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The Genius of Georg Kreisler

Georg KreislerIf things had worked out differently, Georg Kreisler might have written the bulk of his satricial songs in English. An Austrian Jew, Kreisler fled Vienna in 1938. He became a US citizen in 1943 and worked on movies with Charlie Chaplin after the war. But he couldn’t find his audience. In 1947, he was rejected by the record labels, his songs  dubbed “un-American.” Listen to this example and you’ll see why his songs might have been a little over the top on the black humor side for a 1940s American audience:

In 1955, Kreisler returned to Europe where he spent three years in his native Vienna before moving to Munich. In the mid-70s, he moved to Berlin then Salzburg and Basel. Kreisler’s songs are black humor and biting social commentary at their best. They are wonderfully wicked, hair-raisingly politically incorrect and sometimes downright bizarre. The titles of some of his most well-known songs include Tauben Vergiften Im Park (Poisoning Pigeons In The Park), Zwei Alte Tanten Tanzen Tango (Two Old Biddies Dance The Tango), Das Mädchen Mit Den Drei Blauen Augen (The Girl With The Three Blue Eyes) and Wir Sind Alle TerrorisGeorg Kreislerten (We Are All Terrorists).

For many cabarettists, music comes second. In general, it’s not that important if they can actually sing. But Kreisler’s golden bass baritone, which brilliantly contrasts the actual texts, is pleasant to listen to even if you don’t speak German.

Below, I’ve translated a section of two of his songs: the dark and strange Als Der Zirkus Im Flammen Stand and Zu Leise Für Mich, which teeters between wistfulness and indifference. To give you a better feel for the cleverness of the language, I’ve translated both texts very loosely (i.e., more for meaning rather than literally word for word).

When the circus was burning down

When the circus burned to the ground

I calmly watched from far away

Oh my, oh my, oh what a day

When the circus was burning down


A lion was almost fried

It’s mane caught fire, it almost died

But most the beasts jumped through the fire

Oh what a day, how very dire

When the circus was burning down


People screeched much louder than the monkeys

Fourteen tigers ran directly into town

Two giraffes were dangling from the wires

Twenty-eight children trampled down…..


Never have we seen such a wonder

Never have we laughed so hard and long

Our town most days is such a chore

Just your standards murders, what a bore

Until the circus was burning down……

More animals are burned to a crisp and a couple of murdered children are thrown into the mix later in the song – all very dark and surreal. To see the original German text, click here.

I’ve been so long in the cabaret, singing my songs

Like a bold but ageing soubrette

And the people keep on listening

And the flowers will bloom just as bright next spring

I smile and sing because intermission’s coming

The people smile because they want to understand what I mean

Then the show is over, I go to the bar and toss them back

When back I’m home I think, still full of drink: nothing ever happens


But that’s just life, my dear, it’s true

You make your plans but then forget what you want to do

Someone somewhere is doing something, they shout their life out loud

But I can never hear it…..

Click here for the German text.








One Comment

  1. […] speak German yet. This is one of my favorite albums, filled with many songs by the fabulous Georg Kreisler, among others (Please, Shoot Your Husband and Sex is a Wonderful Habit are both pieces he wrote in […]

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