Abraham Moses Tendlau’s German-Jewish proverb collection, Sprichwörter und Redensarten deutsch-jüdischer Vorzeit (1860) evokes Kasper Lutz, a hurdy-gurdy man who, with his barrel organ,1 visited the great Frankfurt fair with a repertoire of songs of woe:
1030. Nix als Kasper Lutz!
Nichts als Unglück, z. B. “Mer hört jetzt nix als Kasper Lutz! -” (Vergl. 749 [Nix als Schlimm-Massel!]) “Der waaß das ganze Jahr nix zu erzählen als K. L.”, hat seine Freude daran, Unannehmlichkeiten zu berichten. Kasper Lutz war nämlich ein Leyermann, der mit seiner Drehorgel die Frankfurter Messe besuchte und stets nur Unglücksgeschichten absang.
But in the proverbs our singer of schadenfreudes of beasts and beastliness is both messenger and message: like certain rugby referees, and like the anonymous organ-grinder in Madame Bovary, he brings and he also is bad news. Modern partial postmen, smirking black cats for the Inquisition’s flames: the smiling short-seller, the catastrophe communist, and yes, the sadistic postman (a genre you may not wish to google at work, or anywhere)…
Any proverbial candidates comprehensible to an English-speaking audience? I’m not sure that Cassandra works – she may not be much fun, but neither is she having fun – there is no profit motive in her misery:
Woe, woe, woe! O Apollo, O Apollo! … Apollo, Apollo! God of the Ways, my destroyer! Ah, what way is this that you have brought me! To what a house! … a god-hating house, a house that knows many a horrible butchery of kin, a slaughter-house of men and a floor swimming with blood… Behold those babies bewailing their own butchery and their roasted flesh eaten by their father!
And no one apart from you has heard of her anyway. And she hadn’t got a barrel organ.
|⇑1||Sic: form is similar, but function has changed, and cranked musical boxes are confused with one another across Europe.|
- Blind organ-grinder and dog drowned in the Meuse/Maas at Liège/Luik, Belgium
Floodwaters took his barrel-organ, he held onto his only source of income, Fido was on a string.
- Revenge of the mechanical musical instruments
A version of Stravinsky’s Petrushka for street organ.
- Noisy buskers used to drown out the sounds of murder
But were organ-grinders really complicit in the 1817 killing at Rodez of the French politician Fualdès, as the translation suggests, or
- Monkeys here, monkeys there, monkeys everywhere
Victor Hugo puts on his black cap.
- Christmas carousels
Impossible automata for my street organ this holiday season. Featuring Georg Büchner, Ignaz Bruder, German Christmas pyramids, dancing Hasidim, Lieutenant Kijé