Mackie Messer: Hard To Translate


by zoobyshoe
Tags: mackie, messer, translate
zoobyshoe
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#1
Mar1-06, 05:30 PM
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When I was in college I had a recording of The ThreePenny Opera, the well known Broadway/English translation by Marc Blitzstein, and some kids from Germany who'd heard it complained that it was a poor translation: the original was much down and dirtier, more crude and gritty.

Every once in a while since then I toy with trying to make a "faithful" translation of it. I've never gotten farther than working on the famous "Mack The Knife", though, because that song alone presents so many problems that it is easy to see why Blitzstein didn't so much translate it as "adapt" it into English.

Here's the first stanza in German:

Und der Haifisch
der hat Zahne
und die tragt er
im Gesicht
und MacHeath der
hat ein Messer
doch das Messer
sieht man nicht


Literally, without trying to rhyme, that translates:

And the shark
it has teeth
and it wears them
in it's face
and MacHeath, he
has a knife
but the knife
no one sees.


So, Blitzstein pulls out the stops and we get:

"Oh, the shark has
pretty teeth, dear
and he shows them
pearly white.
Just a jacknife
Has Macheath, dear,
and he keeps it
out of sight."

That's a good lyric, for sure, but it's quite embellished from the original. He's pretty much rewritten the poem as far as its poetry goes.

Trying to stick only to the information in the original the very best I've been able to come up with still requires inserting adjectives that aren't in the original just to make it scan right for the music:

And a shark has
lots of sharp teeth
wears them up front
in his face,
but though MacHeath
has a sharp knife
you won't see it
anyplace.


I'm wondering if anyone else can see to a simple translation that doesn't require modifying the teeth and knife with adjectives, or adding much of anything for that matter.
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TheStatutoryApe
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#2
Mar1-06, 06:34 PM
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Now I wish I had my Sinatra and Bobby Darin CDs with me.
zoobyshoe
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#3
Mar1-06, 06:55 PM
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Quote Quote by TheStatutoryApe
Now I wish I had my Sinatra and Bobby Darin CDs with me.
They both used the Blitzstein.

zoobyshoe
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#4
Mar1-06, 07:03 PM
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Mackie Messer: Hard To Translate


OK, I had an inspiration after I posted and got a version that doesn't modify the teeth or knife:

And the shark has
teeth you can't miss
wears them up front
in his face
Yes, and Macheath
has a knife, but
you won't see it
anyplace.
Evo
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#5
Mar1-06, 07:11 PM
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The Bobby Darin Version:

Oh, the shark, babe, has such teeth, dear
And it shows them pearly white
Just a jackknife has old MacHeath, babe
And he keeps it … ah … out of sight.

Ya know when that shark bites, with his teeth, babe
Scarlet billows start to spread
Fancy gloves, though, wears old MacHeath, babe
So there’s nevah, nevah a trace of red.

Now on the sidewalk … uuh, huh … whoo … sunny mornin’ … uuh, huh
Lies a body just oozin' life … eeek!
And someone’s sneakin' ‘round the corner
Could that someone be Mack the Knife?

A-there's a tugboat … huh, huh, huh … down by the river don’tcha know
Where a cement bag’s just a'droopin' on down
Oh, that cement is just, it's there for the weight, dear
Five'll get ya ten old Macky’s back in town.

Now, d'ja hear ‘bout Louie Miller? He disappeared, babe
After drawin' out all his hard-earned cash
And now MacHeath spends just like a sailor
Could it be our boy's done somethin' rash?

Now … Jenny Diver … ho, ho … yeah … Sukey Tawdry
Ooh … Miss Lotte Lenya and old Lucy Brown
Oh, the line forms on the right, babe
Now that Macky’s back in town.

Aah … I said Jenny Diver … whoa … Sukey Tawdry
Look out to Miss Lotte Lenya and old Lucy Brown
Yes, that line forms on the right, babe
Now that Macky’s back in town …

Look out … old Macky is back!!

http://www.bobbydarin.net/macklyrics.html
zoobyshoe
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#6
Mar1-06, 07:21 PM
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Quote Quote by Evo
The Bobby Darin Version:
A-there's a tugboat … huh, huh, huh … down by the river don’tcha know
Where a cement bag’s just a'droopin' on down
Oh, that cement is just, it's there for the weight, dear
Five'll get ya ten old Macky’s back in town.
Original German:

An der Themses
grunen wasser
fallen plotzlich
leute um
Es ist weder Pest noch Cholera
doch es heist
MacHeath geht um.

My tentative translation:

There's a rash of
floating bodies
in the waters
of the Themes
Not the plague
or other sickness
It's Macheath's means
to an end.
Evo
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#7
Mar1-06, 07:24 PM
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Quote Quote by zoobyshoe
Original German:

An der Themses
grunen wasser
fallen plotzlich
leute um
Es ist weder Pest noch Cholera
doch es heist
MacHeath geht um.

My tentative translation:

There's a rash of
floating bodies
in the waters
of the Themes
Not the plague
or other sickness
It's Macheath's means
to an end.
Interesting, changed quite a bit.
zoobyshoe
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#8
Mar1-06, 07:31 PM
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Quote Quote by Evo
The Bobby Darin Version:
Now, d'ja hear ‘bout Louie Miller? He disappeared, babe
After drawin' out all his hard-earned cash
And now MacHeath spends just like a sailor
Could it be our boy's done somethin' rash?
Original German:

Und Schmul meier
bleibt verschwunden
und so mancher
reiche Mann
und sein geld hat
Mackie Messer
dem man nichts
beweisen kann.

Me:

And Schmul Meier
who's still missing
was a very
wealthy man
Mack the knife now
has his money.
Try and prove it!
No one can.
zoobyshoe
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#9
Mar1-06, 07:34 PM
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Quote Quote by Evo
Interesting, changed quite a bit.
Trouble is, I'm not even sure I've understood the German properly on that verse. There is no tugboat or cement, though.
selfAdjoint
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#10
Mar1-06, 07:49 PM
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Changing Shmul Meier to Louie Miller masks the ding at anti-semitism in the original
zoobyshoe
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#11
Mar1-06, 08:06 PM
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Quote Quote by selfAdjoint
Changing Shmul Meier to Louie Miller masks the ding at anti-semitism in the original
You're right. I was thinking at first that he changed it because "Shmul" is just too weird to American ears, but if that were Blitzstein's concern he could have just changed it to "Sol" or even "Joe" Meier.
TheStatutoryApe
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#12
Mar1-06, 09:18 PM
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Quote Quote by zoobyshoe
They both used the Blitzstein.
I know. I just have a craving to listen to it now.
selfAdjoint
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#13
Mar1-06, 09:49 PM
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Quote Quote by TheStatutoryApe
I know. I just have a craving to listen to it now.
I like Louie Armstrong's version better.
TheStatutoryApe
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#14
Mar1-06, 10:23 PM
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Quote Quote by selfAdjoint
I like Louie Armstrong's version better.
I actually don't care for Sinatra's version much. Especially this part...
Ah, old Satchmo, Louis Armstrong, Bobby Darrin
They did this song nice, Lady Ella too
They all sang it, with so much feeling
That Old Blue Eyes, he ain't gonna add nothing new[uh huh]
But with Quincy's big band, right behind me
Swinging hard, Jack, I know I can't lose
When I tell you, all about Mack the Knife babe
It's an offer, you can never refuse
We got George Benson, we got Newman & Foster
We got the Brecker Brothers, and Hampton's bringing up the rear
All these bad cats, and more, are in the band now
They make the greatest sounds, you ever gonna hear
zoobyshoe
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#15
Mar2-06, 06:33 AM
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Quote Quote by BDarin
Now … Jenny Diver … ho, ho … yeah … Sukey Tawdry
Ooh … Miss Lotte Lenya and old Lucy Brown
Oh, the line forms on the right, babe
Now that Macky’s back in town.
Original Blitzstein verse:

Sukey Tawdry, Jenny Diver,
Polly Peachum, Lucy Brown
Oh, the line forms on the right, dear
Now that Mackie's back in town.


Darrin throws "Lotte Lenya" in there because, of course, she was the wife of the composer, Kurt Weil, and sang the role of Pirate Jenny in many productions of the show, not to mention major roles in most of his collaborations with Brecht.

However, this whole list-of-women verse doesn't exist at all in the original script. Instead there is a translation-baffling verse whose meaning I can't decipher:

Und die minderjahr'ge Witwe
deren namen jeder weis
Wachte auf und war geshandet
Mackie welches war Dein Preis!

Wachte auf und war geschandet
Mackie welches war Dein Preis!


Which, as near as I can figure out, means something vaguely to the effect:

And the under-aged widow
whose name everyone knows
woke up and was shamed
Which, Mackie, was your price!

woke up and was shamed
Which, Mackie, was your price!


What the heck is an "under-aged widow"? I can't make sense of it. Is it some kind of slang? "minderjahrige" means "underaged, minor". I can't make sense of this.

Anyway, she was shamed, so it probably means he seduced her. It could mean he got her pregnant. But it is completely unclear to me what the implications of it being Mackie's "price" are. I need someone who's sensitive to the colloquial of the original to explain what's being said here.
TheStatutoryApe
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#16
Mar3-06, 04:38 AM
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Quote Quote by zoobyshoe
Original Blitzstein verse:

Sukey Tawdry, Jenny Diver,
Polly Peachum, Lucy Brown
Oh, the line forms on the right, dear
Now that Mackie's back in town.


Darrin throws "Lotte Lenya" in there because, of course, she was the wife of the composer, Kurt Weil, and sang the role of Pirate Jenny in many productions of the show, not to mention major roles in most of his collaborations with Brecht.

However, this whole list-of-women verse doesn't exist at all in the original script. Instead there is a translation-baffling verse whose meaning I can't decipher:

Und die minderjahr'ge Witwe
deren namen jeder weis
Wachte auf und war geshandet
Mackie welches war Dein Preis!

Wachte auf und war geschandet
Mackie welches war Dein Preis!


Which, as near as I can figure out, means something vaguely to the effect:

And the under-aged widow
whose name everyone knows
woke up and was shamed
Which, Mackie, was your price!

woke up and was shamed
Which, Mackie, was your price!


What the heck is an "under-aged widow"? I can't make sense of it. Is it some kind of slang? "minderjahrige" means "underaged, minor". I can't make sense of this.

Anyway, she was shamed, so it probably means he seduced her. It could mean he got her pregnant. But it is completely unclear to me what the implications of it being Mackie's "price" are. I need someone who's sensitive to the colloquial of the original to explain what's being said here.
I found a site that explains the history of the opera starting with "The Beggars Opera". Here it explains the scene from the ThreePenny Opera where the song ends and Mackie is introduced to the stage...
The last verse of the song describes how Mac violates a young girl when she is sleeping. This happens just as the first scene begins where Mac leaves a house and follows Polly Peachum down the street. The intersection of the Moritat and the beginning of the acting is significant of how Brecht's new "Epic" avant-garde theater was enhanced by Weill's music. The stage for the play had large canvases in the background where text was projected as a narration to the scene below. It is at this intersection that the narration is depicted and sung. Not only can one ume stagitory[sic] will occur by his following of young Polly and the knowledge of his criminal tendencies, but the audience is being told and shown a picture as well. This kept the viewer from being involved in the character and left him or her as the observer of the character.
It seems that it is leaving it up to the imagination of the viewers what MacHeath may have done in that house he just left and as he starts down the way walking after Polly. It seems the idea may be that he just killed a young woman's husband and raped her or perhaps made her think that he was her husband in bed with her. "Underage Widow" may be a way of saying that she was young to be a widow. "Mackies Price", now that we see him following Polly, may be some sort of foreshadowing of what "The price for dealing with Mackie" is.

---edit---
Had to run.
Here's the link...
http://mobydicks.com/lecture/Brechth...ssages/70.html
The essay is pretty lengthy but interesting. For some reason the spelling is messed up quite a bit and some of the words are repeatedly written in short hand. "cl" and "cles" for "class" and "classes" among other things.

So to continue Brecht was apparently very anti-capitalist and I believe MacHeath in his version was a personification of the seedy underbelly of capitalism. The "I get what I want how ever I can take it" so that may also be a reason for Brecht's usage of the word "price" if we assume that he intended this to mean "the price for dealing with such people".

Next after Brecht a french film company made a movie of the ThreePenny Opera and the site cites a translation of the same portion of the song...
(translated: And the widow, under age/ The one who's name we know so well/ d one night while she lay sleeping/ Mackie how much couldyou tell).
I've never seen any version of this so I'm just going from what I have read. I still have no idea what the line "The one whose name we know so well" means.

---edit edit---
Oh and ofcourse that translation may well have been from french lyrics that were changed from Brecht's version.
TheStatutoryApe
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#17
Mar3-06, 05:26 AM
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And a translation in the bibliography of the same site...
And the child bride in her nightie,
Whose ailant's still at large
Violated in her slumbers---
Mackie how much did you charge?
Liberty taken here too.
zoobyshoe
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#18
Mar3-06, 07:33 AM
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Quote Quote by TheStatutoryApe
It seems that it is leaving it up to the imagination of the viewers what MacHeath may have done in that house he just left and as he starts down the way walking after Polly. It seems the idea may be that he just killed a young woman's husband and raped her or perhaps made her think that he was her husband in bed with her.
I'm sure the implication is not vague in the original to a German speaker, based on the degree of pointedness of other verses. For instance, even though it's a vague thing to say "Schmul Meier is still missing" it's clear by the end of the verse that we're supposed to infer MacHeath killed him and stole his money, not that anyone can prove it.
"Underage Widow" may be a way of saying that she was young to be a widow.
Something like this is a strong possibility. "Underaged" could well be being employed here in the sense of "premature". This is where a German speaker conversant with the coloquialisms of the era, or who understands how Brecht used language, is needed.
"Mackies Price", now that we see him following Polly, may be some sort of foreshadowing of what "The price for dealing with Mackie" is.
Yes, that's another good possibility, a kind of: "Screw with Mackie: pay the price."
So to continue Brecht was apparently very anti-capitalist and I believe MacHeath in his version was a personification of the seedy underbelly of capitalism. The "I get what I want how ever I can take it" ...
This was very important to Brecht. The Blitzstein translation pretty much paints MacHeath as a gangster. Brecht wanted him to be seen as an embodyment of Capitalism. That was probably alot clearer in Germany between the wars when this was written, and/but it would be a hard notion to sell to a modern American audience.
Next after Brecht a french film company made a movie of the ThreePenny Opera and the site cites a translation of the same portion of the song...
"(translated: And the widow, under age/ The one who's name we know so well/ d one night while she lay sleeping/ Mackie how much couldyou tell)."
Very poor translation. I can tell the original is much more pointed.
I still have no idea what the line "The one whose name we know so well" means.
"Deren namen jeder weis" = "whose name everyone knows" = "you all know who I'm talking about". This line doesn't baffle me: it's meaning is clear in the context of the song since other verses have similar allusions to everyone knowing what MacHeath is up to, but no one daring to point directly at him. In fact the song isn't so much about his crimes as about the fact he gets away with them despite it being common knowledge he's the perpetrator.

And the child bride in her nightie,
Whose ailant's still at large
Violated in her slumbers---
Mackie how much did you charge?
Just like the French one I'm sure this is missing important, pointed implications that would tie it in with the rest of the song. This translation mostly confuses everything.


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