Die dreizehn Monate (The Thirteen Months)

by Erich Kästner

Famous author of books for children, poet of pungent political satires for cabarets, author of melancholic light poetry describing every-day people‘s troubles, Erich Kästner, at the end of his life, writes this gem of a cycle on the twelve months of the year plus a phantasy on a thirteenth month, which comprises all the virtues of the preceding twelve.

Kästner presents characteristic aspects of the different months in a kaleidoscope of seemingly offhand, apparently naive anthropomorphisms, which simultaneously touch archaic strings in our minds and evoke sweet memories of fairy-tales read to us when little. Here are some quotes:

With children swirling round, like the Pied Piper, Is January dancing proudly on the ice.

Prompt, He (February in carnival) unlocks from his closet Bogus beards and phony gold.

Winter (in March) is taking stock, Looks for new prospects. Took up an offer From far-away climes.

The rain (in April) is jangling with just one finger The grass-green Easter-melody.

Splendidly clad, a lavish young pretender, A flowery sceptre in his slender hand, Does May now ride – a Mozart of the calendar – Saluting from his coach across the land.

For composers, Kästner‘s imagery presents a wealth of stimuli to mirror and deepen the poetry. Just think of January‘s circulating movements, April‘s jangling on the piano … and then there is Mozart-May!

Throughout the year, Kästner muses on the two aspects of time: On the one hand, for nature, time is cyclic and eternally rejuvenating, and on the other hand, for us humans, it is teleological and inexorably directed one way towards death. And it is this omnipresence of time which relates this poetry so closely to music. Music, is certainly tone, harmony and melody, but above all it is meter, rhythm and tempo and thus the art of giving time an accessible form.

If you scan through the beginnings of the different months, you will realize how much attention has been given to this fundamental aspect of time, and, as to the endings of the different pieces, you will always return to Kästner‘s pensive, melancholic basic disposition.

Hartwig Riedl

In 2019, an arrangement of the song cycle for mixed choir by Thomas M. J. Schäfer was created in close collaboration with the composer.

The Thirteen Months - Audio Samples

January

May

July

September

The 13th Month

Dorothea Craxton, soprano - Philip Gammon, piano

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