On Nebraska Bruce Springsteen rode the violent edge of Americanness that coursed through rock and roll, consciously plugging into Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and the legacy of Charlie Starkweather’s and Caril Fugate’s 1958 killing spree across the midwest. Springsteen was inspired towards Misfit-style murder ballad by Terrence Malick’s 1973 film Badlands, a thinly-veiled fiction of the Starkweather/Fugate rampage, and went so far as to write a song called “Badlands” for Darkness on the Edge of Town before going all in with the spare Nebraska. As a source of influence on Springsteen’s work and, by association, those of Springsteen’s acolytes, Malick’s film is profound, and yet it achieves its own dark power partly through a music almost entirely unrelated to its subject matter.
Music für Kinder. Music for children. Given the youth of Starkweather and Fugate, this may have been the connecting tissue Malick was looking for when he used the work of Gunild Keetman in his film. Keetman and her collaborator Carl Orff created volume upon volume of educational texts and compositions from the 1930s into the 1960s under the name “Schulwerk” and “Music für Kinder.” While Orff, as the composer of “Carmina Burana,” was the high-profile name attached to the project, Keetman did the heavy lifting. At times interpretations — as in the first of the four pieces presented here, “Gassenhauer” (which Malick used throughout Badlands), composed by Hans Neusidler in 1536 and recast by Keetman in 1952 — the work tends towards the percussive and rhythmic, with simple starts building progressively in complexity. The results are lovely, spritely even, but, as in this performance by the Karl Peinkofer Percussion Ensemble in 1995, maintain a meditative quality lending a potential for darkness, not of childhood but of perhaps a lost, or bittersweet, youth.