Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Monteverdi - Beatus Vir SV 268

The Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi was born in 1567 and is considered one of the most important musicians in the history of music. He was a transitional composer that was as adept at composing music in the style of the Renaissance era as he was in the newer style of the Baroque era.

He received training in music as a choir member as well as at the University of Cremona.  He worked as a singer and violist and had some motets published as early as 1582. He also became music director and conductor at various courts until he was appointed music director and conductor at St. Mark's Basilica in Rome.

He composed nine volumes of madrigals in his many years as a composer (over 150 works) and it was in the later volumes of madrigals that he began to include more and more compositions in the new Baroque style of composition. As with any innovator, Monteverdi received his share of criticism as his new style was attacked for being crude and taking license with the traditional composing methods. Monteverdi weathered the criticism and continued to innovate the art of music. He began to compose opera in 1607 with L'Orfeo, based on the Greek tragedy of Orfeus. This is the oldest opera that is still performed with any regularity.  Monteverdi wrote for an orchestra of about forty players and was one of the first composers to assign music to specific groups of instruments, although the work wasn't orchestrated in the modern sense and still followed the Renaissance tradition of giving the players a certain amount of freedom in  execution. The video below gives an idea of how Monteverdi's orchestra may have sounded as the first few minutes of L'Orfeo are played:

 Monteverdi also composed many sacred compositions such as the collection titled Selva morale e spirituale (Moral And Spiritual Forest) that was printed in 1640 and 1641. This collection contains 37 works for various combinations of voices and instruments. Included in this set is one of Monteverdi's most recognized works, his setting of Psalm 111 from the Latin Vulgate (Psalm 112 in the Protestant Bible), known from the first two Latin words of the psalm as Beatus Vir.  It is scored for 6 - part choir (2 sopranos, 1 alto, 2 tenors, 1 bass)  2 violins, 3 viols or trombones and continuo. It was composed around 1630. The motet begins with a feeling of rejoicing. The middle section becomes more subdued and dramatic until  the rejoicing returns with the opening music of the Beatus vir. The music ends with a beautiful and reverent Amen.

Beatus vir, qui timet Dominum, in mandatis ejus volet nimis.
Praise the Lord. Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who finds great delight in his commands.
Potens in terra erit semen ejus, generatio rectorum benedicetur.
His children will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed.
Gloria et divitiae in domo ejus, et iustitia ejus manet in saeculum saeculi.
Wealth and riches are in his house, and his righteousness endures forever.
Exortum est in tenebris lumen rectis, misericors et miserator et iustus.
Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for the gracious and compassionate and righteous man.
Iucundus homo, qui miseretur et commodat, disponet res suas in judicio,
Good will come to him who is generous and lends freely, who conducts his affairs with justice.
quia in aeternum non commovebitur. In memoria aeterna erit iustus,
Surely he will never be shaken; a righteous man will be remembered forever.
ab auditione mala non timebit. Paratum cor ejus, sperare in Domino,
He will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
non commovebitur, donec despiciat inimicos suos.
His heart is secure, he will have no fear; in the end he will look in triumph on his foes.
Dispersit dedit pauperibus; justitia ejus manet in saeculum saeculi, cornu ejus exaltabitur in gloria. He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor, his righteousness endures forever; his horn will be lifted high in honor.
Peccator videbit et irascetur, dentibus suis fremet et tabescet. Desiderium peccatorum peribit.
The wicked man will see and be vexed, he will gnash his teeth and waste away; the longings of the wicked will come to nothing.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Rachmaninoff - Vocalise Opus 34, No. 14

The term vocalise can be traced back to the Italian/French composer Jean-Baptiste Lully as well as other French composers of the Baroque period who wrote songs without words that were known for their value as exercises in vocal technique, as etudes for the voice. Later vocalise were written specifically for teaching purposes.  In the 19th century these exercises for voice were sometimes written with piano accompaniment to further train the singer in execution and style.  The beginning of the 20th century saw composers writing wordless music for soloists as well as choruses. These works treated the voice more as music of expression rather than technical studies.

Sergei Rachmaninoff wrote his opus 34 set of Fourteen Songs to various texts with the final song Vocalise being one of his most popular and well known works. The songs of opus 34 were originally written for solo voice and piano, with Vocalise being the final song written in 1915.  The other 13 songs in the set are seldom performed, but Vocalise was an audience favorite from the start. The song has been transcribed for many different instrumental combinations, with individual instruments like the violin or cello playing the vocal part. Rachmaninoff himself transcribed the work for soprano and orchestra and orchestra alone.

Vocalise is one of Rachmaninoff's most beautiful melodies. The soloist sings no words, but in a constant vowel sound. The soloist covers two octaves as the melody begins in a whisper, reaches a climax and ends in a whisper.  As with many of Rachmaninoff's melodies, there is a hue of Russian melancholy about it. The original version is written in the key of C-sharp minor.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Beethoven - Adelaide, Opus 46

Germany has a long tradition of Lieder (songs) that began as early as the 12th century with the sung poems of the troubadors as well as church music and folk song.  Late in the 18th century the Romantic Movement began in Europe, and flowered in Germanic countries somewhat later than other areas. Writers, poets and playwrights such as Goethe, Heine, Herder and many others attempted to create a synthesis of philosophy, art and science.  As the movement grew, so did the use of highly dramatic, emotional and psychological prose. But not all Germanic Romantic literature was serious. There was room for humor as well as tension, simple words that reflected the wonder of nature as well as author's soul-searching seriousness.

Lieder for solo voice and bass continuo that were written in the Baroque era gave way to songs written for voice with keyboard accompaniment. C.P.E. Bach was an early composer of this kind of lied which moved away from the complexity of polyphony and figured bass to a simpler style. Haydn, Mozart and other composers of the Classical era continued to develop the form, but lied was considered a lesser form in the late 18th century.

Before Beethoven arrived in Vienna in 1792 he had already written lieder in Bonn.  Beethoven had become a voracious reader, perhaps to try and make up for a poor general education. He came to know the early Romantic writers and set many poems to music.  With over 60 lieder, Beethoven showed at least a passing interest in the form. He carried on a young tradition of voice and piano compositions that led the way to the first true master of German Lieder, Franz Schubert.

One of Beethoven's most popular songs  is set to a poem by Friedrich von Matthisson, a poet of the Romantic movement.  The song was written after Beethoven settled in Vienna. It was published in 1797 and was dedicated to the poet. In 1800 Beethoven sent a copy of the song to Matthisson along with a letter:
Friedrich von Matthisson
MOST ESTEEMED FRIEND,- You will receive with this one of my compositions published some years since, and yet, to my shame, you probably have never heard of it. I cannot attempt to excuse myself, or to explain why I dedicated a work to you which came direct from my heart, but never acquainted you with its existence, unless indeed in this way, that at first I did not know where you lived, and partly also from diffidence, which led me to think I might have been premature in dedicating a work to you before ascertaining that you approved of it. Indeed, even now I send you "Adelaide" with a feeling of timidity. You know yourself what changes the lapse of some years brings forth in an artist who continues to make progress; the greater the advances we make in art, the less are we satisfied with our works of an earlier date. My most ardent wish will be fulfilled if you are not dissatisfied with the manner in which I have set your heavenly "Adelaide" to music, and are incited by it soon to compose a similar poem; and if you do not consider my request too indiscreet, I would ask you to send it to me forthwith, that I may exert all my energies to approach your lovely poetry in merit. Pray regard the dedication as a token of the pleasure which your "Adelaide" conferred on me, as well as of the appreciation and intense delight your poetry always has inspired, and always will inspire in me. When playing "Adelaide," sometimes recall 
Your sincere admirer, 

Beethoven's worrying about whether Matthison liked the song turned out to be for nothing. A collection of Matthison's poems was published in 1825 and in the introduction Matthison wrote:
Several composers have animated this little lyrical fantasy through music; I am firmly convinced however that none of them so threw the text into the shade with their melody as did the genius Ludwig van Beethoven in Vienna.
Adelaide was very popular in Beethoven's day and it went through many editions. As written, the song couild be sung by soprano or tenor voice, but it has been transposed to make it more suitable for other voices:

Alone does your friend wander in the Spring garden,
Mildly encircled by magic light
That quivers through swaying, blossoming boughs,

 In the mirroring stream, in the snow of the Alps,
In the dying day's golden clouds,
In the fields of stars, your image shines,

Evening breezes whisper in the tender leaves,
Silvery lilies-of-the-valley rustle in the grass,
Waves murmur and nightingales pipe:

One day, o wonder! upon my grave will bloom
A flower from the ashes of my heart;
And clearly on every purple leaf will gleam:

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Loewe - Sir Olaf Opus 2, No. 2

The Erlking (Erlkönig in German)  is a Scandinavian folktale that was introduced to Germany in the 18th century and is most closely associated with the poem written by Johann Goethe in 1782 and set to music by Franz Schubert.  Goethe's Erlking poem was inspired by a translation by Johann Herder of a much older poem originally published in 1739 in Denmark. Scholars reckon that the original Danish poem dates from sometime in the Middle ages, which in turn may have been passed down from old Breton legends.

Johann Herder
The poem that Herder translated didn't deal with the Erlking directly, but with the Erlking's daughter. The Danish poem was known as Oluf han rider, (Olaf he rides).  The ballad tells of Sir Olaf riding through the woods to his wedding. On the way he meets a group of elves dancing in the forest and the Erlking's daughter repeatedly asks him to dance with her. Olaf refuses repeatedly her offers of gold until the Erlking's daughter becomes angry and strikes him a painful blow. Sir Olaf makes it back to his home and mother. The next morning Olaf is found by his bride dead under his red cloak.

Carl Loewe set the poem in 1821 and it was published in 1824 in his opus 2 set of songs. Loewe was a well regarded baritone singer as well as a composer and conductor. He wrote in many different genres but was most well known for over 400 songs.  The beginning of the 21st century has seen an increased interest in Loewe and his songs, especially in Germany.

Sir Olaf rides late and far to
summon his wedding guests.
Elves are dancing on a green bank,
and the Erlking's daughter offers him her hand.
"Welcome, Sir Olaf, come dance with me
and I will give you golden spurs."

"I cannot dance, I do not wish to dance - for tomorrow is my wedding-day."
"Come closer, Sir Olaf, come dance with me,
and I will give you a shirt of silk, a shirt of silk so white and fine -
my mother bleached it with moonbeams!"
"I may not dance, I do not wish to dance -
for tomorrow is my wedding-day."

"Come closer, Sir Olaf, come dance with me
and I will give you a heap of gold."
"A heap of gold I would gladly take,
but I cannot and should not dance with you."
"If you will not dance with me, Sir Olaf,
then plague and sickness will follow you!"

She dealt him a blow to the heart,
and all his life he had never felt such pain.
Then she heaved him up upon his horse:
"Ride home to your worthy lady then!"
And when he came to the door to his house,
his mother, trembling, stood before him.

"Tell me, my son, and tell me true,
Why are you so pale and sick?"
"And should I not be pale and sick?
I was in the Erlking's realm."
"Tell me, my son, so dear, What should I tell your bride?"
"Tell her that I rode to the wood,
To test my horse and hound."

At early morning when day had hardly dawned,
his bride arrived with the wedding crowd. They poured mead and wine:
"Where is Sir Olaf, my bridegroom?"
"Sir Olaf rode to the wood,
To test his horse and hound."
The bride lifted up the cloth scarlet red,
Under it lay Sir Olaf: he was dead.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Mahler - Songs From Des Knaben Wunderhorn

Des Knaben Wunderhorn or The Boy's Magic [Hunting] Horn is one of the most important early Romantic era collections of German poetry and songs that was published in three volumes from 1805 to 1808.  The poems were idealized Romantic versions of folk poems as well as original poems written by the editors of the collection.  The collection was very popular across German-speaking Europe and was an influence on early German nationalism.

Poems from the collection were set to music by many composers, including Gustav Mahler. He first
read the collection in 1887 and was immediately attracted to the unsophisticated naivety of  the style of the poems as well as the subject matter of the poems. Mahler, a great lover of nature, explained his attraction to these songs in a letter of 1905:
I have devoted myself heart and soul to that poetry (which is essentially different from any other kind of ‘literary poetry’ and might almost be called something more like Nature and Life - in other words, the sources of all poetry—than art) in full awareness of its character and tone.
He set two dozen poems from the collection in his life; for piano and voice, for orchestra and voice and for orchestra with no voice. Indeed, his first four symphonies incorporate various Wunderhorn songs in vocal as well as instrumental versions. A twelve song collection published in 1899 was titled Humoresken. This set was written for voice and orchestra between 1892 and 1898. Two other songs were removed from this collection and replaced by two others. Modern day performance practices can add or subtract songs at the conductor's discretion. The version in the link below contains 14 songs:

Revelge - (Reveille) -  Mahler was a composer who used the sounds and impressions of street music he heard during his youth in his works. One of his first musical memories was of a military band as he related to a friend:
"One day when I was not yet four, a funny thing happened. A military band, something I delighted in all my childhood came marching past our house one morning. I no sooner heard it than I shot out of the living room. Wearing scarcely more than a chemise I trailed after the soldiers with my little accordion until some time later a couple of ladies from nearby discovered me at the marketplace. By that time I was feeling a bit frightened and they said they would only promise to take me home if I played them something the soldiers had been playing, on my accordion. I did so straight away, upon a fruit stand where they set me, to the utter delight of the market women, cooks, and other bystanders."
The music for this poem about a fallen drummer boy is a intense military march as soldiers proceed on their way, leaving the drummer boy for dead. The atmosphere turns eerie toward the end of the song when the strings play col legno in depicting the skeletons of the dead soldiers standing in rank and file.  Written in 1899, this was one of the replacement songs for one of the original twelve.

In the morning between three and four,
we soldiers must march
up and down the alley,
trallali, trallaley, trallalera,
my sweetheart looks down!

Oh, brother, now Iʼve been shot,
the bullet has struck me hard,
carry me to my billet,
trallali, trallaley, trallalera,
it isnʼt far from here!

Oh, brother, I canʼt carry you,
the enemy has beaten us,
may dear God help you!
Trallali, trallaley,
trallali, trallaley, trallalera,
I must, I must march on until death!

Oh, brothers, oh, brothers,
you go on past me
as if I were done for!
Trallali, trallaley,
trallali, trallaley, trallalera,
youʼre treading too near to me!

I must nevertheless beat my drum,
I must nevertheless beat my drum,
trallali, trallaley, trallali, trallaley,
otherwise I will die,
trallali, trallaley, trallala.

His brothers, thickly covering the ground,
lie as if mown down.
Up and down he beats the drum,
he wakes his silent brothers,
trallali, trallaley, trallali, trallaley,
they battle and they strike their enemy,
enemy, enemy,
trallali, trallaley, trallalerallala,
a terror smites the enemy!

Up and down he beats the drum,
there they are again before their billets,
trallali, trallaley, trallali, trallaley.
Clearly out into the alley!

They draw before the sweetheartʼs house,
trallali, trallaley,
trallali, trallaley, trallalera,
they march before his sweetheartʼs house, trallali.

In the morning there stand thebones
in rank and file like tombstones,
in rank, in rank and file.

The drummer stands in front
for her to see.
Trallali, trallaley,
trallali, trallaley, trallalera,
for her to see!

Verlorne Mühʼ! - (Lost Effort) -  A song that has a woman trying to entice a man (with something ot nibble on no less) who will not be enticed.

ʻLaddie, let's go!
Laddie, let's go out and look at the lambs!
Shall we?
Look at the lambs?
Come, come, dear laddie!
Come, I beg you!ʼ

ʻSilly lassie,
I donʼt like you at all!ʼ

You want perhaps,
You want perhaps a little bit to nibble?
Fetch yourself something out of my bag!
Fetch it, dear laddie!
Fetch it, I beg you!ʼ

ʻSilly lassie,
Iʼll nibble nothing of yours at all!ʼ

Should I give you my heart?
So you'll always think of me?
Take it! Dear laddie!
Take it, I beg you!ʼ

Silly lassie,
I donʼt care for you at all!

Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt - (St. Anthony of Paduaʼs Sermon To The Fish) -  A swirling figure in the strings represents water as the fish listen to the sermon. But at the end of the sermon they leave unchanged. This song was the inspiration for the scherzo of Mahler's 2nd Symphony 'Resurrection'.

At sermon time Anthony
finds the church empty!
He goes to the rivers
and preaches to the fish!
They flap with their tails!

They gleam in the sunshine!

The carp with roe
have all congregated;
their jaws gaping,
intent on listening!
Never did a sermon
so please the fish!

Sharp-snouted pike,
that fight continually,
swam up in a hurry
to hear the holy man!
Even those odd creatures
that continually fast:
I mean the codfish,
appear for the sermon!
Never did a sermon
so please the codfish!

Good eels and sturgeon
that people of quality relish,
even they condescend
to attend the sermon!
Crayfish, too, and turtles,
usually slow movers,
climb hurriedly from the depths
to hear this voice!
Never did a sermon
so please the crayfish!

Fish big and fish small!
Of quality and common!
They raise their heads
like rational creatures!
At Godʼs command
they listen to the sermon.

When the sermon is finished,
each one turns away!
The pike remain thieves,
the eels great lovers;
the sermon was pleasing,
they all stay the same!

Das Irdische Leben - (The Earthly Life) -  A morbid song (written by a composer whose emotions could run to the exceedingly morbid) with words set against divided strings that play a restless accompaniment. Mahler makes the music as stark as the words.

Mother, oh mother, Iʼm hungry!
Give me some bread or I shall die!
Just wait! Just wait, my dear child!
Tomorrow we shall hurry to harvest!

And when the grain was harvested,
the child still cried out:
Mother, oh mother, Iʼm hungry!
Give me some bread or I shall die!
Just wait! Just wait, my dear child!
Tomorrow we shall hurry and go threshing!

And when the grain was threshed,
the child still cried out:
Mother, oh mother, Iʼm hungry!
Give me some bread or I shall die!
Just wait! Just wait, my dear child!
Tomorrow we shall hurry and bake!

And when the bread was baked,
the child lay on the funeral bier!

Trost im Unglück -  (Solace In Misfortune) -  A man soothing himself after a lost love.

Now then! The time has come!
My horse, it must be saddled!
Iʼve made up my mind,
I must ride away!
Off you go!
I have my due!
I love you only in folly!

Without you I can well live!
Yes, live!
Without you I can well exist!
So Iʼll sit on my horse
and drink a glass of cool wine,
and swear by my beard,
to love you forever!

You think, you are the handsomest
in the whole wide world,
and also the most pleasant!
But you are far, far off the mark!
In my fatherʼs garden
thereʼs a flower growing!

Iʼll keep waiting
till it is bigger!
And off you go!
I have my due!
I love you only in folly!
Without you I can well live!
Without you I can well exist!

You think Iʼm going to take you!
That I would not think of ever!
I am ashamed of you,
when I am in public!

Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen - (Where the Fair Trumpets Sound) -  Two lovers part as the man goes off to war.  The trumpets softly remind the man of his fate, and he describes his probable fate: the home of the green grass of the grave.

Who then is outside and who is knocking,
that can so softly awaken me?

It is your dearest darling,
get up and let me come to you!
Why should I go on standing here?
I see the red of morn arise,
the red of morn, two bright stars.
I long to be with my sweetheart!
With my dearest darling.

The maiden got up and let him in;
she bade him welcome, too.
Welcome, my dear lad!
You have been standing so long!
She offered him her snow-white hand.

From far away the nightingale sang,
then the maiden began to weep.
Ah, do not weep, beloved mine
after a year you will be my own.
My own you shall become,
as is no other on earth!
Oh love on the green earth.
Iʼm off to war, on the green heath,
the green heath is so far away!
Where there the fair trumpets sound,
there is my home, my home of green grass!

Wer hat dies Liedel erdacht? - (Who Thought Up This Little Song?) -  A song of a lover in a house on a mountain, with some pretty silly lyrics, quite typical of some of the poems of the Wunderhorn collection.

Up there on the mountain,
in the high house,
in the house!
There peers out a dear maiden!
There is her home!
She is the innkeeperʼs daughter!
She lives on the green heath!

My heart has a wound!
Come, sweetheart, make it well!
Your dark brown little eyes,
they have wounded me!
Your rosy mouth
makes hearts well.
It makes young people rational,
brings the dead back to life,
makes the ill healthy,
yes, healthy.

Who then thought up this little song?
Three geese have brought it over the water!
Two grey and one white!
And whoever cannot sing this little song,
they can whistle it!

Lob des hohen Verstands - (Praise Of Lofty Judgement) -  A singing match between a cuckoo and a nightingale, with an ass as the judge. The beginning of the song inspired the motives for the finale of Mahler's 5th Symphony.

Once in a deep valley
the cuckoo and the nightingale
struck a wager.
Whoever sang the masterpiece,
whether won by art or won by luck,
Would take the prize.

The cuckoo spoke: ʻIf you agree,
I have chosen the judge,ʼ
and he at once named the ass.
ʻFor since he has two large ears,
he can hear all the better,
and recognize what is right!ʼ

Soon they flew before the judge.
When he was told the matter,
he decreed that they should sing!
The nightingale sang out sweetly!
The ass spoke: ʻYou muddle me up!
You muddle me up! Heehaw! Heehaw!
I canʼt get it into my head!ʼ

There upon the cuckoo began quickly
his song in thirds and fourths and fifths.
It pleased the ass, and he spoke out:
ʻWait! Wait! Wait!
I will pronounce thy judgement,
yes, pronounce.

You have sung well, nightingale!
But, cuckoo, you sing a good chorale!
And hold the beat precisely!
I speak from higher understanding!
And even if it cost a whole country,
I thus pronounce you the winner, the winner!ʼ
Cuckoo, cuckoo! Heehaw!

Der Tamboursg'sell - (The Drummer Boy) -  Another song about a drummer boy, this time one that is condemned to death by hanging. The words are accompanied by a slow funeral march. This song was the last poem set in 1905.

I am a poor drummer boy!
They are leading me out of the dungeon!
If Iʼd remained a drummer,
I would not be imprisoned!

Oh, gallows,
you look so frightening!
I wonʼt look at you any more!
Because I know thatʼs where I belong!

When soldiers march past,
that are not billeted with me.
When they ask who I was:
Drummer of the first company!

Good night! You marble rocks!
You mountains and hills!
Good night, officers,
corporals and musketeers!
Good night!
Good night, officers!
Corporals and grenadiers!

I cry out with a clear voice:
I take leave of you!
Good night!

Das himmlische Leben - (The Heavenly Life) -  This song was not included in the original set of Wunderhorn songs for voice and orchestra. It is used as the final movement of Mahler's 4th Symphony.

We enjoy heavenly pleasures and
therefore avoid earthly ones.
No worldly tumult is to be heard in heaven
 All live in greatest peace.
We lead angelic lives,
yet have a merry time of it besides.
We dance and we spring,
We skip and we sing.
Saint Peter in heaven looks on.

John lets the lambkin out,
and Herod the Butcher lies in wait for it.
We lead a patient,
an innocent, patient,
dear little lamb to its death.
Saint Luke slaughters the ox
without any thought or concern.
Wine doesn't cost a penny in the heavenly cellars;
The angels bake the bread.

Good greens of every sort grow
in the heavenly vegetable patch,
good asparagus, string beans,
and whatever we want.
Whole dishfuls are set for us!
Good apples, good pears and good grapes,
and gardeners who allow everything!
If you want roebuck or hare,
on the public streets they come running right up.

Should a fast day come along,
all the fishes at once come swimming with joy.
There goes Saint Peter running
with his net and his bait
to the heavenly pond.
Saint Martha must be the cook.

There is just no music on earth
that can compare to ours.
Even the eleven thousand virgins
venture to dance,
and Saint Ursula herself has to laugh.
There is just no music on earth
that can compare to ours.
Cecilia and all her relations
make excellent court musicians.
The angelic voices gladden our senses,
so that all awaken for joy.

Lied des Verfolgten im Turm - (Song of the Prisoner in the Tower) -  Another military style song that incorporates a dialog between a prisoner and his sweetheart that stands outside the tower he is imprisoned in.

The prisoner:
Thoughts are free,
who can guess them;
they rush past
like nocturnal shadows,
no man can know them,
no hunter can shoot them,
it remains thus:
thoughts are free!

The maiden:
Summer is a time for merriment
on high, wild mountains.
There one finds a green place,
my loving sweetheart,
I do not wish to part from you!

The prisoner:
And if they lock me up
in a dark dungeon,
all this is but in vain;
for my thoughts
tear the bars apart
and the walls destroy,
thoughts are free!

The maiden:
Summer is a time for merriment,
on high, wild mountains.
There one is always quite alone,
on high, wild mountains.
There one hears no children yelling!
There the air invites one to himself,
yes, the air invites one to himself.

The prisoner:
So may it be the way it is!
And if it happens,
may it all happen in the silence,
only everything in the silence!
My wish and desire
can be restrained by no one!
It remains thus,
thoughts are free!

The maiden:
My sweetheart, you sing as cheerfully here
as a little bird in the grass.
I stand sadly at the prison door,
if I only were dead, if I only were with you,
alas, must I then always complain?

The prisoner:
And since you complain so,
Iʼll renounce you and your love!
And if I dare, nothing can worry me!
Then in my heart I can always
laugh and be jovial.
It remains thus:
Thoughts are free!
Thoughts are free!

Rheinlegendchen - (Rhine Legend) -  A dream of a maiden that longs to find a sweetheart by throwing her ring in the Rhine. 

Now I mow by the Neckar,
now I mow by the Rhine;
now I have a sweetheart,
now Iʼm alone!

What good is mowing
if the sickle doesnʼt cut;
what good is a sweetheart,
if he  doesnʼt stay with me!

So when I mow
by the Neckar, by the Rhine,
I will throw
my little gold ring in.

It will float in the Neckar
and float in the Rhine,
it shall swim right down
into the deep sea.

And when it swims, the little ring,
a fish will eat it!
The fish will land
on the kingʼs table!

The king would ask,
whose ring can it be?
Then I would say:
ʻThe ring belongs to me!ʼ

My sweetheart would spring
up hill and down hill,
would bring back to me
my fine little gold ring!

You can mow by the Neckar,
you can mow by the Rhine!
You can always toss in
your little ring for me!

Der Schildwache Nachtlied - (The Sentinelʼs Nightsong) -  Another dialog song.  Military style music of the sentinel  is interrupted by tender music that accompanies the words of his sweetheart.

I cannot and will not be cheerful!
When everyone is asleep,
then I must keep watch!
Yes, keep watch!
Must be sorrowful!

Dear lad, you mustnʼt be sad!
Iʼll wait for you
in the rose-garden!
In the green clover!

To the green clover I will not go!
To the armory!
Full of halberds!
I am posted!

If you are on the battlefield, may God help you!
On Godʼs blessing
is everything dependent!
Whoever believes it!

He who believes it is far away!
Heʼs a king!
Heʼs an emperor!
He wages war!
Halt! Whoʼs there!
Stand back!
Who sang here? Who sang just now?!
A solitary field sentinel
sang it at midnight!
Field sentinel

Urlicht - (Primeval Light) -  Another song that was used in Mahler's 2nd Symphony. For many years it was not included in performances of the Wunderhorn songs. 

O little red rose!
Man lies in greatest need!
Man lies in greatest pain!
I would rather be in heaven!

Then I came upon a broad path.
There came an angel and wanted to turn me away.
Ah no, I would not be turned away!
Ah no, I would not be turned away:
I am from God and want to return to God!
The loving God will give me a little of the light,
will illuminate me into eternal blessed life!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Wolf - Three Mörike Lieder

Hugo Wolf  was an Austrian composer who was a child prodigy. His father taught him the piano and violin beginning at four years of age.  He had little interest in other school subjects besides music and even after he entered the Vienna Conservatory of Music in 1875 was constantly at logger heads with his teachers. Rebellious by nature, he was expelled from the conservatory after two years because of his intense criticism of his masters whom he deemed too conservative.

While at the conservatory he met Richard Wagner who gave him encouragement, and he became a rabid disciple of Wagner.  He tried his hand at teaching but was temperamentally ill suited to it. Despite his somewhat irascible disposition, he could also be engaging and charming, enough that he gathered financial support from patrons so he could compose for a living.

After the death of Wagner in 1883 his style matured and his songs began to be noticed by Franz Liszt.  About this time he began working on larger compositions and also began to write a regular column of music criticism in the Vienna publication Wiener Salonblatt.  Between 1883 and 1887 Wolf wrote over 100 articles, and in keeping with his discipleship of Wagner, he took some incredibly vicious swipes at the music of Brahms as well as any other composer that he thought was in the Brahmsian camp. Wolf had this to say about Brahms' 4th Symphony:
He never could rise above the mediocre. But such nothingness, hollowness, such mousy obsequiousness as in the E minor symphony has never yet been revealed so alarmingly in any of Brahms' works. The art of composing without ideas has decidedly found in Brahms one of its worthiest representatives. Like God Almighty, Brahms understands the trick of making something out of nothing. Enough of this hideous game!
Eduard Mörike 
He gave up his music criticism column  in 1887 (but not before creating a lot of enemies) and began composing at fever pitch. Wolf's temperament had included bouts of crippling depression in his earlier years, and now the syphilis that he had contracted earlier in his life added to his mental problems. He composed rapidly during his good times, and sank deeper and deeper into depression and insanity in the bad times. He tried to complete an opera in 1897 before his mind was completely gone, but by 1899 he could no longer compose. He made an unsuccessful attempt at suicide by drowning, afterward he committed himself to an insane asylum where he died in 1903.

Wolf set many  poems of the Romantic German poet Eduard Mörike to music, 53 of them in 1888.  Mörike's poems are known for their humor and simple language.  Three of these Mörike lieder are discussed below. The accompanying link to a performance of the songs are sung by the late German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, a master of German Lied.

Bei einer Trauung (At A Wedding) -  Wolf refined and expanded the direction of the German Lied that Schubert and Schumann had begun; that the piano accompaniment is an equal of the soloist in importance. The piano part of this song gives a hint of what kind of a wedding this really is, even before the soloist sings a word. In plodding, funereal chords, with dissonant grace notes punctuating the sorrow, the piano sets the stage for a marriage of two people who are not in love.  It is the nature of Mörike's poetic style that makes the listener wonder if the poem is really an expression of sorrow or a tongue-in-cheek mockery of arranged marriages. Wolf's music seems to emphasize the sorrow.

With no one but aristocrats for witnesses
the couple is being married.
The organ proclaims that all is fine,
but nothing else does!

Just look - she is crying her eyes out,
and he is making a dreadful face,
For you see, I am afraid
that there is no love in this union.

Zur Warnung (Word of Warning) -   In the accompanying video, the singer begins this song in the hoarse, coarse voice of one who has spent a night drinking.  The perky and rather trite piano accompaniment of the 'garbage verse'  with its sudden change of mood is a good example of Wolf's talent for matching music to words. The 'name' Wendehals  is an actual variety of a bird of the woodpecker family in Germany.  The song is an all together delightful warning to poets with a hangover: have some hair of the dog that bit you if you must, but don't try and write any poetry.

After a night out
I woke up feeling lousy;
I thirsted but not for water,
my blood pounded, I felt disturbed and sentimental.
Almost poetically I begged my Muse for a song.
Pretending sympathy, she mocked me,
and gave me this piece of garbage:
"A nightingale is singing
by a waterfall; 
another bird as well, 
who signs its name Wendehals, 
Johann Jacob Wendehals,
who dances
by the plants
of the afore mentioned waterfall."
And so it went until I became very uneasy.
I sprang up: wine! That would be my salvation!
Mark it well, you weepy bards,
when you have a hangover, don't call upon the gods!

Abschied - (Farewell) -  A poem that probably reflected Wolf's own feelings about his critics (while ignoring his own harsh criticism of others). How he would have enjoyed kicking his critics in the ass and watching them bounce down the stairs! The music is of shifting moods, from the curt notes of the critic to the racket of the critic bouncing down the stairs. The joy at seeing the critic roll down the steps is portrayed by the pianist playing a noisy Viennese waltz peppered with accented grace notes:

One evening, without knocking, in came a gentleman:
"I have the honor to be your critic!"
Immediately he took the light in his hand
and gazed long at my shadow on the wall.
He stepped close and then stepped back: "Now, my good young man,
kindly see how your nose looks from the side!
You must admit it is a nose and a half!"
Good gracious - so it is!
My word! I never imagined - my whole life long -
that such a huge world-sized nose was on my face!

The man said various other things about this and that,
but I honestly don't remember what;
perhaps he thought I had something to confess.
Finally he stood up and I lit his way out.
As we stood at the top of the stairs,
I cheerfully gave him
a small kick in the ass,
and by golly! What a jolting,
tumbling, and crashing!
I have never seen such a thing,
my whole life long,
a man that went so quickly down the stairs!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Chopin - Waltzes Opus 69

The Waltz as a form of dance had its origins in the Austrian/German Ländler, a folk dance that includes stomping, leaping and twirling about, although mention of gliding and twirling dances where dancers were described as walzen (German for turning or spinning) are mentioned as early as the 16th century in some texts.

Composers such as Beethoven and Schubert wrote waltzes, but these pieces were the equivalent of modern dance music. They were functional and meant to be danced to.  Carl Maria von Weber's Invitation To The Dance written for piano was the first instance of a waltz written to be listened to instead of danced to. Chopin helped refine the concert waltz and his first attempts in the form used Weber's as a model.

Chopin wrote at least 36 waltzes, but only 18 verified waltzes still exist. The others are either destroyed, held by private owners while the fate of others is unknown. Chopin had only eight waltzes published during his lifetime, and on his death bed he instructed his publisher to destroy all of his unpublished works, but this was not done.  Five waltzes were published shortly after his death and another five later.  The two waltzes of Opus 69 were published in 1854, 5 years after his death.

Chopin painted by Maria Wodzińska
No. 1 In A-flat Major, Valse de l'adieu or Farewell Waltz - This waltz was written in 1835 during Chopin's early years in Paris and was given to Maria Wodzińska as a gift. Chopin had proposed to Maria (a talented artist and musician that studied with John Field) in 1835, and while her mother consented her father considered Chopin too sickly and their engagement ended in 1837.  Chopin's waltzes have been considered to be lesser compositions by some, and there are a few of the waltzes that can be considered trifles compared to other works. but taken as a whole, the waltzes reflect a wide range of moods from the giddy and extroverted to the melancholy and introverted. The A-flat Waltz of opus 69 is one of the introverted works of the set.  Despite being written in A major, a feeling of nostalgia (perhaps for his native Poland and the native Polish mazurka) can be heard in the main theme, no doubt because the minor mode is interwoven with the major to creates an ambiguity of sound that equates to the reverie of a mind dwelling on things past. The waltz ends gently with the main theme.

No. 2 In B Minor -  This waltz was written in 1829 before Chopin left Poland.  The main theme is in B minor that is more melancholy and restless than the previous waltz, partially on account of the chromaticism of the main theme. Once again Chopin mixes major and minor (or in this instance minor with major) as the first episode after the statement of the theme changes to B major, but the overall feeling doesn't change.  This piece is one of the least technically demanding waltzes, but that's no reason to dismiss it. Chopin was above everything else, a master of the piano miniature, with this waltz being a good example of his skill and artistry.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Orff - Carmina Burana, A Scenic Cantata

In addition to being a composer and conductor, Carl Orff was a leader in the development of musical education for young people. His Schulwerk integrated movement, singing, playing and improvising. Percussion instruments played a major role in the innovative ways he and others used in teaching children music as a basic language.

As a composer, Orff's music was part of the movement away from 19th century Romanticism that began late in the 19th century and increased at the turn of the 20th. His music reflected his love of percussion, the elemental parts of music such as simple melody as well as repetitive accompaniment. He eventually focused on composing works based on texts and topics from the ancient world. His scenic cantata Carmina Burana was composed in 1936 and was the first part of a trilogy of compositions for vocalists and orchestra. The other two works of the trilogy Catulli Carmina and Trionfo di Afrodite are seldom performed or recorded. Carmina Burana is not only the most well known and popular of the trilogy, but it is one of the most performed and recorded works of the 20th century.

Orff used 24 poems from the 254 poems and songs that were contained in a volume named Carmina Burana (Songs from Beuern) that were copied out in the 13th century, although the poems and songs range from the 11th to the 13th centuries. The poems are in Medieval Latin, early German and Old French and are thought to have been written by the Goliards, a group of clergy and students that satirized and criticized the Church. The poems and songs in the collection deal with many subjects, but mostly with the sins of earthly delights such as gambling, drinking and sex. Evidently the Goliards spent a lot of their time nose-thumbing authority (especially that of the Church).  The collection is a representation of a medieval movement that spread throughout Europe as songs and poems came from England, The Holy Roman Empire, Scotland, France, Spain and other regions with most of them written in medieval Latin, a language used by scholars and students all across Europe.

Neumes over medieval text
The manuscript of Carmina Burana lay in the library of Benediktbeuern Abbey in Bavaria for centuries until it was discovered in 1803. After a complicated history, the text was published in 1847.  About 25% of the original contents of theCarmina Burana were accompanied by neumes, an early form of musical notation that had no staff lines and  indicated by small marks over words and syllables whether a note was higher or lower than the previous one.

Orff's setting of Carmina Burana consists of 25 movements that are divided into five sections. The work is scored for a large orchestra with a very large percussion section, piano, chorus, and baritone, tenor and soprano soloists.  Sections are given Latin and English translation. Movement names are the first line of the text used - with the original language used for titles of each movement.

A) Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi - Fortune, Empress Of The World 
The first section consists of two movements that deal with the uncontrollable forces of Fortune and Fate:
1. Oh Fortuna  - 
O Fortune,
Like the moon
You are changeable,
ever waxing and waning.
Hateful life, first oppresses,
and then soothes as fancy takes it;
poverty, and power it melts them like ice.
Wheel Of Fortune from Carmina Burana manuscript
Fate - monstrous and empty,
you whirling wheel,
you are malevolent,
well-being is in vain
and always fades to nothing,
shadowed and veiled
you plague me too;
now through the game
I bring my bare back
To your villainy.
Fate is against me
in health and virtue,
driven on and weighted down,
always enslaved.
So at this hour without delay
pluck the vibrating strings;
since Fate strikes down the strong man,
everyone weep with me!

2. Fortune Plango Vulnera - 
I bemoan the wounds of Fortune
with weeping eyes,
for the gifts she made me
she perversely takes away.
It is written in truth,
that she has a fine head of hair,
but, when it comes to seizing an
she is bald.
On Fortune’s throne
I used to sit raised up,
crowned with
the many-colored flowers of prosperity;
though I may have flourished
happy and blessed,
now I fall from the peak
deprived of glory.
The wheel of Fortune turns:
I go down, demeaned;
another is raised up;
far too high up
sits the king at the summit –
let him fear ruin!
for under the axis is written
Queen Hecuba.

B) Primo Vere -  In Spring
Three movements that deal with the renewal that comes with spring. 
3. Veris leta facies - 
[Small choir]
The merry face of spring
turns to the world,
sharp winter
now flees, vanquished;
bedecked in various colors
Flora reigns,
the harmony of the woods

praises her in song. Ah!
Lying in Flora’s lap
Phoebus once more
smiles, now covered
in many-colored flowers,
Zephyr breathes nectar scented
Let us rush to compete
for love’s prize. Ah!
In harp-like tones sings
the sweet nightingale,
with many flowers
the joyous meadows are laughing,
a flock of birds rises up
through the pleasant forests,
the chorus of maidens
already promises a thousand joys. Ah.

4. Omnia Sol temperat -
[Baritone solo]
The sun warms everything,
pure and gentle,
once again it reveals to the world
April’s face,
the soul of man
is urged towards love
and joys are governed
Illustrtation from Carmina Burana manuscript
by the boy-god.
All this rebirth
in spring’s festivity
and spring’s power
bids us to rejoice;
it shows us paths we know well,
and in your springtime
it is true and right
to keep what is yours.
Love me faithfully!
See how I am faithful:
With all my heart
and with all my soul,
I am with you
Even when I am far away.
Whoever loves this much
turns on the wheel.

5. Ecce gratum - 
Behold the pleasant
and longed-for
spring brings back joyfulness,
violet flowers
fill the meadows,
the sun brightens everything,
sadness is now at an end!
Summer returns,
now withdraw
the rigors of winter. Ah!
Now melts
and disappears
ice, snow, and the rest,
winter flees,
and now
spring sucks at summer’s breast:
A wretched soul is he
who does not live
or lust
under summer’s rule. Ah!
They glory
and rejoice
in honeyed sweetness
who strive
to make use of
Cupid’s prize;
At Venus’ command
let us glory
and rejoice
in being Paris’ equals. Ah!

C.) Uf Dem Anger - On The Green 
6. Dance -  An instrumental of rhythmic vitality. While much of Carmina Burana seems simple to the point of primitive, the rhythmic scheme of this movement (as well as others) demonstrates the rhythmic complexity of the score.

7. Floret Silva -  Women lament lovers riding off on horses which Orff depicts in sound by the male voice's decrescendo.
The noble woods are burgeoning
with flowers and leaves,
Where is the lover
I knew? Ah!
He has ridden off!
Oh! Who will love me? Ah!
The woods are burgeoning all over,
I am pining for my lover,
The woods are turning green all over,
why is my lover away so long? Ah!
He has ridden off,
Oh woe, who will love me? Ah!

8. Chramer, gip die varwe mir
[Small and large choir]
Shopkeeper, give me color
to make my cheeks red,
so that I can make the young men
love me, against their will
Look at me,
young men!
Let me please you!
Good men, love
women worthy of love!
Love ennobles your spirit
and gives you honor.
Look at me, etc.
Hail, world,
so rich in joys!
I will be obedient to you
because of the pleasures you afford.
Look at me, etc.

9.  This movement is in 4 parts and begins with an instrumental round dance that is punctuated in the bass by the contra bassoon. The language of the songs in this movement are Latin and Middle German: 
i) Round Dance
ii) Swaz hie gat umbe 
Violins are strummed like lutes in this rapid song:
Those who go round and round
are all maidens,
they want to do without a man
all summer long. Ah! Sla!
iii) Chume, chum, geselle min 
[Small choir]
Come, come, my love,
I long for you.
Sweet rose-red lips,
come and make me better.
iv) Swaz hie gat umbe (repeat)
Those who go round and round
are all maidens,
they want to do without a man
all summer long. Ah! Sla!

10. Were diu werlt alle min 
If all the world were mine
from the sea to the Rhine,
I would do without it
if the Queen of England
would lie in my arms. Hey!

D) In Taberna - In The Tavern
11. Estuans interius 
Burning inside
with violent anger,
bitterly I speak my heart:
Created from matter,
of the ashes of the elements,
I am like a leaf
played with by the winds.
If it is the way
of the wise man
to build
foundations on stone,
then I am a fool, like
a flowing stream,
which in its course
never changes.
I am carried along
like a ship without a steersman,
and in the paths of the air
like a light, hovering bird;
chains cannot hold me,
keys cannot imprison me,
I look for people like me
and join the wretches.
The heaviness of my heart
seems a burden to me;
it is pleasant to joke
and sweeter than honeycomb;
whatever Venus commands
is a sweet duty,
she never dwells
in a lazy heart.
I travel the broad path
as is the way of youth,
I give myself to vice,
unmindful of virtue,
I am eager for the pleasures of the flesh
more than for salvation,
my soul is dead,
so I shall look after the flesh.

12. Olim lacus colueram
The tenor has to reach beyond the normal range of  his voice to sing (or rather screech) the story of a swan roasting on a spit over an open fire - from the vantage point of the swan!  

[Tenor and male choir]
The roasted swan sings:
Once I lived on lakes,
once I looked beautiful
when I was a swan.

Misery me!
Now black
and roasting fiercely!

The servant is turning me on the spit;
I am burning fiercely on the pyre;
the steward now serves me up.

Misery me! etc.

Now I lie on a plate,
and cannot fly anymore,
I see bared teeth:

Misery me! etc.

Illustration from Carmina Burana manuscript
13. Ego sum abbas -  
A song about boozing, gambling and literally losing your shirt at the tavern.
[Baritone and male choir]
I am the abbot of Cockaigne
and my assembly is one of drinkers,
and I wish to be in the order of Decius,
and whoever searches me out at the
tavern in the morning,
after Vespers he will leave naked,
and thus stripped of his clothes he will call
Woe! Woe!
what have you done, vilest Fate?
The joys of my life
you have taken all away!

14. In taberna quando sumus 
The ultimate drinking song as male voices extoll the pleasures of boozing it up in Medieval times, where it appears everyone drank a lot (according to this song)
[Male choir]
When we are in the tavern,
we do not think how we will go to dust,
but we hurry to gamble,
which always makes us sweat,
What happens in the tavern,
where money is host,
you may well ask,
and hear what I say.
Some gamble, some drink,
some behave loosely.
But of those who gamble,
some are stripped bare,
some win their clothes here,
some are dressed in sacks.
Here no-one fears death,
but they throw the dice in the name of Bacchus.
First of all it is to the wine-merchant
that the libertines drink,
one for the prisoners,
three for the living,
four for all Christians,
five for the faithful dead.
six for the loose sisters,
Illustration from Carmina Burana manuscript
seven for the footpads in the wood.
Eight for the errant brethren,
nine for the dispersed monks,
ten for the seamen,
eleven for the squabblers,
twelve for the penitent,
thirteen for the wayfarers.
To the Pope as to the king
they all drink without restraint.
The mistress drinks, the master drinks,
the soldier drinks, the priest drinks,
the man drinks, the woman drinks,
the servant drinks with the maid,
the swift man drinks, the lazy man drinks,
the white man drinks, the black man drinks,
the settled man drinks, the wanderer drinks,
the stupid man drinks, the wise man drinks,
The poor man drinks, the sick man drinks,
the exile drinks, and the stranger,
the boy drinks, the old man drinks,
the bishop drinks, and the deacon,
the sister drinks, the brother drinks,
the old lady drinks, the mother drinks,
this man drinks, that man drinks,
a hundred drink, a thousand drink.
Six hundred pennies would hardly suffice, if everyone
drinks immoderately and immeasurably.
However much the cheerfully drink
we are the ones whom everyone scolds,
and thus we are destitute.
May those who slander us be cursed
and may their names not be written in the
book of the righteous.
Io, io, io!

E) Cour d'amours  - Court Of Love
15. Amor volat undique
[Soprano and boy's choir]
Cupid flies everywhere
seized by desire.
Young men and women
are rightly coupled.
The girl without a lover
misses out on all pleasures,
she keeps the dark night
hidden in the depth of her heart;
it is a most bitter fate.

16. Dies, nox et omnia
Day, night, and everything
is against me,
the chattering of maidens
makes me weep,
and often sigh,
and, most of all, scares me.
O friends, you are making fun of me,
you do not know what you are saying,
spare me, sorrowful as I am,
great is my grief,
advise me at least,
by your honor.
Your beautiful face,
makes me weep a thousand times,
your heart is of ice.
As a cure,
I would be revived
by a kiss.

17. Stetit puella
A girl stood
in a red tunic;
if anyone touched it,
the tunic restled.
A girl stood
like a little rose:
her face was radiant
and her mouth in bloom.

18. Circa mea pectora
The chorus of this song repeats the word mandeliet, and there is a bone of contention among scholars as to its exact meaning.  Without pinning a definition to the word, it is perhaps the medieval equivelent of  neener, neener, you can't have me!
[Baritone and choir]
In my heart
there are many sighs
for your beauty,
which wound me sorely. Ah!

my lover
does not come.

Your eyes shine
like the rays of the sun,
like the flashing of lightening
which brightens the darkness. Ah!

Mandaliet, etc.

May God grant, may the gods grant
what I have in my mind
that I may loose
the chains of her virginity, Ah!

Mandaliet, etc.

19.  Si puer cum puellula
[Baritone, 3 tenors, 2 basses]
If a boy with a girl
tarries in a little room,
happy is their coupling.
Love rises up,
and between them
prudery is driven away,
an ineffable game begins
in their limbs, arms and lips.

20.Veni, veni, venias
[Double choir]
Come, come, O come,
do not let me die,
hyrca, hyrce, nazaza,
Beautiful is your face,
the gleam of your eye,
your braided hair,
what a glorious creature!
Redder than the rose,
whiter than the lily,
lovelier than all others,
I shall always glory in you!

21. In trutina 
In the wavering balance of my feelings
set against each other
lascivious love and modesty.
But I choose what I see,
and submit my neck to the yoke;
I yield to the sweet yoke.

22.Tempus est iocundum
[Soprano, baritone, boy's choir]
This is the joyful time,
O maidens,
rejoice with them,
young men!
Oh, oh, oh!
I am bursting out all over!
I am burning all over with first love!
New, new love is what I am dying of!
I am heartened
by my promise,
I am downcast
by my refusal.
Oh! oh! oh! etc.
In the winter
man is patient,
the breath of spring
makes him lust.
Oh! oh! oh! etc.
My virginity
makes me frisky,
my simplicity
holds me back.
Oh! oh! oh! etc.
Come, my mistress,
with joy,
come, come, my pretty,
I am dying!
Oh! oh! oh! etc.

23. Dulcissime
A musical depiction of a female orgasm as the soprano reaches the stratosphere of her range.[Soprano]
Sweetest one! Ah!
I give myself to you totally!

Blanziflor et Helena -
24. Ave formosissima
Tribute is paid to two women; Blanchefleur -  female heroine first heard of in a romantic tale heard across Europe in the 12th century, and Helen - the same Helen of Troy from Greek mythology, the most beautiful woman in the world. 
Hail, most beautiful one,
precious jewel,
Hail, Pride among virgins,
glorious virgin,
Hail, light of the world,
Hail, rose of the world,
Blanchefleur and Helen,
noble Venus!

25.  Oh Fortuna  - 
A repeat of the beginning of the work. The wheel of Fortune has come full circle.
O Fortune,
Like the moon
You are changeable,
ever waxing and waning.
Hateful life, first oppresses,
and then soothes as fancy takes it;
poverty, and power it melts them like ice.
Fate - monstrous and empty,
you whirling wheel,
you are malevolent,
well-being is in vain
and always fades to nothing,
shadowed and veiled
you plague me too;
now through the game
I bring my bare back
To your villainy.
Fate is against me
in health and virtue,
driven on and weighted down,
always enslaved.
So at this hour without delay
pluck the vibrating strings;
since Fate strikes down the strong man,
everyone weep with me!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Schumann - Romanzen & Balladen Vol. IV, Opus 64 No. 3 'Tragödie'

Many poems of Heinrich Heine (1797-1856)  have been set to music by many German composers, most notably Schubert and Schumann, as well as composers of other nationalities. Heine's early lyrical style made his poems very attractive to composers in the 20th century also.

Robert Schumann, who was not only a gifted composer but a competent man of letters, first
set music to Heine's poetry in 1840 when Schumann composed at least 138 songs.  By that time Heine had moved away from his earlier lyric Romanticism and wrote works that reflected his radical liberal politics. After struggling to make a living writing and struggling against heavy censorship in the German states, Heine traveled to Paris in 1831 and remained there the rest of his life.

Schumann composed two well-known song cycles on Heine's poems. The first was Liederkreis that consists of 9 song settings and Dichterliebe (A Poet's Love) based on 16 poems from Heine's Lyrisches Intermezzo. Schumann set other poems of Heine's as well, notably in his 4 volumes of Romanzen & Balladen. The 4th volume, Opus 64, consists of three songs, two by Eduard Mörike and one, Tragödie by Heine. These songs were composed between 1841-1847. Schumann was well acquainted with Heine's work before 1840 and the two met in Munich in 1828 and Schumann described their meeting in a letter:
Heinrich Heine
I imagined him to be, after the sketch of Herr Krahe, a crochety, misanthropic man, who would be more likely to stand, as if too sublime, above mankind, than to huddle against it. But how different I found him and how different he was, than I had conceived him to be. He engaged me in a friendly fashion, like a humane Greek Anacreon, shook my hand cordially, and took me around Munich for several hours -- none of which I would have expected from a man that had described the Reisebilder(Travel Pictures); there lay only upon his mouth a bitter, ironic smile, but a lofty smile over the trivialities of life and a scorn for the petty person; yet that bitter satire, that one so often perceives in his Reisebilder, that deep, innermost resentment at life that penetrates to one's very marrow, made his conversation very pleasing to me.
Heine's later radical political writings may have turned Schumann against him, for the setting in Opus 64 is the last time Schumann set a Heine poem to music. Tragödie is in three sections:

I.  Rasch und mit Feuer (Quickly and with fire) -  In the key of E major, the piano reflects the passionate, confident song of the soloist as he tries to convince his love to run away with him, as his love will give her everything she needs.  In typical Romantic excess, the singer tells her if she doesn't  go with him she will regret it and have nothing.

Oh fly with me and be my love,
Rest on my heart, and never rouse;
And in strange lands my heart shall be
Thy fatherland and father's house.

 But if you stay, then I die here,
And you shall weep and wring your hands ;
And even in your father's house 
You shall be living in strange lands.

II.  Langsam (Slowly)  -  The original poem by Heine had the following heading printed with it:
A genuine folk-song; heard by Heine on the Rhine.  In direct contrast to the first section,  the story of the two lovers is told by the soloist as narrator. The over-confidence of the singer in the first section is replaced by the reality that after the two ran away together without telling even their mothers or fathers, there lives together was one of sadness and wandering and they withered and died as blossoms nipped by frost. In E minor, the piano begins the song with a sigh. The accompaniment has set the stage and continues with sparse, disconnected staccato chords that increase the starkness of the singer as they matter-of-factly relate the short, sad tale. The piano has a final, very soft sigh to end the section.

The hoar-frost fell on a night in Spring,
It fell on the young and tender blossoms . . .
And they have withered and died.

A boy and a girl were once in love ;
They fled from the house into the world
They told neither father nor mother.

They wandered here and they wandered there.
They had neither luck nor a star for guide . . .
And they have withered and died. 
III. Langsam - The final section is in C major and is a duet for tenor and soprano. The soloists and piano begin together as the story continues in music that reflects the words; a tree full of birds and soft breezes grows over the grave of the couple. Another couple sit under the tree, grow silent and begin to weep without knowing why. As in the second section, the matter-of-fact style of the words that tell the story creates a mood of starkness, but in this section the starkness is played off music that is gentle and like a folksong. The duet is short, the piano has a solo as it gently works its way to the end.  As the music progresses to the end a rather jarring A-flat resolves to a G and the work ends with a C major chord.

Upon their grave a tree stands now
With winds and birds in every bough ;
And in the green place under it
The miller's boy and his sweetheart sit.

The winds grow tender, soft and clinging,
And softly birds begin their singing.
The prattling sweethearts grow silent and sigh,
And fall to weeping neither knows why.