Canadian singer, songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen cited Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca as the catalyst for his extraordinary life and career. Such was the influence of the Spaniard, Cohen named his daughter (Lorca) after him.
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Lorca & Viennese melancholy
(The Konzerthaus was a favoured venue for Cohen in Vienna)
Back in the day, Cohen was asked to translate one of Lorca’s poems and set it to music. The result was the delightful Take This Waltz, featured on the 1988 album I’m Your Man.
The lyrics are based on Lorca’s poem Little Viennese Waltz, and Cohen’s version includes numerous references to the city.
The song begins, for example with talk of pretty women and a hint at Viennese melancholy with the suggestion that even Death might find solace and like-minded souls here.
I can easily picture the Grim Reaper grabbing a late-night sausage and beer on a cold evening among a few bystanders practiced in Viennese pessimism.
Death (eternal): “I spend my days surrounded by despair and humanity at its worst.”
Helmut (aged 47): “Tell me about it. You should see the laundry room in my apartment block.”
In a 1992 interview, Cohen noted it took 150 hours to get his translation right…
…just to get it into English that resembled – I would never presume to say duplicated – the greatness of Lorca’s poem.
The Canadian was no stranger to Vienna itself, having performed here on several occasions. In 1984, he said of local audiences:
In Vienna, there’s a certain value placed on vulnerability. They like to feel you struggling. They’re warm, compassionate.
Most of those appearances were at the Konzerthaus, a prestigious local venue with a focus on classical music, but also other genres. On one notable occasion there in the early 1970s, the audience apparently had to provide the guitars as Cohen’s were still stuck in customs.