In the mid-thirties, Kurt Weill had fled Germany and tried to build up an existence in France, before eventually relocating to the US. During this brief French interlude Weill and playwright Maurice Magre co-wrote a potboiler song for cabaret singer Lys Gauty, who performed and recorded it with considerable success.
La complainte de la Seine is a lurid yet utterly modern affair about corpses and shattered dreams lying at the bottom of the river Seine, including such items as ‘Rings tossed in by misunderstood women / Feet that a propeller sliced off a body / And the accursed fruits of sterile wombs / Pale aborted children that nobody loved’. Baudelaire would have been proud.
Gauty gave the song an appropriately melodramatic reading, but to my mind she is outclassed by opera singer Teresa Stratas, who recorded it with much pathos for her 1981 album The Unknown Kurt Weill. My only regret is that there isn’t a complete band to back her up. The 2007 reading by Enikö Szilágyi, a Rumanian/Hungarian singer with a lower and attractively husky timbre, is also excellent, but not quite as gut-wrenching. Weill performer extraordinaire Marianne Faithfull recorded a live version in 1997.
The model upon which the 1934 Complainte was fashioned may well have been the Ballade vom entrunkenen Mädchen (Ballad of the Drowned Girl) from Brecht and Weill’s 1929 Berliner Requiem. This was translated into French as La fille noyée and recorded by i.a. Pia Colombo (1969) and Wende Snijders (2006).
Lys Gauty – La complainte de la Seine
Teresa Stratas – La complainte de la Seine
Marianne Faithfull – La complainte de la Seine
Wende Snijders – La fille noyée
Pia Colombo – La fille noyée