Wednesday, April 1, 2009

FRUHJAHR FUR DER FUHRER

Now this, gentle reader, was a find.

I think you can imagine my amazement when I tripped over a copy of FRUHJAHR FUR DER FUHRER (1938) by Eduard Klen (possibly Kley, I cant quite make out the pencil notation), from a European used book site I sometimes frequent. The title roughly translates as "A Spring Day for the Fuhrer".

A Germen operetta for upper grade schoolchildren, this admittedly-now-flabbergasting piece of work attempts to cast the Third Reich in the same mode as we've seen with Holland and England and even ancient China: a magical Bavarian Neverland where folks in brown shirts and leiderhosen sing songs about love and animals on parade, as well as going to South America and dancing the tango.

The story is typical thin operetta fare: "Adolph", a very transparent portrait of Hitler, decides on a spring walk about the countryside and meets "Eva", the daughter of a rich landowner. She doesnt realize he's the Furher, so most of the complications (many of which would have served Estelle Clark well, by the way) arise when his friends from Berlin arrive to join him in a merrymaking time. By the end of the second act, it's all been sorted out, and it appears wedding bells are in Adolph and Eva's future, leaving Act Three to be a series of musical numbers provided as some kind of festival entertainment. I say "some kind of entertainment" because, to be honest, my German isnt very good, so I'm guessing a lot. There doesnt seem to be any sort of online translation for FRUHJAHR, and, as usual with these ephemera, not much information period. Nevertheless, Act Three has eight musical sequences, fully half the score. None are sung by the main characters until the finale, which brings everyone back on (with one exception, noted below) for something called "Eva, My Beautiful Eva":

Eva, my beautiful Eva
Let my arms enfold you
Like the mist around the mountain

However, what's somewhat surprising about FRUHJAHR is two fold. First, it features a strong leading role for a male, a rarity in this format. Then we also get its rather sensitive portrayal of Hitler as a young man. His anguish over whether or not to tell Eva who he really is actually comes across as the genuine plight of a lovelorn young man, even though his biggest concern seems to be her background rather than how to share his own. One of the secondary characters, a school chum named Beni (Mussolini, maybe? He's not given a last name, but it seems expected that the audience would recognize him), offers to check her out, so to speak, and proceeds to do so in a comic scene that's almost shocking, considering the times, in its suggestive bawdiness. But whatever test he gave her, she apparently passes, thus removing any roadblocks for her and Adolph's union.

The songs in FRUHJAHR are not particularly rich, although you can definitely see Klen's antecedents: the obligatory waltz is in a Strauss mode, and the second act finale has ever-so-gentle hints of TRISTAN UND ISOLDE. I imagine the orchestrations were especially daunting for schoolchildren musicians, because the piano reduction is fierce. As with most of these works, songs come pretty much out of nowhere, with production numbers introduced at the drop of a helmet. For example, the tango mentioned above (and please forgive my translation):

The gentle breezes go through the palms
As you and I watch the waves
The sun winks goodnight as it sets beneath the horizon
And a thousand stars wink good day

Not especially inspired, but not as terrible as it could have been, I'm sure. There's also an anthem to the Fatherland that matches any of the patriotic verve of LIBERTY LANE, a rousing six-part chorus in a fervent martial beat that I'm sure was a real showstopper.

And just as US operettas had their blackface characters, so does FRUHJAHR have its own stereotype, and yes, it's a little Jewish man who works in the employ of Eva's father as (what else?) an accountant. I wont even try to translate his song, because it seems to be written in some mock Jewish accent, but it looks to be something about how much he loves money, complete with a little jig-like dance. His scenes are mercifully brief, with his last halfway through Act Two when he discovers who Eva's beau is. But it's a soft-focus caricature, much like his counterpart in THE PENNANT, one that was probably tamed down for schoolchildren performances. Inexplicably, he's led about on a chain, like some kind of dancing bear, and his song does have a slightly Russian flavour.

I've read enough of these now to see that Klen was trying to go for a German styling of the show's American counterparts, almost to the point where it looks like he might have ripped some of them off wholecloth. I havent done any note-by-note or line-by-line comparisons, but it appears Klen had no problem "appropriating" from other countries' works when he felt it necessary.

Perhaps one of these days I'll find someone who can provide a good translation of FRUHJAHR FUR DER FUHRER. If anyone else has come across this strange little work, please let me know.

1 comment:

Joebobrich said...

Dude, can you scan some? I speak fluent German, and would love to translate this.