Above is the first video I ever posted on YouTube, and easily the most visually fun of the ones I’ve posted so far: a demo recording of three songs from the musical “Witches” enhanced with 105 illustrations of witches past and present, art historical and trash cinematical.

Witches 1When I made the “Witches” video I was just looking for a way to share the recording of the Witches demos with singers without needing to post a cd in the mail.  The audio files were too big for email (and I still don’t understand zipmail) and this was a time before OneDrive or Dropbox or Soundcloud.  So I thought it might be fun to take a deep dive into google images and play around with my laptop’s Imovie function.  I think you will see I had my fair share of fun making this (I hope you’ll have fun watching it) but I don’t want to make any great cinematic claims here, the point of the video is still to showcase the songs.  (I think you will also see that the dubious pixelation quality of some of the images suggests it’s better not to watch this using the full screen function.)

Witches 5I have since learned that to “succeed” on YouTube it is better to post short clips, not 10 minute song cycles.  But that’s OK.  I posted my YouTube videos in the pre-Soundcloud, pre-Dropbox era to give people who want to check out my music a place to give it a listen, not to drive up “hits”.

“Witches” is the second musical I co-wrote with the German playwright Peter Lund.  He first commissioned me to compose the music for the first original musical his theater company Comp & Co was producing in 1989: “Wir pfeifen auf den Gurkenkönig”.  All of 1990 was taken with several theatrical runs of that musical in Berlin.  In 1991 we discussed a second collaboration.  We thought perhaps an adult fairy tale.  I had a bunch of song ideas from a musical project I had recently abandoned, music that sounded like a modern riff on folk songs.  Peter had two female singers of dramatically and vocally opposite temperaments for whom he wanted to write.  Peter also had a sister who was deeply into Witches, in history and legend.  These three strains came together in what would be our second musical collaboration.

Witches 3“Hexen”, as the musical is originally called in German, premiered 1991 in Berlin, and would enjoy 3 more theatrical runs in Berlin alone, including two at the Deutsche Oper, where my own mother (Catherine Gayer) sang the alto role (even though she is a soprano, but a soprano with a very wide range).  “Hexen” has also been produced dozens of times all over Germany and Austria, and will soon be seen in my grandmother’s homeland Finland (that tickles me to no end – my grandmother was a performer and voice teacher who passed when I was only three; I believe she would be thrilled at the news of her grandson’s musical being produced in Helsinki).

“Hexen” program insert from original 1991 production (Courtesy of Frank Oppermann)

The two original Witches of the premiere production were a chanson singer with a low alto range and a legit soprano who preferred not to sing below middle C.   Between the two of them they only had one octave comfortably in common, which was a fun challenge, especially when it came to composing duets.  The title song, first off the gate in the video, is the most extreme illustration of the challenges and opportunities I faced writing for those disparate voices.  Unfortunately we don’t have a recording of the original Witches, as the contrast in their timbres and range was more obvious in their pairing than in any subsequent cast I have heard.

I adapted Peter Lund’s German libretto and lyrics into English in 1992 and produced “Witches” a couple times in New York since then.  The demo recording features the original orchestration for the musical: cello, clarinet and guitar.

PS: There are two YouTube German language video trailers of Hexen, a Salzburg production (this one features several additional songs); and another longer compilation which includes dialog snippets, but the highlight is a near complete rendition of “Hallo, Kleiner Mann” on the 7 minute mark.

Witches 4

About dannyashkenasi

I'm a composer with over 40 years experience creating music theater. I'm also an actor, writer, director, producer, teacher and general enthusiast for the arts.
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  1. says:

    Amazing illustrations and compelling music. Thanks, Danny. Love, Mim

    Liked by 1 person

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