Le Lied


Bétove is not a misprint, he is a pianist/comedian. He wears glasses, has a club foot and long hair. He presents a complete opera, with choir, lovers‘ duet and story of revenge, with the same exquisite feelingof the day before yesterday as most performances in the Opéra Comique.

I recently myself saw a somewhat older, somewhat asthmatic gentleman rolling around as Figaro there, and every time the ladies had sung Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s notes, the house went mad. It reminded me very much of the humour which developed under Hartmann in Charlottenburg, and will very likely develop in Görlitz. Raise your glasses, cheers! And the same people who applaud such works in the Opéra Comique, just behind the Boulevards, there where the little Place Boieldieu in the evening looks as though all the passers-by must shortly start to sing in time, and a page will suddenly come running around the corner with a pink note, but none comes; these people really enjoyed M. Bétove, because his harmless parody was fun to listen to. He parodied that which is all the rage for the music season ticket holders, The Daughter of the Regiment[1]. Jean Cocteau once said, „Some peoples are musical, the French don’t mind music.“ But they are very cultured here. A little while ago, they presented an evening of Le lied à travers les âges,  the historical development of the German Lied[2], with examples.

Anyway, Bétove carries on. Now he’s singing something Spanish. I’m sure he can’t speak a word of this language, but he gargles and lisps Spanish as he perceives it. He has heard it when the Spanish couples in the Varieté express their contractually agreed passion. He’s even got the pause in which only the steps of the dancers shuffle rhythmically across the boards: tschuck, tschuck, tschuck, and then the music comes in again. There’s nothing new about it, we have heard a hundred times how someone copies English songs or produces a nasal French. Pallenberg[3] can do it brilliantly, and Curt Bois[4], too. But Bétove now announces some more national songs. He mentions a name that I don’t quite catch. Fritz…? And then goes into an intro. Quiet…

The prelude is noble and stately, and the little man at the piano pulls a sad face, shaking his head sorrowfully. He seems to be gazing into the golden green of the forest. What do his blue eyes see? And now he begins to sing, and I get the shivers down my spine. It’s not German. He probably can’t speak any German, but it is anyway. It is the German that a Frenchman hears. German from the outside. It is Le Lied. A German yeoman strides through the German forest. The linden trees are fragrant, and the German spring tumbles innocently into the depths.

Im grünen Wallet
zur Sommerzeit

I don’t understand a word; what he sings is meaningless, but it has to be exactly like that. The music really is by Loewe, there is so much dark beer, virility, chivalry and Tilsiter cheese in this song. As far as I can make it out, between horror and laughter, it sounds roughly like this:


Whenever the melody is soft, the man places a hard consonant and gives the pleasant impression that he is lyrically playing the fool. But now things get livelier. The oak forest rustles, the sky grows dark, the digestion resonates in the bass. The German yeoman is now striding uphill. Beads of dew glitter on his brow the little violets perspire, the enemy hides treacherously in ambush. The forest German now strides like a tongue twister. I see the Justice of the Peace Jahnke before me, leaning on the piano, and his soft, cultivated baritone roars out from behind the Sunday roast, and, “in den Schoß die Schönen – jetzt Welscher, nimm dich in acht!”[5]. And I hear something like


And his soul pours out of him. The piano gives its very best, which is not bad. The melody surges, the little man, too. And now he is standing on top of the steep hill and gazing deep into the surrounding country. Castles soar proudly, or boldly, as the case may be, voices roar, the cliffs and oaks are torn asunder, lances clash in the air, the banner exults in the cool wine, the yeomen flow freely into the German Rhine. Bétove now has all twenty-two consonants stuck in his throat at once. He gags and gags, and spits them out. The lump is out! The piano creaks from every joint. The Kaiser calls: to the German frontier! The Germans wave their – he stands nobly there, one foot forward. If there is no enemy, I’ll borrow one, the shining claymore raised aloft, his woman pressed to his breast, the polished helmet on his brow, the Neckar roars, the eagle soars, there is shot in the German backside, a horse cracks, a thundering halt, oh, German trees in the woods! Signed personally by the Imperial President! The French spectators applaud like I have never heard them applaud before. The fat Sir Thomas More beside me is having a choking fit, but they save him.

For the first time in two years I feel: foreign. I wonder, if they knew that one of those whom they are ridiculing is sitting among them, would they tear you apart? Nonsense. I have certainly not always felt as they do. I haven’t always laughed and cried with them, but today, for the first time, it’s different, foreign blood. All of a sudden, they are on that side, and I’m on this one.

And that was our German language? The one in which ‚Füllest wieder Busch und Tal[6]‘ was written after all? That is German? That’s what it sounds like to foreigners? I suppose it must. I no longer need to go forth to find the meaning of fear[7]. I was afraid. It was like seeing oneself in a film. No, worse, as though the mirror image comes out of the frame, sits down at the table, and asks with a grin, “And how do you like me?” I stand up, take a step backwards, and look at him, myself, horrified. That’s me! I didn’t dare speak German all evening, and the next day. I didn’t dare speak it to myself. I don’t hear any vowels any more, just consonants. The language has got back into the mirror, we look at each other suspiciously. I am mistrustful; it could escape again any time and confront me. We have known each other so long, but I just saw her naked for the first time.


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