Friday, December 9, 2016


War, A Te Deum is a groundbreaking German drama written by Carl Hauptmann (1858 -1921). Carl was the older brother of Nobel Prize winner Gerhart Hauptmann (1862-1946), who was considered a leading author of naturalistic novels and dramas. Carl Hauptmann wrote War, A Te Deum in 1913 and it was published in 1914 prior to the beginning of World War One. This poetic play is centered on a devastating European war. The title relates to war, as a hymn of praise. Many songs relating to war are part of this play. War, A Te Deum has realistic details coupled with prophetic vision.

The year Hauptmann wrote this play, was during a period when many citizens in the Austro-Hungarian Empire wanted to break with the long established, oppressive traditions and conventions of society. Early Expressionistic visual artists and authors believed any change was a release from the old ways. War was viewed as a cleansing process that could allow a new order to emerge. Carl Hauptmann’s play was written in this environment.

War, A Te Deum was written neither in the purely naturalistic nor symbolistic literary styles that Hauptmann had used successfully in the past. For this drama, Hauptmann experimented with stylistic details and selected themes that would later become commonly used by authors dedicated to the Expressionistic dramatic style. 
War, A Te Deum is divided into Four Parts.  Part One displays a “palace with a park behind a mighty iron railing and tall hedges.” A terrace is part of the palace and that side of the stage is rich with flowers. On the other side of the stage are low village huts with a street running between them. The action of this segment relates to the arrival at the palace of international delegations.  These guests from various countries of Europe each have different types of beast of prey heads that are symbolic of their nationalities.  A heated argument commences among the delegates who begin to make their territorial claims. Eventually, the character named The Archangel in Amour arrives at the palace and brings darkness with him.

Part Two is the same location. Dawn slowly rises out of the deep darkness of the closing moments of the previous scene. The palace side of the stage is empty, but the same Archangel from Part One steps out of Pertus Heissler’s hut. Heissler is known as the old prophet of doom in the village. Soon he proclaims “this will be THE GREAT WAR.” As Part Two moves to its conclusion, the “Great War is declared” and the characters begin to name some of the bestial acts committed by man

Part Three shows how the war has placed its imprint on the same setting. I was struck how the early segment of this part reminded me of Brecht’s Mother Courage (1939) with its character of the Canteen Woman. This part of the play moves from euphoric war songs to foreshadowing a calamitous conclusion of the conflict. Part Three ends with the words “Thereupon the deepest darkness settles over the scene.”

Part Four is like an epilogue. It shows the destruction of the palace and its grounds as well as the village huts. Crippled individuals move through all the destruction. There is little hope left except that Father Francis is building a little temple. Eventually hope for mankind appears as a few young women appear each carrying a baby. Hauptmann's last thoughts have some joyful individuals believing the babies are the biblical “Enoch” while others believe the babies are Cain’s son.

A positive review about War, A Te Deum was written by Baroness Bertha von Suttner (1843-1914) for the Berliner Tageblatt, the most significant liberal German language newspaper. The review appeared on May 21, 1914.   Her death a few weeks later called special attention to Hauptmann’s play since it was the subject of one of her last articles. Bertha von Suttner was a highly recognized writer and pacifist who had the distinction of being the first woman to win the Nobel Prize for Peace (1905). She believed War, A Te Deum was an excellent play and stated that it was: “a poet’s conception of war, without preconceived idealization or condemnation.” 

War, A Te Deum received praise in other publications. One example is The International Year Book:1915. This publication states on page 287: “The most remarkable work that has come from German dramatists during this year is Carl Hauptmann’s Kreig-ein Tedeum.” 

“War” was originally published in Germany in 1914 by Kurt Wolff Verlag.  The play was also included in a 1950’s publication released in Germany with the title Schrei und Behenntnis, (Cry and Confession) edited by Karl Otten.

Amelia Kemper von Ende (1856-1932) made the first English translation of this play in 1916.  She was born in Poland, but immigrated at the age of six with her parents to the United States. Her translation was published in Drama Magazine, November, 1916, number 24, pages 597-653. Proceeding the play, von Ende wrote an “Introduction to Carl Hauptmann”, pages 582-596. Drama was published in Chicago, Illinois and it was disseminated throughout the country. I have seen newspaper announcements and library bulletins stating that War, A Te Deum was available.

The most noted English translation of War, A Te Deum was done by J. M. (James MacPherson) Ritchie (1927-2013) with J.D. Stowell.  J.M. Ritchie was the English translator of many German plays that I have read. While he was widely recognized as a scholar of German literature and a pioneer of studies relating to Expressionism, he is rarely acknowledged for his contribution to provide English language readers with some of the best German dramas of the twentieth century. credits Ritchie with twenty-two English translations of German plays. A native of Aberdeen, Scotland, Professor Ritchie was awarded the Grand Cross of Merit (Grosses Verdienstkreuz) from the German Federal Republic in 1986. This distinction was granted to Ritchie for his services to Anglo-German relations.

       1.  Since I have not discussed specific Expressionistic characteristics in War,
            A Te Deum, you may wish to consult the following books to start your
            Garten, H.F. Modern German Drama. Grove Press, 1959
            Ritchie, J.M. German Expressionist Drama. Twayne Publishers, 1976.

           2.  I have no evidence that War, A Te Deum was produced on stage. Please 
           contribute any information relating to productions to this post and cite 
           your sources.

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