A Festival of Narrative Voices
A brilliant trove through numerous archives has produced more than 180 German-speaking narrators, who have now been made accessible to a wide listening public on forty-four CDs.
In the beginning was the static. Through this diffuse backdrop comes the voice of Arthur Schnitzler, fixed by 1907 recordings of Living Hours (Lebendige Stunden) and The Veil of Beatrice (Der Schleier der Beatrice). With surprise, we listen to his quite un-Viennese sounding speech. Sigmund Freud, reading a biographical note in 1938, is also only slightly more understandable. Or Alfred Döblin, who in Berlin in 1938 held a Speech on Modern Painting, a talk without notes on the state of literature and art. And from afar, from 1905, booms the baritone of Gerhart Hauptmann.
Authors as readers of their own texts
Deep is the well of the past, and so too the trove through the most various archives, most of which belong to radio broadcasters. Christiane Collorio, Michael Krüger and Hans Sarkowicz set out on this search and returned with a rich haul. Hardly another edition could be more colourful, diverse and enthralling than the now issued Library of Authors (Bibliothek der Autoren). The box of forty-four CDs contains more than fifty-six hours of narration. One hundred and eighty-three authors (in order of their birth years) have a chance to speak.
Are authors better readers of their own texts? They sometimes introduce idiosyncratic pauses, now unorthodoxly modulate the volume of their voices, now recite direct speech more hesitantly than would a trained actor. In spite of this, we want to hear all these authors in the original; their voices not only vouch for authenticity, but also suggest to the listener a greater immediacy. We feel somehow able to approach the process of writing more closely, better able to unmask concealed means of expression and hidden messages.
For example, Carl Zuckmayer, who in 1956 read from his Story of a Pond (Geschichte vom Tümpel), an initially trivial seeming tale of a small body of water whose ice sheet melts, releasing a series of odours and aromas and helping a multitude of small animals to life. Zuckmayer’s reading makes of this its own form of world theatre, vivid and haunting.
There are also writers whose readings our ears do not forget, not even when we later read the texts ourselves. Walter Kempowski, for instance. Gottfried Benn, with his almost uncompromising, almost anti-sensual directness in Primal Vision (Urgesicht). But also Ingeborg Bachmann. On the one hand she reads her own text, Ihr glücklichen Augen (i.e., You Happy Eyes), as if it were completely alien to her; on the other hand, her clear, naive-girlish tone imprints itself unmistakably on the listener’s ear. There are also voices that make so strange an impression that we would probably never assign them to the right author in a blind test. Who would have expected Lion Feuchtwanger, reading an excerpt from Raquel, The Jewess of Toledo (Die Jüdin von Toledo) in 1955, to have such a sharp-nasal, tight-squeaky voice? By contrast, there are writers that are immediately identifiable alone by the dialectal colouring of their voices: Oskar Maria Graf, with a strong Bavarian accent; Heimito von Doderer, who does not even try to conceal his Viennese; or the Swiss: Friedrich Dürrenmatt reading his Hercules in the Augean Stables (Herkules und der Stall des Augias) and Max Frisch an excerpt from Gantenbein (Mein Name sei Gantenbein).
Contemporary authors are much more numerously documented. Daniel Kehlmann may be heard reading an excerpt from Fame (Ruhm), Marcel Beyer a passage from Putins Briefkasten (i.e., Putin’s Mailbox), a reading produced specially for this edition. The same is true of the chapter Der Esche Stamm (i.e., The Ash Trunk) from Lo und Lu (i.e., Lo and Lu) by Hanns-Josef Ortheil and Helmut Krausser’s excerpts from his journals. There are also readings by Uwe Tellkamp, Arno Geiger, Julia Franck and several more.
You can listen to whatever parts of this magnificent box wherever you like: you will invariably find something known and something unknown, something enlightening and something irritating. Here you find members of literary groups – for example, the Viennese Group with H.C. Artmann and Friederike Mayröcker, and Group 47 with Andersch, Bachmann, Grass, Handke, Böll, Lenz, Walser and others; and there are the solitaries such as Doderer and Canetti, Zuckmayer and Kästner. Satisfying is less the density of prominent names than the selection. In the case of Hermann Hesse, for instance, the editors have chosen the fairy tale Der Dichter (i.e., The Poet), a text written when Hesse was thirty-five year-old and later recorded by him in 1955 for a radio broadcast; it is the earliest story read by Hesse himself.
There is much more in the 200 page booklet: some authors are mentioned that verifiably read for the radio but are missing from this edition – for example, Heinrich Mann, Robert Musil, Walter Benjamin. Not that the editors of this commendable collection have forgot to search for them: the recordings have simply not been preserved.
In March 2013, this work was awarded with the Deutscher Hörbuchpreis (German Audio Book Prize) for the best publishing achievement.