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 Maiden's 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.

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.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Loewe - Two Ballads

Carl Loewe composed in most of the genres of his day, but he is most remembered for his over 400 songs for voice and piano. He was called the Schubert of North Germany, and exerted a great influence on German lieder composers in the 19th century.  Loewe was also a fine pianist as well as baritone, conductor and composer, and his songs are known for the imaginative effects in the  accompaniments.  His ballads were very popular in the 19th century, especially in Germany where they remain in the lied repertoire.  With the coming of modern scholarship and recordings, Loewe's music is being heard more often outside Germany.

The text for the ballad Edward Opus 1, No. 1 originated in the British Isles. There are many versions of this poem in England, Scotland, and Ireland and there are also very similar ballads in Northern Europe.  The poem was many centuries old before it was put on paper in 1765.  The German poet Johann Gottfried Herder translated the poem to German, the version Loewe used in his setting of the poem.

The poem is a dialogue between Edward and his Mother. After his Mother presses him where the blood on his sword came from, Edward confesses that he has killed his father. After the Mother continues to ask questions, this time about what will happen to his wife, children, towers and house, his Mother asks what will he do for his Mother dear. Edward replies she will recieve the curse of hell, and it is then that he accuses his Mother of counseling him to murder his father. 

"Why does your sword drip with blood,
Edward, Edward?
Why does your sword drip with blood
And why are you so sad, O?"

"O, I have killed my hawk so good,
Mother, Mother;
O, I have killed my hawk so good,
And I have no more, O!"

"Your hawk's blood was never so red,
Edward, Edward!
Your hawk's blood was never so red,
My dear son, I tell you, O!"

"O, I have killed my red-roan steed,
Mother, Mother;
O, I have killed my red-roan steed,
That was once so fair and free, O!"

"Your steed was old, and you have more,
Edward, Edward!
Your steed was old, and you have more,
Something else troubles you, O!"

"O, I have slain my father dear,
Mother, Mother;
O, I have slain my father dear,
Alas and woe is me, O!"

"And what penance will you do for that,
Edward, Edward?
And what penance will you do for that,
My dear son, now tell me, O!"

"I'll set my feet in yonder boat,
Mother, Mother;
I'll set my feet in yonder boat,
And I'll go over the sea, O."

"And what will you do with your towers and house,
Edward, Edward?
And what will you do with your towers and house
That were so fair to see, O?"

"I'll let them stand till they fall down,
Mother, Mother;
I'll let them stand till they fall down,
For here will I never be, O."

"And what will you leave to your children and wife,
Edward, Edward?
And what will you leave to your children and wife,
When you go over the sea, O?"

"The world has room, let them beg through life,
Mother, Mother;
The world has room, let them beg through life,
For never more will I see them, O."

"And what will you leave to your mother dear,
Edward, Edward?
And what will you leave to your mother dear,
My dear son, now tell me, O!"

"The curse of hell from me shall ye bear,
Mother, Mother;
The curse of hell from me shall ye bear,
For the counsel you gave to me, O!"

The link below is of the German bass Kurt Moll singing the ballad with an orchestral accompaniment:

Moll's interpretation is classic, and his deep bass voice suits the music quite well. At the other end of the spectrum is the 1932 version done by Lawrence Tibbett. This version uses the original piano accompaniment. Tibbett also sings in the dialect that the poem was written in when published in 1765.  In comparison to Moll's more contemporary interpretation, Tibbett's is much more free musically in tempo and is over the top dramatically, some might even say to the point of going too far. But his version is certainly not boring:

Totendanz, Opus 44, No. 3 is set to parts of a poem by Johann Goethe who wrote the poem in 1813.  The poem is not only in the tradition of the dance of death that runs through European culture for centuries (an aftermath of the changes in society created by the Black Death ), but Goethe infuses it with some black humor as a night watchman at first just watches the skeletons shed their shrouds and dance. But a voice whispers in his ear to take one of the shrouds, which he does. As the skeletons end their dance, they all grab their shrouds and go back to their graves except for the one that had his shroud taken by the watchman.  The skeleton climbs up the tower wall, and as it corners the watchman, bells toll out and save the watchman as the skeleton shatters into pieces.

At dead of night the watchman on the tower
looks down on the row of graves.
The moon has made everything bright,
the churchyard is as if in daylight.

One grave stirs, then another;
out they come, here a woman, 
there a man, in white
trailing winding sheets.

Now intent on pleasure, they stretch
their bones in around dance.
Poor and young, old and rich,
their trains hinder their dance.

Since they have no need of shame,
they all shake them off and the 
shrouds lie scattered 
over the burial mounds.

Now shanks stir and legs totter,
there are crazy antics and 
now and then clicks and clacks
as if castanets were beating time. 

To the watchman it seems ludicrous,
and the artful Tempter whispers in his ear,
"Go out and seize one of the shrouds!" No sooner said
than done, and he retreats behind hallowed doors.

The moon shines brightly on the hideous dance,
but at last  they disperse, and  one by one
slip back into their clothes and scurry
back under the turf.

Finally only one is left, tripping and stumbling,
fumbling and groping at the graves,
but none of hiss fellows has wronged him.
He smells the grave cloth in the air. 

He rattles the tower gate, but is repulsed,
fortunatley for the watchman,
by holy ornaments
shining with metal crosses.

But he has to have his shroud and will not rest,
nor is there time for lengthy reflection.
The creature grasps the Gothic decorations
and clambers from coping to coping.

Poor watchman, he's done for now!
Up it climbs from turret to turret like a long legged spider.
The watchman blenches and trembles, gladly
would he give the shroud back! Now -can anything save the watchman!

A corner of the shroud catches on an iron spike,
already the moon is clouded over, the light fades,
the bell thunders out a mighty stroke of ONE!...
And the skeleton is dashed to pieces below.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

C.P.E. Bach - Six Spiritual Songs

C.P.E. Bach is most well known for his instrumental works, of which his most prolific genre is the works for solo keyboard with over 400 pieces.  But it may be a surprise to learn that his second largest genre of works was his output of songs, with over 250 works.  Bach's role as a transitional composer applies to his songs as well as other genres. To be sure, songs had been written before his time, but the style of accompaniment for earlier songs was a holdover from the Baroque era, a continuo accompaniment that could be played by a bass instrument that included numbers (a figured bass) that were an outline for harmony to be filled in by a keyboard.  Bach wrote out his accompaniments in full to his later songs and made them specific for a keyboard instrument.

Bach was very discriminating towards the texts that he set to music. Many of the texts he used were spiritual or sacred in nature.  One of the poets he set to music was Christoph Christian Sturm, German writer and preacher. Geistliche Gesänge (Sacred songs with melodies) is a set of two volumes of Sturm's poems (thirty in each volume for a total of 60 songs) that Bach set to music in 1780 and 1781.  Many of the songs are strophic; the music is the same for each verse of the poem.  Bach did not always set all the verses of a poem, and performers did not always perform all the verses that were contained in a song.

1) Über die Finsterniss kurz vor dem Tode Jesu (On The Darkness Shortly Before Jesus' Death) Wq. 197, No. 29
Christoph Christian Sturm
 Bach did not always set every verse of a poem, and performers did not always perform all the verses that were contained in a song. This is part of the tradition of these songs to this day, and  the performance linked at the end of this post has only the first verse of the song performed.  Modern scholarship has seen more awareness of the tonal colors C.P.E. Bach was familiar with. With most of Bach's songs being intended for private performance in a household or a very intimate venue, the keyboard instruments of his time are often utilized in performance. The first five songs in the linked video are accompanied by a tangent piano, a keyboard instrument that was a hybrid between piano and clavichord.

Night and shadow cover
the mediator's face,
and the soul cannot bear
the soul's terror!
Oh, how he feels the despair
for joy and light!
Father, oh how long
must your face remain hidden!
Lord, have mercy!
God, have mercy!

Christian Gellert
Geistliche Oden und Lieder (Spiritual Odes And Songs) are a collection of poems written by Christian Fürchtegott Gellert, who was a German philosopher and poet that helped usher in the Golden Age of German literature that culminated with the writings of Schiller and Goethe. Despite that he could be exceedingly wordy, his works were very popular. C.P.E. Bach admired Gellert's works so much that he set all fifty four poems of the first volume in 1758 as well as a supplement of twelve poems in 1764. Bach himself wrote a preface for the first edition of the work that conveys his purpose in setting the poems:
It would be superfluous to add more praise to the famous author of the text, since his work has already received much recognition. However, it can not be thankful enough fully convinced of the distribution of this collection and its enormous advantage. I for my part, have been very moved by the excellence of the noble and instructive thoughts contained in these texts and felt compelled to set all of them to music. It is common knowledge that didactic odes are not so easily set to music as lyrical poems. However, if didactic odes are as beautifully written as by Mr. Gellert, one feels compelled to make every effort to beautify their purpose, so that their use will be more widely circulated. It is solely for this reason that I composed these melodies. My main objective was to allow these odes to be more accessible and enjoyable for music lovers...
The melodies, which show directions such as 'alive', 'happy', et al. require a moderate pace, otherwise one can easy fall into a bold interpretation and can be easy to forget that these are religious songs Last but not least, I hope again for the approval of the experts and would be very grateful if my good intentions would be recognized.
2) Prüfung am Abend (Reflections In The Evening) - WQ. 194, No. 7
The day has gone again, and so thus far in my life,
how have I spent it? Has it passed by in vain?
Have I seriously strived after good?
Have I, perhaps only obeyed myself and not my duties?

God, who knows everything, what could I conceal from You?
Every day I still feel the frailty of my soul.
Forgive my breach of duty through Christ's blood;
Forgive and do not pronounce judgement on me.

Yes, You forgive the one who is wounded by his sins;
You love mercy and You will have mercy on me, too.
You protect me this night as well;
if I live, I live for You, if I die, I die for You!

3) Trost der Erlösung  (Consolation Of Redemption) - Wq. 194, No. 30
What cannot be explained by thought
the heart is able to understand.
"That God so loved the world that He gave
his only begotten son."

Give me the comfort to know that Jesus Christ
on the cross removes the blame from me,
that He is my redeemer
so that I am not filled with fear.

I know that my Redeemer lives,
that when I rise from the grave
I will see Him in the flesh.

4) Paßionslied - Erforsche mich, erfahr mein Herz (Passion Song - Search within me, inspect my heart) - Wq. 194, No. 14
Search within me, inspect my heart
and see, Lord, who I am.
I think of the pain of your suffering,
of your love, and I weep.
Your cross shall be praised!
What a miracle of mercy
have you given the world.
When have I ever thought of this enough,
and when have I ever, with all my strength,
praised you for it enough?

A victim, according to the old scripture.
burdened with our afflictions,
for you people's iniquity
tormented and beaten.
You are taken away to the cross
in innocence, like a lamb,
that leads to the slaughter.
Voluntarily as the hero's hero.

Your head falls. It is accomplished.
You die, the earth trembles.
This I have made you do.
Lord, my soul is shaking.
What is man, that you free him?
Oh, if only I could be truly thankful;!
Lord, let me find mercy.
And your love shall press me
so that I love you back,
and never crucify you again with my sins.

5) Abendlied - Herr, der du mir das Leben (Evening Song - Lord, you have given me my life) - Wq.194, No. 32
Lord, you have given me my life.
Until this day,
I pray to you like a child!
I am much too undeserving
of the loyalty that I sing of,
which you have shown me today.

Covered with your blessing
I hurry towards my rest,
your name shall be praised!
My life and my end
is yours; into your hands
Father, I commit my spirit.

6) Bußlied  (Song Of Penance) Wq. 194, No. 46
This final song in the video is sung to the accompaniment of a clavichord, reportedly Bach's most favorite keyboard instrument. It is an instrument that is capable of much nuance and expression, but in a very subdued tone.

Against you I have sinned
And often done evil in front of you.
You see the guilt,
Which declares my curse,
God. also look at my misery!

To you my pleading
My sighing is not hidden,
And my tears are in front of you,
Oh God, my God,
How long must I worry?
How long will you be absent from me?

Lord, do not treat me
As I deserve because of my sins,
Do not punish me for my guilt.
I seek you,
Let me find you,
God of infinite patience.

Soon you will fill me
With your grace,
God, father of mercy.
Make me glad for the sake of your name,
You are a God that gives delight.

Allow me on your path
Wander again with joy,
And teach me your holy law,
So I can every day
Do what pleases you.
You are my God, I am your servant.