Mack the Knife – Lotte Lenya & Louis Armstrong

Lotte Lenya & Louis Armstrong

Further to my previous Kurt Weil,  Music Monday post. I must mention the Beggars’ Opera. Composer Kurt Weill (1900-1950) and playwright Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) transformed the sweet old-fashioned operetta forms of their time into sharp political perspectives with sounds of 1920s Berlin dance bands and cabaret.

The show’s opening number, Macky Messer (Mack the Knife) became one of the top popular songs of the 20th Century. Legendary and popular artists such as Louis Armstrong, Bobby Darin, Ella Fitzgerald, Liberace, Michael Bublé, Robbie Williams have all done their own rendition of this tune, though only Lotte Lenya, the wife of Weil who it was written for, had the menacing voice that could be appropriate to a song about such a horrible serial killer!

It was known in English as The Threepenny Opera. The British/Hollywood film version does not have Mack the Knife as a song and includes Kenneth Williams in a remarkable straight-acting role. The original was first staged at the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm in Berlin in 1928. It eventually became a great success, playing 400 times in the next two years.

Click HERE to listen to a rare recording of Luis Armstrong and Lotte Lenya singing Mack the Knife in english:

Music Monday: Bizet -Habanera

Carmen Jones

Marylin Horne
Marylin Horne

I have listened to so many versions of Bizet‘s “Habanera” from the opera Carmen, that it will take a few posts to write about them. But this one is from the all-black artistes film Carmen Jones by Roger Hammerstein. It was my mother’s favourite and I often find myself mumbling the chorus while I do the washing up.

It was performed by the beautiful Dorothy Dandridge, who played opposite baritone Harry Belafonte. But she was dubbing the real voice of Marilyn Horne. In the 50s when this was made, so many black musicians were being dubbed by whites that it made a welcome change to flip this the other way.

Dorothy Dandridge’s own voice was really good too and this film helped launch her stardom.

If you would like a comparison look at clips from the Met Opera versions or my second favourite which is sung in the original French by Maria Callas.

To come: Carmen ballet performances,  choreographers Carlos Acosta to “The Car Man” by  Matthew Bourne.

Panis Angelicus – Cèsar Franck

Milla Jovovich as Joan of Arc in 'The Messenger'
Milla Jovovich as Joan of Arc in ‘The Messenger’


Music Monday  – Third in my series where I put in a link (two here) to a piece of  music that leaves me thinking. Press the word ‘clip’ to hear the appropriate version mentioned in the text.

I would like Cèsar Franck‘s Panis Angelicus played at my funeral.

I love every version, and it is sung by many, from Renée Fleming to Andrea Bocelli.  I was moved when the BBC documentary  “Pavarotti: A Life in Seven Arias” showed Luciano Pavarotti and his father, Fernando, sing it, as they did regularly, as a duet in Modena Cathedral in 1978 clip

But, then I saw the film The Messenger about Joan of Arc (1999).  The aria is played while the Maid of Orleans,  in full armour, leads her army into battle on horseback. It was the most moving version I have ever heard. I later discovered that this emotional rendition was sung by Charlotte Church.  Sony has released neither the film, nor the soundtrack on DVD. But I found this  clip of Charlotte, that talent Welsh angel, singing it on her 13th birthday.

Panis Angelicus written by St Thomas Aquinas (Music composed by Cèsar Franck in 1872)

Panis angelicus
fit panis hominum;
Dat panis cœlicus
figuris terminum:
O res mirabilis!
Manducat Dominum
Pauper, servus et humilis.

Te trina Deitas
unaque poscimus:
Sic nos tu visita,
sicut te colimus;
Per tuas semitas
duc nos quo tendimus,
Ad lucem quam inhabitas.

May the Bread of Angels
Become bread for mankind;
The Bread of Heaven puts
All foreshadowings to an end;
Oh, thing miraculous!
This body of God will nourish
the poor, the servile, and the humble.

You God, Three
And One, we beseech;
That You visit us,
As we worship You.
By Your ways,
lead us where we are heading,
to the light that You inhabitest.