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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Why Moses?

Polytheism vs. monotheism. I concede that's not an obvious topic of interest for a musical librettist. Moses made me think about it, I mean the work on the Moses musical which will have its opening soon. As everybody knows, the bible tells us that Moses' Hebrew mother hid him when the Pharao ordered all newborn Hebrew boys to be killed; the child was adopted as a foundling by a woman of the the Egyptian royal family. He grew up as an Egyptian prince. After killing an Egyptian slave-master, he fled to Midian where he married Ziporah. Then he encountered God in the form of a burning bush who ordered him to go back to Egypt and request the release of the Israelites. What puzzled me when I tried to retell that story was the fact that the Egyptians believed in many gods. How could a young Egyptian prince, albeit an adopted child, become a devout believer in the one and only Hebrew God? How could the Israelites trust a disgraced Egyptian prince who was wanted for murder? Friedrich Schiller wrote an interesting essay about those questions. His theory: Moses was actually a heretic Egyptian priest turned monotheist who used the Hebrews to fight the orthodoxy. I prefer another explanation: The woman who adopted him was the daughter of Tutanchamun who tried to establish monotheism in Egypt but was murdered by the orthodox priests. His daughter survived and taught her adopted son, Moses, that there is only one God. I have no proof whatsoever, but that theory works for my story, and that's all I need.






Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Gods Of Greece




Ye in the age gone by,
Who ruled the world—a world how lovely then!—
And guided still the steps of happy men
 In the light leading-strings of careless joy!
Ah, flourished then your service of delight!
 How different, oh, how different, in the day
When thy sweet fanes with many a wreath were bright,
 O Venus Amathusia!

Then, through a veil of dreams
 Woven by song, truth's youthful beauty glowed,
And life's redundant and rejoicing streams
 Gave to the soulless, soul—where'r they flowed
Man gifted nature with divinity
 To lift and link her to the breast of love;
All things betrayed to the initiate eye
 The track of gods above!

Where lifeless—fixed afar,
 A flaming ball to our dull sense is given,
Phoebus Apollo, in his golden car,
 In silent glory swept the fields of heaven!
On yonder hill the Oread was adored,
 In yonder tree the Dryad held her home;
And from her urn the gentle Naiad poured
 The wavelet's silver foam.

Yon bay, chaste Daphne wreathed,
 Yon stone was mournful Niobe's mute cell,
Low through yon sedges pastoral Syrinx breathed,
 And through those groves wailed the sweet Philomel,
The tears of Ceres swelled in yonder rill—
 Tears shed for Proserpine to Hades borne;
And, for her lost Adonis, yonder hill
 Heard Cytherea mourn!—

Heaven's shapes were charmed unto
 The mortal race of old Deucalion;
Pyrrha's fair daughter, humanly to woo,
 Came down, in shepherd-guise, Latona's son
Between men, heroes, gods, harmonious then
 Love wove sweet links and sympathies divine;
Blest Amathusia, heroes, gods, and men,
 Equals before thy shrine!

Not to that culture gay,
 Stern self-denial, or sharp penance wan!
Well might each heart be happy in that day—
 For gods, the happy ones, were kin to man!
The beautiful alone the holy there!
 No pleasure shamed the gods of that young race;
So that the chaste Camoenae favoring were,
 And the subduing grace!

A palace every shrine;
 Your sports heroic;—yours the crown
Of contests hallowed to a power divine,
 As rushed the chariots thundering to renown.
Fair round the altar where the incense breathed,
 Moved your melodious dance inspired; and fair
Above victorious brows, the garland wreathed
 Sweet leaves round odorous hair!

The lively Thyrsus-swinger,
 And the wild car the exulting panthers bore,
Announced the presence of the rapture-bringer—
 Bounded the Satyr and blithe Faun before;
And Maenads, as the frenzy stung the soul,
 Hymned in their maddening dance, the glorious wine—
As ever beckoned to the lusty bowl
 The ruddy host divine!

Before the bed of death
 No ghastly spectre stood—but from the porch
Of life, the lip—one kiss inhaled the breath,
 And the mute graceful genius lowered a torch.
The judgment-balance of the realms below,
 A judge, himself of mortal lineage, held;
The very furies at the Thracian's woe,
 Were moved and music-spelled.

In the Elysian grove
 The shades renewed the pleasures life held dear:
The faithful spouse rejoined remembered love,
 And rushed along the meads the charioteer;
There Linus poured the old accustomed strain;
 Admetus there Alcestis still could greet; his
Friend there once more Orestes could regain,
 His arrows—Philoctetes!

More glorious than the meeds
 That in their strife with labor nerved the brave,
To the great doer of renowned deeds
 The Hebe and the heaven the Thunderer gave.
Before the rescued rescuer [10] of the dead,
 Bowed down the silent and immortal host;
And the twain stars [11] their guiding lustre shed,
 On the bark tempest-tossed!

Art thou, fair world, no more?
 Return, thou virgin-bloom on Nature's face;
Ah, only on the minstrel's magic shore,
 Can we the footstep of sweet fable trace!
The meadows mourn for the old hallowing life;
 Vainly we search the earth of gods bereft;
Where once the warm and living shapes were rife,
 Shadows alone are left!

Cold, from the north, has gone
 Over the flowers the blast that killed their May;
And, to enrich the worship of the one,
 A universe of gods must pass away!
Mourning, I search on yonder starry steeps,
 But thee no more, Selene, there I see!
And through the woods I call, and o'er the deeps,
 And—Echo answers me!

Deaf to the joys she gives—
 Blind to the pomp of which she is possessed—
Unconscious of the spiritual power that lives
 Around, and rules her—by our bliss unblessed—
Dull to the art that colors or creates,
 Like the dead timepiece, godless nature creeps
Her plodding round, and, by the leaden weights,
 The slavish motion keeps.

To-morrow to receive
 New life, she digs her proper grave to-day;
And icy moons with weary sameness weave
 From their own light their fulness and decay.
Home to the poet's land the gods are flown,
 Light use in them that later world discerns,
Which, the diviner leading-strings outgrown,
 On its own axle turns.

Home! and with them are gone
 The hues they gazed on and the tones they heard;
Life's beauty and life's melody:—alone
 Broods o'er the desolate void, the lifeless word;
Yet rescued from time's deluge, still they throng
 Unseen the Pindus they were wont to cherish:
All, that which gains immortal life in song,
 To mortal life must perish!


Friedrich Schiller

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Schiller's Regret

It took me a whole life to understand Friedrich Schiller's regret at the overcoming of polytheism. Grown up in a Catholic village I regarded the belief in the one and only God as the triumphant emancipation from the stupidity of barbaric paganism. It seemed strange that someone would praise that outdated superstition. I was 13, and it never occurred to me that the revered Schiller was an atheist, because my teachers never mentioned it. Revisiting Schiller in my old days I start to understand his thinking. As an atheist he could compare the various religions from a distance. Being an aesthete, he naturally preferred the fantastic and colorful world of the Greek gods to the one-dimensional, comparatively dull monotheism. At 15 I hated his ode to the Greek Gods, mainly because we had to learn it by heart. Lately I re-read it and discovered the beauty of it. I finally understand Schiller's regret.


Monday, January 28, 2013

Eden Is Burning

"Gentlemen, he said, I don't need your organization. I've shined your shoes, I've moved your mountains and marked your cards. But Eden is burning. Either brace yourself for elimination or else your hearts must have the courage for the changing of the guards.  Peace will come with tranquility and splendor on the wheels of fire, but will bring us no reward when her false idols fall."
Bob Dylan "Changing of the Guards"

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Loewe

Don't get me wrong: German composers had also a hard time to be accepted on Broadway. One of my heroes, Frederick Loewe, born in Berlin to a musical family, was so talented that he could play piano with the Berlin Symphony at the age of thirteen. At 15 he already had a European top hit with a song called "Katrina". At twenty his ambition drew him to the New World where he was met with bitter disappointment. He learned the hard way that his European success and his musical abilities meant nothing in the US. To survive he worked as a nightclub pianist, a boxer, a busboy and even a cow puncher. But he never stopped believing in himself. Nor did he seriously consider giving up and going back to Germany. In 1942, after many frustrating years, he met another unsuccessful man, a young lyricist and playwright, who recognized Loewe's potential. One year later the first Lerner/Loewe musical reached Broadway. You know the rest of the story.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Bloody Flop

When a German journalist learned of the problems to mount a production of Rebecca last year he commented - not without schadenfreude -  that this was the second time Michael Kunze's Broadway dreams had come to naught. It is useless to correct such a statement, but it is wrong. First of all, I do not regard the short run of Dance of the Vampires  as a failure.  As everyone in the business knows,  the Broadway version had only little to do with my original. But even if it would have been my version I could be kind of proud of having a Broadway flop. Sure enough, it would have felt better to have a hit, but for a German playwright and lyricist even a Broadway flop is not so bad at all. While  German composers such as Frederick Loewe and Kurt Weill  made it big in New York, none of their book writers ever reached the Great White Way. Who tried hardest was Bert Brecht.  His Threepenny Opera  only made it to an Off-Broadway theater. Who am I to compare myself to Brecht? A Broadway flop suits me very well.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Make Or Earn?

When you get older, they already told me in my twenties, you'll be just as narrow-minded and conservative as all the other old farts. I'm brutally aware of it. I find it odd, for example, that nowadays you make money. There was a time when everybody was convinced that you had to earn money. Marxism, very much in fashion when I was a student, never really intrigued me.  Still I never stopped to believe  that everyone should be entitled to receive an appropriate reward for his respective achievements.  It was, of course, always accepted that a clever trick may make gamblers, crooks and God's favorites rich. But now it's not just accepted, it is what everybody wants and hopes for: make money, so you don't have to earn it. Even a school dropout can become a millionaire when good luck gives him a chance to participate in a tv quiz show. I'm not blaming anyone. I am just a bit narrow-minded. Maybe it is inevitable that it will soon be normal also to simply make love instead of earning it.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Lincoln's Goal



Thoughts inspired by the new movie of Kushner and Spielberg: Very well, Lincoln wanted to free the slaves. He did indeed hope that the American civil war would result in "a new birth of freedom". However, the emancipation was clearly not his highest priority. Lincoln did not fight slavery, he fought secession. His first and foremost motive was to show the world that "government of the people, by the people, for the people" - democracy - has the power to survive. We have a problem understanding the importance of that goal; today we see democracies thrive almost everywhere in the world. At Lincoln's time, however, the general opinion was that democracies can not long survive. The shelling of Fort Sumter was for Lincoln not only a threat to American unity, but to the idea of self-government. Why then did he, as shown in Spielberg's movie, fight so hard to finalize the Emancipation Act by an constitutional amendment? My guess is he was convinced that a democracy tolerating slavery could not endure. He was not a saint, he was a politician.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Don't Miss The New Lincoln Movie!


The great Steven Spielberg talks about his latest movie, book by Tony Kushner, which is so different from everything he did so far. The film shows Lincoln not as a saint, but as a shrewd but nevertheless sympathetic politician. A must-see. Daniel Day-Lewis is fantastic. How wonderful that Hollywood still produces gems like this every now and then.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Ages Or Angels

When Abraham Lincoln  drew his last breath on the night of April 14, 1865,  Edwin Stanton, his Secretary of War,  whispered a famous sentence. What exactly he said is disputed. Most remember  him saying "Now he belongs to the ages". The Rev. Gurley however, Lincoln's family minister,  understood: "Now he belongs to the Angels." The brilliant New Yorker journalist, Adam Gopnik,  comments: "Now he belongs to the angels?  Where had that come from? That was a Monty Python element here."  There's something we can learn from this. Historians must not trust eye- and earwitnesses, no matter how close to a historical event they have been. We all  tend to see and hear what we want to.  No matter what Stanton really said, Now he belongs to the ages entered all history books. Not because it is necessarily the truth, but because it is what we want him to have said.

Monday, January 21, 2013

How To Stage A Musical

"The material – this is so elementary it shouldn't have to be stated, but almost every musical production in recent years seems oblivious to it – the material is the source for everything seen or said or done on the stage. The director, the choreographer, the designer, the actor who thinks he or she doesn't have to observe this is digging his own shallow grave... The fist five minutes of a musical are crucial: either the audience can be captured, in which case they are all the director's, no matter what he or she does, until at least half way through the first act; or they can be lost, in which case it will take some stage magic to get them back before the end of the first act, if ever. Never mind intelligence and craft, never mind desire, never mind talent. The musical must be in your bones."
Arthur Laurents

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Freedman's Question

One of the most important lessons writers can get was given more than 60 years ago by Harold Freedman, the legendary agent of playwrights such as Clifford Odets, Noel Coward, Thornton Wilder and Arthur Laurents. The first question Freeman asked a prospective new client was: "What kind of playwright do you want to be? Good or successful?" The answer, of course, was always "Both." But the agent would insist. "Good or successful? Which first?" It's worth finding an answer. What's your decision if the authentic and sellable are in conflict?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Talent

It would be an exaggeration to say that I don't believe in talent. Closer to the truth is that I think talent is generally overestimated. Everybody has some talent.  Some have a lot  and never accomplish anything, others have little and achieve much.  I don't think success has anything to do with talent.  It all depends what you do with your talent. Hard work,  the conviction that you are good at something, and most of all good luck are  what it takes. If you have a child never doubt his or her talent before you have created some interest.  How often have I heard someone say that he or she has no talent for math.  You soon find out that  there is not a lack of   talent, but absolutely no interest. How can you learn something you're not really interested in?  How can you become a good shoemaker if you're not interested in shoemaking?  And how can you be a good writer if you're not interested in people?

Friday, January 18, 2013

Stellar!


Today I received the just released book by Stella Adler on America's Master playwrights, edited by Barry Paris. Although I'm terribly busy I couldn't resist the temptation to start reading. The charm of the book: These are transcripts of Adler's lectures. When you read it you actually hear that theater legend talk. She addresses young actors. She tells them: " Your job is not to act. Your job is to interpret… Once the playwright has written the play and the play is here, he's done his job. It's closed… It is an extremely difficult literary form, that little play–so few pages. That's a difficult form and one that's not understood. He has done his job; then you come along. You say, what's my job? You don't know your job. You don't even know the name of your job… You can't just take the words. You have to take the soul… Understand your profession: interpretation means that I'm going to find the play and the playwright in me… Your profession is to interpret." O, how I wish Stella Adler could lecture today's directors of our German "Regie-Theater"!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Hitch1 (More to come!)




"The only position that leaves me with no cognitive dissonance is atheism. It is not a creed. Death is certain, replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more."
Christopher Hitchens

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Blessing of the Theater Gods

In Far East countries they honor an old tradition at the theaters. Before every opening all people involved in the new production - actors, dancers, the leading team, stage hands and producers - gather to attend the so-called "ceremony". A make-shift altar is erected on the stage and, led by Buddhist or Hindu priests, everybody prays to the Gods to bless the show. I always found this a wonderful idea. You can hardly think of a better way to calm every one down before the rise of the curtain. Why be nervous when you can be sure that the Gods are with you? In Japan that ceremony is very serious and conservative. Everybody puts a green twig with a written note on the altar. In Korea they are less formal. There you have to give an offering to the Gods by putting a bill in the mouth of a pig's head. The goods Gods pass it on to the stage hands who make good use of it by buying drinks for the after opening party.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Lotte in Seoul

The hotel I am usually staying at here in Seoul is called Hotel Lotte. The name sounds familiar to someone raised and educated in Germany. Nevertheless I was surprised to learn that its connotation was intended. The company who owns the hotel was established in Japan by Shin Kyuk-Ho, an ardent admirer of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The corporate name Lotte originated from Charlotte, the heroine of Goethe's famous novel The Sorrows of Young Werther. According to the company's mission statement: "Just as Charlotte stole the hearts of many readers worldwide, Lotte strives to deeply move the hearts of each and every customer." I don't no any other hotel chain named after a literary character, and I have to admit that the Hotel Lotte in Seoul is one of the finest hotels I've been too. Maybe it's because I've never been to a hotel with so many books on display. The book shelves are everywhere here, even in the restaurants. How can a writer not be flattered and charmed by this.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Gangnam Style

LG-Theater, Gangnam District, Seoul/Korea, January 12, 2013

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Ingenious Chutzpah

Thanks to Jad Abumrad's review of a new biography by John Glassie (A Man Of Misconceptions) in this week's NYT Book Review I got to know one of history’s more bizarre and largely forgotten thinkers, the 17th-century Jesuit priest Athanasius Kircher. He was, by turns, a mathematician; an Egyptologist; an astronomer; a geologist; a volcanologist; a Sinologist; a musicologist; a machinist; and the inventor of a speaking trumpet, the Aeolian harp and some say the notorious “cat piano,” which produced notes by pricking the tails of live cats. He was a master of optical illusions, a cryptographer, an early proponent of a universal symbolic language and arguably the first person to discover the germ theory of disease, possibly even the first person to ever use a microscope. To boot, he published over 30 “seat cushion size” tomes on nearly every topic under the sun and established what must have been the coolest museum in 17th-century Europe at the Collegio Romano, famous for a Christ figurine that could “walk” on water, as well as other wonders of “natural magic.” Subsequent generations of scholars have pegged Kircher as a Grade A charlatan. But you have to admire his sheer chutzpah. Who but Kircher would publish an enormous illustrated guide to China (arguing that the Chinese are secretly Christian) without ever setting foot in China? And you have to give him style points for titling a 916-page treatise “The Magnet; Or, The Art of Magnetics, in Three Parts, in Which the Universal Nature of the Magnet as Well as Its Use in All Arts and Sciences Is Explained by a New Method: In Addition, Here Are Revealed Through All Kinds of Physical, Medical, Chemical, and Mathematical Experiments Many Hitherto Unknown Secrets of Nature From the Powers and Prodigious Effects of Magnetic as Well as Other Concealed Motions of Nature in the Elements, Stones, Plants, Animals, and Elucescent Things.”

Friday, January 11, 2013

Swiss Stage

I spent the last three days in St. Gallen, a Swiss University town, attending early rehearsals for my latest show, Moses. It is no small miracle that this relatively small city has a theater staging first class musical productions. It is made possible by generous contributions of local sponsors. Such as the district bank that put up a giant billboard.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Bad Time



Voltaire, when badgered on his deathbed and urged to renounce the devil, murmured that this was no time to be making enemies.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Un-Superstious

The Danish physicist and Nobelist Niels Bohr once hung a horseshoe over his doorway. Appalled friends exclaimed that surely he didn't put any trust in such pathetic superstition. "No, I don't," he replied with composure, "but apparently it works whether you believe it or not."

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Mind You!



"Until you have done something for humanity you should be ashamed to die."
Horace Mann

Monday, January 7, 2013

Different Rules


We all still remember the times when parents told their kids to learn something "safe". Everybody was convinced that you could overcome life's pitfalls by becoming an accountant, a doctor, an architect or a lawyer. Currently we experience that this is no longer true. Computers - and soon all kind of roboters - will take over routine work. Creativity and other forms of right brain activity will get more and more important. In the end a versatile artist will be better off than a bookish clerk. No one puts it better than Daniel Pink, author of the book "A Whole New Mind".

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Luxurious Taste


We tend to forget that in former times it was a privilege to be able go to a concert. Handel's, Mozart's and Beethoven's music was an exclusive luxury of the well-established classes. A peasant, a worker or a servant could not afford to hear a symphony, and probably never heard one. It may well be argued that the European idea of "high culture" has to do with that exclusivity. Many upper class members still regard classical music as their privilege and look down at the pop scene as something mondane, inferior and plebeian. It is difficult to judge music, but its very easy to use it as a status symbol.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Overcompensation


Today's Germans try hard to prove that they don't deserve to be judged by the horrible crimes committed by Hitler Germany. This is why  most of them are sensitive to human rights and environment issues. Unfortunately this leads very often to moral hubris. Nowadays Germans are always ready to denounce other nations, e.g. those that still think nuclear energy is safe, seem to mistreat minorities or animals, drill for oil, permit the free sale of weapons etc. Lately they even scolded Jews and Muslims for their religious rites. Overcompensating their guilt complex and their historical trauma these "good Germans" tell the world how to behave decently. Again they suggest that they are better than the rest. I'm very doubtful that this is the way to achieve what my they long for most fervently: To be forgiven that they are German and to be loved at long last.

Friday, January 4, 2013

On Death



"We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born."
Richard Dawkins

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Perseverance

In today's New York Times Patrick Healy reports that the "producer of the scandal-plagued musical "Rebecca" said on Wednesday that he would try to open the show later this year on Broadway, where a planned production fell apart this fall when several investors were revealed to be concoctions of a rainmaking middleman. The "Rebecca" producer, Ben Sprecher, said in an interview that he was optimistic that he would finally be able to raise all the money to mount the musical - in part because of the widespread publicity and notoriety surrounding the show after the fraud scheme was revealed. As a property 'Rebecca' is more valuable today than it was six months ago, through no fault of our own, Mr. Sprecher said. It's just so much more visible now.  This marks his fourth attempt to mount "Rebecca" - an earlier plan in London fell through, followed by attempts to open on Broadway last spring and again two months ago. Despite these delays, Mr. Sprecher said that the production's director, Michael Blakemore, and creative team were still on board for a Broadway outing." Ben obviously took John D. Rockefeller's advice to heart who said that there is not any other quality so essential to success of any kind as the quality of perseverance. My heroes are those who undauntedly get up on their feet again after each fall.