08 July 2007

A Brecht/Weill Post: on "Nannas Lied"


People like to say that Brecht is cold, but I believe he has a deeper game. When I read a piece like Nannas Lied, I can't help thinking that despite his political and sexual opportunism, he actually had a great deal of sympathy for women. I think this comes out in the poetry and the plays.

This is a song about a streetwalker making sense out of her world using a famous Villon refrain as her own. So what if Brecht plagiarized this line or meant it as an intertext, it's the overall effect that seems like it is most important, and in this case we find the delicate and the brutal coming together in an explication of what happens when a girl sells her body and feelings in the market of "love." And apparently, it's not so easy.

Nanna’s Song

Dear sirs, with seventeen years
I came to the market of love.
And I had been through a lot,
Bad stuff happens a lot,
Indeed, that’s the game.
But nevertheless, I have some of the blame.
(After all, I am a person too.)

Thank God, everything goes by so quickly,
Both the love and the even sorrow, as well.
Where are the tears of last evening?
Where is the snow of yesteryear?
Where are the tears of last evening?
Where is the snow of yesteryear?

Of course, as you go through the years,
The love market becomes easier,
And you embrace them by the score.
But your feelings
Grow oddly cool,
If they’re rationed far too little.
(After all, any supply has to come to an end.)

Thank God, everything goes by so quickly,
Both the love and the even sorrow, as well.
Where are the tears of last evening?
Where is the snow of yesteryear?
Where are the tears of last evening?
Where is the snow of yesteryear?

And also, if you have learned the trade well,
In the measuring of love:
To transform desire into small change,
Still is never easy.
Now, you’ll make it.
Meanwhile you become older.
(After all, you can’t stay seventeen forever.)

Thank God everything goes by so quickly,
Both the love and even the sorrow, as well.
Where are the tears of last evening?
Where is the snow of yesteryear?
Where are the tears of last evening?
Where is the snow of yesteryear?

Nannas Lied, Bertolt Brecht, 
English translation attributed to L. Steve Schmersal.
Music by Kurt Weill, 1929.


And now, auf Deutsch:


Nannas Lied

Meine Herren, mit siebzehn Jahren
Kam Ich auf den Liebesmarkt
Und Ich habe viel erfahren
Böses gab es viel
Doch das war das Spiel
Aber manches hab ich doch verargt.
(Schlieβlich bin ich ja auch ein Mensch.)

Gott sei Dank geht alles schnell vorüber
Auch die Liebe unde der Kummer sogar.
Wo sind die Tränen von gestern Abend?
Wo ist der Schnee vom vergangenen Jahr?
Wo sind die Tränen von gestern Abend?
Wo ist der Schnee vom vergangenen Jahr?

Freilich geht man mit den Jahren
Leichter auf den Liebesmarkt
Und umarmt sie dort in Scharen.
Aber das Gefühl
Bleibt erstaundlich kühl
Wenn man damit allzuwenig kargt.
(Schlieβlich geht ja jede Vorrat zu Ende.)

Gott sei Dank geht alles schnell vorüber
Auch die Liebe unde der Kummer sogar.
Wo sind die Tränen von gestern Abend?
Wo ist der Schnee vom vergangenen Jahr?
Wo sind die Tränen von gestern Abend?
Wo ist der Schnee vom vergangenen Jahr?

Und auch wenn man gut das Handeln
Lernte auf der Liebesmess’:
Lust in Kleingeld zu verwandeln
Ist doch niemals leicht.
Nun, es wird erreicht.
Doch man wird auch alter unterdes.
(Schlieβlich bleibt man ja nicht immer siebzehn.)

Gott sei Dank geht alles schnell vorüber
Auch die Liebe unde der Kummer sogar.
Wo sind die Tränen von gestern Abend?
Wo ist der Schnee vom vergangenen Jahr?
Wo sind die Tränen von gestern Abend?
Wo ist der Schnee vom vergangenen Jahr?

Nannas Lied, Bertolt Brecht.
Music by Kurt Weill, 1929.


And now for the song.


The incomparable Teresa Stratas singing Kurt Weill's setting of the poem that he wrote as a birthday gift for Lotte Lenya, after they'd moved to America, and married for the second time:





Ute Lemper singing the same:




5 comments:

Robert said...

Thank you for the translation of Nannas Lied! And it led to some very interesting reading tonight. I'll be back.
Robert

underneath said...

Marianne Faithfull has interpreted several of Brecht/Weill songs in the captivating album "Songs from the Weimar Republic". Great blog.

just b said...

as a german language student, thank you. and doubly so as a kurt weil fan. did you know Ute Lemper is touring this spring?! i'd love to hear this (and je ne t'aime pas, and die ballade von der sexuallen hoerigkeit, and i'm a stranger here myself) sung live.

Anonymous said...

Steve,
2 and 1/2 decades seems to have had a large impact on you. How's big Sis, little bother, and the folks?
Ziggy

LOLA said...

FINALLY! I've been searching since yesterday for even just the German words for this song. Why was it so hard to find??
I think Ute Lemper sings this the best I think.

Great job translating.

Vielen Dank!!!