Public hearing: Karl Kraus’s Die letzten Tage der Menschheit as an audio experience

Karl Kraus’s most famous work, Die letzten Tage der Menschheit [The Last Days of Mankind] was written as an immediate reaction to World War I. He wrote in the Preface: “For it is blood of their blood; the content is the narrative of those years, unreal, unthinkable, accessible to no waking sense or memory, only preserved in bloody dreams, when operetta characters played out the tragedy of mankind. The action, leading to a hundred scenes and hells, is impossible, fractured, hero-less. The humor is merely the self-reproach of a witness who has not gone mad at the thought of surviving these times with his mind intact. … The rest of the world, which allowed the things recorded here to happen, should put the obligation to weep before the right to laugh. The most improbable deeds reported here actually took place; I only painted what was done. The most implausible conversations in this play were spoken verbatim; the shrillest inventions are quotations. Propositions, whose folly is indelibly registered on the ear, swell into the music of life. … Clichés stand on two legs – some men are left with only one.”
In keeping with the idea of “seeing by hearing”, the text and music together tell a story. The music creates a new atmosphere in which the text read by Erwin Steinhauer can be appreciated even better. A collage of set pieces from military or salon music, operetta and Heurige lieder, as well as abstract sounds, give substance to a cruelly comic and disturbing Armageddon operetta.

Introduction: Michael Baiculescu, Mandelbaum Verlag