Before his show Wednesday night at Sweet Briar, German cabaret artist André Hartmann greets each attendee individually. Having performed in front of 200 people in Washington, D.C., the day before, the 35-year-old Bavarian clearly appreciates the College’s intimacy.
“The sense of community here is wonderful,” he says, and he’s not just talking about Sweet Briar.
Though small in numbers, the crowd in front of Memorial Chapel consists mainly of German immigrants, some of whom have been here since the 1970s. Whenever there is anything German going on in Central Virginia, they know about it.
There are three generations of the Wurth family from Amherst County, a German-British couple from Goode, and an engineer from Areva. As much as they’re here to see German comedy, they’re also here to connect.
Notwithstanding 40 years in the U.S., Wolfgang Wurth still knows his German dialects, and the lady from Goode hasn’t forgotten those German folk songs she learned as a small child after the war.
Hartmann, on the other hand, is too young to remember them, though he teaches music and has been playing the piano since he was four. Much of his improvised show is based on song requests from the audience — most of them German “schlager” (a style that features catchy melodies and simple, sing-along lyrics), pop music from the 1980s and ’90s, and famous classical pieces.
Some requests are American songs, such as “Country Roads,” a tune most Germans grew up singing over and over (and over) in music class.
Trying to figure out exactly which German artist wrote “Country Roads,” Hartmann starts off by impersonating various German singers, including Heino (“I don’t know if I’m allowed to do Heino because he’s not really politically correct.”), Udo Lindenberg (“He’s really like that, I’m sorry, I’m not drunk”) and actress Inge Meysel (“I woke up sick one day and noticed that I sound just like her.”).
He’s brought wigs for some of them, but the real comedy is in his versatile voice and body language.
After slipping into the role of former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder (who, as Hartmann’s alter ego, pops up repeatedly throughout the show) and impersonating current chancellor Angela Merkel without any props at all (“I usually can’t do Merkel, but today I’m wearing a suit, so that works.”), Hartmann moves on to his real “mission”: teaching the history of music.
“I want these twenty-five people here on campus to go home educated,” he explains.
The audience is shocked to learn that every piece of music was actually written by Bach, and that every major composer in the history of music stole from him.
“Mozart stole tunes even after his death!”
His fingers flying across the piano, Hartmann races through the centuries, showing how Beethoven, Liszt and Chopin all played essentially the same exact songs, including “Ode to Joy” and Germany’s national anthem.
The handful of non-Germans miss a joke here and there as Hartmann switches between English and German, but they’re clearly having fun.
“I love German cabaret,” says librarian Lisa Johnston and throws in a request of her own for Kurt Weill’s “Pirate Jenny.”
After 90 minutes, Hartmann, who’s also a serious pianist, drops the comedy and wraps up his show with a three-minute piece by Chopin.
This time, it’s really not Bach, and Mozart didn’t steal it.
Hartmann has performed worldwide at the invitation of German embassies and consulates and through the Goethe-Institut. This year’s trip to the U.S. marks his third visit, and he plans to come back next year. Hartmann can be contacted through his website at andrehartmann.de.
Contact: Janika Carey