14 February 2012

Comedy Harmonists, or Medicine for the Soul

The first time I was in Crete, many years ago, saw me sleeping in a hammock, drinking raki, developing a passion for stewed goat and grilled octopus, learning to play airhockey, visiting innumerable ruins, and taking far too many photographs. 

Yes. Trees in the centre of the road. Welcome to Crete.
Riding shotgun in a friend's hire car -- a robust but antiquated Panda -- I was frequently intrigued by an improbable ditty he seemed to relish singing:
'You go as well with me as sugar goes with tea,
You go as well with me as A does go with B...'
After hearing this about seventeen times, in between discussions of the heroism of Patrick Leigh Fermor, I eventually asked what the song was.

Oh, it's a loose translation of a song by a German group called 'The Comedian Harmonists,' I was told, and then my friend told their sad tale.

He told me of how, in the twilight of Weimar and the rise of the Third Reich, the German close-harmony group known as the Comedian Harmonists were one of the most famous groups in the world, prodigiously gifted and astonishingly accomplished, capable of rendering the most diverse range of songs in the most beautiful -- and often hilarious -- of ways.

Half the group were Jewish, and so they fell foul of the Nazis, as one would expect. Eventually they were barred from performing altogether, and the three Jewish members fled abroad, there to form a new group called the Comedy Harmonists, while the non-Jewish ones remained behind to form Das Meistersextett.

Although all six members of the Comedian Harmonists survived the war, the group never reformed.

I spent that New Year in Germany: New Year itself was spent in Berlin, with a couple of days in Frankfurt on either side. In Frankfurt I made sure to pick up a CD of their songs, and to this day their regular medicine for me when I feel down.

They proved very useful on Sunday night just gone, the weekend not having been the jolliest.

It's worth your while exploring their work.

My introduction to them was the hilariously cheesy Du paßt so gut zu mir wie Zucker zum Kaffee, as sung by the Comedy Harmonists exile group -- you'll note that the song refers to coffee, not tea -- but the Comedian Harmonists' most famous songs are probably Mein Kleiner Grüner Kaktus and Veronika, der Lenz ist da.

Wochenend Und Sonnenschein, a German take on Happy Days Are Here Again, is most definitely worth a listen, as are their renditions of Tea for Two and the French Ali Baba.

For sheer beauty, I'd definitely point you to the almost painfully gorgeous Sandmännchen and the delightful An der schönen blauen Donau, while their version of Strauss's Perpetuum Mobile is brilliant.

And of course Ein Freund, ein guter Freund is a particular jaunty little number.

You can pick up what looks like a fine collection of their stuff for £3.99. I've bought pints that cost more than that. Give them a shot. You won't regret it.

No comments: