Morgen mittag um elf!

I was listening to this CD this morning as I made my coffee. Specifically the last two tracks, which are both from Strauss’s Capriccio. The Mondschein music was my introduction to Strauss and I’ve always liked it (there are parts where he sounds like he’s waving at George Gershwin), even though the story of Capriccio is so contrived it sometimes makes me want to beat my head against the wall. Short version: words or music? What about if you’re a lady who likes men and each of these is represented by a reasonably attractive man? Then what? (Then again, I don’t really have a problem with things being contrived, so with Capriccio I don’t know why I mind so much. Maybe it’s because it verges into ‘cute’/’precious’ territory at times. I’ll have to go and listen to the whole thing again, I guess. And after all, it’s the music that’s the draw here, and the music is great.)

What I noticed today of all things was that huh, I can actually understand Fleming’s German fairly well. This is not because my German has improved since the last time I listened to this. I think it’s because Fleming is an American English speaker, and so am I, and thus she has the same accent in German that I do, and thus the ease of understanding. (Although no doubt, given that she is older and wiser than I, Fleming’s German accent is better than mine.)

It is analogous to something I experienced years ago in a research context. I was reading letters back and forth among a lot of seventeenth-century Jesuits. I will preface this with the statement that my Latin, to the extent that it exists — to the extent that it ever existed — is awful. I mean, execrably awful. And so I noticed that when I got to the letters written by English Jesuits – gosh, these were a lot quicker to translate. And it was because these Jesuits (being English, and perhaps in a hurry) were falling into English word order and sentence structure. They were, in other words, writing bad Latin. I was grateful.

Latin is a highly inflected language (seriously: you so much as bat an eyelid in Latin and someone is going to inflect something). English is not. Word order in English is very important, enough that if I say something like “Important is very word order” in English, most of my fellow Anglophones are still going to hear a ‘[noun] is very [adjective]’ sentence and wonder what is so very word order about important.

With Latin, in contrast, what with all the inflection, word order is . . well, word order in Latin is the word order of Satan Himself. Here is a graphical representation of Latin sentence structure.

So, anyway. Capriccio. Words and music are both important, Gräfin. Let it go. (Or, if you like, bang ’em both. Donna Giovanni would.)

2 thoughts on “Morgen mittag um elf!

  1. Trust me, as a native speaker, I can tell you that Fleming’s German is nigh on perfect. The reason why you can understand it is because she has extraordinarily good diction.


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