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Mendelssohn's grandfather - the model for Nathan the Wise ...

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Rick Jones Rick Jones | 23:55 UK Time, Wednesday, 21 October 2009

moses_mendelssohn.jpgI confess I have been dallying with Mendelssohn again although this time with Felix's grandfather, the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786). He is the model for Nathan the Wise, the title role of a play by his friend Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729-1781) which I have spent many of my free periods and lunchtimes this year translating. I am not the first to have attempted this but previous versions retain a flavour of the eighteenth century if not Lessing's iambic pentameter where mine is more contemporary. A cast of actors from the Shakespeare Globe Theatre is to give a public reading of it next Thursday 29 October at 7.30pm in Southwark Cathedral if anyone's interested. Free admittance. We've cut its five acts down to ten scenes so you can be in the Market Porter by nine.

Moses would have been a welcome guest on one of Radio 3's Free Thinking programmes. He astounded his Berlin friends by advocating the separation of church and state, proposing the idea of a personal God, recommending Jewish integration and campaigning for civil rights. He died too young for Felix to have known him but clearly his liberal beliefs permeated the Mendelssohn household. What's the difference - Jew, Christian, Moslem, Parsi....? the play declares. Felix was baptised a Christian. In the play, a Jew brings up a Christian girl as a Jew which incenses the Patriarch of Jerusalem, where the play is set at the time of the Third Crusade (1192). Saladin meanwhile challenges Nathan to tell him, if he's so wise, which is the true religion. Nathan relates the Parable of the Ring. Hallo, is that Wagner listening behind the velvet curtain?.......


  • Comment number 1.

    Your German must be good, Rick, to attempt a translation of 'Nathan der Weise', the first 'Ideendrama' (ideas' drama). Alas, I shall not be able to make the Free Thinking Festival in 'The Sage' this weekend, nor 'Nathan the Wise' next Thursday in Southwark Cathedral. Nevertheless, this is the sort of thing which I should like to hear on Drama on 3, so why not record the performance and email it to Abigail Appleton. It could form part of next year's Free Thinking Festival, if it is any good. All the best,


  • Comment number 2.

    Of course, kleines, you will have heard Nathan the Wise on Drama on 3, 20.15, Sunday 28 December 2003? If you did and if you could get to Southwark Cathedral you would be able to compare Rick Jones's translation with Edward Kemp's. I have a recording of Edward Kemp's production but will not be able to get to Southwark Cathedral so mine will be a one-sided comparison.

  • Comment number 3.

    Hello, french frank! Thank you for the reminder. Here are some images of the 2003 Chichester production, if only to inspire Rick and the current Globe players:


    I, too, thought that it was one of the most outstanding Dramas on 3 of the 'noughties, although did Rick listen? Rick, I went to see a play at 'The Globe' last summer, 'A New World', although I should perhaps confess that it is one of my least favourite venues in London, which is surprising, as it is a pretty accurate reconstruction of the Elizabethan theatre.


    As for your choice of pub, Rick, I cannot fault the 'Market Porter', although perhaps it lacks the intimacy of the 'Nag's Head', french frank.


    It may also be worth commenting that it seems to me as though Radio 3's Composers of the Year blog has been all but abandoned by Jessica (Mendelssohn) and Suzanne (Handel).

    As for the Free Thinking Festival, alas, I am in Strasbourg, where Johann Wolfgang von Goethe studied, so I shall try and come up with a Free Thought for everyone on 3. Cheers (Alsace Riesling)!

  • Comment number 4.

    Not entirely related but the portrait jogged my memory and resulted in this discussion:


  • Comment number 5.

    Hello kleines
    No, Jessica and Suzanne haven't abandoned the blogs - they're busy doing other things at the moment and will be back.
    Also, Rick has asked me to pass this on to you (full translation below)!
    Best wishes
    Vielen Dank, Alle, fuer Ihre Antworte. Und Sie, kleines c, mit Ihrem bescheidenen deutschen Blognamen, koennen Sie auch Deutsch? Auf Jedenfall hat die grosse Aufgabe ein ganzes aus dem achtzehnten Jahrhundert herkommenden Schauspiel zu uebersetzen meine Sprachfaehigkeit wohl verbessert. Die Edward Kemp-Fassung habe ich nicht gehoert – und bin froh darauf, da der wahre Uebersetzer durch andere Uebersetzungen nicht beeinflusst werden soll.
    Die Globe-Schauspieler fuer Nathan den Weisen sind jetzt gewaehlt. Einige davon treten in Casualty, The Bill und Dr Who auf. Ein anderer spielt auch Klarinette und wird Mendelssohn-Melodien zwischen den Szenen geben. Probe gibt es Dienstag und Mittwoch. Am Donnerstag wirds gelesen. Wer Interesse ans Leben des Grossvater Mendelssohns hat, bitte kommen Sie 'rein! Southwark Cathedral. 1930. Freier Eintritt.
    Ein interessantes Konzert habe ich Samstag Abend im Royal Festival Hall gehoert. Colin Currie hat die Urauffuehrung des Percussionkonzerts von Rautavaara mit Begleitung vom London Philharmoniker unter dem Stab des Yannick Nezet-Seguins gegeben. Anfang, Mitte und Ende wurden durch ein langes naives Sibelius-Thema unterstutzt und von einem beabsichtigten verstimmten Mikroton in den Streichen geschattet. Rautavaara hoert jetzt etwas Schoenes im engen Dissonanz, aber, ich meine, es dauere noch ein bisschen laenger bis die meisten von uns kein verstimmten Schulorchester in diesen zukunftigen Kleinton hoeren.
    Currie musste viele verschiedene Instrumente schlagen. In der Reihe Becken konnte ich nur Topfdecken hoeren aber die Marimba und Vibraphon klangen sehr aufregend aus, besonders als sie rhythmisch im Presto gespielt wurden. Der zweite Satz war ein ausgedehntes Espressivo, aus welchem Currie mit sanften, fliessenden Staeben auf den gluehenden Vibraphon ein tiefgefuehltes Legato schuf.
    Flexaton war auch dabei. Sonderbarer Klang. Vor zwei Jahren habe ich Rautavaara interviewt. Am Ende des Interviews, fragte ich ihm woran er jetzt arbeitet. 'Ich bin ein Esel zwischen zwei Heuhaufen,' antwortete er. 'Das Percussionkonzert fuer Colin Currie und ein Oper ueber das Leben Lorcas. Von welchem soll ich jeden Morgen beissen?' Er hatte aber schon entschieden. 'Wie schreibt man fuer Flexaton?' fragte er mir im Abschied. Ich wusste nicht. 'Sparsam?' schlug ich vor. Samstag war sein wackeliges Boing beeinfliessend.

    Many thanks, everyone, for your responses. And you, kleines c, with your modest German blog-name, are you also a Germanist? In any case, the task of translating an 18th century play has improved my linguistic ability. I haven't read the Kemp version, which is as it should be as a translator shouldn't be influenced by other translations.
    The Globe actors for Nathan the Wise have been chosen. Some of them appear in Casualty, The Bill and Dr Who. Another one will play Mendelssohn melodies on her clarinet between the scenes. Rehearsals are on Tuesday and Wednesday. Reading is on Thursday. Anyone interested in Mendelssohn's grandfather, please come along. Southwark Cathedral. 7.30pm. Entry free.
    I was at an interesting concert in the Royal Festival Hall on Saturday evening. Colin Currie played the world premiere of Rautavaara's Percussion Concerto accompanied by the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Yannick Nezet-Seguin. The beginning, middle and end were supported by a long, naïve Sibelian theme shadowed by a dissonant microtone in the strings. Rautavaara hears beauty in this tightest of intervals. It'll last a little longer for most of us before it ceases to sound like an out-of-tune school orchestra.
    Currie played several different instruments. I could hear only saucepan lids in the row of cymbals but the xylophone and marimba were exciting especially in the jagged rhythms of the presto. The second movement was a long-drawn espressivo from which Currie with soft flowing sticks created a deeply felt legato.
    The flexatone was also in the mix. Eerie sound. Two years ago I interviewed Rautavaara and asked him what he was currently working on. 'I am a donkey between two haystacks,' he said. 'A Percussion Concerto for Colin Currie and an opera about Lorca. Which to bite from every morning?' He had already decided. 'How do you write for flexatone?' he asked me as we parted. 'Sparingly?' I suggested. Its reverberant boing was influential on Saturday.)

  • Comment number 6.

    I only just saw this last Message (#5), Graeme, as I did a quick online search of the Radio 3 website. I was working in Alsace, Pfalz and Hessen at the end of October, went offline, and lost track of this particular blog entry.

    Ich kann deutsch, Rick, aber soll englisch.

    Your German is good, and reading you above, possibly better than mine. I may sometimes rise to the eloquence of Goethe, but lack the passion of Schiller!


    Thank you for your thoroughly entertaining postings over the past year, I should have introduced myself (in German) at the proms, but got myself banned, as ever!

    I cannot blame Graeme, Roland or Roger, for the record, Radio 3 was most accommodating, and I wish you all well in the future!


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