The Popocatepetl rap

September 27, 2007

While Chris was reading a back copy of the London Review of Books in the bath last night, he came across a reference to Ernst Toch, an Austrian-Jewish composer who in 1930 wrote a fugue for voices, known in English as The Geographical Fugue. The extraordinary thing about it is, this is a composition for spoken voices.

You live and learn! Looking this up on the Internet at my husband’s request, I made another gratifying discovery, an amusing article about the composer by his grandson, Lawrence Weschler, in The Threepenny Review, who calls The Geographical Fugue a kind of “Weimar rap”!

Here’s how the German version goes (I’m thinking of introducing this to our Konversationsgruppe):

Fuge aus der Geographie

Ratibor!
Und der Fluss Mississippi
und die Stadt Honolulu
und der See Titicaca;
Der Popocatepetl liegt nicht in Kanada,
sondern in Mexico, Mexico, Mexico.
Kanada, Malaga, Rimini, Brindisi,
Kanada, Malaga, Rimini, Brindisi.
Ja! Athen, Athen, Athen, Athen,
Nagasaki, Yokohama,
Nagasaki, Yokohama,

Ratibor!

By clicking here you can hear a short excerpt. Clever, isn’t it?

In case anybody was wondering, Ratibor is the German name for a town in Silesia, now in Poland.

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5 Responses to “The Popocatepetl rap”

  1. Faith Says:

    We had a go at this (in English, not German) at one of our Eric’s madrigal reunions long ago. Total chaos, needless to say!

  2. George Says:

    I have a set of parts for this fugue. Shall I bring them to Canada with me?

  3. Faith Says:

    Aha, correction, THAT’S how I remember it. Sorry George … how could I forget?
    Although I think the “total chaos” comment probably still stands, you would agree I’m sure!

  4. Alison Says:

    Yes PLEASE! Do bring the parts along. We’ll give it a try.

  5. teacjer Jenn Kane Says:

    I am looking for the full four part original to do with my 6th grade German group. I teach a small group of students and just remembered this from a talent show I did when I was an exchange student. Any ideas? I don’t have a lot of time. Thanks for any help.
    Frau Kane


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