|Famed, Framed and Forgotten
Jewish composers and artists in the golden era of 1920s Berlin Cabaret
Illustrated with many rare slides and audio samples, focussing on Werner Richard Heymann (1896-1961) and Mischa Spoliansky
A lecture by Alexandra Yaron
In November 2002 I received a grant from the Jewish Music Institute in London to research the lives and music of Werner Richard Heymann and Mischa Spoliansky, two of the most famous and accomplished cabaret composers of the time. I have focussed on these two composers as their musical careers and personal fate so formidably mirror the political events and the destiny of so many of the era. I have been able to meet with their respective daughters and carried out many interviews.
The lecture Famed, Framed and Forgotten explains the phenomenon of cabaret: its function within the world of music and the world of the arts. It provides an overview of cabaret, from its inception to today and introduces the most influential artists, directors, singers and composers of the era. Historical as well as musical events are highlighted to show the fascination of this genre. The political role of Kabarett is explained, and why it had to be curtailed, forbidden and ultimately destroyed by the Nazi regime.
This lecture can be presented in English, German or French and takes 70 minutes. It is filled with facts, music, pictures and anecdotes and is of interest to musicians, students and other groups.
Excerpt of the lecture:
I would like to give you an impression of what cabaret was like in the Berlin of the so called roaring 20s: Volker Kühn wrote as follows in his introduction to Hoppla, wir beben. Kabarett einer gewissen Republik. 1918-1933, which can be roughly translated as Oops, we are trembling. Cabaret in a certain republic. 1918-1933. I quote:
Never before were the shows on Germanys cabaret boards so vivacious, so diverse as in the twenties, which are said to be its heyday. The censorship, which had previously so stifled this young and emerging art form, had disappeared with the collapse of the empire. All of a sudden commentaries on contemporary issues were possible.
After the First World War cabaret had to redefine itself: it became much more politicised, opinionated, took sides and declared opposition. But then, just as today: those who on the receiving end reacted by either calling for moderation or for a public prosecutor. And indeed such a reaction was welcomed, as cabaret lived off the confrontation between claim, demand and reality. Still, that did not make cabaret an exclusively moral institution.
That, in fact, is a romanticised view of it. People were hungry for entertainment, were eager to forget their hardship and the suffering by which they were surrounded. Consequently there were many lowbrow establishments, and the necessity to make a living and pay the rent also forced the cabarets to cater for those demands. But it was not only cabaret, which experienced these constraints; the many huge revues and Varietés experienced them as well.
Those constraints were also apparent in the censorship, which, although officially abolished, still existed. Politicians and the like always knew how to impose their will and ensure that the damage inflicted by what was being said when and how, was kept to a minimum. In that respect, not much really changed
Now, it is into this hubbub, this extraordinary, pulsating and exotic city into which our then still very young men, Werner Richard Heymann and Mischa Spoliansky, arrived. Together with Friedrich Holländer (born 1896 London died 1976 Munich) they formed the nucleus of the most successful of Germanys cabaret composers and authors of Berlins Golden Twenties. They came to Berlin from different parts of Europe to find their musical talents nurtured and developed.
Heymann was born in Königsberg, Germany and Spoliansky in Bialistock, Russia. Today, many people will still recognise the melody of Holländers song Falling in Love Again, from the film the Blue Angel, which was directed by von Sternberg and was made famous by Marlene Dietrich. In my research I have found that the melodies of the songs by Werner Richard Heymann and Mischa Spoliansky are still known to many, but most people who I met, did not know by whom they were written. Some even believed that certain songs were folk songs! Such is their popularity.
CABARET WORKSHOP AND MASTER CLASSES
There are few people who are able to teach and give workshops in the field of cabaret. Alexandra is one of the few who is highly experienced and qualified to do this. She has specialised in this genre and has performed her "one woman" cabaret show in Europe and the United States (New York and Washington DC), and in various theatres and festivals. She sings in English, German and French, being fluent in all these languages.
Alexandra has lived in Belgium, England, Germany, Israel, and the United States and currently lives in Paris, France.
Richard Bryan, Cantabiles writes: "If your idea of a master class is of a big diva mocking the inadequate technique of a hapless student, then go see Alexandra Yaron and be amazed. Calm; polite; funny; sensitive to the talents, shortcomings and potential of her performers. Incisive in the detail and with a clear vision of the big picture, Alexandra is also multilingual and comfortable in many different musical and dramatic genres. A master of her art, and classy with it!"
Naomi Hyamson, mezzo (longtime specialist in theatre-song from the Weimar Republic, especially the songs of Kurt Weill), writes:
Alexandra Yaron's deep and intelligent understanding of the cabaret and theatre-song of the Weimar Republic is rare - as is her own expertise in performing this repertoire. Her master classes offer the student detailed and sympathetic tuition in this repertoire that is hard to find.
Her knowledge of this genre, of this aesthetic - combined with her wider awareness of vocal technique, stagecraft, and of the nuances of the German language - all made the master class that I attended in London in November 2003 revelatory, rewarding and of immediate practical use.
Alexandra takes as her starting-point the music and words as created by the composer and poet (or librettist) - their intentions. She combines this with the approach of the particular singer with whom she is working.
While Alexandra rightly sets demanding standards, her friendliness and understanding put the singer at ease.
For all these reasons I would highly recommend Alexandra's master classes in this repertoire.
YIDDISH MASTER CLASSES AND WORKSHOPS
Alexandra has been invited to work and lead choirs with the participants at several festivals in Europe. While she accompanies them on the piano, she works on the interpretation and pronunciation; often directing the choir in the final concert of the given festival.
Alexandra also works as choirmaster with her regular choir in Paris. Her next workshop on Yiddish song will be held in Geneva in the winter of 2004 and at the University of Venice in early 2005.
For more information please contact Alexandra