Two Songs from the Castle

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for soprano and piano (7 min.)

This work was a collaboration with my father, Eliezer Margolis.  Here is his program note:

The two songs presented here are drawn from the pages of Franz Kafka’s unfinished masterpiece, The Castle (Das Schloss).  The texts for the songs are based closely on Mark Harman’s 1998 English language translation from the original German.  The Castle is the tale of a surveyor, K., who is summoned to the seat of an absolute, faceless authority that only makes itself known through a capricious hierarchical bureaucracy.  This existential fable is set in a snowbound country village that lies, like an anteroom to a nightmare, just outside the Castle.  Most of the action consists of K.’s undaunted but ultimately fruitless pursuit of strategems for gaining access to that monolith.

Both songs are sung by Frieda, a young woman who stands out in Kafka’s writing as a singularly heroic female figure.  The first song, “Perhaps You’ll Want to Take Me from Him,” occurs early in the tale, the moment that Frieda and K. first meet.  K. has barely embarked on his project in the village when he becomes mired in machination and conflict, trying to obtain lodgings at an inn for the exclusive use of gentlemen from the Castle.  An official Castle messenger has been assigned to K., and before he knows it, one of the messenger’s sisters, Olga, has taken him in hand.  She whisks K. through the darkened, wintry village to the Gentlemen’s Inn.  Linked arm-in-arm, Olga and K. are only permitted entry to the taproom of the inn where they encounter Frieda, working as a barmaid.  Frieda also resides there as the mistress of Klamm—an imposing personage, cruelly indifferent to Frieda, someone K. had identified as key to the success of his quest.  Frieda loses little time in suggesting to K. that their aspirations could converge. Although K. and Frieda’s relationship commences in spontaneous romantic/sexual combustion, the true nature of K.’s desire for Frieda remains cloaked in dense ambiguity.  As the story of K.’s absurd adventures unwinds, K.’s nemesis, a landlady, goads Frieda with a withering interpretation of K.’s motives.  Frieda succumbs to a wild dread that she has meant nothing more to K. than a bargaining chip.  The second song, “It’s So Difficult to Get One’s Bearings,” occurs at the flashpoint of relational crisis between Frieda and K.  In the course of their emotionally charged meeting, Frieda oscillates rapidly between her anguished doubts and an abject craving to be loved for herself.