Monsaingeon’s wonderful Richter documentary features the legendary pianist accompanying Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in Hugo Wolf’s ‘Feuerreiter.’ I don’t like vocal music much but the piece came to mind today and I searched for the lyrics. The first stanza is a knockout and the rest could be ripped from the front pages if front pages still existed to be ripped.
Sehet ihr am Fensterlein
Dort die rote Mütze wieder?
Nicht geheuer muß es sein,
Denn er geht schon auf und nieder.
Und auf einmal welch Gewühle
Bei der Brücke, nach dem Feld!
Horch! das Feuerglöcklein gellt:
Brennt es in der Mühle!
See, at the window
There, his red cap again?
Something must be wrong,
For he’s pacing to and fro.
And all of a sudden, what a throng
At the bridge, heading for the fields!
Listen to the fire-bell shrilling:
Behind the hill,
Behind the hill
The mill’s on fire!
— Translation by Richard Stokes
The story canters on and it doesn’t end well for our redcapped protagonist. There’s a rough (and admittedly forced) parallel in Nabokov’s ‘Pale Fire’ where a King-in-mind-only abdicates to eventual academe, a hapless assassin, and his own hand.
He never would have reached the western coast had not a fad spread among his secret supporters, romantic, heroic daredevils, of impersonating the fleeing king. They rigged themselves out to look like him in red sweaters and red caps, and popped up here and there, completely bewildering the revolutionary police. Some of the pranksters were much younger than the King, but this did not matter since his pictures in the huts of mountain folks and in the myopic shops of hamlets, where you could buy worms, ginger bread and zhiletka blades, had not aged since his coronation. A charming cartoon touch was added on the famous occasion when from the terrace of the Kronblik Hotel, whose chairlift takes tourists to the Kron glacier, one merry mime was seen floating up, like a red moth, with a hapless, and capless, policeman riding two seats behind him in dream-slow pursuit. It gives one pleasure to add that before reaching the staging point, the false king managed to escape by climbing down one of the pylons that supported the traction cable.
Regrettably our national fire is more of the Wolf stripe. The mill burns to the ground with untold consequences to the many where Nabokov’s paler flame is shaded to only take the life of Kinbote/Botkin. We are left to wonder and fear whether a “a bigger, more respectable, more competent Gradus” is in our futures.
Hear Fischer-Dieskau and pianist Gerald Moore perform it below with evocative added graphics and translation followed by a rehearsal of the same piece with Richter.
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