Dear Emil Ludwig, buy Columbia no. 14002, don’t look at the label, and play the record on the precious gramophone which I hope that our publisher Rowohlt has bought you in an attack of megalomania. What will then happen is as follows: someone plays Wagner, the lovely song about the evening star. But how does he play it? In the only way in which one can still play it, as jazz. Dear Emil Ludwig, it‘s great!
All of a sudden it’s all gone: the mom’s apple pie sentimentality and the butter-soft emotion with which this tootling is dressed up. The Saxon pathos and the defiant row which declared itself to be racial pride (one of the causes of the war). What’s left is something else, a light, amusing and agreeable melody, of which one could only wish that the maestro had written it as it is played here: relentlessly rhythmic, like a sewing machine, very hop, hop. For example, the refrain of the pretty rhyme:
Oh you, my sweet evening star,
I probably loved you too much
These lines sound really wonderful to a dance beat. There is one sure test for the value of this rewrite: from now on, you only hear the hearty song in the new rhythm, with the pauses inserted, hanging on the steel rope of four/four time. There’s no going back, that’s how it should have sounded at the beginning. It is the parody which puts the work of the great Saxon straight. This is the correct form, it is the original which is the parody.
They have done the same thing with Chopin on the other side of the record, but it doesn’t work. Even Pachmann on Electrola cannot save it from its obsolescence. A weak odour of lavender rises from yellowed keys. This Chopin record is distorted, and just an amusing trick. You can hear the waltz rhythm surviving through the hammering, which is just about bearable as a bit of fun.
But with Wagner, it reveals an entire opus. It is much more than just an Offenbach joke, it is the self-confidence of a new, clear time, with merciless scorn for the corresponding ideals of a bourgeois commode from the year 1891, or a district court judge of the year 1931, and the whistling vitality of an energy which ordered musical scores, that sharp sword, in series, from Armstrong, Krupp and Schneider-Creusot. Enjoy!