The other day someone sent me some of the excellent light verse produced at Theresienstadt, the Nazis’ photogenic waiting room for Auschwitz and other extermination camps. Doing a bit of backreading, I met up again with the barrel-organ metaphysics (more another time) of Reinhard Heydrich, Butcher of Bohemia and Moravia. That same someone then sent me the source of that story -Lina Heydrich, Leben mit einem Kriegsverbrecher (“Life with a War Criminal”, 1976)- and located in the final chorus of Heydrich Senior’s sentimental opera, Das Leierkind (“The Barrel-Organ Child”),1 the quote in question:
Ja, die Welt ist nur ein Leierkasten,
den unser Herrgott selber dreht,
und jeder muss nach dem Liede tanzen,
das grad’ auf der Walze steht.
An alternative translation:
Yes, the world is but a barrel-organ
Which our Lord God himself doth grind,
And all must dance unto the song
With which the cylinder is tined.2
You can’t (always) blame fathers for their sons. Heydrich Senior is merely echoing the blows of fate/fateful bellows attributed to organ-grinders in 18th and 19th century romantic fiction – Büchner’s ballad singer’s quasi-Lutheranism announcing Marie’s betrayal with the drum-major of Woyzeck (1837), for example:
Auf der Welt ist kein Bestand,
Wir müssen alle sterben,
das ist uns wohlbekannt.
On earth we can’t abide,
We all must die
As everybody knows.3
Topical lyrics of this type had their visual counterpoint in ballad busking in a) proto-PowerPoint illustrations, and/or b) social and occasionally political automated tableaux which, along with bellows and barrel, ran off the crank on many Black Forest organs. The latter seem to have developed from the the region’s weight-powered flute clock automata, and Ignaz Bruder of Waldkirch (1780-1845) is their best-known manufacturer:
They offer more wide-ranging but less precise theatrics than my splendid organ-god – none of them beat 4/4 or 3/4:
But let’s cut to the chase. Automations seen this Christmas which I might try to add to the organ if I were a rich wastrel:
- I met a nice small candle-powered Christmas pyramid/Weihnachtspyramide at the German Deli in Hackney Wick. Here‘s a similar one:
I’d go for a triple-decker cranked version populated with home-made figures representing farmers, warriors and priests, or promotors, policemen, and bureaucrats, crowned by an organ-grinder. Say no to electrically-powered Star Wars scenes:
Large municipal executions have also become popular over the last couple of decades. Like the one above, to eliminate draughts and working people they are usually mains-powered and use decorative lightbulb candles and recorded music:
I think I recall seeing a very large hybrid incorporating a carousel ride at a fair I played at once in Germany, but I can’t find anything on YouTube and I was probably tipsy.
- A bunch of (male) Haredim hand-in-hand, observed dancing around in a circle outside a house on Stamford Hill, London, humming a song. They were rather like this:
- Everyone knows the sleigh ride/troika from the Prokofiev’s orchestral suite:
… but the virtually unknown eponymous film (1934), with its Hitlerian Emperor Paul I, is quite marvellous, and the robotic servants of the machine society -how un-Soviet!- are simply dying for recycling:
Work is said to be underway on a device that will coordinate music playback with video in order to enable me to (write music for and) accompany (suitably edited) films.
- “Deceptacon” by Le Tigre (ta, SG), which, like the Fellini / Rota partnership, surely owes a lot to the Kijé generation:
- A lobster. Robert Conquest’s paraphrase of Shakespeare’s take on the ages of man in As you like it:
Seven Ages: first puking and mewling
Then very pissed-off with your schooling
Then fucks, and then fights
Next judging chaps’ rights
Then sitting in slippers: then drooling.
The path to the pot is plagued by good purpose. The DG’s splendid adjunct auntie S has a pet herring gull, rescued as a broken-winged chick, and loves animals.4 Having plied the organ-grinder with champagne and milk-based vodka, the DG announced to her that the organ-grinder had a pet lobster, rather like Gérard de Nerval:
Why should a lobster be any more ridiculous than a dog? …or a cat, or a gazelle, or a lion, or any other animal that one chooses to take for a walk? I have a liking for lobsters. They are peaceful, serious creatures. They know the secrets of the sea, they don’t bark, and they don’t gnaw upon one’s monadic privacy like dogs do. And Goethe had an aversion to dogs, and he wasn’t mad.
“Oh, how wonderful,” she exclaimed. “And where do you keep it?!”
But the organ-top would be a more impressive and in many ways satisfactory location.
Stuff to avoid: Google’s winter solstice doodle, which is a perpetual motion con (no candle or crank needed) and a blasphemy – their logo replaces the Christmas pyramid’s seraphim.5
Anecnotes [ + ]
|1.||↑||Anyone got a score?|
|3.||↑||I like Motton’s first line -I was looking for a two-syllable noun meaning permanence- but I’d also like to hang onto the Bestand/bekannt rhyme. Motton says Leierkasten is a hurdy-gurdy, which is quite reasonable, and the BBC turns it into a simple violin, which is pretty naughty given their wealth.|
|4.||↑||Though she was enjoying her beef stew.|
|5.||↑||Milton says (Samson Agonistes (1671)) that seraphim can play trumpets in between singing the old “Holy, holy, holy!” or whatever else they get up to:
- There’s so much brilliant German shit on YouTube
Was: How pleased I am to find both the Zarah Leander and the Nina Hagen versions of “Ich weiß, es wird einmal ein Wunder gescheh’n” on the line.
- Several Viennese musical curiosities
Karl Nagl’s claim that, unlike the Germans, Viennese organ-grinders are musicians, because they have “crank-sense.” And female yodelling with Dudlerinnen Trude Mally and Maly Nagl.
- Transvestite barrel organ dancers in 1930s Whitechapel and the 1860s London West End
With acrobats, clowns, and Doris and Thisbe, goddesses of wind.
- Where did Petersburg’s organ-grinders go in winter?
I fear only some of them migrated with the swallows. Featuring Boris Sadovskoy, Yuri Norstein, Aleksey Batalov, Rolan Bykov and Gogol.