MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Rare Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder from 1957

The Berliner Ensemble has made this rarity available as a stream until the end of 21 May 2020: Bertolt Brecht’s own staging of Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder with Helene Weigel as Anna Fierling.

This raw, low-fi filming dates from 1957 and was made by Deutscher Fernsehfunk, the state TV of the DDR, from the postwar production that Brecht and Erich Engel initially staged at the Deutsches Theater on 11 January 1949, with a new score by Paul Dessau. This became the model for the play and for the new company Brecht established as the Berliner Ensemble. The 1957 filming (made a year after Brecht’s death) took place at BE’s home at the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm.

Here’s a poem Brecht wrote in 1950 to introduce Mutter Courage to children:

There once was a mother
Mother Courage they called her
In the Thirty Years War
She sold provisions to soldiers.
The war did not scare her
From making her cut
Her three children went with her
And so got their bit.

Her first son died a hero
The second an honest lad
A bullet found her daughter
Whose heart was too good.

An interesting assessment of Brecht by Richard Gilman from 1978:

MORE than 20 years after his death, Bertolt Brecht remains a peculiar case, an unsettled question… And he continues to cause resentment by resisting classification. At 20, he wrote to Caspar Neher that “I am a materialist and a bad hat and a proletarian and a conservative anarchist,” and a few years later told another friend that “I must have elbow room, be able to spit when I want, sleep alone and be unscrupulous.” He was referring to his relations with women, but this was true in other parts of his life as well…
“Doubt moves mountains,” he once remarked. “Of all things certain doubt is the surest.” The elegant reversal was characteristic of his methods, just as the most stringent unsentimentality was of his being. Shortly before his death he wrote a poem to serve as his epitaph. It begins this way: “Here, in this piece of zinc, lies a dead man, or his legs and head, or still less of him, or nothing at all, because he was an agitator.” Having spent his life battling illusions, it was not likely he would have any in his own case.

Filed under: Bertolt Brecht, theater

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