Sunday, March 1, 2015

Berlioz - Grande Messe Des Morts (Requiem)

The political climate in the second decade of the 19th century in France was precarious at best. Napoleon had been exiled to Elba in 1814 after his abdication as Emperor, and the house of Bourbon was restored to power with King Louis XVIII, younger brother of King Louis XVI (who had been executed during the French Revolution of 1789-1799).

But with Napoleon's escape from Elba and return to France in February of 1815, the new King had to go into hiding. Napoleon ruled for a period called The Hundred Days before he was defeated for good. King XVIII came out of hiding and ruled until 1824 when he died. Yet another Bourbon brother then came into power, Charles X. He was to rule until 1830 when the July Revolution forced him to abdicate.  Yet another monarch was brought into power, this time a cousin of the Bourbon family, Louis Philippe I.  His reign was known as the July Monarchy and lasted until 1848, when he also became another member of French royalty that was forced to abdicate on France's long and convoluted evolution to a more democratic form of government.

It was in 1837 during the reign of Louis Philippe I when the Minister Of The Interior Adrien de Gasparin approached Hector Berlioz with a request to compose a Requiem Mass in honor of  those who died in the 1830 Revolution, but after Berlioz had composed the work and hired copyists, an official informed him that the ceremony was to be held without music (possibly at the instigation of one of Berlioz's enemies).  For the next few months Berlioz pestered and complained to the authorities until the news came that the Battle Of Constantine in Algiers had been won by the French, but that General Damrémont had been killed in the battle. Plans were then changed once again, and the Requiem was to be performed at a memorial concert in the church of Les Invalides for the General and soldiers that died in the battle.

Dome of  Les Invalides
Berlioz's Requiem reflects the contemporary improvements of intonation and mechanics of the woodwind and brass. Older versions of these instruments could be notoriously difficult to keep in tune and play. Berlioz uses a huge complement of instruments and makes great demands of the entire ensemble.  Berlioz had already shown his proclivity for using large forces in his Symphonie Fantastique of 1830, but he went even further with the orchestration of his Requiem. In the score he called for over 100 stringed instruments alone. All the other sections of the orchestra show the same use of large forces, especially the brass. Twenty brass instruments are called for, plus another 38 brass instruments divided into 4 brass choirs, with one placed on the four corners of the stage. In the premiere of the work, over 400 singers and instrumentalists participated, but Berlioz encouraged the use of even more performers if they could be utilized and suggested that all parts should be adjusted accordingly.  Berlioz made two revisions to the work over the years, the final one in 1867.

The church of Les Invalides, where the premiere was given is part of a complex of buildings relating to the military history of France. The acoustics of the large dome of the church had an influence on the Requiem. Berlioz was always concerned with orchestral color and his imagination would run the range of delicate and soft to incredibly robust and loud. The dome of the church was to be Berlioz's soundboard for his musical forces. The premiere of the work was met with success, but for most of Berlioz's career he remained on the periphery of French musical life, although his works were more appreciated in other countries.

The Requiem is in ten sections:

1) Requiem et Kyrie
Berlioz was not a particularly religious man, so his Requiem is not what could be called pious, but it certainly is dramatic.  He begins with a stark theme played in unison. The choir enters with a short fugal section, and then the key turns to major for a brief respite. The fugal texture resumes with interludes of differing moods. The music changes mood and grows quiet, until the Kyrie enters in a hush. The subdued dynamics are maintained until a crescendo brings the music to a climax. After a dissonance, the choir ends their singing and the orchestra ends the movement in quiet poignancy.

Grant them eternal rest, O Lord,
and may perpetual light shine on them
You, O God, are praised in Zion
and unto You shall the vow be
performed in Jerusalem. Hear my
prayer, unto You shall all flesh come.
Hear my prayer,
all flesh comes to you.
Lord have mercy.
Christ have mercy.
Lord have mercy.

2) Dies Irae - Tuba Mirum
The ancient dies irae is sung in counterpoint by the choir and is interrupted twice by the orchestra as it plays an upward sweeping chromatic scale. After each orchestral interruption. the choir becomes more dramatic, until another orchestra interruption brings on the tuba mirum.

All four of the brass choirs, joining in one by one, blare out in a tremendous wall of sound that must have shook the church of Les Invalides, but then Berlioz summons the choir as well as 16 timpani, 4 tam-tams, and two bass drums in a section that no recording can do justice to. After this tremendous barrage of sound, the choir continues the text that is set to eerie, otherworldly themes. The fanfares of the beginning of the section return as well as the massed percussion as the choir roars out the remaining text. The music grows quiet as the choir continues in muffled tones. The movement ends as the first movement did, quietly.

In his Memoirs, Berlioz described the playing of the tuba mirum section at the premiere, and the steps Berlioz himself took to ensure that it came off properly:
François Habeneck
"Because of my habitual suspicion, I had posted myself behind [conductor François] Habeneck. With my back to his, I was watching the group of timpani players, which he could not see, as the moment approached when they were to take part in the general mêlée. There are perhaps a thousand bars in my Requiem. At precisely the point I have been speaking of, when the tempo broadens and the brass instruments launch their awesome fanfare, in the one bar where the role of the conductor is absolutely indispensable, Habeneck lowered his baton, quietly pulled out his snuff box and started to take a pinch of snuff. I was still looking in his direction. Immediately I pivoted on my heels, rushed in front of him, stretched out my arms and indicated the four main beats of the new tempo. The orchestras followed me, everything went off as planned, I continued to conduct to the end of the piece, and the effect I had dreamed of was achieved. When at the last words of the chorus Habeneck saw that the Tuba mirum was saved: "What a cold sweat I had, "he said, "without you we were lost!"  Yes, I know very well," I replied, looking straight at him. I did not add a word … Did he do it on purpose?… "
Day of wrath, that day
the earth will dissolve in ashes,
as witness David and the Sibyl.
What dread there will be,
when the Judge shall come
to strictly judge all things.
A trumpet, spreading a wondrous sound
Through the graves of all lands,
Will drive mankind before the throne.
Death and Nature shall be astonished
When all creation rises again
To answer to the Judge.
A book that is written in will be brought forth
In which is contained everything that is,
Out of which the world shall be judged.
When the judge takes his seat
Whatever is hidden will reveal itself.
Nothing will remain unavenged.

3) Quid Sum Miser
A short movement that conjures up the after effects of Judgement Day by including fragments of the dies irae that sound in the orchestra as the choir sings the text.

What then shall I say, wretch that I am,
What advocate will entreat to speak for me,
When even the righteous may hardly be secure?
Remember, blessed Jesu,
That I am the cause of Your pilgrimage.
Do not forsake me on that day.
I pray in supplication on my knees.
My heart contrite as the dust,
Take care of my end.

4) Rex Tremendae
The music begins by sounding majestic, and then changes to pleading. This alternation of moods runs throughout the movement. The movement ends with one last plea for saving from the abyss.

King of awful majesty.
Who freely saves the redeemed,
Save me, O fount of goodness.
Remember, blessed Jesu,
That I am the cause of Your pilgrimage.
Do not forsake me on that day.
When the accursed have been confounded (Jesu)
And given over to the bitter flames.
Call me...
And from the bottomless pit.
Deliver me from the lion's mouth.
Lest I fall into darkness
And the black abyss swallow me up.

5) Quaerens Me
This movement is performed by the choir without orchestra.  A middle section is in multiple part counterpoint. The music ends gently.

Seeking me You did sit down weary
You did redeem me, suffering death on the cross.
Let no such toil be in vain.
Just and avenging Judge.
Grant remission
Before the day of reckoning.
I groan like a guilty man.
Spare a suppliant, O God.
My prayers are not worthy,
But You in Your merciful goodness grant
That I burn not in everlasting fire.
You who did absolve Mary Magdalen
And hearken to the thief,
To me also has given hope.
Place me among Your sheep
And separate me from the goats.
Setting me on your right hand.

6) Lacrymosa
A restless rhythmic pulse begins the movement, and the texture of the music grows in density, passion and volume until the 4 brass choirs join in (for the last time in the work) near the end of the movement for a climax that fades to silence to end the movement.

Mournful that day
When from the dust shall rise
Guilty man to be judged
Merciful Jesu, Lord
Grant them eternal rest.

7) Offertorium
The chorus sings a three-note motive throughout the movement that consists of but two different notes- A, B-flat, A. Berlioz added a subtitle to this movement in the second edition of the Requiem  -Choeur des âmes du purgatoire (chorus of the souls in purgatory) which was removed from the third edition.  The orchestra plays various themes in counterpoint over the chorus' mournful chanting. This movement struck many of Berlioz's contemporaries with its form and the effect of the chorus' incessant chant.  The movement winds down with the mood of the music changing as the choir finally changes their chant to a different theme. The three-note motive returns, except this time the notes are A, B natural, A, and are sung to an amen.

Lord Jesus Christ, King of glory,
deliver the souls of all the
faithful departed from the pains
of hell and from the bottomless pit.
And let St. Michael Your standard
bearer lead them into the holy
light which once You did promise
to Abraham and his seed,
Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

8) Hostias
An example of Berlioz's feel for orchestral color is in the scoring of this short movement for male voices, flutes, trombones and strings. The ending of this movement has some of the most unique sounds heard in the orchestra as the trombones play very low notes that alternate with the high notes of the flute.

We offer unto You
this sacrifice of prayer and praise.
Receive it for those souls
whom today we commemorate.

9) Sanctus
This movement features a solo tenor that begins the movement and is answered by the female voices of the choir until the choir sings a fugue on Hosanna. The tenor returns along with the women's choir.  The Hosanna fugue returns and ends the movement.

Holy, holy, holy, God of Hosts.
Heaven and earth are full
of Your glory. Hosanna in the highest.

10) Angus Dei
Woodwind chords that are repeated by the violas begin this movement. Berlioz brings back themes and orchestral effects heard in the other movements, with an extended repeat (with some variations) of much of the first movement. The movement ends with a series of peaceful amens from the choir and gentle taps from the timpani.

Lamb of God, who takes away the sins
of the world, grant them eternal rest.
You, O God, are praised in Zion
and unto You shall the vow be
performed in Jerusalem. Hear my
prayer, unto You shall all flesh come.
Grant the dead eternal rest,
O Lord, and may perpetual light shine
on them, with Your saints for ever,
Lord, because You are merciful.
Amen.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Chopin - 17 Polish Songs, Opus 74

Chopin was not suited to a life of a performing virtuoso such as Liszt, not least of all on account of his health. He had been sickly as a child and had serious fits of coughing for most of his life. As a young man of 22, he was 5' 7" tall and weighed under 100 pounds. After giving a few concerts early on, he restricted himself to performing in the salons of Paris, and made his living by composing and teaching.

By contemporary accounts Chopin appears to have been a very good teacher. He never had a student that blossomed into a virtuoso, but he tended to concentrate his teaching efforts on the elite of Paris for the money they would pay for lessons. He emphasized a legato, singing touch and went so far as to recommend singing lessons for some of his students. Chopin himself would say,"You must sing if you wish to play." He urged his students to attend the opera and emulate the great singers. Chopin carried this love of singing into his compositions as well as his piano playing.

Chopin was a composer that attended the opera on a regular basis and helped create a singing style of piano playing, but his output for voice is very small. He wrote only 19 completed songs in his lifetime, and a few others that remain incomplete. And though many tried to persuade him to try his hand at opera, he refused. None of his songs were published in his lifetime. It wasn't until 1853 that one of his songs was published. The Opus 74 set of 17 songs was first published in 1859, and it is not a song cycle as there are no connecting themes to the poems. Each song is independent of the other.

Perhaps if his health allowed him more vigor and a longer life, he may have grown in his ability, interest and confidence to write more for the voice. As it is, his songs have been mostly passed over as inferior to others. But his songs are interesting, and there a handful that are masterworks.

Chopin used poems by six different Polish poets in the songs.
Stefan Witwicki - Nos. 1-5, 7, 10, 14, 15
Adam Mickiewicz - Nos. 6 and 12
Bohdan Zaleski - Nos. 8, 11 and 13
Zygmunt Krasiński - No. 9
Ludwika Osiński - No. 16
Wincenty Pol - No. 17

1) Życzenie (The Wish)
Stefan Witwicki
Witwicki was a close friend of Chopin and Chopin regarded his writings highly. He used ten of his friend's poems in his 19 songs, nine of them in opus 74. The songs were not put in chronological order of composition by the publisher. This song was written in 1829 before Chopin left Poland. As can be expected from a composer who wrote no music that did not include the piano, Chopin uses the instrument to set the mood, sometimes with a short solo from the beginning. The first song in this set begins with the piano playing a mazurka that is taken up by the soloist:
If I were the sun shining in the sky
I would shine only for you.
Not on lakes nor forests
but for all time,
Under your window and only for you,
If I could change myself into sunshine.

If I were a bird of the grove
I wouldn't sing in any foreign country.
Not on lakes nor forests
but for all time
Under your window and only for you.
If I could change myself into sunshine.

2) Wiosna (Spring)
Stefan Witwicki
Composed in 1838.

Sparkling drops of dew,
 A brook whispers through the field
Hidden somewhere in heather,
A heifer's bell rings.

I look out over the pasture,
the beautiful, happy pasture
All around, flowers bloom
Stefan Witwicki
And bushes bloom.

Graze and wander, my little herd,
I will sit by a rock,
and a sweet song that I like
I'll sing to myself.

A pleasant and quiet place!
But sorrow is in my memory
 my heart mourns,
and my eye a tear forms.

The tear escapes my eye,
The brook sings with me,
and from above
A skylark responds.

It spreads its wings
Barely visible to the eye,
Higher and higher,
 Lost already among the clouds.

Above prairies and fields it flies,
Still singing its song;
And takes the gentle song of earth
up into the sky!

3) Smutna rzeka (The Sad River)
Stefan Witwicki
Composed in 1831.

River, flowing from the mountains,
Tell me why your waters are swollen.
Is the snow thawing
And flooding your banks?

"The snow lies unmelted in the hills,
And flowers hold my banks firm.
At my source sits a mother,
Sorrowful and weeping.

Seven daughters she loved;
And seven she has buried.
In death they know neither night or day;
They lie facing east.

Waiting in pain by their graves,
She tells her sorrow to their spirits.
And her unceasing tears water the graves,
Swelling my waters to a flood."

4) Hulanka (Drinking Song)
Stefan Witwicki
Composed in 1830.

Take care, pretty girl; be careful!
You are laughing so much
You're spilling wine on my coat!

I'll not let you go, I'll make you pay;
I'll kiss you over and over.
Your lips and eyes
set my blood afire!

Come now, despondent one,
What are you brooding about?
Drink! Don't waste time worrying.
This sorry world is not worth it.

So what if you can barely walk.
Where's the disgrace in that?
When your wife shouts you won't hear;
You'll be out cold on the floor!

Drink, or I'll beat you with a stick.
Hey, pretty girl, over here!
Serve us. Don't entice us.
Pour us some beer!

5) Gdzie lubi (Where She Loves)
Stefan Witwicki
Composed in 1829.

Streams run through the valley;
Birds nest under the eaves;
Deer hide in the forest,
But where can a girl's heart find a home?

Maybe in bright blue eyes,
Or dark, deep, mysterious ones;
Maybe in happy songs,
or maybe in sad songs too.

She herself is powerless
As to where her heart will go
She is powerless
As to where her heart will go.

6) Precz z moich oczu! (Out Of My Sight!)
Adam Mickiewicz
Composed in 1830.

Out of my sight! Listen right away!
Adam Mickiewicz
Out of my heart! I will obey!
Out of my thoughts! No, that cannot
happen with either of our memories.

As evening shadows lengthen
Getting longer in the distance
I will shine brighter in your mind
The further you are from me.

In every season in places close to our hearts,
Where I cried with you, where I played with you
Always and everywhere shall I be with you,
For everywhere I have left a part of my soul.

7) Poseł (The Messenger)
Stefan Witwicki
Composed in 1830.

The grass is beginning to grow,
The winter is waning,
And you, faithful swallow,
Are with us once more.

With your coming the days are longer,
Oh bringer of spring.
Welcome back home,
Joyful singer!

Wait! Do not leave.
I will feed you grain.
Sing a new song,
Your journey was long, take a rest.

Fly around and look
with your dark eyes.
But do not look so merry;
My loved one is not here, not there!

She left with a soldier,
left the village.
At the roadside cross
her weeping mother stood.

Tell me, swallow, tell me
If you've seen her.
Is she happy and laughing, or
Sad and weeping?

8) Śliczny Chłopiec (Handsome Lad)
Bohdan Zaleski
Composed in 1841.

Sublime, slender and young,
Oh, quite a beauty!
What more could I want?
Black hair and golden cheek!

If he barely blinks an eye
Bohdan Zaleski
It makes my heart beat faster.
What more could I want?
Black hair and golden cheek!

When we're dancing together
all eyes swarm on us.
What more could I want?
Black hair and golden cheek!

If he is late
My heart grows faint and numb in me.
What more could I want?
Black hair and golden cheek!

Every fond word he whispers
Clings in my heart and ear.
What more could I want?
Black hair and golden cheek!

He's already told me
I am everything in the world to him.
What more could I want?
Black hair and golden cheek!

9) Melodia (Melody)
Zygmunt Krasiński
Zygmunt Krasiński
Composed in 1847.  A poem that ostensibly relates the Biblical tale of the Jews who reached but could not enter the promised land. It also represents the plight of Poland and its people under Russian oppression. This is the last song Chopin ever wrote.

Under the cruel weight of the crosses they bear
They stand on the mountain to see from afar the promised land.
Their eyes see the heavenly light
As the people struggle to descend.
They see the land they cannot enter!
The land they will never live in.
And here their bones will lie forgotten
Perhaps forever.

10) Wojak (The Warrior)
Stefan Witwicki
Composed in 1830. Written before Chopin left Poland, the song gives an idea of the patriotic fervor in Warsaw (that Chopin supported) just before the November Uprising of 1830.  Chopin creates the masculine rhythms of a polonaise:

My bay is stomping the ground!
Let's go! It is time!
Farewell to mother and father and sisters;
Farewell all!

We'll ride like the wind
Our enemies will tremble in the bloody battle.
We will return hale and hearty
Run like the wind, my faithful horse!

Onward to battle!
But if I am chosen to die
My steed shall return to the farm
without a rider.

I can still hear the cries of my sisters
that beg my horse to stop.
But the horse refuses,
So onward into battle!

11) Dwojaki koniec (The Double End)
Bohdan Zaleski
Composed in 1845

They loved each other for a year,
for an age they have been apart.
She lies dead in her chamber;
He at the crossroads under an oak tree.

O, the whole family grieves over the girl.
Over the Cossack a raven caws.
In both passions burned hot.
They suffered great pain until the mercy of death.

O, for the girl the bell tolls in the village.
Over the Cossack the wolves howl in the woods.
The girl's bones were lain in consecrated ground,
The Cossack's whiten in the cruel light.

12) Moja pieszczotka (My Darling)
Adam Mickiewicz
Composed in 1837.

When my darling is in a happy mood she
Sings, trills and chirps as a bird,
I enjoy each sweet moment,
And dwell on each happy note.
I dare not interrupt or say a word.
I only want to listen, listen, listen.

But when her singing makes her eyes bright
And her cheeks red as berries,
And her pearly teeth shine between coral lips,
Then boldly I gaze deeply into her eyes,
And I no longer want to listen.
I only want to kiss kiss kiss her!

13) Nie ma czego trzeba (There Is Nothing For Me Here)
Bohdan Zaleski
Composed in 1845.

Tears in my eyes comes from deep within.
Darkness gathers on my left and right.
A Dumka wells up within me but dies on my lips.
I am in the silence of unhappiness.

Sometimes I look heavenward.
The howling wind hears my grief.
All is cold, all is cold, but my heart hopes
That I and my Dumka will leave for other lands.

14) Pierścień (The Ring)
Stefan Witwicki
Composed in 1836.

Sad songs were sung to you,
I was in love already.
On the little finger of your left hand
I slipped a silver ring.

Girls married others,
I was faithful.
A young stranger came.
Though I had given you a ring.

With other musicians
I sang at the festivities.
You became another’s wife,
I have always loved you.

Today the girls mocked me.
I wept bitterly:
I was faithful and constant,
I gave you the ring in vain.

15) Narzeczony (The Bridegroom)
Stefan Witwicki
Composed in 1831.  In rushing chromatic figures in the piano that represent the wind blowing through the forest and the pounding hooves of the rider's horse, Chopin sets the stage for this dramatic and morbid song:

The wind howls through the trees:
You gallop wildly on.
Your black hair streams behind you.
But, strange horseman, you ride in vain.

Don't you not see above the trees
How the ravens gather,
Soaring, cawing, flying, swooping,
Down into the forest?

Where are you, where are you, my darling?
Why don't you come out to meet me?
How can she run out? She is dead.
She lies cold in her grave.

I am sick with grief.
Let me see her!
As she lay dying, did her eyes
Search for me?

When she hears me crying
Feels my tears over her grave,
Maybe she will wake from the dead,
and live again!

16) Piosnka lietwska (Lithuanian Song)
Ludwik Osiński
Composed in 1831.

Ludwik Osiński
Early one morning, the sun was rising as
Mom sat at the glass window.
"Where," she asks, "have you been, my daughter?
Where did you get your scarf all wet?"
"It is no wonder that those who must bring water so early
might get dew on their scarves."
"You made that up, my child!
You went into the field
To talk with that boy!"
"True, true, Mother, I confess
I saw my sweetheart in the field;
We were only a few minutes in conversation
and dew settled on my scarf."

17) Spiew z mogilki (Hymn from the Tomb)

Wincenty Pol
Composed in 1836.  Chopin accentuates the mood of the sad and mournful poem that deals with the plight of Poland after the Russians crushed the revolt.  It is the longest song Chopin wrote.

Leaves are falling off
Trees that once grew freely.
A little bird sings
On top of a grave.

Poland is in great sorrow.
It was all as a dream.
The land is draped in black,
Your children dead.

Burned hamlets,
Wincenty Pol
Destroyed towns,
And a homeless woman
Cries in a field.

People have fled
and taken their scythes.
Crops shrivel and die,
With no one to harvest them.

Brave men gathered to defend
the walls of Warsaw
Poland began to rise
In glory and honor.

They fought through blizzard,
Through the summer heat.
Then came autumn, but there were
not enough young ones to continue.

The war is now over,
The struggle all in vain.
Many soldiers never came home
and the fields lay barren.

Some are buried;
Some rot in prison;
Some roam in exile,
without home or food

No help from heaven,
or human hands.
Unsown fields turn to waste,
Nature's gifts are nothing.

Leaves are falling off  trees,
thick and dark.
Oh Poland, If your sons,
That fought for your sake
had each taken a handful of soil
they could have built a new Poland.

But now, freedom through
force seems impossible,
Because traitors flourish and the
common people are too honest.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Saint-Saëns - Piano Concerto No. 3 In E-flat Major

Despite Saint-Saëns being somewhat of an innovator early in his career (he introduced the symphonic poem to France), his aesthetic sense also was evident in his habit of composing music in the traditional forms such as the symphony and concerto.  His piano concertos are elegantly written works that make virtuosic demands of the soloist, but always in service to musical expression.  

Saint-Saëns' 5 piano concertos are works that span a 40-year period and the piano parts show how well Saint-Saëns maintained his virtuoso technique over the years. His most popular piano concerto is Number 2 In G Minor, with occasional performances of No. 4 In C Minor and No. 5 In F Major.  Concertos No. 1 and 3 are the least played, with No. 3 being considered by some as his weakest effort out of the five. When the work was premiered in 1869 it was not well received. It is in three movements:

I. Moderato assai -  The soloist begins the movement with quiet arpeggios and after two bars a solo horn plays a fragment of a theme while the piano continues arpeggiating. The fragment is passed through different instruments and combinations as the piano arpeggios grow in volume until the fragment of the theme is taken up by the soloist and becomes the first theme of the sonata form movement. The orchestra repeats part of the theme and a short development section is played along with a different motive. The second theme appears in the solo piano and directly after it Saint-Saëns places a cadenza for the soloist. The development section follows the cadenza, which also has an extended part for the soloist alone.  A flute signals the beginning of the recapitulation. After a coda that has an impressive piano part, the first movement ends in E-flat major.

II. Andante - The second movement key signature is E major, but in the beginning of it Saint-Saëns does some tonal wandering as the strings slowly move towards a theme, perhaps one of the reasons the concerto did not have a successful premiere. After the strings have their say, the piano enters with a magically simple theme in left hand octaves:
The low strings accompany this theme as it slowly wends its way through the section until a variant of the first theme is played by the oboe. The strings and piano have a tender dialog through the rest of the short movement until it leads without a break to the finale.

III. Allegro non troppo - The third movement brings back the home key of E-flat major as the orchestra hints at a theme that after a few measures is brought in by the soloist. This movement is full of pianistic difficulties as the robust theme returns throughout the movement. There is a short fugal section a little over half way through the movement. An exuberant coda brings this fine concerto to a close .



Monday, February 16, 2015

Brahms - Schicksalslied, Opus 54

Although Brahms is thought of as a composer of absolute music, that is music that is written for its own sake without having to be inspired by anything outside of it, he was a total Romantic composer in that there were many of his compositions that were indeed inspired by outside influences. The difference between Brahms and the new school composers of his era such as Liszt was that Brahms kept the stories connected to his music to himself.  He was an exceedingly private man, and preferred to let his music speak for itself.

With Brahms' works for chorus and orchestra the texts are an instance where the listener can hear the musical result of an outside influence. Schicksalslied (Song of Destiny) is set to a poem by the German poet and philosopher Friedrich Hölderlin  , a major writer in German Romanticism. Brahms was a voracious reader and while exploring a friend's library found a volume of Hölderlin's poetry which contained a poem in it called Hyperion's Schicksalslied from the novel Hyperion. The poem moved Brahms deeply as related by his friend Albert Dietrich
One morning we went together to Wilhelmshaven, for Brahms was interested in seeing the magnificent naval port. On the way there, our friend, who was usually so lively, was quiet and grave. He described how early that morning, he had found Hölderlin’s poems in the bookcase and had been deeply impressed by the Schicksalslied. Later on, after spending a long time walking round and visiting all the points of interest, we were sitting resting by the sea, when we discovered Brahms a long way off sitting by himself on the shore writing. It was the first sketch for the Schicksalslied, which appeared fairly soon afterwards. A lovely excursion which we had arranged to the Urwald was never carried out. He hurried back to Hamburg, in order to give himself up to his work.
The year was 1868, but Brahms did not finish the piece until 1871.  Brahms could not make up his mind concerning how to end the work. The final stanza of the poem appealed to Brahms' morose nature, but he hesitated to end the work in such a dark mood. After much thought (and some advice from conductor Hermann Levi) Brahms settled on a return of the orchestral prelude that began the work.

Schicksalslied is in three short movements. The first movement begins with an orchestra prelude and the chorus comes in with the first two stanzas of the poem in E-flat major. The second movement is in C minor and reflects the gloominess of the third stanza. The last movement is a repeat of the the orchestral prelude that opened the work, but Brahms transposed the key to C major and made changes in the instrumentation.

Friedrich Hölderlin
Schicksalslied (Song Of Destiny)
You walk above in the light
on holy ground, blessed genies!
Divine breezes
waft by you,
like the fingers of the player
on the holy strings.

Fateless, like sleeping infants,
breathe the heavenly beings.
With modest buds
ever protected,
their spirit will bloom forever,
and their blessed eyes
will see in silent,
perpetual clarity.

But we are given
no place to rest.
We vanish and fall,
suffering humans.
Blind from hour to hour,
thrown from tragedy to tragedy
like water thrown from cliff to cliff,
we disappear into the abyss.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Saint-Saëns - Mélodies Persanes, Opus 26

The French poet Armand Renaud was associated with the Parnassian Poets movement in France (although the movement was not restricted to France) that began with an anthology of poems byvarious French poets that was published in 1866. The movement was in reaction to Romanticism with the emphasis on craftsmanship and  a tightening up of form. The subject matter was often classical and exotic subjects, but as with any movement or school of artistic endeavors, the Parnassian poets shared a common artistic attitude rather than a rigid set of rules.

Camille Saint-Saëns used six poems from Renaud's Les Nuits Persanes (Persian Nights) and set them to music in 1870.  Saint-Saëns was a man of letters as well as a musician, so he was well acquainted with the Parnassian movement.  Saint-Saëns had a very wide interest in different historical and cultural traditions and throughout his career there is a peppering of music that was influenced by many different traditions. At the time Saint-Saëns composed these songs, he was 35 years old and an advocate of the new music of Liszt and Wagner. He was quite influential in French music in his early years, but he grew more and more conservative as he aged.

The songs in this set are well written and showcase Saint-Saëns' melodic talent. He did not use any authentic Persian themes, but he did try to create an exotic feeling to them. While all six are fine songs, the exotic influence can be difficult to hear.

1) La Brise (The Breeze)
This song is perhaps the most obviously Persian influenced in the set as the piano plays a dance rhythm. The first part of this song is in the Dorian mode in E, which also gives it an exotic flavor. Halfway through the music switched to E major and ends in that key. 

Like kid goats bitten by a horsefly
The beautiful girls of Zaboulistan dance.
Their nails are tinted a light pink;
No one can see them, apart from the sultan.
In the hands of each a sistrum sounds;
The turbaned eunuch stands with saber in hand.

But at the pale river where the lily lies sleeping,
The breeze grows like a pirate
that is going to steal their hearts and lips
under the jealous man’s eyes, despite the law.
O dreamer, be proud! The breeze has taken
your love poems for his talisman!

2) La Splendeur Vide (The Empty Splendor)
A beautiful song that modulates to different keys to good effect. 

In my soul I have built
A wonderful palace,
full of the smells of cinnamon,
Armand Renaud
full of reflecting images.

Sapphire, Amber, Emerald
Cover the pillars;
Quietly, there strides
familiar lions.

In the ivory cups,
on the deep pile carpets,
groups of Monarchs
are drinking white wine.

Isolated as an island,
the walls are steep,
and plunge into
a lake of silver.

Everything is motionless,
yet everything grows
and spreads like an oil stain
that deepens and shimmers.

But two things that delight
me are lacking:
There is not a sound, and
No color.

Oh! for a sound of lyre,
Oh! for the slightest color,
I would leave porphyry,
Fine pearls, and gold!

But the one that gives
cruel and soft love,
my crown forbids me
of harmony and color;

And the more everything shines and
everything becomes vast and nice,
I feel increased pain,
And the more I become a tomb.

3) La Solitaire (The Solitary One)
The piano imitates the object of the singer's affections as he rides a horse. 

O proud young man, o killer of gazelles,
Pale rider in light velvet,
On your horse whose hoofs have wings
Take me upwards with your love.

I have very often at night, on my terrace,
Shed my tears while holding you close.
Wasted effort! It is your shadow I embrace,
And my sobs, you do not hear them.

The sky made me warm and beautiful,
My soft lips are as a bright red fruit;
I have a song in my voice.
A ray of sun in my hair.

But locked and covered with veils
In a palace, I die far from the true good.
Why flowers and why stars,
If my heart beats and if you do not know it?

My beloved, your weapons are terrible,
Your long gun, spear, your dagger,
And most of all, your eyes dark charms
Piercing a heart with a glance.

O proud young man, o gazelle killer,
My fate is like their fate
On your horse whose feet have wings,
Include my sad heart to the bloody spoils.

4) Sabre en main (Saber In Hand)
The poem conveys the blood-thirsty wishes of the conqueror. While the accompaniment is appropriate enough, it doesn't convey an exotic atmosphere very much. 

I have bridled my horse
And put on his saddle of gold.
Through this barren world
We'll take flight.

My heart is cool, my gaze steady,
I love nothing and I fear nothing.
My sword grieves when in its sheath:
When drawn it strikes true!

With the turban wound about my head
And the white cloak on my back,
I wish to set out for the party
Where death screams and dances.

Where towns are put to the torch
While the people sleep at night,
Where the vile rabble think
We are glorious because we are strong.

I wish that kings, when they hear my name,
Would hold their head in their hands,
And that my saber would remove the brands
And the yokes of servitude.

I wish for the swarm of my tents,
My horses with flowing manes,
My bright banners
My pikes, my drums.

Without number, like a swarm
Of flies in summer,
So that the universe squirms and is
aware of how little it is worth!

5) Au cimetière (At The Cemetery)
As we sit on this white tomb
Let us open our hearts!
As night falls,
Marble’s spell conquers all.

As we murmur to each other,
The dead vibrate;
We shall pluck corollas
From the Sahara.

If he had, before his last hour,
The love of someone,
He will think of the past,
smell the fragrance and cry.

If he lived, without wanting
To share his heart,
He will say: I lost my life,
Without having loved.

My dear, you  shall jingle
Your gold ornaments,
So that desire takes wing
When birds fall asleep.

And without worrying,
For we only die in the end,
We say: Today roses,
Tomorrow cypress!

6) Tournoiement: Songe d'opium (Twirling: An Opium Song)
Saint-Saëns was a virtuoso on the piano and he kept up his technique his entire life. He was known to have a very clean and brilliant technique capable of very fleet and nimble playing which is reflected in the accompaniment to this opium-induced vision.

Without a pause,
On the tip of my big toe
I spin, I spin, I spin,
Like a dead leaf.
As at the moment one dies,
Earth, ocean, space,
Pass before my eyes,
Throwing out a glow.
As I spin around and around,
I go faster
Without pleasure as without anger,
Shivering, despite my sweat.

In the dens filled with foaming waves,
On inaccessible rocks,
I spin, I spin, I spin.
Without the slightest concern.
In forests, on the shores;
Among beasts
And their enemies,
Soldiers who go sword in hand,
Amid the slave markets,
The lands full of volcano lava,
With the Moguls and the Slavs,
I will not stop spinning.

Subject to the laws that ever govern,
The laws that the sun obeys,
I spin, I spin, I spin.
My feet are off the ground.
I go up to the night sky,
Before the silent moon,
In front of Jupiter and Saturn
I go with a hiss,
And I cross Capricorn
And I am in the abyss, the gloomy abyss,
The total and boundless night.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Beethoven - Six Gesänge, Op.75

The music of Beethoven changed the art of music forever. His music was revolutionary in his use and development of sonata form, the symphony, chamber music and piano sonata, but his music was also evolutionary in the sense that it grew out of the musical traditions of the past. He knew very well the traditions according to the music written by Haydn and Mozart, and he expanded upon them and infused them with his own craftsmanship and art. There is hardly a genre of music that doesn't show his influence.

One area of his art in which he struggled was music for voice. That is not to say his did not write vocal music of beauty and depth, such as his early and very popular song Adelaide, opus 46 but he admitted that composing for voice was not one of his greater interests. As he said himself in a letter:
Whenever I hear music in my inner ear it is always the full orchestra that I hear. When writing vocal music I invariably have to ask myself: Can it be sung?
But even in a genre that was not his strongest, Beethoven was innovative, for he is given credit with composing the first song cycle written by a major composer, the set of six songs of Opus 98, An die ferne Geliebte (To The Distant Beloved) written in 1816. The six songs of opus 75 are a set of independent songs written in 1809. The first three are to texts by Johann Goethe, one of Beethoven's favorite writers. The two giants met each other in  1811, and Goethe had this to say about Beethoven:

His talent astounded me; nevertheless, he unfortunately has an utterly untamed personality, not completely wrong in thinking the world detestable, but hardly making it more pleasant for himself or others by his attitude. Yet he must be shown forgiveness and compassion, for he is losing his hearing, something that affects the musical part of his nature less than the social. He is naturally laconic, and even more so due to his disability.
1) Mignon - Kennst Du Das Land (Do You Know The Land?)
Goethe's novel Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship) was written in 1796. In short, Mignon is a young woman that Wilhelm Meister becomes infatuated with. In the novel, Mignon sings this song to Wilhelm after he has taken responsibility for her welfare. Mignon falls in love with Wilhelm and sings this song.
 
Do you know the land where the lemon blossoms grow,
In the dark leaves the golden oranges glow,
A gentle wind blows from the blue sky,
The myrtle silent and the laurel tall?
Do you know it?
It is there! it is there!
Go there then I go with you, O my beloved!

Do you know the house, its roof on tall pillars?
The hall shines, the chamber shimmers,
And marble statues stand and look at me:
What has been done to you, poor child?
Do you know it?
It is there! It is there!
Go there then I would be with you, O my protector.

Do you know the mountain with the misty shrouds?
The mule is seeking passage through the clouds;
In caves dwells the dragon's ancient brood;
The rock falls steeply and over it the flood!
Do you know it?
It is there! It is there!
Go there lies our way! O Father, let us go!

2) Neue Liebe, neues Leben (New Love, New Life)
Written during the time Goethe was involved with Elizabeth Sheneman, a.k.a. Lily. They were deeply in love and were engaged, but the marriage was called off.

Heart, my heart, what does that mean?
What is changing you so much?
What a strange new life!
I do not recognize you.
Everything you loved is gone,
Gone is what troubled you,
Gone your hard work and your rest;
Johann Goethe
How did this happen?

Does this bloom of youth shackle you,
This lovely form,
full of good quality
with infinite power?
I want to quickly escape,
to take courage and flee,
but in only a moment
I am led back to her.

With this magic thread,
that cannot be torn
the dear maiden
holds me tight against my will.
In her magic circle
I must now live.
The change, oh, how great!
Love, love, let me go!

3) Aus Goethes Faust - Mephistos Flohgesang (Mephisto's Song Of The Flea)
Taken from Goethe's Faust, Part One. Mephisto sings his sarcastic song in a cellar where a group of men are drinking and singing songs. Russian compoer Modest Mussorgsky also set this text (in Russian translation).

There was once a king,
who had a large flea,
whom he loved as much
as his own son..
He called his tailor,
The tailor came up;
"Here- make clothes for this knight
And measure him for pants! "

In velvet and silk
was the flea dressed in,
with ribbons on the clothing,
and a cross on the front.
He was immediately made a Minister,
And had a big star.
And all his kin
became members of court as well.

Lords and ladies of the court,
They were greatly afflicted,
The Queen and her maidens
were chomped and bitten,
and they did not dare swat
or scratch them away.
But we smash and crush them
as soon as they bite!

4) Gretels Warnun (Gretel's Warning)
A poem written by Gerhard Anton von Halem

With his eyes, music and song
handsome young Christel wooed.
So fresh and slim no other boy
was as nice.
No, no one was
so much fun
or held me in his heart.
And he was aware of it,
put pressure to bear
until he had his way.

There were other boys in the village,
as young and beautiful as he;
Gerhard Anton von Halem
But the girls wanted him
to makes eyes and flirt with.
They didn't stop
Flattering him
until they won his heart.
To me he turned cold,
Then he fled,
and left me here,
and left me here in pain.

With his eyes, music and song
seem like a dream.
His kiss that penetrated deep in my soul,
has cost me my happiness.
Look at my fate,
my sisters all .
If a rat has set his eye on you,
don't trust him.
Oh look at me, look at me,
Oh look at me, and flee!

5) An den fernen Geliebten (To My Man Who is Far Away)
The final two songs were set to texts by Christian Ludwig Reissig, who was an army captain that had been wounded in the Napoleonic Wars. He asked contemporary composers to set some of his texts to music and Beethoven agreed to show respect and sympathy for the wounded man.
Once sweet calm and peace
Dwelt in my heart,
Now yearning colors every joy
Since we have parted.
The hour of your leaving
was so dull and hollow.
The evening song of nightingales Your dear soul, love’s words address
with this plea:
Oh friend, whom I chose on this earth,
Do not forget me. If by moonlight some random breeze
makes your hair flow free,
That is my spirit begging you:
Do not forget me. when the moon was full,
Have yearned for me as zephyrs blew,
Their music has conveyed
my fond Adieu.

6) Der Zufriedene (The Contented One)
Luck has made me
neither rich nor great;
yet I am content,
as if I had the fairest lot.

A friend after my own heart
has been granted me;
for kissing, drinking and joking
is also his element.

With him, merrily and wisely,
are many bottles emptied!
For on life's journey,
wine is the best horse.

If this luck of mine
now sours and becomes forlorn,
then I will think: no rose
blooms thorn-less in the world.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Schumann - Liederkreis Opus 24

The engagement of Robert Schumann and Clara Wieck was a long and difficult one due to Clara's father, who did not approve.  He forbade the two from seeing each other, but the two lovers continued to exchange letters and meet in secret until Schumann took the case to court. It wasn't until the court decided in Schumann's favor that the two could marry in 1840.

Before 1840, practically all of Robert Schumann's compositions were for piano solo. Schumann had written a handful of lieder earlier in his career, but he admitted he was not much attracted to the form until the late songs of Schubert were published in about 1838. He studied Schubert's songs and was encouraged to try his hand at writing some of his own by his friend Felix Mendelssohn. His marriage to Clara gave him added incentive and inspiration to write about 140 songs in 1840, which has been called his Year Of Song.

The Liederkreis Opus 24 was the first song cycle that Schumann wrote, with the song cycles by Schubert used as his model. A song cycle is a set of individual songs that have a common element or subject that is shared in each song.  Schumann had an affinity for the early poetry of Heinrich Heine and used nine of them as the texts of opus 24.  Later in his career Heine began to reject the lyrical Romanticism of his earlier works and became satirical, full of caustic wit, and his radical political views caused his works to be banned by German authorities.  He would end his days as an exile in Paris. His change of style can be illustrated by two quotes that are far removed from his lyrical Romantic works:

  • Whatever tears one may shed, in the end one always blows one's nose...
  • Nor have I ever seen an ass, at least any four-footed one, that spake as a man, though I have often enough met men who, whenever they opened their mouths, spake as asses.

The theme of the cycle is the Romantic era idea of being in love with the emotions of elation, sadness, and tension that love brings.

1) Morgens steh' ich auf (Every morning I awake and ask)
A short song that can be thought to be an introduction, as it sets the tone for the rest of the songs. A simple melody with a simple accompaniment, it segues to the next song :
Every morning I awake and ask:
Will my sweetheart come today?
Every evening I sink and lament:
She stayed away again today.

All night with grief
I lay sleepless, waking, dreaming,
half asleep,
dreaming, I pass the day.

2) Es treibt mich hin (I'm driven here)
The nervous excitement and anticipation of seeing the loved one is reflected in the agitated piano part:
I'm driven here, I'm driven there!
In only a few hours I will see her,
the fairest of fair young women.
True heart, how heavily you pound!

But the hours are like lazy people!
They drag themselves.comfortable and sluggish,
creeping and yawn the whole way.
Rouse yourself, lazy fool!

A raging hurry seizes and drives me!
But the hours are not in love,
sworn to a secret, cruel conspiracy
they mock the lover's haste.


3) Ich wandelte unter den Baümen (I wandered among the trees)
Romantic poets tended to wander a lot, and here Heine wanders through the trees and has a dialog with the birds about his love:
I wandered among the trees,
suffering alone;
along came that old dream
and crept into my heart.

Who taught you this little word,
wee birds up in the heights?
Quiet! if my heart hears it,
then my pain will return.

"It came from a young woman,
who sang it over and over;
that is how we tiny birds learned
this pretty, golden word."

Do not explain this to me now,
you wee, cunning birds;
you wanted to steal my grief,
but I trust no one.

4) Lieb' Liebchen (Dear Sweetheart)
The link between love and death is also represented quite often in Romantic era poems, and here the poet compares his pounding heart to a carpenter that builds his coffin. The song is short, with but one musical sentencethat is repeated, but a careful listener can hear how Schumann adds interest by having the piano anticipate and play the ending of the sentence just before the singer sings it:
Dear sweetheart, lay your hand on my heart; 
ah, do you hear the hammering inside?
inside lives a carpenter, wicked and evil,
building my coffin.

He hammers and pounds day and by night;
it has been long since I could sleep.
Ah, hurry, Mister Carpenter,
finish so that I can sleep.

5) Schöne Wiege meine Leiden (Pretty cradle of my sorrows)
A song about love lost, as the poet leaves the town where his sadness occurred. A passionate, beautiful song with an ending played by the piano alone:
Pretty cradle of sorrows,
pretty tombstone of my rest,
pretty town - we must part, 
farewell! I call to you.

Farewell, holy thresh hold,
across which my darling would tread;
farewell! you sacred spot
where I first saw her.

I wish I had never seen you,
lovely queen of my heart!
Then it would have never happened,
that I would be so wretched now.

 I never wished to touch your heart,
 I never begged for love;
 all I wished was to lead a quiet life
 where your breath could stir me.

 Yet you yourself pushed me away,
 with bitter words at your lips;
 Madness filled my senses,
 and my heart is sick and wounded.

 And my limbs are heavy and sluggish;
 I'll drag myself forward, leaning on my staff,
 until I can lay my weary head
 in a cool and distant grave.

6) Warte, warte, wilder Schiffsman (Wait, wait, wild boatman)
Another about departure, with this one having the lover hustling to try to get on a boat to take him away:
Wait, wait, wild boatman,
I'll follow you to the harbor;
I am taking my leave from two maidens,
Europe and from Her.

 Stream of blood. run from my eyes,
 stream of blood, burst from my body,
 so that with this hot blood
 I can write of my agonies.

 Ah, my dear, why today
 do you shudder to see my blood?
 You've seen me pale, my heart bleeding,
 standing before you for years!

 Do you know the old song
 about the serpent in Paradise
 who, by wickedly giving an apple,
 threw our ancestors into misery?

Apples have caused every ill!
Eve brought death through them,
Eris caused the flames of Troy;
and you have brought both, flame and death!

7) Berg und Burgen schau'n herunter (Mountains and castles gaze down)
The Rhine River is a favorite of many German poets, and Schumann writes a piano part that flows like the Rhine as the singer compares his love with the river:
Mountains and castles gaze down
into the mirror that is the Rhine,
and my little boat sails with
the sunshine glistening around it.

Calmly I watch the play
of golden waves surging,
silently feelings arise in me
that I have kept deep in my heart.

With greetings and promises,
the splendid river beckons,
but I know it - gleaming above
it conceals death and night within itself.

Above, pleasure; at heart, malice;
River, you are the very image of my beloved!
She can nod with as much friendliness,
and smile so devotedly and gently.

8) Anfangs wollt' ich fast verzagen (At first I almost despaired)
A very short song of the survival of the poet despite his lost love:
At first I almost despaired,
 and I thought I would never be able to bear it;
but yet, I have borne it,
 do not ask me how.

9) Mit Myrthen und Rosen (With myrtle and roses)
The poet hopes his love will someday find his book of love songs and that the songs will tell her of his love:
With myrtle and roses so lovely,
 with cypresses and gold tinsel,
 I would decorate this book like a coffin
 and bury my songs inside.

 O if only I could bury my love there as well!
 On the grave of love grows the blossom of peace;
 it blooms and then is plucked, 
 yet it will bloom for me only when I am in the grave.

 Here now are the songs which, once so wild,
 like a stream of lava that flowed from Etna,
 burst from the depths of my heart,
 and sprayed glittering sparks everywhere!

 Now they lie mute like death,
 now they stare cold and pale as mist,
 but the old glow will revive them afresh,
 when the spirit of love someday floats above them.

In my heart the thought grows loud:
the spirit of love will someday thaw them;
someday this book will arrive in your hands,
my sweet love in a distant land.

Then shall the songs' magic spell be broken,
and the white letters shall gaze at you;
they'll gaze into your lovely eyes,
and whisper with sadness, and a breath of love.

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