9. 'Das Lied der Nacht'



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After the success of the Heilige Ente there followed Gál's third opera, Das Lied der Nacht ('The Song of the Night', Op.23), a romantic drama set in 12th century Sicily, with a Turandot-like plot [the opera was written in 1924-25, was therefore almost simultaneous with Turandot, and had its first performance just one day before Turandot (on the 24th April, 1926)]. It was premièred in Breslau in 1926, and then in Düsseldorf, Königsberg and Graz. This opera, called a 'dramatic ballad', again had a libretto by Levetzow, and it brought further confirmation of Gál's standing as an opera composer. The critic of the Schlesische Tagespost wrote of the first performance:

"A great success. For me personally the evening was altogether one of the most powerful operatic experiences ever! Music and poetic conception combined in the happiest fashion."

In Breslau, where all previous Gál operas had been performed (and in 1924 even a carnival parody under the title Die Heilige Rente: nach der Oper von Gans Egal), das Lied der Nacht was received as a new high point:

"One doesn't know whether to emphasise the extraordinary variety and expressive colour in his music, which confronts us in the exposition, or the magnificent musical construction of the second 'Scene', which has rarely been equalled in the operatic literature. Corresponding to this exuberant lyricism in mood and solemnity there is the depth of symphonic ideas, whose working out reveals the hand of the mature practitioner. The harmonic combinations are thoroughly modern, but modern in the best sense; they signify an enrichment of the expressive palette, they are spiritually conceived, they communicate throughout an original experience of beauty... All in all, therefore, the new opera constitutes an enormous advance for the composer, as, alongside the mastery and creativity which we had already admired in the 'Heilige Ente', it opens up for the first time the fullness of his heart. And so it will always be considered the most valid testimony of his talent so far." [Breslauer Zeitung]

Hanna Gál explained how the collaboration with Levetzow (whose texts had also been set to music by Schönberg in his Op. 1) had come about, and revealed something of the extraordinary character of the librettist:

"After the success of the Heilige Ente Hans received innumerable manuscripts from poets, writers and those who regarded themselves as such, with suggestions for collaboration on a new opera. Hans was completely uninterested, and barely took the trouble to read the manuscripts. It was not until a few years later that he again became interested in writing an opera, but insisted on having Levetzow as librettist. But where had the fellow gone? A letter to his last known address in Paris remained unanswered. Eventually Hans learned from one of the poet's aristocratic cousins [he was related to Ulrike von Levetzow, the last love of Goethe, and the subject of his Marienbader Elegie] that Levetzow was in Corsica and obtained the address. Levetzow showed a lively interest, and so Hans decided that our holiday would take us to Italy and Corsica.

After a few all-too-short days in Venice and Florence we arrived at Livorno from where, once a week, a ship went to Bastia. The crossing over the incredibly blue Mediterranean was uneventful. We had to spend the night in Bastia. Pretty dreadful. We then took the train that went once a day along the coast from Bastia to Ajaccio (Napoleon's birthplace). The train stopped at every little town. In response to our question regarding a certain sanitary facility we received the answer 'Le pays est large.' Arriving at Levetzow's abode we found the place almost deserted. It was a malaria area, and in the summer the inhabitants took their animals to their summer quarters on the nearby mountain plateau. Levetzow couldn't do that, for he and his friend Jean Baptiste literally didn't have a sou in their pockets. Fortunately, J. B. was a Berganzi, belonging to one of the most famous bandit families of the island, and he had credit everywhere.

The pair had got nowhere in Paris and had decided to move to Corsica and live off hunting and fishing. They had bad luck with the hunting; Levetzow thought he had killed a chamois, but it turned out to be the neighbour's goat, the breeding bull, so to speak, of the whole village. And the fishing wasn't right either, as Jean Baptiste didn't like fish soup. I don't know how they managed, but in any case they always had plenty of wine and cigarettes, and through our visit some cash came into circulation again. J. B. did the cooking. Levetzow: 'Tu n'as pas oublié le poivre?' J. B. 'Non, je n'ai pas oublié le poivre.' The first ideas for Das Lied der Nacht were sketched out and discussed, sitting on Levetzow's bed. ...

Hans was horrified by the circumstances of his friend's life and pulled all the strings to get him to return to civilisation. And so a few weeks later Levetzow appeared in Vienna. The director of Universal Edition paid him a monthly honorarium in anticipation of future royalties, my mother bought some pictures from him that he had inherited, so a start was made. He wanted to give language lessons, but it went the same way as with the hunting and fishing in Corsica. Without Jean Baptiste it just wasn't right. One day the latter appeared in Vienna, with a dachshund on a lead. The height difference between the dachshund and Jean Baptise was the same as that between J. B. and Levetzow. Naturally, nothing came of the good resolutions for a bourgeois life, and he eventually had to move in with a nephew on a mortgaged estate in Moravia. There he got into political difficulties and was taken into custody. He died in prison before the case came to court.

He was the only real bohemian that I ever knew." [Private correspondence, 1989.] [more . . .]

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