When French poet Charles Baudelaire met his excruciatingly drawn out and tragic end in 1867 — though he was largely at peace in the 7-8 years prior to the stroke that put his soul on notice of its imminent departure — he couldn’t have imagined that his works would go on to influence modern French and English literature in such a strong fashion that they would, a century and a half later, also influence the intellectually melancholic music of a project like Der Tod und das Mädchen; a project comprising of a duo of German musicians whom derive their name from the piano & vocal composition of the same name by Franz Schubert and Matthias Claudius. He is, of course, not the only writer (or musician) to influence and even have his or her writing sung and performed on this album, but there is something about Baudelaire’s character specifically that jumps out and seems to perfectly embody the music on “d=Moll”. He has been described as Poe’s French counterpart, a label that obviously has many implications. Like him, DTUDM seem to celebrate a kind of gloomy, opium-induced respect for the inherent beauty in melancholy that, though just recorded in the last few years, sounds as if it came from the impetuously changing world that existed in the dawn of modernity.
Though Baudelaire, from my perspective, certainly seems to be one of the stronger literary influences on the atmosphere of “D=moll” (or “D Minor”, which should give you more than a subtle hint at the compositional structure of most tracks on the album), he certainly isn’t the only one as there are many spirits at work in this often oppressively dreary collection of recordings. Indeed, literary references come from mostly German or Austrian poets and include the likes of Franz Karl Ginzkey, Isolde Kurz, Johann Mayrhofer, Georg Trakl, and others. Several tracks are also either composed by or inspired by well-known 18th and 19th century composers including Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Chopin, Schubert and Liszt. Even the cover of the album was taken from French traditionalist painter William-Adolphe Bouguereau whom adopted a modern interpretation to classical subjects in what I’d assume is literally all of his 19th century works. This is interesting in reference to DTUDM in that they are following in the same exact footsteps by paying homage to the ancients of the classical world through following an academic approach to their compositions.
Some of the references used on the album seem rather obscure, though whether that is because of the lingual barrier between German and English or not remains uncertain as all lyrics on the album are sung in the duo’s native language of German. “Das Grab”, for example, was a rather difficult to find (and then translate) poem that deals in the macabre subject of a father and son searching for the boy’s mother’s grave by the sea and being unable to find her stone marker amongst the ocean of nameless others. Again, the recurring theme of beauty in melancholy. The instrumentation on the album is structured around what is almost exclusively piano-driven compositions; a fact that perhaps should seem obvious to most readers considering the time periods and influences involved. There is a modestly unexpected change in mood for many tracks, however, that brings in a bit of a militant theme through either the names involved or the sound itself as some tracks contain a martial percussive edge as performed by D.F. Conscience. Figures that influence this sound on the album include the aforementioned Georg Trakl, Austrian army medic, expressionist poet, and another tragic figure whom was killed via a cocaine overdose not long after trying to commit suicide by gunshot at the young age of only 27. The album also ends on a strong martial note with one of the most famous military speeches in history with the words of the final German emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II echoing into eternity.
In the end, “d=Moll” is a rather straight-forward yet certainly significant work that pays homage in a Germanic tone to past European classical icons and obscurities alike. For comparisons sakes, the project that seems closest to their style is that of Cold Spring’s Sagittarius, though DTUDM operate on a more instrumentally minimal basis. There are few surprises, but in that regard it is refreshing to get back to the roots of music and literature in a time when a post-modern world is quickly taking us away, further and faster, from where the arts as we know them today really took hold in Western civilization. That said, this release is academically stimulating towards minds that are perhaps on the more reactionary end of the spectrum, as is fitting of the genre in which it is a part of. It should perhaps also be noted that there isn’t a great deal of performance on the album which requires an abnormal amount of instrumental prowess. Though the compositions are certainly influenced by some of the greatest minds in European classicism, they never seem to reach a level of musicianship that requires great skill to accomplish. This isn’t necessarily meant to apply a negative annotation to the album, but rather with the names involved, perhaps more was expected on that level.
01) Tot (J.A. Bondy)
02) Das Grab (Franz Karl Ginzkey)
03) Am See (Franz Schubert / Johann Mayrhofer)
04) Verfall (Georg Trakl)
05) Die erste Nacht (Isolde Kurz [Maria Clara])
06) Nächtlicher Weg (Franz Liszt / Wilhelm von Scholz)
07) Tasso (Charles Baudelaire)
08) Der Tod der Urman (Charles Baudelaire)
09) Prag (Frédéric Chopin / J.A. Bondy)
10) Du Verwaistes Haus (Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach / Dranmor [Bernese Ferdinand Schmid])
11) Über Moralische Tugenden (Kaiser Wilhelm II)