S,T,Bar,B; optional ballet or pantomime;
Karl Valentin is considered by many to be merely an amusing popular comic, or a provincial Munich performer. That he was more than a clown and jester, was indeed a 'comic genius' and a 'subtle language artist', was realized early on by Brecht and Polgar. Today, however, it is generally acknowledged that Karl Valentin's penetrating, cryptic and sophisticated texts and scenes, where nonsense is revealed as tragicomedy, anticipate two things: the Theatre of the Absurd and the kind of philosophical relativism that, deriving from Kant and Schopenhauer, leads straight to Samuel Beckett's nihilism. Viewed as a precursor of Ionesco and Beckett, it is no wonder that Valentin has been rediscovered by the world of new music theatre.
The Bewitched Music Stands is one of the dramatic scenes that Karl Valentin wrote for himself and his partner Lisl Karlstadt: an archetypal dramatic situation ‘showing’ futility, imperfection, human tragedy – captured and made transparent so we can observe the mechanical workings of fate, and raise a ‘hearty laugh’ when they are overcome. Starting from that existential situation, however, Valentin pushes the grotesquery further: on the one hand, towards total linguistic confusion, finding its musical counterpart in the attempt of the two characters to play "half a quartet on two and a half trumpets", which is doomed to failure; on the other hand, towards the ghostly independence of the material world, culminating in the spookiness of the music stands levitating on their own.
Kounadis has set this profoundly funny entertainment into music whose poetry equals that of the text, has enlarged absurd drama into total drama by way of parallel scenic actions, has transformed the wit of the play into the merry Pandaemonium of sound by contrary musical devices such as a parody of musical quotations or abstract twelve-tone series, and has made the comic and faltering object of Valentin's sketch – music – its subject. This accounts for the charm and risk of a novelty that has made up its mind to make opera laugh.