HANS ZENDER: Cabaret Voltaire
Friedrich Hölderlin (1770–1843) and Hugo Ball (1886–1927), two poetic signposts at either end of the nineteenth century, would seem to be worlds apart. At first glance, the withdrawn Romantic, whose obsession with the Greeks led somehow – mysteriously, fatally – to silent confinement in the madman’s tower, bears little similarity to the provocative entertainer and impresario, dressed in his “magic bishop” outfit, intoning nonsense verses with a liturgical seriousness that transformed the public performance into a high mass of absurdity. Ball’s desire for radical originality (“I don’t want words that other people have invented”) clashes with Hölderlin’s pious acts of translation, which obediently rendered the verses of Pindar and Sophocles word for word. The painstaking precision that Hölderlin applied in the construction of his great odes and hymns finds nearly its perfect opposite in Ball’s glossolalia, where non-semantic syllables were apparently uttered forth from some pre-conscious source.
The compositional proximity of Hans Zender’s Mnemosyne (2000) and Cabaret Voltaire (2001), however, invites us to consider the possible similarities – or better, the disimilar similarities – of the Philhellenist and the Dadaist.
(John T. Hamilton)