lord

I was knocked to the floor

You are living proof
of how mistaken Krips was

He walked over corpses
to the conductor
Then your unfortunate colleague
God bless his soul
took me aside and invited me
to console myself by coming out to his mill in the country
to his little timber mill

To the mill with the cute little windows

Things weren’t half as bad as they seemed he said
and I went out to the mill with a couple of piano arrangements
and he played Die Winterreise with me
for an entire afternoon
He really was an outstanding accompanist

He could have been one of the best vocal coaches
one of the best ever

Contrary to Mr Krips’s opinion
your colleague said to me
I was an absolutely extraordinary talent
if it were up to him he said
I’d already be working for Fleck
but he said he had absolutely no pull at any of the opera houses
At the time he had just broken a leg
at St Moritz

PUBLISHER exclaims
At St Moritz

And believe it or not
on that day he
the prophet of doom said to me
in front of Nietzsche’s house at Sils Maria
I broke my left leg
in front of Nietzsche’s house

In front of Nietzsche’s house
in front of Nietzsche’s house

He would have hired me straight away
to Richard Mayr point-blank
You’ll laugh at this he said to me
You are the ideal Ochs
to the conductor
And so Krips had failed to drive me out of the opera
and the singing profession
for weeks
I was the most depressed human being imaginable
Every time I hear Krips I think
he very nearly annihilated your life
and believe it or not ladies and gentlemen
two days after Krips died in Geneva
I passed him on the autobahn
all of a sudden I found myself passing a top-of-the-line hearse from Geneva
and in the hearse was Krips
the late Krips
the late Krips
That can hardly be a chance event
certainly was no chance event
no chance event

A world in which we are nonetheless constantly
being taken unawares by chance events
taken unawares and it goes without saying
taken out

Well whether Krips liked it or not
I became a celebrated performer

You can say that again

literally celebrated

A celebrity

BASS laughs
I am a celebrity

But naturally
there are also deformed people
whose artistry is not of the highest order


Who with their deformity
never exceed mediocrity
who with their deformity are unable to get started on anything

Who are unable to capitalize on their deformity
like our friend who to the end of his life
remained a mediocrity
to Toscanini
Even the instruction
that you honored Maestro gave our friend in the little old timber mill
was of no help to him

Mediocrity is the straitjacket
in which mediocrities are confined throughout their lives
just as the genius is confined
in the straitjacket of genius

BASS to Toscanini
And you my most highly honored Maestro Toscanini
all those pinnacles at La Scala
and in America
to say absolutely nothing of your pinnacles here in Salzburg
were for you too of course nothing but the greatest pains imaginable
trains his gaze around the table
Every one of us has his own deformity
Artists maintain an impassible silence on the subject of their deformity
but without deformity there is no art
at least not in the concert hall or the theater

And without deformity there is no literature

BASS to Max Reinhardt
And you my dear Reinhardt
to Helene Thimig
And you my dear Helene Thimig
to Alexander Moissi
And you my dear Moissi
to Lotte Lehmann
And you my most highly honored Lotte Lehmann
All deformed
Everyone has his own deformity
but it is not acknowledged
the artist does not acknowledge his deformity
but he capitalizes on his deformity
I quite neglected to mention our honored Elly Ney
and our honored Richard Mayr
our unforgettable Ochs von Lerchenau
to Samuel Fischer
You could sing a song or two
on my theme

When artists
and it makes no difference whether we’re talking about
so-called creative artists
or so-called interpretative artists
who of course are creative in their own right
are dead
are dead ladies and gentlemen
when they are dead
the thing that all their lives they have kept silent about kept secret
their deformity
comes to light
their mental or physical deformity whichever
The genius is an utterly pathological and deformed human being
and an utterly pathological and deformed character
Ask the doctors
what comes to light
when they cut into the corpse of an artist with
their scalpels

BASS looks at the clock
is standing us all up
she’s standing up
the most celebrated people

She is a star my lord
the youngest absolute star my lord

She promised me
that she would be punctual
Singing Ochs for the two-hundredth time
that’s nothing to sneeze at

You haven’t the faintest inkling of what star sopranos
are like my lord

Probably she’s getting drunk with her manager
after the finish of Cosi

A star
habitually keeps the whole world on tenterhooks
this is something you’ve got to come to terms with my lord

BASS looks at the clock and then says to Elly Ney
But now even though
Gundi isn’t here
may I make a request of our highly honored Elly Ney
It is the desire of everybody present
to hear Elly Ney
raises his glass to Elly Ney
to Elly Ney
to Elly Ney
All drink to Elly Ney
The bass exclaims
A long life
to our Elly Ney
to our greatest female keyboard artist
drains his glass and walks up to Elly Ney and helps her out of her chair and leads her carefully and slowly to the Bösendorfer, and it is quite clear that Elly Ney is a dummy as he says
Our chief mentor
has always been
Elly Ney

PIANIST shrieking hysterically
My chief mentor

As Richard Mayr is my chief mentor

As Richard Tauber is mine

As Max Reinhardt is mine

As Alexander Moissi is my mentor

As Helene Thimig is my mentor

As Samuel Fischer is my mentor

My mentor was always Toscanini

BASS places Elly Ney’s hands on the keyboard and says
naturally Schumann

Schumann naturally

PIANIST with great pathos
An auspicious hour
to think that I am still permitted to experience this
Elly Ney softly plays Schumann’s
Fantasie, op. 17 

It is
as if Schumann himself
were playing using Elly Ney’s hands
The genius of Schumann
channeled by the greatest female keyboard virtuoso of all time

DIRECTOR to Max Reinhardt
A touching scene Mr Reinhardt
isn’t it

If only Hofmannsthal could have seen this
if only Hofmannsthal could have experienced this

ACTRESS to Helene Thimig
Frau Thimig
isn’t this the pinnacle

The pinnacle


PUBLISHER to Lotte Lehmann
It’s just as you describe it in your memoirs
a once-in-a-century publication
a magnum opus

Quite different from Clara Haskill

Schumann has always been
my great love
Offstage, the soprano announces her approach with a series of thumps and loud shrieks

BASS terrified
It’s Gundi
All, while gazing in terror at the doorway of the room, as Elly Ney insensibly continues playing
It’s Gundi

SOPRANO, now standing in the doorway with a half-full champagne bottle in her hand, in a menacing tone
Where is she
show me
notices Lotte Lehmann sitting at the table
Ah there she is
the great Lotte Lehmann
my great mentor Lottle Lehmann
My mentor
Lotte Lehmann
The Marschallin
The Marschallin
There she is
walks up to Lotte Lehmann and hits her over the head with the champagne bottle; the head then crashes on to the table, and the soprano hits it several more times with the champagne bottle
There’s your Marschallin for you
there’s your Marschallin for you
Everyone is deeply terrified, and Elly Ney continues playing calmly and at an even tempo
The soprano while scrutinizing the whole company
What are you waiting for
what are you waiting for
What the hell are you waiting for
The celebrities
Your bugbears
raises her arm in preparation for delivering another blow to Lotte Lehmann’s head and rousingly exclaims
You’ve got to smash them
to smash them
smash them to death
your mentors
smash them into smithereens
hits Lotte Lehmann’s head and screams
like this
like this
The actress picks up from the table a large candlestick and using it smashes Helene Thimig into smithereens without saying a word
Everyone has now suddenly acquired the confidence to smash his mentor into smithereens
Smash them
smash them
Go on smash them
hits Lotte Lehmann’s head
In a flash the director draws a knife and stabs Max Reinhardt in the back
The tenor seizes Richard Tauber by the throat and strangles him
at the same time with a single blow of his fist the conductor smashes Toscanini into smithereens
The publisher draws a pistol and shoots Samuel Fischer in the back of
the neck
The pianist leaps to her feet and succumbs to a fit of screaming and lunges at the still calmly pianizing Elly Ney and grabs her head from behind and pounds the keyboard of the Bösendorfer several times with it, as the

BASS punches Richard Mayr and then says
You dog
The servants, standing against the wall, gaze at the scene
The bass to the first servant, seizing him by the throat with both hands
The conductor to the second servant, seizing him by the throat with both hands
Death to the witnesses
to the witnesses
Death to them
The bass and the conductor throttle the servants until
they collapse
The publisher has leapt to his feet and made for the now-shut door, and having reached it, he turns around and briefly gazes at the scene; then he takes a few steps back into the room and up to Samuel Fischer, whose head is lying on the table, and once again shoots him in the back of the neck


Scene I
The Perfidy of the Artists

A lounge fronted by a broad, roofless terrace
The walls are hung with painted portraits of the mentors
Each of the actors is sitting in an armchair beneath the portrait
of his mentor
Enter the first and second servants

It’s going to rain my lord

BASS with a pair of binoculars hung around his neck
Nonsense rain

To storm

the weather couldn’t be nicer out there
looks outside through the binoculars
Clear skies
Wind speed zero
Not a leaf is stirring
in all creation
not a leaf

It’s actually already starting to come down now my lord

to the others
Perennial killjoys
First thing in the morning
these people are cawing away about the end of the world
gets up and walks out on to the terrace and holds his
index finger in the air
shouts back at the others
absolutely nothing
The performance will take place
I have rarely been wrong
If anyone is ever wrong
it’s the meteorologists
If the meteorologists say
it’s going to rain
you can be sure that it’ll be sunny
You have to be mad
to listen to the meteorologists
to the servants
Why don’t you bring my guests
something to drink
they’re all just sitting there drinkless
A lovely day like this
and nothing to drink
could any two things go worse together
claps his hands and takes a deep breath
Summer air
just on the verge of being autumn air
It’s summer air
that’s just on the verge of being autumn air

We’re all rather exhausted
Six concerts in four days

And Gundi most of all
walks up to Gundi and kisses her forehead
My poor child
But now
there’s nothing like getting away
a change of scenery

I’ve gotten used to being busy
The day after tomorrow it will all be over

There’s still today’s performance
then it will all be over
On a day as splendid as this one
the performance naturally will take place
I hate these outdoor operas

Palm-trees cypress-trees peasants jackasses
nothing else
and before one’s windows the endless expanse of the ocean

It will do you good Gundi
sits down
When I close my eyes
I fancy
I’m already there
Sea air
No opera
no general manager of the opera
no supernumeraries
no audience
to the conductor
and are you off to St Moritz again

Not this year
I have to undergo a back operation

Your old complaint right

Once the doctors get hold of you
A specialist from Zurich
A back specialist

In Zurich back specialists are quite at home

And kidney specialists

Kidney specialists
and back specialists

Then I’ll be recording some records
Rheingold in Berlin
interspersed with Cosi in Paris
and with Un ballo in Chicago

If it gives out

Which it will do of course
the whole thing has pretty much packed up

SOPRANO to the conductor
But are you feeling any pain at the moment

I am never pain-free at any time
The doctor says
I’m crazy to keep conducting

I’ve never seen the mountains
as clearly as I can now
points outside
the Untersberg
every cleft is visible
You’d think you could
literally count the trees
peers through the binoculars
With my binoculars I can very easily
watch the chamois
for hours on end
so I sit here in my wing-chair
an heirloom from my maternal grandmother
and watch the chamois
throw in a piping hot cup of tea
and I forget everything else
No other activity
revivifies me more fully
than watching the chamois
To be able to live in this spot
is a godsend
But naturally such a beautiful location spoils
one’s intellect
And genius is mutilated in such a landscape
lowers the binoculars

PUBLISHER with closed eyes
Body Soul Mind
are the elements of the world
as Epos Lyra and Drama are the elements of poetry 

Quoth Schopenhauer
if I’m not mistaken

Quoth Novalis

Naturally Novalis
rises and walks out on to the terrace and peers out through the binoculars and lowers the binoculars again
With a little effort
it is quite possible
to see the chamois with the naked eye
There some peasants are walking
I can see some peasants at the foot of the mountain
They’ve got rucksacks
walking-sticks and rucksacks
I see two laborers from the marble-quarry
with their work-tools
A chamois
Extends his arm and points into the distance
All gaze out
the chamois
now it’s gone
peers through the binoculars again
Enter the first and second servants with bottled spirits, which they immediately serve
It really is a wonderful feeling
to drink milk from the cows opposite my house
every morning
from completely unspoiled cows
to drink completely unspoiled milk
and on top of that to eat cheese and bread from the peasants opposite me
takes a deep breath
I enjoy this situation
The lobes of my lungs need this air
the lung-lobes of a bass
which without this air will go to the dogs
takes a deep breath
It’s as if with every breath I were inhaling
nature in its entirety
raises his index finger into the air
Wind speed zero and holding
steps into the lounge
to the soprano
I am certain
the performance will take place
To bank on there being a storm today
is to place a losing bet
I hate nothing more
than these outdoor operas

They’ve become all the rage everywhere

Not to mention
that outdoor music of any sort is
of dubious value
it’s invariably substandard
the wind crumples the music in the air

Time and again the pathological will
to attempt to be original
Pretty soon there won’t be a backyard in this town
that hasn’t hosted an opera production

Outdoors it isn’t even a work of art

It’s now considered normal
to use every nook and cranny of the city as a stage
The first and second servants serve sandwiches

BASS to the first servant
Well what have we here
after taking a bite from a sandwich
The best sandwiches
in existence
made personally by the countess
made fresh daily by the countess

CONDUCTOR after taking a bite from a sandwich

A tradition
the afternoon salmon sandwich
the salmon sandwich in the afternoon
That was my last Ochs yesterday evening
Emmanuel List sang him five hundred times
At the Metropolitan alone I have sung Ochs
a hundred-thirty times
with the most celebrated partners
Reining Schwarzkopf etcetera

Bing said
you were the best Ochs
that he had ever heard at the Met
And Bing is unquestionably
the best general manager of an opera company there has ever been
to the publisher
Bing’s memoirs are a standard text
The publisher shrugs his shoulders
The conductor to the bass
When one is oneself a baron
a proper baron like you
and sings Ochs
that’s authenticity

A proper baron
who moreover happens to be literally and certifiably
related to the real Ochs von Lerchenau
the actual historical figure

There is indeed a thoroughly uncanny
between you my lord
and the historical figure

People do of course say
that I am related to the actual Ochs von Lerchenau
but nothing’s been proved
people say it
the historians are not of one mind on the question
Von Lerchenau did indeed hail from a family of brewers
like me
von Lerchenau is no invention of Hofmannsthal’s
his actual historical existence has been proved beyond a doubt

CONDUCTOR to the bass
How ever did you find this magnificent summer residence
When did you settle here

In ’sixty-nine
It was a bonus
added to my fee
for my thirty-eighth Ochs at the Met
A windfall
But don’t forget
the whole thing when I bought it was
a ruin
a ruin
By Seppi’s own report I know
that for a single evening he once got
twenty-thousand dollars
in Salzburg
The management paid him in cash
as he wished
He could totally relax when he sang
But that was of course a one-time thing

The artist of modest needs
is a mythical creature
A great artist is demanding
and he cannot be demanding enough
because his art is absolutely priceless
There is no sum too high
to be paid to a significant artist
let alone to the greatest artists
to the most significant the most extraordinary
the most celebrated ones
The State whines and moans
but what is the State without high art
excrement quite simply nothing but excrement

PUBLISHER quoting musingly
In the State everything is dramaturgy
in the people everything is drama
The life of the people is a drama

One has only to bring a publisher into the house
and the world instantly turns into a world of the mind

The State exists
but it lives only through its artists

Never a more beautiful word was spoken

But our moronic politicians
and our querulous journalists
cannot comprehend this
or they do not wish to comprehend it

Our moronic politicians comprehend nothing

The politicians who are in charge of our State
are quite literally the gravediggers of the State
Our members of parliament are killing our State
that is the truth
Every four years the people vote
their gravediggers into parliament
they vote well-behaved morons qua gravediggers into parliament
The top earners in the gravedigging trade
are sitting in parliament

Politicians are by their nature
opposed to artists
A lifelong enmity from within
you should know
Artists see through politicians
and see through nothing but morons
puffed-up morons

But power is possessed by politicians

Politicians possess the power
to ruin the State
Every single one of these creatures becomes a politician
in order to ruin the State
Parliament is a den of thieves
a den of thieves
The entrance of a politician on to the scene
is the entrance of a full-fledged proper plunderer of the State
What artists and scholars have built up
is ruined by politicians
Every day artists create the world anew
and politicians ruin it

Never a truer word was spoken

Only an artist
can divine the meaning of life

BASS to the publisher
Novalis I presume

Naturally Novalis
who else

BASS peering through his binoculars
These tranquil soundless afternoons
in which absolutely nothing is stirring
are made for meditation
stretches out his legs
To stretch out one’s legs
stretch them all the way out
lowers the binoculars and closes his eyes
and recapitulate one’s life
or one’s existence
an utterly mathematical procedure
And to make art
with one’s eyes closed
to make music for oneself
to let the whole spectrum of instruments
play and sing

DIRECTOR with closed eyes
Closing one’s eyes often effects
a complete penetration of the world
of all matter

PUBLISHER with closed eyes
To have the courage
to penetrate everything
the entire drama

From my grandfather
whom I loved as I did no other human being
and who has remained the most important human being in my life
I acquired the ability
to remove myself from the world
from time to time
I am quite simply gone

If he had never had his grandfather
what a natural human being our friend would be

my entire nature
I got from him

In our house at the seaside
he talks even during the night
about his grandfather

He simply hails
from an utterly creative family

Families in the brewing business are exceedingly creative
Just think of the Strauss family
or of Richard Mayr
We owe virtually the entire history of music
to brewers

BASS rises and walks on to the terrace
Last year they nearly built
me a skyscraper
They wanted to extend the sprawl of the city
all the way here to my front doorstep
At the last minute I
managed to prevent the catastrophe
There were already surveyors on the site
turns around
A skyscraper can you believe it
forty-two stories high
between my summer residence and the Untersberg
Even now I often wake up at night
from this nightmare
I had just arrived at the Met
for my first Iago with Mirella Freni
when my caretaker wrote to me
that a skyscraper was set to be built right in front of my windows
Detained in New York for six weeks
and incessantly
even during my entrances the image haunted my mind
a forty-two story skyscraper looming in front of my windows
upon my return
I managed to prevent the whole thing
gesturing towards outside
I managed to bribe the mayor
and the city council
I also set in motion the chancellor of the republic
and even the president of the republic
I blackmailed the management of the festival
I made it clear that if the skyscraper were built
I would never sing another note
The skyscraper was not built
It was then that I saw quite distinctly
how powerful an artist can be

What would the festival be without you my lord

It would be capable of nothing but mediocrity

BASS suddenly, peering through the binoculars
There there
points into the distance
All gaze outside, rise, and walk on to the terrace
The bass pointing into the distance
The eagle
over there the eagle
the eagle is circling
look there
the eagle
All look at the eagle

An actual eagle

That sure is one colossal bird

ACTOR and TENOR in perfect unison
The king of the skies

A real live eagle

To think that eagles still exist

For the first time I’m seeing
an eagle
until today I’d known them
only from books of natural history
All look aloft at the eagle

When the wind speed is zero
the eagle circles
before the Untersberg
raises his index finger into the air
Wind speed zero
absolute zero

How distinctly one can see everything

Every tree

Everything is distinct


I had to do a fair bit of shopping around
to find this place
at first I was planning
to build my own house
but then
on account of my various commitments
I decided
to buy an old building
Then I found this castle
It belonged to the prince-archbishop
in the eighteenth century
an incredibly noble pedigree
It’s still a protected historical site
surveys his surroundings
And with all these works of art here
these precious objects you now behold
it cost me only an average half-year’s income
But those days are long since over

He who now has no house

Our publisher
our quoter

Is that the only eagle
that there is here

The only one
he always traces the same circles

Always the same circles
just as the great artist
always traces the same circles

The true artist
is at all times a creator of an art that is always the same
Just think of Mozart

Two measures and you know it’s Mozart
Or Beethoven
he is always the same
with only minor modifications

Intimate modifications
You will observe this phenomenon
in all significant artists
they all produce nothing but a single work
that they always modify intimately incessantly imperceptibly

It is precisely in this that their greatness consists
Only a second-rate artist incessantly makes 
obvious modifications
and hops in one direction one minute and in the other direction the next
A genius is always obdurately the same
Outwardly imperturbable
inwardly and outwardly obdurate

When I bought this castle
I was unaware of the eagle’s existence
of the fact that an eagle dwelt here
It was clear to me from the beginning
that I would have to have a house in the country
this was long before it became fashionable
to live in the country
In any case I have always lived in the country
as much as I possibly could
Even lung-lobes as robust as mine
decay in the big city
A bass alternates between inhaling fresh air in the country
and exhaling his voice in the great opera houses of the world

What a panorama
As if it were already history

Emmanuel List once said to me
stay in the country half the year
and the other half sing in the big city
to rake in the dough
But let’s sit down again shall we
All reenter the lounge and resume their seats
This place is at its loveliest
after the end of the festival
when all the hoopla has died down
When I am alone with my servants
here I can really bone up on my roles without being disturbed
and pace up and down here in the salon and on the terrace
The most difficult roles are as easy as can be in these environs
points at the portraits of the mentors
Here among all these mentors on the wall
points at the portrait of Richard Mayr
The most significant Ochs
and the most significant bass of his time
points at Lotte Lehmann
the greatest Marschallin of all time
A native of Berlin a German
like all the darlings of Viennese opera

Even the great Burgtheater actors
were Germans

Even our honored love and youngest of all distinguished female vocalists
is German
albeit not from Berlin
but rather from Küstrin
to the pianist
And of course our enchanting lady piano virtuoso
is also German
from Mecklenburg
looks out at the terrace
I’ve been offered
thirteen million
an American millionaire
wanted to buy the whole thing sight unseen
But this house is not for sale
While the eagle circles overhead
I pace back and forth in the marble-quarry
and bone up on my roles
or I stroll down to the Salzach

This town quite simply possesses
a magical attractive force


It’s the atmosphere

I really wanted
to be an actor  
and of course I actually did start out as an actor
at the theater in Josefstadt
but then

Then you were quite simply too intelligent
to be capable of developing as an actor
An actor must be intelligent
but he mustn’t be too intelligent
Should he
out of the blue become what he cannot under the circumstances prevent himself    from becoming
namely a scholar
he will cease to be a sufficiently good actor
A good actor is a lifelong nature-talent
if he loses his natural talent
his nature-talent
he is lost as an actor
Next you’ll try your hand at directing like me
When an actor has lost his innocence
he tries his hand at directing
The greatest actors even at an advanced old age
have yet to lose their innocence

Actors look down upon opera singers
and vice-versa
at the same time the two professions marvel at each other

To enter a poetic text quite impartially
as one would an unknown forest
to enter such a mysterious manifestation of nature
on the hunt for a patch of clear ground

That is quite a subtle characterization
He who renounces nature
also withdraws from art
the highly artistic individual is a wholly natural individual
Genius cannot explain what it itself is
We hear and feel at the same time
and from the one more than from the other

When I was very young I wanted to become an actor
but my father the doctor
wouldn’t allow it
He never even got over the fact
that I had chosen music as my vocation
Music my father always used to say
is hardly a proper calling
it’s a hobby
a hobby

Being a celebrity
that’s what it’s about

All of us sitting here
are celebrities
we may even be the most celebrated celebrities
we are the most celebrated celebrities

PUBLISHER             quoting
Everything is sorcery
or nothing is
The reasonableness of sorcery

Every single one of us
has reached the top

Telephone my lord

BASS rises
Excuse me

SOPRANO with closed eyes
Entre nous
a piece of news
that I heard earlier today
he has been appointed to a professorship
appointed to a professorship by the president of the republic
He’s not allowed to know it
not today not yet
He’ll get too excited
this will be the biggest surprise he’s ever had
after a pause
He’s got everything
but he’s still not a professor

An honorary professor

Since when have you known this


Since yesterday

DIRECTOR to the conductor
Hasn’t it already been three years
since you became a professor

And I’ve also learned
that the mayor is going to appoint him
our honorary mayor

Honorary mayor of this city
that owes so many pinnacles to him

But please
let’s keep this all strictly sub rosa
looks at the portrait of Lotte Lehmann
Lotte Lehmann once maintained to me
that her greatest source of pride
was the fact that at the tender age of fifty
she had been appointed a professor
an honorary professor

Oh come now
every middle-class nobody
in this country is a professor

An honorary professor

SOPRANO raising her finger to her lips

BASS returns
It was only the roofer
sits down and stretches out his legs
after a pause
People reproach me
tell me this place is an excessive luxury
But for a world-renowned bass
Just think of Reinhardt
who bought the Leopoldskron Palace
Sitting out there on the terrace
drinking milk eating bread
to the publisher
I am a trusty consumer of your products
I have read almost all of your publications
Joyce Heinrich Mann etcetera
I know a thing or two about world literature let me tell you

That’s most unusual
For a singer
and what’s more a bass
to be an aficionado of literature

Just think of Proust
He’s a must-read author
I have read all of Proust
to the soprano
Gundi keeps me supplied with the heavyweight stuff

Think of Walter of Nikisch
who read widely in all subjects
highly educated people
Schuricht for example

They say a lack of education
is a prerequisite for being a singer

But the exception proves the rule

Everybody cooks with water
It grows dark
To say nothing whatsoever of the general managers of the theater companies
the most educated of which are undoubtedly those of the opera companies
General managers dread nothing more
than getting involved in a conversation about literature
and dramaturges are by and large idiots

It is statistically proven
that general managers of theater companies
read only three or four books a year
one book per quarter
this is statistically proven

And the first two of these three books
are the railway timetable and the land register
From time to time I send the servants away
then I am alone with Gundi
we read a book apiece
and make plans
In the evening the smell of the swamp down below on the terrace
It begins to drizzle
and letting a good aphorism
melt on one’s tongue
to the publisher point-blank
be it an aphorism from Novalis
or from Schopenhauer
German philosophy is an inexhaustible treasury for a thinking human being
And Gundi cooks
You simply can’t imagine
what it’s like
to jump off the plane from New York
straight into a pair of lederhosen
a little hike a spot of work in the garden
It’s contrast
that keeps me alive contrast

Contrast is everything

Contrast is everything

BASS to the pianist
Now and then a visit to our lady pianist’s house
I knock at her window
a spot of Schumann a spot of Romanticism don’t you know
The whole world is here essentially in its entirety
a splendidly beautiful and ingratiating pageant of nature
looks out at the terrace
It’s getting overcast

I am bringing out this autumn
a book by an American professor
who is actually from Vienna
A phenomenal piece of writing
The whole time I’ve been here I’ve been thinking
which of us is which character type
described by Sontheimer
that’s the scholar’s name
A magnum opus
Everything is laid out extremely convincingly in this book
which I am going to bring out in a first edition of eighty-thousand copies
Nowadays people read scientific books of this type
The bass raises his binoculars and remains motionlessly gazing out through them until the end of the scene
This work
which must be described as a magnum opus
marks the resumption of the series entitled Sex and Character
What’s more it was from Weininger
that I got the idea of quite simply entitling the series Sex and Character
Weininger like all great students of human character was Viennese
Freud Weininger you know the lot I’m talking about
to the bass
When our host stepped out on to the terrace a little while ago
to point out the eagle to us
I thought one of us must be an eagle
or at any rate a cock
a cock do you hear me
a cock or an eagle
and an array of other animals
for each of us can be described as a particular kind of animal
So I sat there the whole time and thought
which of us essentially is which animal 
There has never been a more informative book
than this one
Freud was nothing but a warm-up act
the whole body of previous sexological and characterological research nothing but a warm-up act
If I were now to ask you all
the rain becomes heavy
which animal’s head are you wearing
the rain becomes even heavier
You all must buy this book
Instinct and space
have much in common
quoth Novalis
It will be one of our biggest-ever commercial successes
the rain becomes even heavier

It’s raining my lord

SOPRANO delightedly
It’s raining

In fact it’s pouring

It’s really pouring
Loud thunder

The meteorologists were right

From time to time the meteorologists are right
even louder thunder


Scene II
The Revelation of the Artists

The dining-hall
All, with the heads of animals, sitting, eating, and drinking
around the table
The servants, with rats’ heads, are waiting on the feasters

BASS with an ox’s head
Then he became privy councilor
privy councilor
can you believe that privy councilor
and a Mozart interpreter to boot
an outspoken festival artist
All laugh

CONDUCTOR with a cock’s head
A master-class
at the academy as a retiree’s bungalow

PUBLISHER, with a fox’s head, to the conductor
Most highly honored sir
is it not true
that artists
are society’s stepchildren

Dig in everybody
dig in
we’ve got everything here
everything here

Do you know Böhm
not everything Böhm does
is particularly great

The most exceptional talents
are from the East Indies
I’ve got a Burmese pupil
a genius I tell you
On the whole Asia is
a huge reservoir of talent
quite extraordinary musical gifts
I tell you
the entire orient is still undiscovered

BASS to the actress, who has a cow’s head
Dig in why don’t you
dig in
help yourself
summons the servants by clapping
And at the proper moment
to the pianist, who has a goat’s head
Those were the days
when Clara Haskill
used to sit in your place
In that very chair towards nine o’ clock
she would always have her attack of migraine

The bane of all instrumentalists
is their susceptibility to illness
it’s always some illness or other
that prevents them from totally devoting themselves
I repeat totally devoting themselves to their calling their art
How much better Arrau for example would be
if he weren’t always getting those neck pains

BASS laughing
especially female pianists
get cramps in their fingers
cellists arthritis

And violinists I know for a fact
get it in their elbows

That’s quite right
in their elbows

TENOR bursts out laughing
In their elbows

What they lack in fire in their fiddle-bows
they make up for in their elbows

And conductors
have it in their spinal columns

The singers have it in their lungs
and if not in their lungs
then in their very throats
wrenches his mouth wide open
There at the back
The so-called gold in the throat
is often nothing other
than cancer of the larynx
summons the servants by clapping
So what’s for dessert

Ice cream my lord

Ice cream
no ice cream for me
Ice cream when almost all of us are vocal cord artists
vocal cord artists

An excellent term for describing
singers and actors
vocal cord artists
vocal cord artists

Ice cream for the vocal cord artists
Bring in the ice cream
Serve up the ice cream
ice cream galore
Ladies love eating ice cream
don’t they

And cottage cheese strudel

Ladies and gentlemen
cottage cheese strudel
cottage cheese strudel
made personally by the countess
cottage cheese strudel made by her with her own hands

Hence literally noble cottage cheese strudel
The servants return to their places away from the table

It is a well-known fact
that Chaliapin
ate ice cream every day
Caruso on the other hand once had to take
a year off on account of a serving of ice cream that he had eaten
at the Vienna Naschmarkt
and this at the pinnacle of his career

It’s said that
this serving of ice cream indirectly caused
his death

It is the scourge
of the singer
to the pianist
My dear
how is your left leg doing
to the others
She can’t play any of the pedals
She’s been playing a full week without pedals
She gave in to our esteemed colleague
Claudio Arrau
and went with him on a ski trip
to the Engadin where she promptly broke her leg

Ski trips are the scourge of stage actors

You’re telling me
You’re telling me
As if there could be anything more moronic than a ski trip
ski trips are a mass delusion
a mass delusion
and yet every living soul heads for the mountains as if to Mecca
with their skis on their back
just to break their legs

The difficult thing is
not to get out of practice afterwards

There’s no escaping the fact that not everything
can be played without the pedals
Such that for quite some time now you have been
a pedalaplegic
All laugh

We hope your pedalaplegia
is by no means long-lasting

It’s precisely for her use of the pedal
that she is celebrated

We’ll all keep our fingers crossed for her
keep them crossed
very tightly
The director raises the right hand of the pianist and crosses index fingers
with her
On behalf of artists everybody must cross his fingers
keep his fingers perpetually crossed
perpetually crossed
bursting into laughter
perpetually crossed

SOPRANO with a cat’s head
A pianist’s legs
are at least as important
as her fingers
The servants serve cottage cheese strudel

The true artist
is perpetually in conflict
with his art

The genuinely industrious
are those who provoke difficulties

Never a truer word was spoken
The genuine artist takes the road
that no one else takes
the most difficult road of all

ACTOR with a dog’s head
He is perpetually
in a conflict situation

In return for which it’s only right and fair
that he should see that he is handsomely paid
But of course taxes eat up the lot
the lot is eaten up by taxes
You won’t believe how much was taken
from me in taxes last year alone
I was left with at most
a tenth of the gross
So it’s entirely natural
that the guarantees demanded by artists
should assume gigantic proportions

An artist is an ideal artist
when he is also a good businessman
for otherwise he will unfailingly
at all times walk into a trap
The opera houses are traps

Into which the artists walk
all great stages are basically traps
Anybody who knows this covers his back
with horrendously huge guarantees
Emmanuel List once said to me
always demand three times as much as the top fee
in other words at least three times as much
as your predecessor got
And so when I’ve sung Ochs at the Met I’ve
demanded three times as much as List
three times as much as List
and List got the highest fee
the highest fee that had ever been paid at the Met
The most expensive Ochs
that had ever sung at the Met

The managements try by every conceivable means 
to oppress the artists
the artists in turn are intimidated by
the managements’

Opera-singing can be quite literally
a big business
The general managers give in
they pay the demanded fees
The general managers intimidate the artists
why don’t the artists also intimidate the general managers
The artists must reimburse themselves
The theaters especially the opera houses
throw millions out the window every year
The art of singing has never yet
risen to so high a price
My tactic which I owe to List
But the days of this ideal situation
are numbered
soon the pipeline will be shut off
Right now we’ve got to squeeze out of them
what’s left to be squeezed out
drains his glass, which is then immediately refilled
to the conductor
My most highly honored colleague
compared with you I’m just a small fish
looks around the room
This tiny bit of luxury
when I can no longer afford this tiny bit of luxury
List stopped singing out of the blue
but not because his doctors had recommended
that he should stop
List had quite simply had enough
suddenly he felt that he’d had it up to his neck with the entire singing profession
up to his neck in the truest sense of the idiom
No advance notice
nothing else
exit stage left

List had a very high level of intelligence
I remember
when I once conducted Fidelio
at Covent Garden with List
before his big aria

Which you in defiance of tradition did not cut

No never
I never cut arias
suddenly before his big aria

BASS naming the aria
If you haven’t got gold in your pocket

Yeah that one that one

Suddenly his voice was gone right
I know
indicates the relevant passage from the aria
Life plods along
so sadly

I would have been delighted to conduct a Fidelio with you in it
but it just never worked out

most unfortunately
But perhaps an opportunity will yet arise

The performance had to be interrupted
But when I went to List’s dressing room to ask him what had happened
List told me
his voice had come back
laughing all the while List told me
that now his voice was back laughing
do you understand laughing
But by then the audience had all left

A medical phenomenon

All of a sudden his voice was gone
All of a sudden it was back again
List attributed it all to
a sedative tablet he had taken the day before
it was the day on which List was knighted
along with Bing
before this ceremony at Buckingham palace
His doctors denied that there was any connection

Doctors always deny that there is any connection
The art of medicine quoth Novalis
is undoubtedly the art
of killing

My esteemed colleague
are you at all familiar with this
with the voice suddenly disappearing
and suddenly coming right back

TENOR hoarsely, while mutely pointing at his larynx
Today I’ve got no voice at all
a cold
perhaps a cold
I’m not quite sure

Then you really shouldn’t be eating ice cream
that’s just mad
He’s got to sing this evening
and he’s eating ice cream
It’s madness
utter madness
to the first servant
Confiscate the distinguished vocalist’s ice cream
Confiscate it
That’s just totally mad
It’s madness
The actress bursts out laughing
The pianist bursts out laughing
All burst out laughing as the first servant confiscates
the tenor’s ice cream
The bass to the tenor
Have some of the cottage cheese strudel my esteemed colleague
it soothes the vocal cords
Eat some
eat some
to the others
He’s an old pro
but without a voice even the greatest old pro can’t sing
to the tenor
Do you actually often eat ice cream
The tenor shakes his head
Remember Caruso
remember Caruso
to the others
Young people think
they can indulge themselves in everything
The servants serve coffee
Young artists burn
their candles at both ends

As I keep on telling them
all these highly talented actors

Dig in ladies and gentlemen
dig in

With whom I rehearse my plays
for all their talent they waste their lives in the most foolish manner
some of them squander themselves on drink
others squander themselves on whores
and the most talented among them squander themselves completely on both
drink and whores
First I think
there’s a talent
out of this talent I can make a Homburg
or a Hamlet
and then at rehearsals
he turns out to be a total wreck
Out of a wreck I can make neither Homburg
nor Hamlet
The most gifted of them attach themselves to some random slut
who’s far too lousy even for the suburban theaters
and ruin themselves in no time flat
Not even a genius is immune
to being ruined by a slut like that
First I hear a splendid voice and I vow to myself
with this voice
to which this utterly extraordinarily beautiful and gifted individual belongs
I shall rehearse Hamlet
and half a year later on the scheduled rehearsal date
a ruin pitches up
It’s insanity what all these young people get up to

Once you turn forty
you’re on the safe side of the hill
then you stop burning your candle at both ends

What you really mean
is that then you start
burning your blowtorch at both ends

SOPRANO reprovingly
Now now

Young people
are kicked into the meat-grinder
by their unscrupulous teachers
by all these unscrupulous singing-teachers
all these opera houses are
a single giant melodramatic meat-grinder

Artists are such delicate creatures
one tiny case of sore throat
can throw an entire opera season into chaos

You’re right about that
Bing once told me
how happy he was
after three years of preparation
to be able to start his best season ever
then all of a sudden
on the evening of the first performance
Nielsson got a sore throat
and the whole season went to pieces
a piece of bad luck like that brings about the collapse of an entire opera season

I once happened
to spoil a performance
It made headlines
I was supposed to be singing Ochs at Paris
at the same moment when I was guilelessly sitting at the Cavaletto in Venice
Edelmann leapt into the breach for me
I’ve always been grateful to him for that
But you have to be world-famous
to be able to get away with something like that
To be supposed to be singing Ochs at the Paris Opera
and forget about it
bursts into loud laughter, exclaims
Servants servants
to the others
How refined
to have oneself waited on by rats
to the conductor
Between you and me
the whole time I’ve been thinking
we’re all animals
I think I’m sitting opposite a cock
as though you’re sporting a cock’s head
And Gundi is sporting a cat’s head
an actual cat’s head
And our pianist a goat’s head
a goat’s head
laughs, then to the publisher    
You sly fox
to the others
You aren’t angry at me
for not telling you
what you all look like to me now

PUBLISHER with raised index finger
Elements of a fairy tale
Abstraction weakens
Reduction strengthens

BASS to the servants
Now pour us some champagne
The servants fetch the bottles of champagne and open them
Here we drink real champagne
not Sekt
I am no Sektarian
looks around the table, nobody laughs
Champagne makes everything bearable
All burst into raucous laughter that instantly
stops when the first cork pops
The rats are pouring champagne
The rats are pouring champagne
How refined
All drink
Bass to the soprano
barks at the tenor
bleats at the pianist
moos at the actress
raises his glass
To management
to management

ALL raise their glasses
To the president
To the president of the festival
Long may
he live
all in only approximate unison

A characterful wine
Eh what do you think



I believe you are
all currently figures of indisputably international renown
at the pinnacle of the internationality of your celebrity

that’s just fabulous
an absolutely capital formulation

Our esteemed publisher
is a stylistic treasury
everything he says
is a quotation
He is a quoter
raises his glass exclaims
To the quoter
to our quoter
raises his glass higher

ALL raise their glasses and exclaim
To our quoter

Celebrity exerts
an enormous fascination
On the evidence of this feast
one may safely say
The opera singer is quite literally the sovereign of the artistic social world
and the bass essentially
is its king
raises his glass, by way of encouraging the others
To the king of all opera singers
To the king of the opera
All raise their glasses and drain them

But how much it has cost me
to become
what I am
A young man of course never believes
he’ll reach the summit
he keeps believing this
until he has reached the summit

You are of course without a doubt
at the summit my lord

The most celebrated figure in the operatic world
the most celebrated worldwide

I still remember
your first evening my lord
I had the good fortune
to conduct that performance
A completely unknown singer
emerged from the wings
I was worried in the extreme
as you can well imagine
because the young man was a completely blank slate
It is of course asking a great deal
of a world-famous conductor
to require him to sign off on a totally unknown singer at the last minute
but that’s what saved the performance

A felonious demand on the part of the management

It was indeed a felonious demand on the part of the management
And there wasn’t even a single rehearsal beforehand
believe it or not
not a single rehearsal
But then suddenly this Figaro
started singing as I had never heard a Figaro sing before
to the bass
that was the beginning of your career
the beginning of your celebrity my lord

BASS to the conductor
A stroke of luck ladies and gentlemen
to happen upon the greatest conductor of one’s time
and thereby become great oneself

Here a publisher
can only be a gatecrasher
a gatecrasher
a gatecrasher

Did you hear that
A gatecrasher a gatecrasher
raises his glass and says
Let’s drink to the gatecrasher
to our gatecrasher
to our publisher qua gatecrasher

absolutely a gatecrasher of the arts
All raise their glasses and drain them

And yet a person like our publisher
spends most of his time
dealing with authentic specialists in creation
with absolutely high art
as I would prefer to call poetry
point-blank to the publisher, while having his glass
An entire head full of poetry
the entire history of poetry in a single
I ask myself
how can a person stand it
I think to myself
the head of a person like that
would have to explode in the blink of an eye
All those thousands and hundreds of thousands of
in a single head
That certainly wouldn’t be my cup of tea
suddenly summoning the servants by clapping his hands
The servants open bottles of champagne
The bass imperiously
Champagne ladies and gentlemen
Champagne you rats

is beyond the reach of
the race of performers

BASS pounding the table-top with both fists


Scene III
The Voices of the Artists

All as in the preceding scene rising from their chairs and raising their glasses in a common toast as their increasingly and soon unbearably loud animal voices are heard from numerous loudspeakers mounted on every side of the room, with the cock’s abrasive tripartite cock–a-doodle-doo sounding above all the other voices

The End 

Translation unauthorized but Copyright ©2012 by Douglas Robertson

Source: Stücke 2 (Frankfurt: Suhkamp, 1988)

1 comment:

Cy Lester said...

Another wonderful translation of a Thomas Bernhard play - a treat for lovers of his novels.